Weather - cloudy, 78 degrees and humid.
Today we had scheduled a 45 minute doors off helicopter ride out of Hilo to see the volcano up close. As we called to reconfirm they asked if we wanted to fly out of Kona instead for a 1 3/4 hour ride around the island including the volcano for only $100 more. So, we said yes! Plus we didn't have to drive far so we had breakfast at Bongo Ben's (which was surprisingly pretty good) and then headed to the airport.
We checked in, paid - got on a scale to give flight weight and waited for our safety briefing by ground crew member Jamie. Our captain Ryan then came in to let us know the flight plan. As there was weather on the island, we would do a different route along the beaches south of Kona instead of up over the top. Oh bummer, our 1.75 hour ride just became 2+! Flight departure: 11AM
Our fellow passengers were "Passenger Ryan" and his three kids Snow, Archer and Laila; ages 12, 10 and 7 respectively. Very cute kids.
We climbed aboard our Bell 407 aircraft and strapped in. Carrie got the copilot seat! What a thrill.
We took off which was a strange feeling having never flown in a helicopter before. So fun! We flew south along the Kona coast and saw some beautiful beaches from the air and the topography including mac nut farms, coffee farms and a few cow pastures thrown in. We flew past South Point where Ryan confirmed that is the best jump on the island.
After rounding the south corner we flew up the face of Mt. Kilauea which we had just visited by car days before. We were not able to fly over the main cauldron Halemaumau Crater as the cloud cover was too low and we have to be at least 8,000 feet over per restrictions. Oh well we headed to the East Rift zone where lava was FLOWING! Yes, we hit the lava lottery. It was like a bunch of fairly fast moving creeks of reddish black lava. Our pilot said "no joke" this just started yesterday and hasn't been this good in over three years! What a treat. I had only seen the slow moving stuff on TV but this was fast moving stuff. We flew over the cauldron of the vent as well where I was able to see a billowing bubble blast of red hot lava. You could actually feel the heat in the aircraft! There was venting steam and sulfur dioxide all over the mountainside. Much more thrilling than I ever expected! As we flew away from the mountain a sulfur dioxide tornado formed and we fly right be it - probably within 150 yards or so. The kids and Carrie were excited too.
After the excitement we made our way over Hilo town and on to the north Kohala coast where we saw some ridiculously amazing waterfalls. I mean - two of them were 2500 feet long! We approached them at 1600 feet and our pilot said "we are at 1600 feet and you can't even see the top". So lush, green and beautiful. We flew over Polulu Valley where Carrie and I had hiked in the week before. About this time poor little Laila kept saying she "wanted to go home". She was so tired. It was time to head home anyway and we made our way over Hawi and down the north Kona coast. Ryan pointed out all of the beautiful resorts and beaches along the way. I was trying to make points of all of the beaches (which were good for snorkeling, eating, drinking, etc.) but too many to track. Landed back at Kona airport at 1:10PM so over two hours in the air. Ryan was great so we tipped him well.
How do you compare to an experience like that? Well, you don't. You go back to town, have a wonderful Ahi poke at TK's noodle house (Carrie had Loikani Chicken) and then a nap by the pool! Carrie went shopping and I caught some great ZZZZzzzz's. The surf was up so I fell asleep watching the guys catch some pretty big waves.
Had dinner at Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill - was supposed to be fine dining but it was just ok. The fresh catch was Ono which is hard to pass up so Carrie had hers breaded in rice flour and the presentation on the plate was very pleasing. I got the grilled Ono and it did look good but was way overcooked so I sent it back to the kitchen. The next bit that came out was undercooked but it was fine - I like raw fish! The ambiance was cool - kind of like a classed up surf scene.