Posts Tagged ‘helicopter’

Exploring Italy: Mt. Etna Helicopter Tour in Sicily


The otherworldly landscape of Mt. Etna

I find volcanic landscapes oddly compelling and helicopters are my favorite mode of transportation. So it did not come as much of a surprise to me that the highlight of my trip to Sicily was the helicopter tour of Mt. Etna.


Helijet’s sweet ride

Arranged by the excellent concierge at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea and booked with HeliJet, the 45 minute tour departed from the airfield at Calatabiano, about a 30 minute drive from Taormina in early morning traffic.


Aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi

As an added bonus, the Mt. Etna helicopter tour gives you an aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi, the villa used as the setting for Micheal Corleone’s wedding to Apollonia in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (known locally as Il Padrino). The villa, located in Fiumefreddo, is privately owned and can be visited with special arrangements. The fly by was enough to satisfy my inner film buff.

Video of helicopter tour of Mt. Etna

It was interesting watching the plumes of smoke expelled from Mt. Etna and how they drifted and merged into the cloudscape against the bright blue sky.


Harsh volcanic landscape of Mt. Etna

The rich volcanic soil of Mt. Etna makes for good grape growing. With an altitude of over 3,500 feet, the slopes of Etna are the highest commercial wine producing vineyards in the world. Wine tasting tours are also popular in the area.


Interesting clouds over Mt. Etna

With a current altitude of 10,922 ft (3,329 meters) Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is the largest volcano in Italy. It’s last summit eruption was in 2012.


Mt. Etna from above

If you’re looking for interesting things to do in Sicily, I’d highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of Mt. Etna. Those interested in taking pictures should sit next to the pilot for the best views.


Plums of smoke from Mt. Etna in the distance

After viewing the crates of Mt. Etna, our helicopter tour headed along the coast towards Naxos, Taormina and Isola Bella, with lovely views of the Sicilian coast.


Our Helijet pilot

Helijet can provide transfers to and from hotels to the Etna Volo airfield. Photos in the Helijet office show off that Rihanna enjoyed her helicopter tour of the area.


View of Naxos

Via F. Atenasio 2, 98039 Taormina (ME)
casella postale 7
Tel +39 345 1528975
Tel +39 347 5928546

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Exploring Hawaii: Big Island Helicopter Tour of Volcanoes and Waterfalls



View from the office of a Big Island Helicopter Pilot

If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, I highly recommend taking a helicopter tour. To truly appreciate the Big Island’s active volcanic landscape, you have to see it from above.

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Zan taking in the view

I booked a doors off waterfalls and volcanoes tour of the Big Island with Hawaii Volcanoes Helicopter Tours and it was the highlight of my trip to the Big Island. Based at the Commuter Air Terminal of Hilo International Airport, I could not have gotten more value for money than I did for this scenic flight ($378 for two people for a tour of approximately 35-40 minutes).


Aerial view of a macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii

After spending a few days exploring the Big Island of Hawaii and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the helicopter tour helped me better get the lay of the land. It also brought into sharp focus what is so unique about the Big Island– it’s home to Kilaeua, an active volcano.


Aerial view of Hilo Bay, Hawaii


Hilo from above

Once you take off from the Hilo airport, you fly over macadamia nut farms,the Boiling Pots of Peepee Falls and Rainbow Falls and head toward the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. The tour was a great time to geek out over geography and mother nature.

Helicopter Ride over lava flow of  Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii

While conditions change daily, this summer has been an incredible time to see the volcano. The lava flow just reached the ocean for the first time in three years.


Sulfer smells and hot air filled the helicopter as we flew over Kilauea’s steam vents and active lava flow

Overall, the helicopter tour was  smooth. It gets a bit bumpy when you are directly over the lava flow and steam vents, where hot air and cross currents add to the atmosphere.


 Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world

Our pilot, Luka Dayton-Smith, stayed cool and let us know what to expect before the helicopter changed directions or hit a turbulent patch. I felt safe and secure during the entire flight.


Window seat view as you fly over Kilauea

Helicopters are such a fun way to experience the landscape. With the doors off, there is very little between you and nature. If you are looking for things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, take a helicopter tour!


A tree burns as the lava flow overtakes it

Seeing trees fall as an active lava flow sets them on fire is mind blowing. It puts things in perspective and give you great respect for mother nature and the Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele. By the end of the tour I understood the difference between the two kinds of lava flows in Hawaii, the pahoehoe and a’a.


