Big Island Helicopter Ride: Volcanoes, Lava and Tropical Bliss

big island helicopter


There is not a lot in this world that makes me feel like James Bond. I’m super short, not all that sporty, and kinda scared by everything fast-moving and/or dangerous. But then one day I flew in a helicopter over spewing lava in a foreign country. And that there, that was my Bond moment.


It was freakin’ awesome.


Everything looks better from the sky and Big Island, Hawaii is no exception. This unique landscape is a thrilling amalgamation of space-like volcanoes right next to lush tropical forests — and there is no better way to visualise this than zooming over it in an Eco Star chopper (you’re gonna have to trust me on that one until you try it).


Back in July I was lucky enough to explore Big Island from above with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters as a treat for my Mum’s 50th birthday (happy birthday Mum). We devoured a classic Hawaiian lunch and drove our oversized hire car to the airport to embark on the adventure. None of us had ever helicoptered before so this was an entirely new experience.


After the mandatory safety briefing and one too many “get in the chopper” jokes, we were ready to actually get in the chopper. We were introduced to our pilot Scott. What. A. Guy. His infectious and smiley personality made us not even slightly worried that we were flying in a little glass box over spitting lava. In the hour-long journey, we flew over some draw-dropping scenery. I’m talking lava streams, pounding waterfalls, and smoking volcano cones; all enhanced by the epic tunes contained within Scott’s flying soundtrack.


We were fortunate enough to be in Hilo at a good time because the Pu’u ‘Ō’ō vent on the Eastern Riff had erupted and this was visible. Seeing the sheets of lava covering the island from years gone by put this current eruption into perspective. Mother nature can be one powerful beast. When serious eruptions occur the damage is unbelievable: towns flattened, hundreds of kilometres covered in a permanent, thick black volcanic sludge. The true extent of it is obvious when you fly over.


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Flying over forests at the edge of the lava line


READ MORE: Is Maui’s Road To Hana The Best Road Trip? See The Pics and Make Up Your Mind


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Streams of flowing lava


At times it all seemed pretty surreal. It was easy to forget how actually dangerous the vibrant, glowing streams of lava below truly were. And it was hard to remember how incredibly hot the cones spewing out these noxious volcanic gases must be. These extreme landscapes are something you rarely get to see in life, so why not take the opportunity to fully embrace them while you can.


Although helicopter trips can be understandably expensive, taking a Big Island helicopter ride is one of those things you will not forget. Our family, and myself as a traveller, are not “big spenders” when it comes to travel. But there are some opportunities that are just worth paying for – and this is one of them. Getting to see a volcano from above, and especially with lava, is (probably) a once in a lifetime experience. We certainly will not be forgetting this experience — and here are some photos to show you why.


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Some of the Blue Hawaiian fleet ready to depart


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All strapped in and ready for take off


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Heading out along the coast of Big Island towards the vent


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Observing the extent of the gases and vents


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Approaching the volcanic cone


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River of hot lava flowing through the lava tubes and burning trees as it passes by


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One of the bubbling, sludgy vents (you can just see some lava peaking through)


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Heading back to Hilo



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Choppering over the lush forests and waterfalls on the way back to Hilo


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Compulsory post-helicopter family photo


Helicopter tours on Big Island with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters come in all shapes and sizes, here are a couple to check out:



Lucy was a guest of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in July 2016 during her family holiday in Hawaii. She took the Circle of Fire plus Waterfalls tour leaving from Hilo, Big Island in a Eco Star helicopter. 


Lucy Owens Travel Textbook


My name’s Lucy and I’m the junior doctor and travel writer behind the blog. If you’re a fan of scratching beneath the surface of travel, visiting interesting destinations, and exploring ethically, then you’re in the right place. Focusing on purposeful budget and solo travel, Travel Textbook hopes to inspire more young people to seek meaningful adventure.


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