A helicopter ride in Hawaii was on my list of Tropical New Year’s Resolutions, so when I learned that I’d soon be going on a complete island helicopter tour of Maui, I was, for lack of a better word, stoked.
Most Maui helicopter companies pride themselves on being a sort of “flying classroom,” taking advantage of the amazing aerial perspective to teach guests about the various history, geology, culture, flora and fauna of the area(s) seen from the air. On Maui alone, they offer the same number of tour options as all the other major Hawaiian Islands combined, including tours of the West Maui Mountains, West Maui & Molokai, Hana/Haleakala, Complete Island, Maui Spectacular with a landing in Upcountry, and a Maui & Big Island tour.
Maui Helicopter Adventure
We arrived at the Kahului Heliport at 8:45am for our 9:30am tour, where we were given beverages and watched a short safety briefing before boarding. Guests can book tours on either of two helicopter models – the Eco-Star or A-Star – which vary in functionality, seating style, and window size. The Eco-Star, which we opted for, is the first helicopter designed specifically for touring and offers better all-around views no matter where you’re seated.
After getting settled in with all of our gear – life jacket, seatbelt, headphones, and microphone – we met Glenda, our helicopter guide, who’s been giving tours on Maui for 8 years after previously flying helicopters in England. She welcomed us all by name and informed us that she’d also occasionally be speaking with members of air traffic control as well as other helicopter pilots during our flight.
And up we went.
We began with a quick flight over Kahului Harbor, where we spotted a whale breaching (ahh!), before heading toward the stunning West Maui Mountains. I see these mountains at least twice a day on my daily commute, but you honestly can’t appreciate how huge they are until you’re literally right beside them. We passed the tiny, local town of Kahakuloa before arriving in West Maui, overlooking the golf courses of Kapalua and Kaanapali as well as the rugged cliff-line of the ascending mountains. A seriously amazing view if there ever was one.
Glenda gave us some interesting history of the area, including bits about the abandoned Maui pineapple fields, wind turbines, home values, and humpback whales. After a tour of West Maui and the West Maui Mountains, we flew over South Maui’s shoreline to the towns of Kihei, Wailea, and Makena for a view of beach paradise from above. As we approached Haleakala Volcano, we began ascending over Upcountry Maui, where we were treated to glorious aerial views of the former lava flow of La Perouse Bay, Molokini, the Big Island, the neighbor island of Kaho’olawe, and lush cattle pastures and rolling hills found throughout Makawao and Kula.
Haleakala Volcano is dubbed the largest dormant volcano in the world (although it’s not actually dormant), and its crater alone is large enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan. We rounded the backside of Haleakala to ascend alongside the crater (you’re not allowed to fly directly over it due to noise restrictions within Haleakala National Park), and wow! Such a vastly different landscape than the green cascading mountains we had flown over less than 10 minutes before.
After descending back down the volcano, we flew over Kaupo Gap, where avid hikers can follow the trail from the summit of Haleakala to the remote town of Kipahulu. We also flew near some of the Road to Hana’s most popular sites, including O’heo Gulch, Hana Town, and Keanae Peninsula.
Glenda did a great job giving us an inside look at the history of the area, including information I had never heard or read elsewhere, and after a question about whether or not we were going to fly over waterfalls, treated us to a double-sided, weaving ride through several remote waterfalls off the beaten path on Maui’s eastern edge. Glorious!
Aerial views of the winding Road to Hana are perhaps even more impressive from the air, and the dramatic ocean cliffs have a way of making you (and your personal problems) feel very insignificant… in the best of ways. We even flew past ‘Jurassic Rock’, a scenic, offshore rock which can be seen in the upcoming Jurassic World movie (which local Hawaii helicopter companies assisted in the filming of), before ending the ride with a scenic ride over Jaws, Paia Town and the sugarcane fields of north Maui.
I’m happy to report that the ride was smooth, steady, relaxing, and comfortable, and made all the better by Glenda’s professional and friendly demeanor. Once you’ve seen Maui from above, and even if you’ve spent years exploring the thousands of hidden sites and remote areas tucked throughout the island, you realize how much you still haven’t experienced. And that’s okay.
Private Maui Helicopter Tours
Any type of aerial view of Maui is sure to blow you away- there’s no denying that. For most visitors, standard helicopter tours are the preferred means of exploring the Valley Isle by air. Helicopters’ ability to maneuver through tight spaces makes it easy to explore Maui’s precipitous mountains and valleys, as well as get up close and personal with the island’s most towering, remote waterfalls. While these types of tours are amazing, they usually come with a pre-planned flight itinerary, as well as several other passengers to share the views with.
Helicopter Tours have developed a distinct place in the Maui helicopter market, offering everything from complete island tours to doors-off helicopter. Departing from the Kahului Airport (OGG), you can conveniently take in the gorgeous views of the island without driving too far away from your hotel. Whether you’re looking to capture a waterfall dream scene, golden hour over Molokini Crater, or Molokai’s towering emerald sea cliffs, your pilot will take you on the ideal flight map. Regardless of which flight experience you choose, two things are certain: Maui from above will blow you away, and fun is the utmost guarantee.