Flying over Lava: Our No-Doors Helicopter Ride over the Big Island

Our vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island was a kaleidoscope of impressions. Where to begin? I think I’ll start with our helicopter ride.

We took off in Hilo, a town on the island’s rainy side. The helicopter seemed smaller than average, just big enough for four passengers and the pilot — not a bad seat in sight, and no doors.

Big Island Helicopter ride, doors off

I expected to be terrified. Instead, I smiled so widely my face began to spasm. We floated just under the clouds, in and out of rain. Macadamia nut farms lay before us, each farm framed by windbreaks of pines and eucalypti. I had no idea that macadamia nuts are from Australia. They were brought to Hawaii as ornamentals and found their niche on the Big Island (the Great Hawaiian Mac Nut Trail begins in Hilo. I’d love to trace it next time we come).

Toward macadamia farms on Helicopter, Hilo, Hawaii

Flying toward the macadamia farms, front view

Helicopter flight over Hilo's macadamia nut farms

Macadamia farms, side no-door view

Through the mist, the coast seemed endless, a lush mosaic of farms and rainforest.

Helicopter flight over the Hilo coast, Hawaii

Then, suddenly, devastation. We reached the lava flows of the Kilauea Volcano, grumbling continually since 1983. “Kilauea” means “spewing” or “much spreading.” This is, after all, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

Burning trees, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Helicopter flight over a Burning trees, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Dead trees, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Soon, all signs of life were gone, encased in the wasteland of glistening, fuming obsidian.

Flying over the lava fields of the Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

The textures of an active lava flow are mesmerizing. The landscape seems to breathe and smolder just under the surface.

Flying over lava field, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Occasionally, thin fiery springs pierce the rock, oozing slowly, lazily. Up high in the air, we could feel their heat — a sensation I will not soon forget.

Flying over lava field, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Lava flow of the Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Circling spring after molten spring, we reached another remarkable spectacle: the meeting place of the volcano and the ocean. Set against the blue-green of the water, the scale of the eruptions is breathtaking.

Helicopter ride over Kilauea flows coast, Hawaii

Here and there, dense plumes of steam arch over the waves, clouds of seawater shocked skyward by magma.  This is new land being forged before our eyes. The island is growing.

Lava meets ocean, Kilauea Volcano, Big Island, Hawaii

As we traced the coastline, patches of green came into view. It was time to go back. Hilo and its waterfalls were our next stop.

Flying over Kilauea's lava flow, Hawaii

Our tour: No Doors Volcano & Falls helicopter tour (with Paradise Helicopters), ordered through 

Helicopter back to the Hilo Airport

Our approach to the helipad

Read on: Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Hawaii

27 thoughts on “Flying over Lava: Our No-Doors Helicopter Ride over the Big Island

  1. I would love to see a live volcano. My father is from Maui and most of my paternal relatives are there, so I’ve been there and to Oahu, but never to any of the other Islands. Hope to go to the Big Island someday.

    • I did not get a good feel for Oahu, but the Big Island was spectacular. We’d love to see the other islands, but chose Hawaii for this first taste to make sure we saw the volcanoes. I could spend a week just at the Volcanoes National Park! Who needs the beach?

  2. NIce photos. I’ve been to the Big Island and seen the volcano, but didn’t manage the chopper tour. It looks like lots of fun. BTW, there are a number of types of lava flows. Two of these types originate in Hawaii: pahoehoe and aa. The flows in your photos are pahoehoe. ~James

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  11. I have several questions about the helicopter ( doors off) you said there was enough room for 4 passengers ? was there a bulkhead( wall) between the back and front? Where seats facing backwards ? Brian Thornton @ 469-471-6472

    • Brian, I don’t remember there being a partition between back and front–so, I think no bulkhead. We were assigned seating by weight (two heavier people in two back seats, two lighter people in the front with the pilot (I was sitting in a smaller seat between the pilot and my friend). The people in the front, I think, get a better view, but our companions in the back seemed happy with the trip.

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  14. nice photos you have! 🙂 Im heading to join the same helicopter tour this coming july, am wondering if you have any idea how long the entire trip (from briefing to end of helicopter ride) last?

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