A Helicopter Ride over an Active Volcano in Hawaii

Lava meets the ocean in Hawaii

This is a write-up of my 2008 trip to Hawaii. The photos are low quality as they were taken from Facebook, due to our camera being stolen while on the trip.


Everywhere you go in Hawaii there are adverts for helicopter rides, and it was after seeing my 50th of them that I decided to check it out. After some research, I opted to go with Paradise Helicopters, mostly because they offer a “doors-off” experience, where you could feel the heat of the lava hitting your face. They were also the only company that offered a two-way communication channel with the pilot so that you could ask questions as well as listen to what they had to say. We chose the 50 minute “Doors Off with Waterfalls” experience, at a price of $225 per person.

The helicopters depart from Hilo, and as we were currently staying in Kona, on the other side of the island, we had a long drive to reach Hilo airport. Upon reaching the airport, it was easy to find the place where we would depart from, there was a huge Paradise Helicopters sign marking the correct place.

We had to remove our jackets and be weighed beforehand so that they would be able to evenly distribute our weight in the helicopter, as well as check we were within the weight limits (265lbs). We had a 30 minute wait in the departure room, which did nothing to calm my nerves, and I was feeling extremely apprehensive! Once everyone had arrived, we had to watch a safety DVD which was similar to those that you watch before take-off on a plane, just outlining emergency procedures and what to expect on your flight.

We were led by our pilot to our helicopter and discovered that our flight would be piloted by the only woman helicopter pilot in the whole of Hawaii!

Getting in the helicopter!

We were strapped in to the helicopter by some assistants who attached our seatbelts, gave us our headsets and made sure we were happy and comfortable. Once this was done we had a wait of about 10 minutes of getting settled and learning how to use the headsets, whilst waiting nervously for take off.

After being introduced to our pilot and using the headset system, it was time for take-off! Having never been on a helicopter before it was quite a nerve-racking experience, and surprisingly loud! The take-off was much gentler than that of an airplane, though. You just rose slowly into the air, and it was all very smooth! Once I’d had about two minutes of being in the air, my nerves were calmed and I was really enjoying myself!

We started by flying over the volcanic rock on our way towards the volcano. The picture below shows the sun breaking through the clouds over the dark rocks.

Lava from the volcano travels all the way across the land, and eventually pours into the sea, causing huge amounts of smoke to be expelled into the air. We spent a good fifteen minutes circling the smoke, and it’s hard to get across just how much of it there was, from only a tiny bit of lava.

When circling the smoke, we got the opportunity to go a bit lower and see it from close up.

At certain times, when the wind was just right, you could see the lava pouring into the sea:

Once we’d spent some time looking at the smoke, it was time to fly further inland and try and spot lava flowing on the rocks.

This was when we were glad to have chosen the doors-off experience. At this point we could really feel the heat from the lava hitting us in the face, similar to when you stand in front a bonfire. The colour of the lava was amazing.

Once we’d seen the lava, it was time to have a look of more of the island, and see some of the waterfalls. This photo shows the smoke from the lava being blown into the forest:

Earlier on in the day, when we were driving to Hilo, we took a detour to see Rainbow Falls, an 80 foot waterfall. From ground level, they looked like this:

We were delighted to recognise them from the air and took a photo of them, including the other surrounding waterfalls:

Once we had seen the waterfalls our tour was up and it was time to head back to the airport. It was beautiful to see the contrast in colours of the volcanic rock, the grassland, and the sea.

The landing was smooth and you could barely feel the helicopter touching the ground. Once the propellers slowed to a stop, everything appeared to be eerily quiet.

We decided that, as it was still light, we’d go for a drive to the point at which the lava poured into the sea. It was about an hour’s drive from the airport, and the road was quite rough due to all the volcanic rock.

You could see bits of flowing lava that we had flown over in the helicopter just a few hours ago:

We reached the car park and got to see the smoke close-up and were amazed at the actual size of it:

It was possible to walk over the lava rocks and see the lava up close, but by the time we got there, it was getting dark, and you had to use torches and walk carefully over the lava rocks. Through fear of damaging our camera, we decided to leave it in the car, but it was definitely something worthwhile doing, although probably much better to do during the day than at night.

We had a fantastic time on our helicopter trip, learnt lots of interesting facts about Hawaii and got to see some spectacular sights. I would recommend doing this to anyone who is planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, and although it is quite expensive, it is definitely worth it in my opinion.

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  1. Kieron
    February 14, 2011

    Great photos – we’re definitely considering this, just depends if we make it to the Big Island and if we can afford it in our budget!

    • Lauren
      February 14, 2011

      It was definitely a fantastic experience and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life! What islands are you planning on visiting? I went to Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.

      • Kieron
        February 16, 2011

        Oahu is a definite, Maui is a probable and the Big Island is a question mark at the moment! But we haven’t worked out timeframes or budgets yet so who knows!

        • Lauren
          February 18, 2011

          Those are the three islands that I went to. Maui was definitely my favourite, and is great for just relaxing and chilling out. Oahu was great too, and there was so much to do there! The Big Island was probably my least favourite, even though I got to do the helicopter ride there!

  2. Rebecca
    February 14, 2011

    I am headed to the Big Island in August and am debating a helio-ride…I have always wanted to take one. Might Hawaii be the place?!

    Can’t wait to see volcano action up close!

    Great post!

    • Lauren
      February 14, 2011

      I think Hawaii should be the place! You get to see so much of it that you wouldn’t normally, and there’s not many other places in the world you can fly over volcanoes and waterfalls that are only a few hundred metres away from each other!

      Let me know if you need any more information about Hawaii.

  3. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    February 16, 2011

    What an amazing opportunity… the photos look impressive to me!

    • Lauren
      February 18, 2011

      Thanks!! It’s something I’m so glad I decided to do and will never forget!

  4. Matt
    February 23, 2011

    Fantastic photos — I’ve only been in a helicopter once on the West Coast here in NZ. An amazing, albeit terrifying experience! Would love to visit Hawaii.

    • Lauren
      February 26, 2011

      Thanks Matt! It was very scary – Especially with the doors off, so you could actually hang your feet out if you wanted! I did love it though, and would absolutely do it again!

  5. Derek Freal
    April 7, 2013

    Cheers for not only conquering your fear but also putting on a good face and not letting that fear show through. I had my own experience with Paradise back in 2006 right there in Hilo. And yes, it was awesome!!

    Did you see the one house that is surrounded entirely by old lava flows? Our pilot said the home insurance was cancelled and since no one wanted to purchase it, the homeowner has been forced to keep living amongst the lava. Wild stuff.

    Looks like a fun little drive too, out to see the flows firsthand. That was on my list too but I ended up sticking with The Bus instead of getting a rental car, since everything is already so darn expensive to begin with.

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