** This post has been sponsored by Paradise Helicopters of Hawaii. All opinions and images are my own.
I’ve crossed off something that’s been on my bucket list for a long time during our Big Island vacation: seeing lava! During our honeymoon in 2014 Graham and I had hoped to see the lava but we weren’t able to; at the time it wasn’t flowing toward the ocean and we could only see the crater and billowing smoke at an overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Thanks to Paradise Helicopters, which sponsored my ticket for the Lava and Rainforests Adventure tour, I was finally able to make that dream a reality!
Our Lava and Rainforests Helicopter Tour on Big Island of Hawaii:
I have been looking forward to our 45-minute doors-on helicopter tour with Paradise Helicopters from Hilo Airport for months! At the time of booking, we had planned to stay in Hilo for a night or two, but we eventually decided to only stay on the Kona side of the island. That meant that we awoke bright and early one morning for our one and a half hour drive to Hilo. The directions were simple: Park in Hilo Airport’s main terminal public parking and the check-in desk is directly across the street under the Paradise Helicopters sign. Hilo Airport is small, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding Lobby 2. They first weigh each member of the party (wearing anything you’re bringing on the tour, like your camera) and then you hear the safety restrictions. You are free to use the restroom or hang out in the lounge while you wait for the safety briefing, during which you learn how to wear use your headset, plus hear other important information about where to walk on the runway, as well as many volcano puns. haha (FYI: You may not bring extendable camera sticks!) The briefing includes a seat assignment; our flight was scheduled to have four passengers.
After our safety briefing we had some sad news: Our tour was canceled because of bad weather that was hampering visibility in the area where we would be flying to see the lava. Tip: Try to plan your Paradise Helicopters tour in the beginning of your trip so that you can reschedule for another time or day if needed because of the weather, which is ever-changing and unpredictable.
Don’t worry, though, we were able to rebook for Sunday morning! Plus, when we arrived back at check-in we found out we would be the only passengers on our flight. At the last minute we decided to make it a partial doors-off tour to appease the birthday guy in our group. 😉 I requested to keep my door on because I am terrified of heights! The ground crew was so nice and helpful, and V didn’t seem afraid at all as they buckled her into her seat.
Our pilot Pete flew us south toward and over the various lava flows that have occurred over the years before we made it to the active crater.
It’s amazing to see how the trees are left lying on the black hardened lava rock.
You can also see a portion of a road that is still visible after it was cut off from the rest of the island during a lava flow.
I was in awe of the patches of forest I would see among the black rock.
Lava is currently erupting from Kīlauea at its summit and from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent on the East Rift Zone. The lava activity is constantly changing, so if seeing the lava flow into the ocean is your goal, be aware that it isn’t always happening. The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park website constantly provides updates. As you can see in the video and photos I took, lava flow is scattered across the plains.
Seeing the red snaking lava flow was surreal.
I was impressed our pilot could see the lava so easily in the brightness.
It’s a bit tricky to snap photos of the lava from a moving helicopter, but the pilot will circle around so you can get your shot.
After circling the crater while listening to “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, we heading back north over the forests and toward the ocean. Our pilot wanted to fly over water since we had those handy floatation devices attached to us anyway. The remaining part of the helicopter tour was a flyover above Hilo and some of its waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls. We also passed over Hilo Bay and some of its surrounding hotels before heading back to Hilo Airport.
FYI: You can tip the pilot and staff in envelopes at the check-in desk. Also, parking is not validated, so be prepared for that.
Tips for Paradise Helicopters tour with toddler and while pregnant:
- Check with your doctor to make sure you are OK to fly. If you’re feeling nauseous you might not enjoy the flight and it may not be a good idea.
- Be aware that the vibration of the helicopter could affect your lower back pain, if you have any. Again, check with your doctor.
- Our toddler wanted to sit with me halfway through the flight and was sad she couldn’t. We should have asked which parent she wanted to sit with to avoid any crying.
- It gets super windy, especially if you take the doors-off flight. Bring a jacket and wear pants and closed toe shoes!
- A ground crew member will buckle the child into his/her seat, or you may do so if you’re more comfortable.
- It’s best if your child can grasp how to use the microphone/headset system. V started crying because we couldn’t hear her until she figured out how to push to talk to us. Then she was happy!
Is seeing the lava in Hawaii on your bucket list as well? Have you ever done a helicopter tour? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!