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15 Things to Know Before a Helicopter Tour of the Napali Coast

15 Things to Know Before a Helicopter Tour of the Napali Coast

The deep green spires of the cathedral alternately bathe in sunlight and hide behind puffs of misty cloud.

The valley layers are stacked on top of each other in a fantastic array of colors.

The incredibly blue and wild Pacific meets the hidden white sand beaches.

The waterfalls can only be seen by helicopter, so it is practically impossible to hold so many waterfalls...

These are just a few of the things you'll see on a helicopter trip around Kauai, nicknamed The Garden Isle because of its lush interior and scenic landscape.

When you fly over this amazing island, you will understand exactly why it serves as the setting for Jurassic Park.

Kauai's landscape has a prehistoric quality to it, more so than on any other island in Hawaii.

Despite the increase in tourism over the years, Kauai retains an untouched side of its natural beauty.

The scenery can't be beaten: Islands like Maui and Oahu can't quite compete with Kauai, although there are other attractions, like whale watching and big cities.

Taking a helicopter tour of Kauai feels like a dream come true! But it's the one you'll enjoy the most if you're prepared - and don't make the same 3 big mistakes I did!

What to expect on your helicopter tour: 15 things you need to know

All helicopter rides follow a similar route.

Whichever Kauai helicopter tour company you fly with, they all follow a similar route around the island of Kauai.

First, you will depart from Lihue Airport. You will need to put your phone in airplane mode per FAA regulations because you are officially in Hawaiian airspace!

Here are the sections of the Kauai Helicopter Route we took in order:

First: Hanapebi Valley (Manaoubuna Falls and Kahle Falls)

Manawayupuna Falls, also known as Jurassic Falls
Manawayupuna Falls, also known as Jurassic Falls

This is where you will see a series of magnificent waterfalls, the largest of which is Manawayupuna Falls, also known as Jurassic Falls.

This waterfall can only be seen via helicopter ride, so take in it knowing you'll have a view few other people in the world have the chance to experience!

But that's not the only secret waterfall you can see from the sky: you can also spot Five Sisters Falls (also known as Kahili Falls).

This stunning series of tiered waterfalls cascade through beautiful lush countryside and is one of the most breathtaking sights you will see on a scenic tour!

Once you've seen this verdant landscape, prepare to be amazed as you head inland to Waimea Canyon, where the landscape becomes less lush and arider.

After traversing such a lush, waterfall-rich landscape, you'll quickly change course heading into Olokele Canyon.

This scene is where Kauai's verdant landscape begins to turn into something drier and desert-like.

Finally, you'll arrive at the most scenic Waimea Canyon, aptly dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

While many such titles often overstate the comparison, I found Waimea Canyon to be as impressive (albeit significantly smaller) as the Grand Canyon.

Walking through and seeing all the different colors of the valley was absolutely stunning, a real contrast in terms of scenery to what was before - so what!

Next: Na Pali Coast

After Waimea Canyon, you will come to the beautiful Na Pali Coast, which is probably why you chose Kauai Gates out of the helicopter tour to begin with!

This is by far the most exciting part of the helicopter trip, as you soar over the impossibly blue waters of the Pacific and the lush emerald green towers of the Na Pali Coast.

However, the Na Pali coastal helicopter tour can also be challenging. It's the foggiest area, so there's always a chance you won't be able to appreciate its green Spiers and coastal scenery in all its glory.

However, we were lucky.

Na Pali's incredibly rugged coastline is hard to describe in words until you see it from the sky.

It's almost unbelievable that there really is an 11-mile (one-way) path through such rugged terrain - it seems impossible to cross.

Perhaps the most beautiful beach is where these two breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Na Pali Coast intersect.

You'll fly over popular beaches such as Kalalau Beach and Kee Beach, as well as other lesser-known beaches that lie as far away as hidden enclaves in the rocky landscape.

Next: The North Coast and Mount Waialeale

After the Na Pali Coast, you'll fly over Kauai's North Shore, Hanalei Bay, and other incredible, lesser-known (and easy-to-visit on your Kauai itinerary) beaches.

Shortly past the Waimea River, you'll head back inland to Mount Waialeale, known to be one of the wettest places on earth.

This magical microclimate around the mountain causes it to accumulate over 450 inches of rain per year!

It's Kauai's second tallest mountain, so you'll climb high as you approach it, often entering a cloud before descending so you can admire the countless waterfalls cascading down the wall in tears.

This part may be the coldest part of the trip!

Finally: Return to Lihue Airport

Mount Waialeale is the last stop on your self-guided tour, after which you'll return to Lihue Airport as a modified person.

Truly, nothing beats the beauty of seeing these natural wonders for yourself from the sky.

It was so beautiful and made me want to cry, and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the whole island of Kauai from such a unique vantage point.

It's getting cold, so wear warm clothes!

Honestly, that should be common sense... but as my own experience has shown, common sense isn't very common - including (especially?) when it comes to myself.

