“We’re about to take a ride in a helicopter. How do you feel about that?” My husband asked me on our recent trip to Oahu, Hawaii, knowing full well that I hate flying. “I’m terrified of heights so… we’ll see how this goes,” I said.
As a frequent traveler, it may be hard to believe that I could have such a fear of flying, but I know some of you can relate. For many reasons, planes are simply terrifying for those of us who are altitude-challenged. I expected the whirlybird to be worse, but I also viewed this helicopter ride over Oahu as a challenging, possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I felt a strong nudge to say yes to.
Related: Fighting the Fear of Flying
The safety briefing video was only a bit nerve-wracking as it explained all the protocols for emergency landings as well as what to do and what not to do in and around the tiny aircraft. We were assigned seats by our height and weight, so choosing to hide in the middle back row was simply not an option. Instead, I was placed next to the pilot, smack in the middle of the front seat, with nothing in front or to the sides of me but glass (and the support of the pilot and my husband).
Pilot selfie with Darl the pro. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
We donned our headsets to drown out the buzz of the spinning blades just feet above our heads and fastened our three-piece seatbelts. Then we had lift-off. No runway, no time for anticipation, just simply airborne and soaring face-first towards the high-rise hotels of Waikiki.
With a huge grin I glanced at my husband and wondered where the butterflies went and why I wasn’t freaking out (at all). Rather than feeling like I was in a chair in the sky, I felt as though I was strapped into an enclosed roller coaster, and I love roller coasters. I only had 45 minutes to see Oahu from the air, that’s simply too short to waste time being terrified.
The helicopter is equipped with multiple cameras, even inside! (Photo credit Blue Hawaiian)
So we soared. The floor nearly dropped out beneath my feet as the glass curved under, allowing us to see an almost unobstructed view of everything in front and below us.
We could see surfers dotting the water at Waikiki, the complete circle of the Diamond Head extinct volcano, folks snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. Then our pilot took us just over the ridge of the mountains to inaccessible areas including the famous Sacred Falls, which is now closed to hikers.
Soaring over Oahu. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
The Kaneohe Bay Sandbar (about 10-15 minutes off shore by boat) where people take their boats, barbeques and volleyball nets is an amazing sight to see from above. Nearby reefs are home to hundreds of sea turtles, visible from the air. We saw the windmills along the North Shore and the famous shrimp trucks, and of course we could see Pipeline and Turtle Bay before we turned inland to fly over the pineapple fields before coasting slowly over Pearl Harbor and the memorial of the USS Arizona, visible best from above.
Related: 12 Oahu Activities For Any Budget
At the end of the day, even the girl who is terrified of heights and flying, completely enjoyed this jaw-dropping helicopter tour of Oahu. I understand the fear of those who still won’t try it, but if it sounds at all intriguing to you, say yes and see Oahu from above. This is one memory you simply won’t forget.
We survived! All smiles. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Disclaimer: Your safety is not guaranteed when flying in any aircraft, and helicopters are no different. Helicopter tours in Hawaii are an activity that many travelers want to enjoy, but riding in a helicopter is a risk and the decision to participate must be carefully weighed.
Jackie Laulainen is a travel blogger and podcaster at TheBudgetMindedTraveler. She began traveling internationally in 2003 and has followed her passion for inspiring and equipping others to travel the world as well — on a budget.
Check out our original adventure travel series A Broad Abroad.