Volcano Helicopter Flight
Hilo and Kilauea Volcano By Air
As a professional photographer I love helicopter flights. The perspective from the air is really unparalleled and shows off the landscape in a beautiful and unique way. Flights to the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park often range from between 50 and 90 minutes depending on which airport you take off from.
I have been in Volcanoes National Park several times but this was my first helicopter tour over the park. The trails, lava tube and overlooks at ground level are wonderful to explore and can be as long and adventurous as you wish. One of my favorites hikes was out along the old crater rim road for sunset at the caldera rim. It was challenging but worth it to get to photograph the erupting Kilauea caldera in all its night glowing splendor.
Hilo Forests and Lava Flows
The Hilo Side
Our pilot was very informative and even though I have written about and photographed the park in the past, I learned a lot from our pilot. Flying out of Hilo airport, it was interesting to see how beautiful Hilo Bay and the nearby towns and neighborhoods looked from the air.
Our pilot pointed out the thousands of small farms and 1 acre lots which first sold in the early 1960’s for $750. We also flew over the huge patchwork of trees that make up Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm, a popular stop on a Volcanoes van tour.
Kilauea’s Rift Zones
There have been near constant eruptions at multiple vents and rift zones of Kilauea volcano since 1983 and several times over the years lava flows have destroyed homes and communities along over 70 miles of Kilauea’s meandering rift zones. Having them pointed out by our pilot was wonderful as we flew into the park and came to our first big vent – Pu’u O’o. This smoldering cone rises hundreds of feet above the lava fields and virgin native forests. We circled it several times so everyone could look down inside this large crater! The combination of rising steam and colorful red crater walls were amazing to see!
From the air you can see why this National Park is called “Volcanoes” because scattered about the landscape there are dozens and dozens of pit craters and fissures of different sizes and shapes. Some smaller formations are pit craters that look fairly new while some are so large and old they’re completely forested. Many have intricate lava flows on their caldera floors. Our pilot knew most of the names of these large calderas with informative historical tidbits included.
We started to see the roads within the park which gave me good reference points as to where I have been on the ground. In the distance we could see the column of gases rising from our next scenic spot, the erupting caldera and it’s lava lake at Kilauea.
The current 2021 eruption is contained within Kilauea’s caldera, called Halema’uma’u (legendary home to the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele) and the lava lake inside has been growing steadily. As one of the most active volcanoes on earth it is predicted that this phase of Kilauea’s activity will continue for years to come. If you really want to have the most complete experience of this National Park and the surrounding Hilo side, I recommend a helicopter flight and a sightseeing tour, both of which can be completed in a day.
To Get The Most From Your Flight
Wear dark non patterned clothing (no white) as it will reduce reflections and give you a more clearer view for photos and video. I go so far as to wear a black long sleeve shirt, black sweat pants and black shoes!
Bring a wide angle zoom with a polarizer filter to further help with window reflections. I shoot with a 24-105mm lens. Use higher shutter speeds in the 250th of a second to 400th of a second.
There are several different types of aircraft used for tours. Larger ones such as the A-Star or the Eco-Star provide comfortable seats for up to 5 passengers and large windows.
Larger aircraft used for helicopter tours tend to cost a bit more but are faster, (covering more ground in less time), more comfortable and have larger windows for sightseeing.
Smaller aircraft can seat 3 passengers and can fly with the doors off for photography. These tend to be slower and cover less ground in the same flight time. The wind and temperature can make for kind of a rough ride too but they are wonderful for great photography!
Helicopter tour companies often offer a video of your flight. Multiple cameras outside the aircraft and in the cabin capture your entire flight and are fairly high quality. They are a wonderful keepsake to show friends and family back home! They are not cheap but I always get one…