Approaching Kilauea in a helicopter

Our pilot even let us pick what to listen to during our flight. We went with adrenaline-pumped Foo Fighters. It paired nicely! We got to fly over the gardens of downtown Hilo as well, but honestly, after flying over an active volcano and seeing mother earth do her thing, you’re a bit dazzled. The experience is truly awesome and inspiring. A few tips: If you have long hair, you’ll want to put it up. It’s windy up in the helicopter, especially if you go with the doors off option. If you’re serious about photography, doors off is the way to go and you won’t be spending your days trying to eliminate window glare when editing your photos.


Shaka symbols + helicopter = win 

If you’ve never taking a helicopter tour, let the Big Island be your first. It’s unforgettable. Hawaii Volcanoes Helicopters made the experience pleasant and easy.


After an awesome flight with helicopter pilot Luka Dayton-Smith (photo credit: Zan Aufderheide)

 Be sure to book ahead.

Hawaii Volcanoes Helicopter Tours
1347 Kekuanaoa St.
Hilo, Hawaii
Phone : (808) 557-0084
Email :

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Free JetSmarter Helicopter Transfers in NYC


Boarding the helicopter transfer at the West 30th Street Heliport

My husband got me a JetSmarter membership as a present recently and it’s officially become my favorite luxury travel app. Like all private aviation, JetSmarter does not come cheap (rates are going up June 1st, but you can get membership until the end of May for $$9,675 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $3,500. Details at bottom of this post).

Some video of my Blade flight over the Hudson River

While this may seem steep at first glance, it’s a bargain if you are used to paying full fare for first class travel between New York and Los Angeles. One way First Class airfare on American Airlines costs $2019. If you regularly fly bi-coastal, JetSmarter can be a great value for money.

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Cool view sitting next to the pilot

One of the best things out of the best things about being a JetSmarter member is the free helicopter transfers to and from Teterboro and Westchester airports to the West 30th Street Heliport in New York City.

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Helicopter pilot at the controls

JetSmarter also offers helicopter transfers to the Hamptons from Manhattan and from Chicago airports to the Loop.

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Above the Hudson

If you ask nicely, you can sit next to the pilot when you take off from the West 30th Street Heliport. Keep in mind, this side of the chopper is away from the NYC skyline when heading out of the city.

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The view through the passenger side door

JetSmarter is raising rates in June to $10,000 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $5,000.

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Headed to HPN Airport in Westchester

I’ll do a post in the future detailing the LA to NYC JetSmarter shuttle experience.


The View after dark into NYC is dramatic and beautiful


Obligatory helicopter selfie


500 East Broward Blvd., 19th Floor,
Fort Lauderdale, USA, FL 33394

+1 (888) 9 VIP JET



(Please mention Jen Pollack Bianco when contacting JetSmarter) 

JetSmarter App on iTunes


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Exploring New Zealand: Scenic Helicopter Tour of Milford Sound

The view of Glenorchy from lift off

The view of Glenorchy from lift off  

If you’re looking for things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand and bungy jumping isn’t your style, I highly recommend taking a scenic helicopter flight to Milford Sound with Heli Glenorchy. This was the highlight of my recent trip to New Zeland’s South Island.

The Dart and Reese rivers meet Lake Wakatipu

The Dart and Reese rivers meet Lake Wakatipu

The weather has to be on your side. Too much wind can make for a choppy and unpleasant flight. After two days of delays and time push backs, I was finally able to take the scenic flight to Milford Sound with pilot Mark Hollows.

Taking off from the Glenorchy helipad video

Despite his chill Kiwi attitude, Hollows is a seasoned pilot who knows Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park like the back of his hand. With decades of also piloting experience, Hollows also sometimes flies helicopters from the Seattle area into Alaska. He provided a smooth and safe journey and convinced me I want to be a helicopter pilot in my next life.

The Real Middle Earth, as seen from a helicopter

The Real Middle Earth, as seen from a helicopter

I’m a bit of an aviation geek and now helicopters are my new favorite form of transportation. Why? Check out these stunning views!

A lake in the Fiordland with the Rees River in the background

A lake in the Fiordland with the Rees River in the background

 If you are planning a trip to Queenstown and looking for a luxury tour, I cannot recommend a scenic helicopter tour highly enough. It’s an adrenaline rush without bungee cords. If you are photographer, the aerial views are incredible.

Here I am exiting the helicopter to explore the Fiordland

Here I am exiting the helicopter to explore the Fiordland

Weather permitting, you can add on things like a glacier and snow landing to your scenic tour. These extras are all weather dependent– much of the snow had melted so our snow landing was a bit rockier than it would have been during cooler weather. I’m not complaining!

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Exploring the Fiordland

Exploring the Fiordland

It’s incredible to have such an intimate experience among the clouds in such a dramatic and gorgeous setting.

Helicopters can land just about anywhere

Helicopters can land just about anywhere

The blue skies, the glaciers, the lakes… it’s nature at it’s most pristine. I can’t think of anything else more deserving of the tourism board’s “Pure New Zealand” description and #purenewzealand hashtag.

