Teeming with wildlife and blessed with an inordinate amount of postcard-worthy scenery, coastal British Columbia is home to killer whales, grizzly bears, and plenty of steelhead trout. The trick is getting to them. At Nimmo Bay, a small resort on the headwaters of the McKenzie Sound (across from the north shore of Vancouver Island), helicopters are an integral part of the agenda. Lodgers jet off to fly-fishing trips in the Great Bear Rainforest, rafting jaunts down the Klina Klini river, whale-watching expeditions and sea kayaking sojourns on tranquil fjords. Bring an iPod to fly to your favorite tunes.
For more information: www.nimmobay.com
Rotorua, a city of more than 50,000 in the North Island’s Bay of Plenty region (New Zealand’s own Lake District), is ringed by several varieties of exotic geothermal activity, including thermal springs, mud pools and sulphur vents. The appropriately dubbed Volcanic Air Safaris offers trips to nearby Mt. Tarawera, a vast lunar crater which famously blew its top in 1886, resulting in the loss of over 150 lives. Patrons can also pay a visit to Whakaari or White Island, an active volcano island 20 miles off the coast, where they can experience its rumbling vents firsthand (from a prudent distance, of course) or wander through the ruins of an abandoned sulphur-mining town.
For more information: www.volcanicair.co.nz
A massive curtain of water that makes Niagara Falls look like a faulty spigot, Iguazu Falls spills over the border between Brazil and Argentina. The statistics (1.67 miles long, 6.5 million liters of water per second) pale in comparison to the experience itself, which can surround visitors with some 260 degrees of falling water. Helisul offers 35-minute tours that suspend patrons vertiginously over the Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat. While the undeniable environmental impact of helicopter traffic in this UNESCO World Heritage Site has led to some controversy, Helisul (which also offers flightseeing trips over Rio) has invested in relatively new, quiet helicopters.
For more information: www.helisul.com
, Cairns, Australia
Northern Queensland is the Costa Rica of Australia, a verdant tropical swathe that encompasses dense rainforests, blinding white beaches and the world’s single largest organism, the Great Barrier Reef. From the gateway city of Cairns, the GBR Helicopter Company swoops its patrons over the Coral Sea to an anchored pontoon in the middle of the reef, where they can go snorkeling, enjoy a catamaran ride or take a spin in a semi-submersible vessel. For the upscale and amorous, GBR offers special sunrise flights to a private Coral Cay (i.e., your own private island) for a light, mid-morning brunch.
For more information: www.gbrhelicopters.com.au
While they won’t be gone any time soon, the Juneau glaciers are definitely in retreat, and Era Helicopters offers two-hour trips to the still-spectacular series of ice fields just north of the Alaskan state capital. Patrons hover over four distinct floes, receive some pointers on glacier taxonomy, then touch down for a brief amble on the ice (special glacier walking boots are provided). The dogsled trip, a popular “soft adventure,” allows customers to spend some quality time with dozens of seasoned four-legged Itidarod veterans.
For more information: www.flightseeingtours.com
Colloquially known as “the smoke that thunders,” the massive cataracts of Victoria Falls spume a towering cloud that’s visible up to 30 miles away. While the spectacle of the Zambezi River emptying into the Batoka Gorge is undeniably jaw-dropping, a trip to the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe can also involve plenty of wildlife watching. The Zambezi Helicopter Company offers a 30-minute “game flight” that sweeps over Zambezi National Park after a tour of the falls—elephants, hippos, rhinos and giraffes abound.
For more information: www.shearwateradventures.com/helicopters/default.asp
There are dozens of helicopter tour companies to choose from throughout the islands, but the big kahuna is Blue Hawaiian (of “Jurassic Park” fame). The winner of a prestigious International Star Diamond Award (an accolade usually reserved for high-end hotels and cruises), BH offers tours of Maui, Kauai and the Big Island that zip clients over active volcanoes, lava fields and rainforest waterfalls. In addition, golfers can get a lay of the land of their favorite courses and beachgoers can scout out other resorts. On the island of Kauai, Island Helicopters boasts a perfect safety record.
Fore more information: www.bluehawaiian.com; www.islandhelicopters
This is the big one. More than 600,000 people take air tours of the Grand Canyon every year. There are six companies at the park airport in Tusayan, and several more based out of Las Vegas. Papillon, which has been flying for more than 40 years, offers 30-minute sweeps through the “Dragon Corridor” as well as day-length tours that land at the bottom of the canyon near an ancient Indian village. Sundance, which flies from Vegas, offers a champagne picnic below the crater rim that includes a flight over Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Strip.
For more information: www.papillon.com; www.helicoptour.com
The Malaysian state of Sabah occupies the northern tip of the storied isle of Borneo and features a series of spectacular mountain ranges, as well as some of the world’s oldest extant rainforests. The area is also home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia. A minor ecotourism boom has brought flight-seeing trips to the region, and Sabah Air (which led tsunami relief efforts to Banda Aceh) leads expeditions that fly over rice fields spotted with water buffalos, orangutan preserves, mangrove swamps and the great mountain itself.
For more information: www.sabahair.com.my/public/default.asp
Shortly after the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted in July of 1995, two thirds of the residents of the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” were forced to flee, and the capital city of Plymouth lay under 40 feet of ash. This wasn’t expected—the volcano had never erupted in recorded history. While Caribbean Helicopters leads a number of island tours from its base in nearby Antigua, the Montserrat tour is (not surprisingly) the most popular. Passengers get an up-close look at the “exclusion zone” of abandoned towns, ash flows, dried lava fields and the old airport, which was hit by a pyroclastic flow (i.e. avalanche of rock, ash and dust) in 1997.
For more information: www.caribbeanhelicopters.net/tour-index.html