Privilege Blog

Helicopters And Volcanoes

The Four Seasons was glorious, but we managed to leave once or twice. Hawaii is a pretty compelling island after all.

First, we all ventured out to see one the island’s live volcanoes, Kilauea, from a helicopter. Along with a few cliffs and waterfalls. The volcano made me cry. Not because I’m afraid of lava, although, of course, I am, but because it brought home how alive our planet is.

A living system.


We flew right near the caldera. You can see a bit of molten lava through the smoke, like an invisible spirit’s campfire. The rest is flowing, underground in tubes, or overground through the forests. This time, the eruption is burning parts of a town. Unlike my childhood nightmares, the lava moves slowly, and there is plenty of warning, but the losses can be heartbreaking for small businesses.


I took only a few pictures, and the ones I managed mark the experience but don’t convey it. As long as I can show you that the flight was a once in a lifetime type of experience, and not even too scary until we flew near the cliffs.

The waterfalls are nifty.


But drafts in the canyons lead to turbulence. Here’s a video. You can maybe see how we jittered. I have no closeup photo of this waterfall since my eyes were closed, and my right fist clenched tightly around my daughter’s hand. It’s hard to hold a camera in that position.

Waterfall In A Canyon On The Big Island from LPC on Vimeo.

You see the pilot, my head, my daughter, and one of the other passengers. My husband, son, and two others sat in the back. Seating order was determined by height and weight, not by readiness to sit atop the sky. Huh.

The next day, my kids and I drove several hours around the island and up to a park at the top of the same volcano, where we hiked around an older caldera. We began in a rain forest, on the Iki trail.


And switch-backed our way down to the caldera floor. Redheads wear hats.


Lava still flows, underneath. Steam issues from fissures.


Once traversed, we looked back across. I have no words of description. Otherworldly, perhaps?


Well worth doing, both the helicopter, which is expensive, and the hike, which costs only the $10 admission to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii. On beyond palm trees, to the moon.


Note: We flew with Blue Hawaiian. I have nothing but good things to say about the company, their processes, and our pilot.

27 Responses

  1. We were on the Big Island in April and it was truly one of the best vacations of my life.

    For part of the visit, we stayed on the west side in Kailua-Kona. Then we drove to the other side of the island and stayed in Pahoa, the town that is currently being covered by lava. We found out last month that the lava has reached the grocery store we went to. For some reason, this small part of the larger story really brought it home to us.

    I am glad that you had such a lovely trip.

    1. I think it would be wonderful to stay in two places, one on either side, or one by the beach and one higher up. I can understand how the detail on the grocery store would bring things home. We hear so much news, it’s natural screen out that which does not apply to us.

  2. Lisa you are much braver than me…
    Friends who go to Hawaii for 6 weeks each year have walked dangerously close to the active lava fields and I have seen the pictures…I am not sure which island they were on as they don’t always go to the same island.
    I am not sure how you managed to take that video…but glad you did!

  3. I need Xanax for airplanes, but loved flying in a helicopter so much, that I actually asked the pilot how much it cost – turns out we can’t afford one.

    Was the ground hot to the touch? Such a lunar-scape, yet life is busting out.

  4. I used to have the same nightmare as a kid, about a volcano suddenly sprouting in our neighborhood and being engulfed by lava! But I’ve always found volcanoes utterly fascinating, which let to taking lots of geology classes, and learning as you have that lava is slow stuff usually. (It’s the ash you have to watch out for e.g. Pompeii, but Hawaii’s volcanoes are basaltic in nature, so you get the lava instead.) Gorgeous, amazing pictures. I’m so envious of that helicopter ride!

  5. I love that volcano and have wandered around it a few times. No helicopters for me though – you’re way braver.

  6. I found the requirement to declare my weight the most frightening part of the helicopter trip…but that is just me ! : )

    1. Hehe. Blue Hawaiian is very discreet. You step on a map which reports your weight to someone behind a counter, and nobody else can see.

    1. Thank you. I hope you get to Hawaii – the thought of flying through the Grand Canyon is astonishing.

  7. Oh my, visiting the volcano. That I would very much like to do, both on foot and via air. I am simultaneously terrified and fascinated. When I took a helicopter ride up on Alaska glaciers, they also positioned us by height and weight. It was amazing and completely changed my perspective.

  8. We took a helicopter ride in Kauai in November. There were four passengers plus the pilot. Sadly, we didn’t have a live volcano to fly over, but they made it exciting by removing the helicopter’s doors. At times it was almost too exciting for me…

  9. Wow, that’s an amazing view! I’m going on a helicopter ride next week and was kind of curious what these experiences were like. I wish my first experience could be on the Big Island! Those waterfalls looked incredible.

Comments are closed.