Farms, gardens, historic houses, and other points of interest that may be open only to guided tours are listed under “Attractions & Points of Interest”. For boat, kayak, bicycle, hiking, and similar tours, see listings under “Other Outdoor Activities”.
Helicopter Tours ★★★
If you forgo touring Kauai by helicopter, you’ll miss seeing the vast majority of its untouched ridgelines, emerald valleys, and exhilarating waterfalls. Yes, the rides are expensive (most are $250–$350 per person), but you’ll take home memories—not to mention photos, videos, and/or a professional DVD—of the thrilling ride over Waimea Canyon, into Kalalau Valley on Kauai’s wild Napali Coast, and across the green crater of Waialeale, laced with ribbons of water.
Most flights depart from Lihue, last about 55 to 75 minutes, and, regardless of advertising, offer essentially the same experience: narrated flights, noise-canceling headphones with two-way communication, and multicamera videos of your ride or a pre-taped version (often a better souvenir). The risks are roughly the same—the last fatal crash involving a sightseeing helicopter over Kauai was in 2007, with many thousands of flights safely flown since. (If your pilot chooses to bypass Waialeale due to bad weather, appreciate his or her caution.) So how to distinguish among the half-dozen major operators?
Given the noise inflicted on residents, wildlife, and tranquility-seeking hikers by flights that hover as low as 500 feet, I recommend touring with the most eco-friendly of the bunch, and most luxurious: Blue Hawaiian ★★★ (www.bluehawaiian.com; 800/745-2583 or 808/245-5800). Its American Eurocopter Eco-Star choppers have a unique tail design that reduces noise and fuel use, while the roomy interior has six business-class-style leather seats with premium views. The best seats are the two next to the pilot, but the raised row of rear seats won’t disappoint (keep in mind seating is usually determined by weight distribution). The 55-minute “Eco Adventure” ride from Lihue costs $247 ($226 when booked online at least 5 days in advance), which also makes Blue Hawaiian the best value. Note: In early 2016, passengers on a Blue Hawaiian helicopter suffered serious injuries due to an emergency hard landing; a final report on the cause had not been issued as of press time.
For those staying on the North Shore, it may be more convenient to do a tour with Sunshine Helicopters ★★ (www.sunshinehelicopters.com; 866/501-7738 or 808/270-3999). Its 40- to 50-minute flights from Princeville Airport are in quiet, roomy Whisper Star models, similar in design to Blue Hawaiian’s Eco-Stars (it flies different craft out of Lihue). Tours cost $289 for open seating, $364 if you want to reserve an even roomier “first class” seat in the front row; it’s $249 and $324, respective-ly, if you book online, with an extra $10 off on flights before 8:30am or after 2pm.
Although their aircraft are not as quiet as those of Blue Hawaiian and Sunshine, three other companies have unique itineraries deserving of consideration. Island Helicopters (www.islandhelicopters.com; 800/829-5999 or 808/245-8588) has exclusive rights to land at remote 350-foot Manawaiopuna Falls, nicknamed “Jurassic Falls” for its movie cameo. During your 25 minutes on the ground, you’ll hear about the geological history and rare native plants in this area of Hanapepe Valley, which like Niihau is owned by the Robinson family. In part due to landing fees and fuel costs, the 75- to 85-minute Jurassic Falls Tour ★★ costs $335; you’ll see the falls but not land there on the 50-minute Grand Circle Tour ($175). Both leave from Lihue Airport; add 4% to prices for credit card use. The 90-minute Kauai Refuge Eco-Tour ★★ of Safari Helicopters (www.safarihelicopters.com; 800/326-3356 or 808/246-0136) includes a 30- to 40-minute stopover at an otherwise inaccessible Robinson-owned site overlooking vast Olokele Canyon; Keith Robinson is occasionally on hand to explain his efforts to preserve rare, endemic plants here (which your landing fees subsidize). The tour costs $314 ($299 booked online) and departs from Lihue.
Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours (www.maunaloahelicoptertours.com; 808/245-7500), meanwhile, only offers private tours, with a thrilling doors-off option ($307 for 1 hour, $408 for 75 minutes; 2-passenger minimum), and customizable trips ($693 per hour).
Note: Minimum ages and maximum weights may apply; read fine print before booking.
Hollywood loves Kauai
More than 50 major Hollywood productions have been shot on Kauai since the studios discovered the island’s spectacular natural beauty. Two of the most recent star turns were in 2015’s Jurassic World (an update of 1993’s Jurassic Park) and 2011’s The Descendants. You can visit a number of Kauai film and TV locations—including scenes from Fantasy Island and Gilligan’s Island—on the Hawaii Movie Tour from Roberts Hawaii (www.robertshawaii.com/island/kauai; 800/831-5541). Offered daily except Sunday, the narrated minibus tour features singalongs and video clips that play between sightseeing stops. You’ll likely see more of Kauai on this 6-hour tour than you could on your own. Tickets are $119 for adults and $61 for children 4 to 11 (free for younger, if seated on an adult’s lap); prices include lunch at Wahooo Seafood Grill and pickup/drop-off ($10 extra for Princeville lodgings). Tip: Book online for discounted fares—$108 adults, $55 children—and reserve early.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.