"Doors Off” Volcano Helicopter Tours on the Big Island

"Doors Off” Volcano Helicopter Tours on the Big Island

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The Ultimate Hawaii Helicopter Tour

I had the opportunity to fly over to Hilo on the Big Island on Saturday and enjoy a “doors off” helicopter flight with Paradise Helicopters.  Helicopter tours are the best way to view Madame Pele’s island-building activity.

A Community United

To begin, our hearts and prayers go out to those who have lost their homes or businesses to the lava flow. However, it’s important that visitors understand that the actual area impacted by the recent activity is tiny – 10 sq. miles on the southeast tip of the island; for a perspective, the Big Island is more than 4,000 sq. miles and all the sunny resorts and villas on the Kona Coast are 100+ miles away.

The Big Island community is unified and raising money to provide services to all of those affected by the eruption. If you would like to learn about local causes, visit this page.

Thrilling Ride and Commanding Views

I have been on many helicopter flights, but this was a first “doors off” experience for me. I was in the front of the copter, in what they call the “co-pilot seat” and it was just a sheer drop from me to the ground!

Helicopter Tours Big Island Hawaii - by Sarah Mater

As we got higher, it got more beautiful. It was a little scary at first, but there is a handle toward the top of the helicopter and, to be honest, I was holding on to it for dear life. For some folks, this is part of the thrill, but I let my friend know that she would need to take most of the photos as there was no way I was letting go!

The sights we saw were incredible - I have a newfound respect for the professional photographers who hang outside of helicopters and snap away!  Fissure 8, one of the new volcanic vents, is still bubbling and shooting lava into the air. From the helicopter, you can clearly see the bright red rivers of lava and the fires below.  

Fissure 8 Big Island Hawaii - by Sarah Mater
There is a Geo Thermal plant that was threatened by the flow. For whatever reason, Madame Pele has opted to spare the plant. From the sky, you can see the lava moving on all three sides of the facility, but sparing the plant itself. I guess Pele has her reasons!

Dressing for the Flight

During the flight, we wore long pants and jackets as it was chilly up there. We had trade winds that day and were not bothered by any vog (volcanic smog) or CO2 while flying.

Lunch in Hilo Town

After the flight, we went into Hilo Town, and had lunch at a favorite spot - Café Pesto (such good food!). The spirit in Hilo was vibrant and if you didn’t know about the lava flow, you wouldn’t have guessed that anything was wrong – there were no noticeable effects at all in town.

Local folks in Hilo have told me that other than the seeing the reddish glow of the lava in the distance late at night or early in the morning, they really don’t notice any impact at all.

Conducting Business as Usual

There are such friendly people on the Big Island and all the local tour operators that we work with are conducting business as usual. There was no vog, ash or CO2 in town. There were, however, excellent martinis that were much enjoyed after my flight!

Martinis Hilo Big Island Hawaii - by Sarah Mater

Guest Story

We currently have guests staying on the Big Island with family members who are sensitive to pollutants (this is true). Understandably they were worried about their visit having seen the news reports.  They came and even with all the activity, they have not had any issues with the air quality. They are loving their vacation home, excursions and their overall experience.

This is sounding salesy, but the reason we're driving this home is that if you just watch the news you would think lava was covering the whole island of Hawaii and threatening the entire chain! The folks that host visitors on the Big Island, including us of course, want visitors to know that the Big Island is still welcoming guests...and putting on a show. 

Big Island of Hawaii - Exotic Estates - by John Di Rienzo

Safe Sightseeing

If you are thinking about traveling to the Big Island (or Hawaii generally), please know that it’s really a wonderful time to be in the Islands. Because of all the volcanic activity, if you have ever wanted to do a Big Island helicopter flight, I would highly recommend it.  I can personally attest that our operators work hard to keep everyone safe, respect the fly zones and would ground flights if it was ever needed.

As far as the air quality, unless you are right at the hotspot, it’s business as usual. Basically, it’s perfectly fine when the trades are blowing. When the trades stop, we will get a bit of vog, which is quite typical.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and the Exotic Estates team if you have any questions about our Big Island vacation homes or activities!


Me Ke Aloha Pumehana,
(with warm aloha)

Sarah Mater
Lead Concierge

Sarah Mater - Exotic Estates


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