Earlier this month I posted a sneak peak of my awesome Paradise Helicopters Tour from Ka’u to Hilo (I say awesome again, though I banned myself from describing anything with that word because I said it too often during our flight). As promised, here is a more detailed look into the hour-long tour.

I boarded the ‘copter at the new Ka’u Coffee Mill. The visibility was poor that day because of rain and that dreaded word that rhymes with dog, but luckily it cleared up, just for us.

After we strapped on our safety packs and Paradise President Cal Dorn led us through a pre-flight safety brief, we were on our way. I and my fellow passengers donned our miked headsets, which muted the noise and allowed Cal to very naturally explain what we were seeing. I could also speak to Cal through my microphone as well as to my fellow passengers which made for a fun and naturally interactive tour.

First we cruised over the Ka’u coffee and macadamia nut farms, viewed the fast-growing commercial eucalyptus forest, and then had a rare glimpse of Pahala town, surrounded by macadamias.

Then we were off to the lava, an experience which transformed me into a helicopter tour believer. Never before had I seen the transition from old to new land in such a sweeping way, clearly viewing old and new flows that once poured into the sea and shaped this portion of the Big Island.

Just a few days earlier, on April 30, lava was reportedly flowing into the sea at Kalapana, and from a distance you could witness the steam rising in a plume and heading mauka as if it were a beacon. As we flew closer, through crashing waves a crimson glow could be glimpsed (better with the eyes than with a camera shutter), and a shelf of black lava pounded by fire and water rested beneath us. It was simply captivating.

The charred land and aquamarine sea were enmeshed with ivory steam; the surrounding land lay quiet, burning in silence underneath. As we flew  toward Hilo we luckily caught a burst of molten lava as it began pouring onto a silvery lake of recent flows (that was in my sneak peak). Had Cal not been there at that time, we’d never have known it had just happened.


We scouted the area looking for more bursts, and I was able to capture these smoldering veins as we inhaled the sulfur and felt the heat for a few seconds more.

Soon the lava “gave way” to green as we crossed over the Hilo rainforest. I had no inkling of how broad its reach, and how avocado green its canopy.

An hour passed in a blink, and we arrived at Hilo airport with a seamless landing. Having flown planes as a teenager, I was dying to get into the cockpit, which the kind Cal allowed me to do–just for a moment. And then I was off to my next adventure–a volcano park tour guided by the humble and knowledgeable Warren Costa of Native Guide. But I made a promise to myself to get up in the air again as soon as I could–preferably with Cal as my pilot.

Photos and story by Christine Thomas 2010