Whirlybird goodness GIF

 Whirlybird goodness GIF

I was blown away by the landscape. Glaciers melting into small pools, clouds and bright blue skies were everywhere.

Where a glacier becomes a lake near Milford Sound

Where a glacier becomes a lake near Milford Sound

The rocks were covered with patches of moss when they weren’t capped with snow.

Moss, rocks, and glacier

Moss, rocks, and glacier

This is part of the planet you can’t easily reach by hiking.

I love the graphic nature of the landscape

I love the graphic nature of the landscape

While I had some photographic issues with reflections in the windows, I have since learned from fellow photographers you ideally want a “doors off” flight for the best images.

Glacier melt turns into rapids near Milford Sound

Glacier melt turns into rapids near Milford Sound

I’m not sure if Heli Glenorchy offers a doors off option, but I’m still thrilled with the photos I got during this flight.

Another amazing aerial view with  in the distance

Another amazing aerial view with Lake Wakatipu  in the distance

The scenery can truly be described using every cliche. Epic? For sure. Breathtaking? Yep.

It's amazing to be able to fly into the clouds... and then just land

 It’s amazing to be able to fly into the clouds… and then just land


Glaciers peaking above the clouds


The view from my window seat looking down at Fiordland National Park

A portrait of helicopter pilot Mark Hollows

A portrait of helicopter pilot Mark Hollows

 As if you need any more scenery, the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is also quite beautiful.

Glaciers winding through craggy rocks

Glaciers winding through craggy rocks

Looking down at a glacier

Looking down at a glacier


Just below the clouds


Glaciers create some of the world’s most glorious scenery

It’s kind of mind blowing being able to look down at a glacier from a helicopter. You really get a sense of their movement and flow.

A stunning aerial view of lake in Fiordland National Park

A stunning aerial view of lake in Fiordland National Park

Helicopter tours do not come cheap. Scenic flights to Milford Sound start at NZ$245 (US$165) per person. But the Heli Glenorchy experience is worth every penny.

Heli Glenorchy
Address: Mull St, Glenorchy 9372, New Zealand
Phone:+64 800 435 449

Heli Glenorchy Facebook Page 

Follow Heli Glenorchy on Instagram

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Australia’s Red Centre As Seen From a Helicopter Ride over Uluru


If you want a bird’s eye view of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) Helicopter is your best bet 

During my recent visit to Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia’s Red Centre, it was incredibly clear that the one thing you shouldn’t do is climb Ayer’s Rock. Fortunately Longitude 131 offers scenic helicopter tours as part of it’s menu of “Bespoke Experiences.”


My pilot and the R44 Raven II helicopter

The ride in the R44 Raven II helicopter was smooth. I liked this little helicopter!

Taking off from Longitude 131 in a helicopter for my scenic ride

The photographer in me always likes to get shots from different vantage points, so I booked the 30 minute scenic flight over Uluru & Kata Tjuta to Ayers Rock Airport instead of taking the car transfer. I’m glad I did. The bird’s eye view from the R44 Raven II helicopter gave me a great perspective of the vastness of the desert and stunning views of Uluru and the 36 domes (not all visible by ground) of the Kata Tjuta range (formerly known as the Olgas).

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A nice view of Uluru from a helicopter

 The helicopter ride was smooth and 30 minutes long and took me over both Uluru as well as the Kata Tjuta ranges before heading to the Ayers Rock Airport.

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Approaching Ayer’s Rock Airport

Seeing the scrubby dotted landscape below also made me appreciate the tribal prints of the native Aboriginal people, the Anangu. You can buy their prints at the cultural center.


Different domes of the Kata Tjutas are visible from the ground

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Left: Approaching Uluru Right: Uluru/Ayers Rock is more solid than nearby Kata Tjuta

I shot some video on my iPhone 6 during my helicopter ride. Check it out:

 Flying over Uluru (Ayers Rock) in a R44 Raven II helicopter

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A view of The Kata Tjutas (formerly known as The Olgas) as seen from helicopter

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The domes of Kata Tjuta are visually more interesting that Uluru

While I went to Longitude 131 intent on seeing Uluru, The Kata Tjutas were far more visually interesting for me.

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Obligatory helicopter selfie

The 30 minute scenic helicopter ride over Uluru and Kata Tjuta from Longitude 131 to Ayers Rock Airport costs Australian $570 for two people and can be arranged directly from the resort. It’s great for both photographers and aviation geeks. Since I am both, to me it was totally worth the money.

Longitude 131

Yulara Drive,
Yulara Northern Territory 0872,  Australia
Tel: +61 08 8957 7131
Fax: +61 08 8957 7130

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