A Bucket List Experience, Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours, Kauai

Story by Richard Bilow; All photos by Richard Bilow

It has always been a bucket list dream of mine to experience and possibly photograph spectacular natural environments from the sky. During my honeymoon in Kauai, I had an opportunity to do it, so I jumped on it. I was looking for a Kauai doors off helicopter tour. I found a specific company called Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours for a specific reason.  CLICK HERE to find out more about Mauna Loa.

Mauna Loa Helicopter tours; all photos by Richard Bilow; courtesy ETG

Kauai Doors Off Helicopter Tours – Photography 

I wanted to take some photographs but did not want to shoot through windows. The reflections could make it difficult to get clean shots, and I’m not a fan of removing imperfections in my images using photoshop. I had never done this type of photography before, so I was not as prepared as I would like to have been. My wife and I were doing some work with the Hawaii tourism office, reviewing restaurants, a spa and some boat tours to the Nā Pali Coast. However, we had not requested a helicopter tour. So I decided to look into it on my own. I had sent an e-mail to the company, and long story short, a cancelation by another guest became our good fortune. We were in if we could get to the takeoff point on very short notice. 

I had to strike a balance between coming home with great images and simply enjoying the experience. You are not allowed to change lenses on this type of doors-off flight. Everything loose needs to be tethered, so nothing can fall out of the helicopter. The idea of going up for the first time and capturing exhibit-worthy photos was not realistic enough to make that my focus. It was much more important to me, that I shared this experience with my new wife who is always very supportive of my dreams. To be honest, she did me a huge favor, because she was terrified to be in a helicopter with the doors off.

Kauai Doors Off Helicopter
Na Pali Coast, Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours; 

The Weather & Safety

The weather changes quickly in Kauai, and the helicopter tours cannot always fly. The forecast was not favorable at all for us. In fact, the early flight was canceled. We just had to drive to the take-off point and take our chances. Luck was on our side that day. There was a nice break in the weather. The early morning rains turned out to benefit us, because a lot of waterfalls were flowing. Everything just came together in our favor.

Our pilot (Blake Andrews) was a total pro. My wife grilled him before we took off – questioning how long he had been flying, etc. I was impressed with how he took it all in stride. He chuckled, as he set her mind at ease letting her know that (as of 2018), he had been flying four and a half years with Mauna Loa. Prior to that his flying experience also included an additional three years on the Big Island. She was satisfied, so off we went!

The Flight- Kauai Doors Off Helicopter

It was an amazing 55 minute flight and Blake gave us a full history of Kauai, which I did not expect. What I had not anticipated was that the helicopter ride would be relatively bumpy, and shooting with my heavy telephoto lens would not be particularly easy. After banging my lens into the side of the door opening, I decided to enjoy most of the trip without my camera.

Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours
Waterfall from the sky Mana Loa Helicopter Tours;

The pilot maneuvered the helicopter quite close to the waterfalls as well as the dramatic terrain of Nā Pali. It was a stunning visual experience for both of us. As we flew through a canyon towards the ocean, the rainbows we saw were beyond belief.

Taking a Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours with the doors off was the best last minute decision I made on that trip. Also sharing a solo flight with just my wife (and the pilot) was beyond incredible. What an experience! 

If the type of tour is on your bucket list, book your flight close to the day you arrive. That way you will still have time to do it, if your scheduled flight gets canceled. http://maunaloahelicoptertours.com

If you would like to hear more personal info about our Mauna Loa Helicopter Tour – CLICK HERE for the 2nd story of a 3-part article.

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