I don't know what made me wear shorts for the helicopter flight, considering I sleep with three blankets even in the summer, but I did...and I regretted it.

I don't know exactly what altitude you reach, but you will reach very high altitudes. Since you're flying over the Na Pali coast which is around 4000 feet above sea level, I'm guessing you're going above 5000-6000 feet.

They'll give you a jacket that will keep your upper body warm enough, but my legs were shaking and freezing the whole trip!

Logically, my boyfriend wore the pants and had a much better time than me, as she didn't get too cold during the entire Kauai helicopter flight.

You cannot bring loose items on your flight.

Again, this may seem obvious at first, but no loose objects of any kind are allowed on the doors outside the helicopter ride.

We were very disappointed when we realized that the rules against loose items do not include cameras allowed except for cell phones.

Our helicopter tour company in Kauai provided a drawstring case for our phones which they securely attached to us, so we wouldn't drop it.

And honestly, as soon as we got up in the air, I immediately understood why we weren't allowed to bring bigger cameras (even strapped around the neck or wrist).

The winds are strong once you're in the sky and moving around it's going to be very difficult and hectic to handle anything bigger than a cell phone.

Along the same lines, you can't wear flip-flops or sandals on a plane, as they pose a hazard and can fly away. You will need to wear closed-toed shoes such as sneakers for your trip.

Also, if you have long hair, you'll need to tie it up (and you will, otherwise it'll be in your face all the time and you can't see anything!).

The wind is stronger than you think!

As I mentioned above, the wind is strong. Your skin will ripple on your legs and face as you soar through the skies on an epic helicopter ride over Kauai!

The best way to prepare for this is to make sure you're covered (trousers, folks! Again, learn my shit) and make sure your glasses are well protected by the noise-canceling headphones.

This brings me to my next tip for taking a helicopter tour from Kauai...

Wear contact lenses or get a cord for your glasses if you must.

Foolishly I didn't wear contact lenses for my trip... Another thing I ended up regretting!

Technically, glasses can go over glasses just fine. However, I ended up feeling that my goggles were a bit loose due to the high winds buffeting the helmet.

It made me nervous that my glasses were about to explode - and it was only a matter of time before my glasses too fell off the edge of a helicopter, and we would never see them again!

So learn from my bullshit: just wear contact lenses or make sure you have a short strap for your glasses. You will fly more comfortably, believe me!

There are age restrictions on flights

For safety reasons, certain age restrictions apply to these helicopter flights.

For one person, children under 10 years old are not allowed to ride during this period. Children between 10 and 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Finally, people must be at least 16 or older to sit in the side seat (no window seats - they are doors away from the flight, after all).

If you're traveling with kids ages 10-15 who really want a side seat, be prepared for them to get a middle seat early on to avoid disappointment.

The Kauai Helicopter Tour will remain an amazing experience no matter what seat you get!

Be sure to arrive on time for check-in.

Check-in starts 45 minutes before departure time, so don't be late! It takes 45 minutes.

Keep in mind that Kauai's helicopter tour companies are all located along Ahokini Road, not Lihue's main airport.

You'll want to put your helicopter directions into your GPS and get going, rather than just going to the airport in general, otherwise, you're in for a long walk!

Once you arrive at your helicopter tour location, you will need to check for loose items such as handbags, purses, sunglasses, etc.

You will also receive a lanyard for your smartphone so you can carry it around to take photos safely.

You will also need to watch a brief security video before taking it to the helipad area where the helicopters depart from.

You will get your jacket, goggles, and noise-canceling headphones right at the helicopter launch area.

The company will take souvenir photos for you before placing you in a certain pre-determined arrangement.

Each team of two gets a board seat.

I have flown Air Kauai helicopters so my experience is limited to their helicopters.

Other helicopter tour operators in Kauai may have a slightly different seating arrangement: this was my experience.

On a helicopter flight in Kauai, there were two seats next to the pilot, then four in the back.

That means there are six guests on each helicopter flight, and three of them get upgraded seats.

My trip consisted of two couples, each with a forward seat, and two singles.

I was the only lucky one who got the side seat, while the other solo traveler got the middle seat next to me.

Keep this in mind if you are a couple booking together. Book on the same reservation, so at least one of you can get a premium seat!

Typically, they reserve a rim seat for every couple they book.

If you booked separately for a friend, call to make sure you're on the same flight.

As I mentioned before, my friend and I ended up on different helicopter tours through the same company.

I didn't realize when I booked my trip that when you book an "afternoon" sightseeing tour, you are booking one of many possible time slots.

I ended up on the 1 p.m. flight and my boyfriend was on the 2 p.m. flight, and by the time we realized that there was no way we could get it right and fly together.

It actually ended up being a good thing, as we both got a forward seat and sat in different parts of the helicopter, allowing us to compare notes on our experience.

(She also bought me a watch to get back to life after motion sickness — but more on that in a bit.)

However, if you're not the type to take notes in order to write a guide to take a helicopter to Kauai... you'll probably want to travel with your travel companion!

