One of my favorite things to do in Hawaii is take a helicopter tour. Until the spring of 2007, I had never flown over Oahu and I was eager to see the North Shore and Windward Coast from the air.
In researching the various companies flying over Oahu, I noticed that most of the flights originate from the Honolulu International Airport. This seemed fine for seeing the Southern or Leeward Coasts of the island, but too far away to allow ample time to tour the North Shore and Windward Coast.
The Oahu X-TREME with Paradise Helicopters
I discovered that there is a helicopter company that flies out of a helipad at the Turtle Bay Resort - Paradise Helicopters. The Turtle Bay Resort is located about half way between Haleiwa on the North Shore's western end and Kaneohe Bay at the southern point of Oahu's Windward Coast. It seemed like the perfect location to start a helicopter tour highlighting those areas.
Looking over the various tours offered, I noticed that Paradise Helicopters offers a tour, "The Oahu X-TREME," which features "no doors" thus providing the "best picture taking opportunity." I also noticed that the helicopter featured window seats for all passengers. Needless to say I was immediately attracted to this company and this tour.
I booked my tour online, saving $30 off the standard rate and quickly received a confirmation back from Paradise Helicopters along with instructions about check-in time, clothing recommendations and a reminder to bring a camera, film and sunglasses.
My flight was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Since I was staying in Waikiki, I awoke early and made a leisurely drive through Central Oahu to the North Shore. Still, I had some time to kill, so I ventured over to Mokuleia west of Haleiwa to visit some of the filming sites for ABC's Lost. As time for my flight approached I drove over to the Turtle Bay Resort where the security guard told me where to park for Paradise Helicopters. I arrived around 10:00 a.m.
About Paradise Helicopters
The heliport at the Turtle Bay Resort is located just a few steps from the far end of the guest parking lot. Paradise Helicopters' office is small and not at all glitzy. There's just enough room for the business office, pilot's office and a small area for passengers to sit for a flight safety briefing.
The helipad just had room enough for the one Bell 407 that was getting ready for our flight. You never, however, feel that this is anything but a very professionally run company just like some of their bigger brothers elsewhere in Hawaii.
Somewhere between check-in, meeting my fellow four passengers and departure, I learned that Paradise Helicopters is actually a family owned and operated company. The company flies not only from this Turtle Bay location on Oahu, but also from the Hilo and Kona on Hawaii's Big Island.
At the Turtle Bay location, Richard Potts is the pilot and base manager. Richard's wife Jennifer is the office manager. On the day of my flight, their daughter was also working in the office. Other members of the family operate the Big Island operation.
The only concern I had about the flight was the weather. When I arrived at the North Shore several hours earlier it was cloudy and rainy but by flight time the weather had cleared, at least along the North Shore.
Flying Without Doors Over Oahu's North Shore and Windward Coast
After our safety briefing we were loaded into the helicopter. The seating arrangement was different than I had seen in any of my other helicopter tours. In addition to the pilot and passenger seat up front, there were four seats in the back, with two seats facing each other on each side of the helicopter. Everyone was assured of a great view.
Our flight was without doors, so we were warned not to reach our arms outside of the helicopter since the speed of the helicopter and wind would tend to push an arm towards the rear of the helicopter very quickly.
We were also advised to make sure our headsets were secure on our heads so that they could not fly out of the open door and strike the rear rotor, which we were advised is needed for flight.
Our flight took us west from Turtle Bay towards Haleiwa along Oahu's North Shore. We flew past Kawela Bay, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay. From there we doubled back towards Turtle Bay, cutting across the Ko'olau Mountains to the Windward Coast.
We traveled down the Windward Coast past Punalu'u Valley, Kahana Bay, Ka'a'a'wa Valley and down to Kane'ohe Bay from where we turned around and headed north past Sacred Falls, La'ie and the Shrimp Farms along the Kamehameha Highway.
The weather down near Kane'ohe Bay was very cloudy and rainy. It was also very windy. I quickly learned that there are both positives and negatives to a doors-off flight.
If You Go
While the lack of doors allows for better photo opportunities since there is no window glare, the wind does affect your ability to hold your camera steady.
If you ever do a doors-off flight, my advice is to use as short a zoom lens as possible and hold your camera really firmly. A camera strap is an absolute must with the doors off.
One thing that you'll notice on all helicopter tours is that the time flies by so quickly. Our flight was an hour long but that hour passed all too fast. Despite that I was able to take over 300 photos. My strategy is to keep shooting and hope that you get some good shots. With a digital camera you can shoot lots of photos and not worry about wasting film.
I thoroughly enjoyed my flight with Paradise Helicopters. Richard was an excellent pilot who keep us advised of all of the sites along with path of our flight and who was able to handle all of our many questions. Jennifer was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient in our safety briefing as well as getting us in and out of the helicopter.
I'll be on the Big Island in October and I definitely plan on flying with Paradise Helicopters again, this time over Volcanoes National Park flying out of the Hilo heliport.
If you'd like to fly with Paradise Helicopters, check out their website at www.paradisecopters.com. If you book your flight online, you'll save some money. If you'd like to see over 60 photos of my flight, check out our Gallery of Aerial Photos of Oahu's North Shore and Windward Coast.