We did the Circle of Fire helicopter tour and it was awesome. We flew right over all the glowing lava and we could really see it well because it was a cloudy day and really showed up. After we had a safety briefing, we went out to our chopper and our guide and pilot whose name was Julie. She told us about the guy that still had a house in the middle of the lava flow and showed us where the lava had blocked the road which we saw later on the ground. I wasn't as interested in the last part of the tour - it was just some waterfalls. The whole air part of the tour was about 50 minutes.
Afterward, she took our picture with our cameras.
Eco-Star $ 273.75 internet price $ 240.90
We did this as a young family including a 3 and 5 year old. We did everything there was to do on the Big Island over the course of 9 days and this was "hands-down" the most awesome! And it's completely free. Bring plenty of water and a torch/flashlight for the way back. The best plan is to hike before sunset, stay until it gets real dark (the lava really glows bright at that time), and then head back in the dark (most challenging part). It's amazing to experience Earth at its creation a few feet from and under your feet.
We found Tropical Helicopters online and saw their "Feel the Heat" tour and just knew we had to try it. The only bad thing about most helicopter rides is that if there is only the two of you, you won't fly unless they sell two more seats. Our reservation was for 9:00AM and was a no-go because we were the only ones. Apparently, not many folks wanted to ride without the safety of the doors on the aircraft. So we gave them our cellphone number and took off driving towards Waipi`o Valley. As we were leaving the Waipi`o area a little after 2:00PM, they called to tell us they had other riders. We made a beeline for Hilo and got there in 45 minutes.
With the doors off, you get a completely unobstructed view. We encountered a few small rain showers but nothing bad. The down draft from the rotor keeps the rain out of the cabin. We also had a low ceiling of about 2200 feet so we weren't able to get high enough to see down into Pu`u O`o (the main vent) like we had hoped.
The fresh lava flow (the thin grey finger by the arrow) in this picture which was taken around 3:30PM had not yet crossed the road when we were down there walking around at 5:00AM (we had driven out to the end of Chain of Craters Road before sunrise).
This helicopter ride was an awesome trip that we almost didn't get to do. One bit of advice: Book helicopter tours early in your scheduled time on the island (first day?). We had friends that didn't get to go because they booked it for their last day and it rained out.
See my travel logues for more photos of the lava.
Travelling inland along Hamakua Coast, passing through older sugar plantation villages interspresed with new housing and dodging the huge cane-haul truck that frequently cross the highway, it is nearly impossible to see the natural drama taking place along the shoreline. Steep cascades and breath-taking vistas are best enjoyed from the air. "Hamakua i ka wakawaka," irregular and rough Hamakua, says the proverb praising the valleys and cliffs of this majestic land near Hilo.
The volcano goddess, Pele, is something to behold! You'll fly over the world famous Pu'u'O'o vent where lava has been erupting almost continuously since 1983. See moltan lava as you fly over surface and subterranean lava flows. Fly from the vents to the devastated towns of Royal Gardens and Kalapana near the ocean. See red hot lava hitting the sea creating clouds of steam and instant black sand beaches. Also fly over the spectacular Hilo waterfalls - all for only $99 per person!
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