If you book separately online, be sure to contact the company as soon as possible to request to be placed on the same flight.

You cannot hang your legs outside the helicopter.

I saw Instagram photos of a "suspended leg kick" over the Na Pali coast but later learned that it was no longer possible for safety reasons.

Since then, helicopter doors in the United States have changed their regulations regarding exterior doors to helicopter tours and the types of seats and tools that may be used.

This was in response to an accident in New York and was changed for security reasons.

We were strictly required not to take any part of our body out of the helicopter as it posed a safety hazard, and there were signs telling us not to swing our legs for 'shooting' when we checked in our helicopter.

To sum up, while you've probably seen pictures of this, and it may have been allowed in the past, the regulations have changed since then. Be warned in advance so as not to be disappointed!

Believe me, you can still take great pictures even if your feet aren't in the picture 😉

Masks are required for check-in, but not for the helicopter flight.

I traveled to Hawaii in February 2022 as Hawaii was the last state to maintain the mask mandate.

(Update August 4, 2022: Mask authorization is now revoked effective March 25, 2022).

Air Kauai checked our temperatures before check-in and asked us to wear a mask while we were in the check-in area and in the van that took us to the helicopter launch area.

Once we arrived at the helicopter launch area, we were allowed to remove our masks and did not need to wear them on the plane.

Although I'm usually very happy to wear my mask, I'm glad it wasn't mandatory on the outing as it could have just been something else slapping me in the face!

Plus, with the insane transient ventilation, you get and no one talking during the flight, your risk of injury is virtually non-existent on a helicopter.

The afternoon is the best time of day for flights.

If you're looking for epic lighting conditions, I suggest booking an afternoon flight rather than a morning flight.

You will get a better light on the Na Pali Coast, which is the most exciting part of the tour.

My friend and I accidentally ended up traveling 1 hour apart, so we were able to compare our photos and see who had the best lighting.

While the lighting was always nice on my 1pm tour, his 2pm tour photos were better and the lighting was better.

(She was also significantly less giddy than me, which brings me to the next point...)

Take Dramamine beforehand if you are prone to motion sickness.

I was action stricken on my helicopter tour of Kauai which made it difficult to get the most out of it.

This was my first time shooting outside of a helicopter, and I foolishly thought it would be quite similar to helicopter doors, which I've done before with no problem.

I thought I didn't need any kind of Dramamine or something because I don't get dizzy when I travel by plane or on previous helicopter trips I've taken in the Grand Canyon and the Valley of Fire.

I tend to only get dizzy on boats and winding roads when I'm in the back seat, so I didn't even think of taking a motion sickness pill. I definitely lived to regret it!

What I didn't expect was that there would be a lot of vibration on the doors outside of the helicopter ride, as the wind comes through the helicopter and shakes it quite a bit.

I don't do well with my rocking motions so I started getting sick pretty quickly on my helicopter tour of Kauai.

(If we're counting, that's mistake #3 I made on that 45-minute ride out of the helicopter, an incredible mistake per minute, even for me.)

If you've ever had motion sickness or think you might have the ability to, I highly suggest taking a non-drowsy Dramamine before your helicopter adventure ride.

It won't hurt, and it might end up preventing you from getting sick and missing out on some of the wonders of the tour!

Even though I had motion sickness, I still enjoyed my tour and was able to take care of the stages enough to enjoy my touring, filming, and videotaping in all its beauty.

However, I literally lay down for about an hour to recalibrate while my girlfriend was on her flight!

That said, my boyfriend does get nauseous at times and she was perfectly fine on her flight.

Anecdotally, she was traveling with a girl whose movement often made her sick, but she had taken Dramamine beforehand and was fine.

In short: Learn from my mistakes, and take the damn playwrights.

The best seat is right behind the pilot.

Since my friend and I have done different helicopter tours, we were able to compare our photos and experiences.

She said she had better views and also felt the wind was less strong on the pilot's side!

This makes sense because the right side of the plane, where the pilot flies, usually faces the island.

Meanwhile, the left side of the plane usually faces the ocean (and accompanying winds!).

As the pilot strives to rotate the plane as far as possible so that everyone can enjoy those panoramic views of the Na Pali coast and its cliffs, he must fly facing forward.

Of course, the person behind them will have the clearest view of Na Pali's longest coastline!

Let me say that I give this advice with the caveat that there are six seats on the plane and only one onboard seat on the pilot's side.

Only one person can have the "best seat in the house" and chances are it's not you!

Be generous - feel free to request this seat, but be aware that other people may be assigned to this seat.

This can either be for safety reasons (they consider the weight distribution when sitting in an airplane) or because someone else has already claimed it.

Be aware of cancellation policies.

With a high-priced excursion like the helicopter tour outside, you'll want to be aware of the cancellation policy.

We booked our helicopter tour with Viator, who offers a 24-hour flexible cancellation policy, which is the main reason to book with them. (It's also $5 cheaper there - not much, but it's something!)