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If you only drive around Kauai in your rental car, you will not see all of Kauai. There is truly only one way to see it all, and that's by air. Helicopter tours are the favorite way to get a bird's-eye view of Kauai—they fly at lower altitudes, hover above waterfalls, and wiggle their way into areas that a fixed-wing aircraft cannot. That said, if you've already tried the helitour, how about piloting a microlight? Or flying in the open cockpit of a biplane—à la the Red Baron?
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This multi-island operator flies the latest in helicopter technology, the Eco-Star, costing $1.8 million. It has 23% more interior space for its six passengers, has unparalleled viewing, and offers a few extra safety features. As the name implies, the helicopter is also a bit more environmentally friendly, with a 50% noise-reduction rate. Even though flights run a tad shorter than others (50 to 55 minutes instead of the 55 to 65 minutes that other companies tout), they feel complete. The rate is $247 and includes taxes and fuel surcharge. A DVD of your tour is available for an additional $25. Harbor Mall, 3501 Rice St., Nawiliwili, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/245-5800 or 800/745-2583. www.bluehawaiian.com.
Inter-Island Helicopters. This company flies four-seater Hughes 500 helicopters with the doors off. It can get chilly at higher elevations, so bring a sweater and wear long pants. Tours depart from Hanapepe's Port Allen Airport, so if you're staying on the West Side, this is a good bet. Prices range from $249 to $310 per person. Inter-Island recently added a new heli that offers private tours for $598 a couple. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. PHONE: 808/335-5009 or 800/656-5009. www.interislandhelicopters.com.
Jack Harter Helicopters. Jack Harter was the first company to offer helicopter tours on Kauai. The company flies the six-passenger ASTAR helicopter with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the four-person Hughes 500, which is flown with no doors. The doorless ride can get windy, but it's the best bet for taking reflection-free photos. Pilots provide information on the Garden Island's history and geography through two-way intercoms. The company flies out of Lihue and has a second office at the Kauai Marriott. Tours are 60 to 65 minutes and 90 to 95 minutes and cost $269 to $404, including taxes and fuel surcharge. 4231 Ahukini Rd., HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/245-3774 or 888/245-2001. www.helicopters-kauai.com.
Safari Helicopters. This company flies the "Super" ASTAR helicopter, which offers floor-to-ceiling windows on its doors, four roof windows, and Bose X-Generation headphones. Two-way microphones allow passengers to converse with the pilot. A major perk Safari offers is its 90-minute "eco-tour," which adds a landing in Olokele Canyon. Passengers are then met by Keith Robinson of the Robinson family, who provides a brief tour of the Kauai Wildlife Refuge, with endangered, endemic plants. The once daily tour goes out Monday through Friday at 3:30 p.m. Flight prices range from $224 to $304, including taxes and fuel surcharge; a DVD is $40 extra. 3225 Akahi St., Lihue, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/246-0136 or 800/326-3356. www.safarihelicopters.com.
Sunshine Helicopter Tours. If the name of this company sounds familiar, it may be because its pilots fly on all the main Hawaiian Islands. On Kauai, Sunshine Helicopters departs out of two different locations: Lihue and Princeville. They fly the six-passenger FX STAR and super roomy six-passenger WhisperSTAR birds. Prices for the 45-55 minute Lihue flights range from $244 to $294, including tax and fuel surcharges. The 40-50 minute Princeville flights run from $289 to $364. Discounts can be substantial by booking online and taking advantage of the "early-bird" seating during off hours. 3416 Rice St., Lihue, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/240-2577 or 888/245-4354. www.sunshinehelicopters.com. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, 96716. Princeville Airport, Princeville, 96722.
Tropical Biplanes. This company flies both a bright-red Waco biplane, built in 2002 and based on a 1936 design, and a Cessna 182 Skylane. The biplane can carry two passengers, the Cessna holds three. If a couple takes two seats in the Cessna, they will not sell the third seat, as to keep it a personal experience. An open cockpit and staggered wing design mean there's nothing between you and the sights. You will be seeing the sights at an altitude of 1,500 feet at about 85 mph. Biplane tours range from $210 to $410 per couple, depending on length. Cessna tours cost $125 per person for the one-hour flight. Lihue Airport Commuter Terminal, 3901 Mokulele Loop, Lihue, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/246-9123 or 888/280-9123. www.tropicalbiplanes.com.
Air Tour Kauai. This company, which is operated by the same group that runs Skydive Kauai, can hold up to six people in its Cessna 207 plane. The flights take off from the less-crowded Port Allen Airport and will last 65 to 70 minutes. $125 per person. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. PHONE: 808/639-3446. airtourkauai.com.