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 being said, in my opinion, seeing Kauai from the air is a must do in order to fully appreciate the island – just find the most comfortable way for you – whether by plane or helicopter.
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 Carter is close to Lihue airport, on Ahukini Road. It was quite tricky to find and we headed too far towards the airport at first. There are obviously quite a few helicopter companies in that area so the signs can be confusing!
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. No champagne unfortunately 😉. If you have long hair it needs to be tied back, and 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 to the take-off point at the heliport by your designated guide. During the short half mile drive, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask any other questions. When it’s your turn to fly, you’ll wait behind a fence in a safety area, then be walked to the helicopter across the tarmac one by one. On the “doors off” tour, in a Hughes 500 helicopter, there will be 4 people total.
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. If you got stuck with a “Chatty Cathy”, this could be a little annoying, but we had another nice couple in the front – everyone took their turns asking questions.
The pilot soon realised that I was feeling uncomfortable – so he did his best from then – and through the whole flight – to put me at ease. No mean feat with someone scared stiff and hanging 1000’s of feet over canyons, held in only by a seat belt! I’m sure the belt is very safe, but I felt like someone should actually tie me to the helicopter (maybe with a parachute and some padding just incase!!)
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. Most of the time I would say “OK” through gritted teeth – and then try 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, the seat.. anything I could find really. 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 – although to me, most of Kauai feels as though you may come face to face with a Raptor at any moment!), 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 hang on and 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!
Would I do it again? Absolutely! I hope to do it again in January 2018… only this time I think I’d like to try the A-Star aircraft with doors…call me old fashioned 😉
So.. that’s an edited version of my incredible adventure in the skies over Kauai. I have many more beautiful photos (which I am happy to share!) but hopefully this gives you a taster of what you can expect when you see this magical island from the air.
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. The pilot was incredibly knowledgeable, flying the helicopter expertly, while being a very good tour guide at the same time! As I said, he was experienced with dealing with nervous passengers, and this did make a big difference to my flight, and to whether I would return. I felt a little less confident about the guide who took us to the helicopter and ran the safety briefing – as he seemed almost too laid back – but that could be my British take on it!
Overall – highly recommended, and I certainly wouldn’t visit Kauai without seeing it from the air. If you’re worried about heights, probably stick to the tour with doors – depending on how adventurous you’re feeling!
We did this tour in January 2016. 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!