The only way to see over 70% of the island of Kauai is from the air. I admit that for a long time I thought that the only way to do this is by helicopter. When I was on Kauai in September 2010 I learned that there is an alternative way to see Kauai from the air. It's by plane and one of the two companies that offers these tours is AirVentures Kauai.
About AirVentures Hawaii
AirVentures Hawaii flies the state-of-the-art six-passenger GA-8 Airvan where every seat is a window sea featuring large bubble windows specially designed for aerial sightseeing. The plane features a wide sliding cabin door for easy access, and a spacious aisle way that provides comfortable seating and ample leg room.
AirVentures Hawaii offers the choice of two flights on Kauai. By far the most popular, and the one I'd recommend, is their Big Kahuna Air Tour, a 70-minute flight that is offered numerous times throughout the day. The flight encompasses the entire island of Kauai.
Following take-off from the Lihue Airport, the flight proceeds around the island in a clockwise direction proceeding along the southern shore from Kipu Kai Beach, past Poipu, Spouting Horn and Waimea Town and then proceeding inland to Manawaiopuna Falls (Jurassic Park Falls) in the Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon and over to the Na Pali Coast.
The flight continues along the Na Pali Coast, past Kalalau Valley to Ha'ena State Park and then past all of the major beaches of Kauai's North Shore including the beautful Makua Beach (Tunnels Beach), Lumahai Beach (were the movie South Pacific was filmed) and Hanalei Bay and the Princeville Resort area.
Flying inland over the Hanalei Valley the flight proceeds to Mt. Waialeale, in many years the wettest spot on Earth, the Wailua River Valley and Wailua Falls (Fantasy Island Falls) and back to the airport. Along the way you'll see miles and miles of beautiful coastline, countless waterfalls and the sheer beauty of the Garden Isle.
Their Kauai Mini-Tour is offered once daily and is a 30-minute flight that following take-off from the Lihue Airport, follows the southern route where you will enjoy spectacular views of Kalapaki Bay and Nawilili Harbor, the Menehune Fishpond, Kipu Kai, Kaa Crater, Spouting Horn, Waialeale Crater, the Anahola Mountain Range, the Wailua River, Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls.
In addition, AirVentures Hawaii offers a Big Kahuna Air & Land Tour that consists of the Big Kahuna Air Tour followed by a Wailua River boat cruise and tour of the Fern Grotto. Visitors who want to see Kauai from the ocean, can take advantage of special discounts when they book an Air and Sea Combo Tour that includes a flight with AirVentures Kauai and a power-cat or sailing catamaran tour with HoloHolo Charters.
Airventures Hawaii Versus Helicopter Tours
So, the obvious questions then become what are the differences and common elements between a helicopter tour of Kauai and an air tour with AirVentures Kauai? Which is the best way to see the island? Let's do some comparisons.
- Flight time - AirVentures Hawaii's Big Kahuna Air Tour is 70 minutes in length. Helicopter tour on Kauai have varying lengths depending on the company and tour selected. Most standard tours run between 45-65 minutes. The GA-8 Airvan flies at a slower speed than most helicopter tours but also flies at a higher altitude. The plane cannot get as close to a number of sites as a helicopter. It's simply not as maneuverable in tight spaces and cannot hover in one spot.
- Route - AirVentures Hawaii's Big Kahuna Air Tour includes a number of sites which are not included in the standard helcopter tour such as the southern shoreline of Kauai and Princeville Resort area. Most helicopter tours begin with a more inland route and are able to fly directly into Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon, and the crater of Mt. Waialeale.
- Safety - My personal opinion is that both helicopter tours on Kauai and a flight with AirVentures Hawaii are safe. There have been no helicopter accidents on Kauai in the past three-plus years (as of October 2010). AirVentures Kauai has a perfect safety record. That being said, some people have a fear of flying in a helicopter and for those folks, AirVentures Kauai is a perfect alternative. That being said, accidents do happen and there is no way to predict when or how they may occur in either means of flight.
- Ecological Impact and Cost - AirVentures Hawaii claims that they can tour the whole island of Kauai on just twelve gallons of fuel. They claim that helicopter tours consume 375% more fuel. I have no means to verify these numbers, but the cost of fuel does have a significant impact on the cost of a flight and AirVentures Hawaii's Big Kahuna Air Tour has a list price of just $145 per person which is significantly lower than most helicopter tours. Special discounted rates are available for children.
- Photography - I found that despite the higher altitude, with a 18-105mm zoom lens I was able to get comparable photos of most sites when compared to one of the three helicopter tours I have flown. The slower flight speed enabled me to get more photos of each location, thus increasing the chance for a good shot. That being said, window glare is a problem with both means of flight. The only alternative to avoid this problem is a doors-off helicopter flight which is currently only offered by one company on Kauai. You can be your own judge by viewing my gallery of 36 photos taken on a AirVentures Hawaii Big Kahuna Air Tour.
- Comfort and Stability - I found the cabin and seats of the GA-8 Airvan to be somewhat more roomy and comfortable that most helicopters. There are no weight restrictions. The fact that there are no middle seats in the plane means that everyone has a window seat. Like most helicopter tours, passengers are provided with two-way noise reduction headsets so that they can hear and speak to the pilot. I found the flight on the GA-8 Airvan to be exceptionally smooth, but to be honest, I have never experienced a particularly rough flight on a Kauai helicopter tour either.
I very much enjoyed my flight with AirVentures Hawaii. I found it to be as equally enjoyable as any of the helicopter flights I have taken on Kauai. My pilot, Joel, is the company's senior pilot and he was friendly, knowledgeable and very communicative with his passengers. He made sure that most major sites were visible to those on both sides of the plane, although, like on most helicopter flights, those on the right side of the aircraft had overall better views.
I found the company's ground personal to be friendly and efficient. Parking at the Lihue Airport Commuter Terminal was convenient and check-in was a breeze. Pre-flight instructions were concise and informative. Boarding and deplaning was quick and without a hitch.
A flight with AirVentures Hawaii is a fine alternative to a helicopter tour on Kauai. It's perfect for the significant number of people who are afraid of flying in a helicopter or who tend to get sick in a helicopter. It is an economical (about $100 less expensive per person) and eco-friendly (lower fuel consumption) alternative to a helicopter tour. For folks who have taken a helicopter tour on Kauai, a flight with AirVentures Hawaii offers the opportunity to see areas of the island from the air that are not on the standard helicopter route.
If you'd like more information about AirVentures Hawaii or wish to book a flight, (online discounts are available), visit their website at www.airventureshawaii.com.
You may also enjoy our gallery of 36 photos taken on a AirVentures Hawaii Big Kahuna Air Tour.