Helicopter Ride Oahu: Tour Hawaii by Air

Hawaii, Tours & Experiences, United States / Monday, June 19th, 2023
Oahu has been crafted from flawless beaches and dramatically rugged mountain ranges. How could you possibly not want to appreciate its beauty from the air? Every time I saw a helicopter in the skies above I yearned to be up there experiencing life from a bird's eye view.
As a photographer, I was overwhelmed with excitement about the images which were waiting to be taken. This flight is not just for photographers though, the couple I went with brought nothing to record their experience except the memories which would linger in their minds for years to come.
Photo of a hula girl from the inside of a helicopter

I decided on an afternoon flight with Paradise Helicopters as the light would be softer. Meeting at Turtle Bay, we were taken through a short safety demonstration then met our pilot for the fight. Younger than expected but he had years of flying experience and from take-off, I felt safe. Lucky enough to get the front seat with views on all sides, I opted to pay that little bit extra to have the door removed for even more visibility. This was such a good decision as my range of view was extended and the experience felt so much more real.

We took flight over the golf course and were immediately above the vivid blue waters of Turtle Bay. My breath was taken away instantly and I was left in awe. In no time at all, you could see to the other side of the island and we made our way inland over the Dole Plantation pineapple farm towards Pearl Harbour. The military base was so interesting to see from above. The giant cruisers were waiting patiently in the bay and our pilot pointed out the USS Arizona which was sunk in 1941.

Continuing south to Waikiki we watched the surfers waiting for the perfect wave, yachts cruising in the afternoon sun and from so far away what seemed like a peaceful Waikiki Beach. I had never realized how the city curves around the water. I’m not usually one to appreciate buildingscapes but it was actually quite beautiful from the sky, especially the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel sitting proudly in the middle.

Photo from a helicopter of Turtle Bay on Oahu
Sunken ship in Pearl Harbour Oahu
Aerial photograph of Waikiki from a helicopter Oahu

Circling around Diamond Head was spectacular. I could appreciate its beauty even more after seeing it from another viewpoint. We passed over Haunama Bay, Koko Crater and Lanai Lookout before reaching the east side of the island. Seeing the beauty of all these landmarks in full was grounding. We flew around the Makapu’u Lighthouse and Rabbit Island before heading inland and flying straight through the Koolau Mountain Range. The shadows of the ridges create the most exquisite textures and depth.

After hiking through these mountains I knew the beauty and ruggedness up close. Something I’ll never forget is approaching the mountains and flying right over the top, so low we could wave to the hikers on the peak. What I was most looking forward to was seeing the Sacred Falls up close and it didn’t disappoint. The 1100ft drop of the water felt powerful, even from afar. It was just simply gorgeous.

Aerial image from a helicopter of Diamond head and Waikiki on Oahu
Aerial photo of Hanauma Bay Oahu
Aerial photo of Sacred Falls on Oahu
We made our way towards Kaneohe Bay, admiring the patterns of the coral reef and sandbanks in the water. After staying in Kaneohe for 4 weeks I had no idea such beautiful patterns existed out in this bay. Flying over Kualoa Ranch and Kahana Bay was something spectacular in themselves. We soared right through the center of the valley, even spotting King Kong’s bones from above. An hour after take-off we arrived back at Turtle Bay for a safe touch down.
The open door flight over Oahu was something I’ll never forget. We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather and clear views of the island. It would also be incredible to watch storms over the mountains in the distance. Paradise Helicopters have a range of routes for you to choose from and leave from Turtle Bay and Ko Olina Kapolei West Oahu. Have a look at their selection here.
Aerial photo of reefs in Kaneohe Bay
Aerial photo of King Kong's bones on Oahu

Top tips:

  • I had a camera strap, iPhone safety strap, and a necklace around my neck. At one stage I was so caught up I felt like a fish in a net. Leave the jewelry at home and just focus on either a camera or a phone.
  • If you have the doors off wear pants and a sweater, it can get very cool up there in the wind, even on a warm day. Tie your hair up, like I said… wind!
  • If the doors are on and you’re keen to take some photos, wear dark clothing to reduce the amount of reflection from inside the cabin.
  • Research the route you’ll be taking and try to get the best seat. You want the seat closest to the island. Going anti-clockwise? Sit on the left! Sometimes you don’t have any control over where you’ll be as the flight needs to be evenly weighted but it’s always worth a shot.

Photography tips:

  • Shooting from a helicopter was one of my biggest photography challenges to date. Set up your camera before you leave the ground and be prepared to be quick on the shutter.
  • I shot with an 18-55mm lens, generally at 18mm to get as much as I could in the shot.
  • You cannot swap lenses, batteries or SD cards during a doors off flight, so ensure your battery is full and your card is empty.
  • Take more photos rather than less. I took 300 photos on the hour-long tour and ended up with about 50 worth keeping. As the helicopter is moving incredibly fast I put my camera on shutter priority of 1/1000 with ISO between 800-1000. The aperture would adjust accordingly between f/5.6 and f/8. There is a little bit of noise in my images but they are razor sharp so I was ecstatic.
  • Make sure you’re constantly checking your ISO as cloud cover can leave your photo underexposed.
  • I was shooting with my DSLR and taking videos with my iPhone. The iPhone had issues recording video due to the rolling shutter. It couldn’t keep up with the speed so I would recommend leaving it behind unless it’s to take photos.
  • Keep your camera on continuous burst mode and take about 4 shots for every scene. When the helicopter is tilting towards your subject it’s incredibly easy to catch the rotor blade in the image. If you’re unlucky enough to catch it in every image you can use a mixture of the various images to create one.
  • If you have chosen a doors off flight, leave the lens hood and lens cap in the Paradise Helicopters office. You don’t want anything that can fly off and end up in the tail rotor.

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I was provided with this tour in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own and not influenced by the company.

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