Much of Maui is only accessible by helicopter. Helicopter tours are expensive, but if you treat yourself to one splurge, make it a helicopter tour. Eroded valleys, sheer ridgelines, and inaccessible waterfalls are all parts of most Maui helicopter tours, and a one-hour flight spent hovering over the island will be the most memorable hour of your vacation. All pilots flying for the major tour operators have logged thousands of flying hours and put an emphasis on safety. Most pilots also double as geologists, biologists, historians, and naturalists as they narrate tours above the island’s interior. Morning hours are best because they offer the clear conditions necessary for visiting spots such as 1,100-foot Honokohau Falls. As an added bonus, during winter, you’re able to spot humpback whales as they lounge in the waters below.
Regardless of which operator you choose, inquire about getting the two front seats next to the pilot since it’s much easier to take photos.All helicopter flights depart from the Kahului Heliport (located 0.5 mile from the junction of Hana Highway and Haleakala Highway), and the two most popular tour options are those combining the West Maui Mountains with Moloka‘i and East Maui (Hana) with Haleakala. Regardless of which operator you choose, inquire about getting the two front seats next to the pilot since it’s much easier to take photos. Also, if you plan on booking a helicopter tour, remember that you cannot have been scuba diving within a 24-hour period before the flight (snuba, due to the shallow depth, is still permitted). All prices listed below are for online specials given for advance reservations.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (1 Kahului Airport Rd., #105, 808/871-8844 or 800/745-2583, 7am-10pm daily) is the largest tour operator and accommodates the largest number of island visitors. With offices on all of the major islands, these guys have been leaders in the Maui helicopter industry since their founding in 1985. They offer tours on two different types of 6-seat helicopters: the A-Star and the Eco-Star. The difference is that the Eco-Star provides individual bucket seats, has larger viewing windows, and can accommodate a greater amount of weight than the A-Star. As you might expect, flights on the Eco-Star are a little more expensive. Packages run $149/person for a 30-minute tour of the West Maui Mountains to $440/person for a two hour tour of Maui and the Big Island (Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park not included). There’s also a tour that touches down at an exclusive landing zone within Ulupalakua Ranch during a stopover of a full-island tour, offering access to a part of the island you would never visit otherwise. As with many other operators, DVDs of your experience can be purchased for an additional $25.
The only other tour operator with Eco-Star (referred to as Whisper-Star) helicopters in their fleet is Sunshine Helicopters (1 Kahului Airport Rd., #107, 808/270-3999 or 866/501-7738), and the seats in the front will cost you more than those in the back. Prices range from $170/person for a 30-minute West Maui flight to $350/person for a 55-65 minute West Maui and Moloka‘i package. If Mendes Ranch horseback riding or the Atlantis Submarine are also on your list of activities, you can book them as a combo package through Sunshine Helicopters and save a little bit on both of the excursions.
A smaller yet reputable operation is Air Maui (1 Kahului Airport Rd, Hangar 110, 808/877-7005 or 877/238-4942), a company with prices that are slightly higher but proudly boasting a perfect safety record. Fees range from $175/person for a 30-minute tour to $307/person for a 60-minute tour of West Maui and Moloka‘i (which is 15 minutes longer than the same, albeit cheaper Blue Hawaiian Tour).
If you want to be that much closer to the scenery, Alex Air (108 Kahului Heliport, 808/877-4354, 8am-4pm daily) is the only company that offers flights with the doors off. That’s right: No doors. No window. Just a waterfall or a mountain zipping past you in real time. Tours with the doors on range from $168/person for a 30-minute West Maui Mountains tour to $229 for a 50-minute tour of West Maui and Moloka‘i. Doors-off tours cost a little bit more but are well worth it for the added adventure. If you would rather have a private tour, there are R44 helicopters which can accommodate 1-3 people and range from $450 for a 30-minute tour to $1,200 for a 90-minute East Maui tour combined with a private beach landing.
While helicopters are the best choice for seeing the waterfalls of West Maui and the northern shore of Moloka‘i, the only way that you’re going to experience Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island is by taking a flightseeing tour with Maui Air (808/877-5500) out of either Kahului or Kapalua Airport. The two-hour flight from Kahului Airport passes by the North Shore of Maui and the waterfalls of Kohala on the Big Island’s northwestern tip and circles over Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park looking for active lava flows. The plane can accommodate 10 passengers, and you’re likely to be sharing the ride with other guests. Those who sit toward the back won’t have as much of the wing obstructing the view. At $385/person it isn’t a cheap trip, and since weather is a highly variable factor, it can be a gamble. Also, as the eruption at Kilauea is constantly shifting, there’s no guarantee of seeing red lava, although on those clear, lava-filled days when everything comes together, this is the best way to experience both islands from the air.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.