Everything but the doors! An open helicopter experience with Jack Harter
As I mentioned at the end of my previous Kauai post, In a land called Hanalei, if you are at all uncomfortable with heights, this will be challenging! That would be me!🙋 Put a tarantula on my hand, a snake round my neck, or a torch on my head and send me underground and I’m fine. I also love flying.. but I am not good with heights – especially cliff tops, or huge expanses.
That said, in my opinion, seeing Kauai from the air is a must do in order to fully appreciate this beautiful island.
I’m glad to say I lived to tell the tale of the helicopter with no doors! And here it is…
The meeting point for Jack Harter is close to Lihue airport, on Ahukini Road (take the road opposite the entrance to the airport, Jack Harter is not too far down, on your left).
When you park up and check in, you will leave your belongings in the office. The ONLY thing you are allowed is a camera with a strap (at your own risk, of course!), and sunglasses. You can also take your phone on the doors off tour, as long as you purchase one of the straps for it at reception. No champagne unfortunately 😉. You’ll have a discreet weigh in, as they have weight rules & restrictions. There are also toilet facilities here – good to know, as this will be your last chance before the flight!
After an introduction and safety briefing, you’ll be driven the half mile drive to the take-off point, during which, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask any questions. When it’s your group’s turn to fly, you’ll wait behind a fence in a safety area, then be walked safely over to the helicopter across the tarmac. Our guide on our most recent trip made the interesting point that most people, having seen it in the movies, automatically duck down to avoid the helicopter blades. He told us there is no point in doing this – they are very high above your head! It’s still hard to shake off the instinct to duck though!
I was the first into the aircraft, sitting behind the pilot in the back (on the left side). I was strapped in and fitted with my headset. The pilot introduced himself and spoke to me while the others boarded, and he made sure we were all introduced and feeling OK. The headsets are all two-way, so everyone in the helicopter can hear each other.
The pilot soon realised that I was feeling a little uneasy – so he did his best from then – and through the whole flight – to put me at ease. No mean feat with someone scared of heights and hanging what seemed like 1000’s of feet over canyons, held in only by a seat belt! I know the belt is very safe, but I felt like someone should actually tie me to the helicopter (maybe with a parachute for good measure 😆)
Taking to the skies!
As we took off, I was feeling ok.. it was when we climbed higher that I became pretty terrified! The pilot always asked if I was comfortable before turning more onto the left side to get a better view of the valleys and waterfalls below. At this point I tried not to look as the aircraft tipped over to the side – thus defeating the point of being up there…the pilot was quick to point this out! For the first bit of the trip I was concentrating on holding on to the strap over the door, or the seat. My partner next to me explaining the scientific forces which made it impossible for you to “fall out” of a helicopter wasn’t helping ; )
At some point, I realised that I was enjoying the views and incredible waterfalls more than I was feeling terrified of falling out, and settled into trying to enjoy the flight! My partner took over the role as chief photographer – as usual he is happy as Larry hanging out of a helicopter with no doors – nothing fazes him.
We flew over Manawaiopuna Falls, (you might recognise it from Jurassic Park), the incredible valleys of Waimea Canyon, and the beautiful Na Pali Coastline.
You’ll see Mount Waialeale (In Native Hawaiian, translates as “rippling” or “overflowing” water), the centre of the island, and one of the wettest places on Earth (It might even beat Yorkshire for rainfall!)
At one point, coming up over a very steep ridge, the pilot said, “Ok, Charlotte, this will either kill you or cure your fear of heights…” and suddenly the world literally dropped away from under us. It felt like we were falling for a second. My heart felt like it dropped 1000’s of feet too! I wouldn’t say it cured me, but the adrenaline, awesome views and my internal adventurer helped me to just enjoy the ride!
During the last half of the trip, I felt a lot more confident being in the helicopter, and I probably could have happily stayed up longer. I think just over an hour is a perfect length of time for this flight, though, especially as it can get cold up there.
Update on the The A-Star tour (with doors!), January 2018
This month, we returned to Jack Carter for the 60-65 MINUTE AStar TOUR. It was really interesting to compare this with the previous trip. Although the weather was a little unsettled, it was still an incredible experience, and actually the intermittent rain afforded us some beautiful rainbow shots over the island (see below for some great shots by my fellow adventurer, who was on photography duty again!)
I would say the overall difference between this trip and the “no doors” tour is visibility. Because there are 4 passengers in the back, you will really only have the best view if you have one of the window seats (or if you’re in the front). If it’s raining at all, you could have the problem of water on the windows slightly obstructing the views, making it more challenging to take photos. Reflection can also be an issue. Jack Harter do recommend that you wear dark clothing in the A-Star tour, to prevent reflection on the windows, but unfortunately not everyone adheres to this! Of course, you will still experience stunning, breathtaking views of the island.
As with our previous tour, the pilot was capable, friendly and super relaxed. Even when flying through what seem to be incredibly narrow spaces, where you just can’t believe the helicopter blades will get through! He flew us tightly into the most beautiful spots, so we could get a real close up. One of my highlights was hearing the TopGun theme tune as we came into land (though I felt a bit old realising that the teenage girls flying with their mother on our trip probably had no idea what it was!).
You’ll notice some slight reflections in the first photo – then none in the second one – so it’s very possible to get some great shots from the A-Star.
For me, the main difference was that the (mainly psychological) fact of having doors on the aircraft made me feel a lot safer than in the Hughes. This added a lot to my enjoyment of the trip. If you’re not worried about heights, then I would recommend flying without the doors for the ultimate adventure – depending on your budget.
Overall – both tours are highly recommended – it just depends what you feel comfortable with personally (whichever you choose, you are in safe hands!). I certainly wouldn’t visit Kauai without doing one of them. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world to see from the air.
Hopefully this gives you a taster of what you can expect when you take a birds eye view of this magical island.
I haven’t tried any other helicopter companies at this point, but Jack Harter (founded 1962) is recognised as one of the most established and best on the island.
We did these tours in January 2016, and January 2018. Updated prices and details can be found on the Jack Harter website, here
As always, please contact me with any questions you have on this or my other posts – I’m always happy to hear from fellow adventurers! And like and share this post if you’ve enjoyed it
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In the meantime, safe travels!