Short of doing a shape-shifting exercise to become a soaring bird of prey, a helicopter tour is the next best thing for an adrenalin rush that will leave you in awe of the world.
From UNESCO World Heritage Sites to the wonders of the world, man-made sky-scraping cities, and into the mouths of volcanoes, helicopter rides give you an unforgettable feast for the eyes and plenty of camera candy moments.
Below are my favorites:
The Great Barrier Reef is an opal maze amidst a sea of blue where the outline of manta rays and sharks can be seen from the air. Shimmering golden sand cays have plenty of room for a helicopter to land on so that you can have your own private island for a time. Rides can be taken from a few locations: Port Douglas, Cairns, and Airlie Beach. You can custom make your own itinerary in some instances. Scenic aerial views over Green Island, Whitehaven Beach, and Heart Reef are on the agenda. Or, get the big picture of the Daintree Rainforest, Mossman and Barron Gorges, and Atherton Tableland.Ayers Rock and the Olgas, the scorched red, burnt heart of Australia's outback depicted in vivid color by Australia's most celebrated Indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, comes to life beneath your very eyes. You can fly over remote areas that are off-limits to ground tourism. You can soar over the spectacular hump of Uluru and the breasting domes of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), wing it over the incredible Kings Canyon and be awestruck by the beauty of the mammoth salt lake, Lake Amadeus looking for wild camels.
Victoria Falls – The Smoke that Thunders sits on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia beside the UNESCO World Heritage site, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Livingstone, Victoria Falls. It's a magical sight from the air with its plumes of spray and dazzling rainbows. The thunder of the cascading liquid sheets of 500 million cubic meters of water per minute plummeting to the gorge over 100 meters below is indescribable. The maze of colorful ravines as you swoop over the Zambezi River gives a totally different viewing aspect to that of the walking tour wearing a raincoat while negotiating the water-soaked pathways. It's one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
The Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, is the setting for one of Africa's most celebrated occasions, the Great Migration. It's a spectacular sight of over a million wildebeest and thousands of Burchell's zebra moving from the Serengeti to Kenya's Massai Mara national park. You'll witness a raw explosion of wildlife in a dramatic natural scene of snapping crocodile jaws, predatory lions, and lurking hyena.
The Okavango Delta, Botswana, is where you will find the world's largest inland delta that's flooded by the Okavango River every year. The Okavango Delta is literally a Noah's ark with its diverse wildlife. Flying over the region gives you the chance to find African wildlife without the need for a hot and bumpy jeep ride. June to October are the months to take to the skies for the best animal viewing – think rhinos, giraffes, cheetah, and lions.
A different face of Africa can be seen on helicopter tours. A tour over Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Congo, will have you peering at gorillas. You will get to look into the molten heart of the volcano, Mount Nyiragongo that has been erupting steadily over the last century. Ethiopia is another destination to take to the skies. The high peaks of The Simiens or the acid lakes of the Danakil Depression, where nomadic tribes lead camels will have you enthralled.
PLUS many more destinations such as:
The border of Argentina and Brazil
Iguazu Falls is one of the largest waterfall systems in the world, spanning more than 1.7 miles, with more than 300 waterfalls tumbling over towering cliffs. You can zoom over the national park cloaked in jungle and hang above the second longest river in South America, Parana River.
The harbor of Rio de Janeiro is worth taking a helicopter ride over for a bird's eye peek. From its historic landmarks and the iconic art deco style of its Christ the Redeemer statue to the granite peak of Sugarloaf Mountain and the undulating hills of Tijuca, this is a city like no other.
Check out the eight-mile long Fox Glacier on the South Island, with its unique vision of both rainforest and ice in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Journey over Mount Cook and literally jump off the helicopter and stretch your legs on a glacier.
Swoop over the Himalayas and take in the aerial view of Nepal's highest mountain ranges – the snowbound scene of Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu Glacier, as well as the Sagarmatha National Park. From river basins to lakes, there's no need to make the arduous trek on foot to take in this ancient land.
Kilauea Volcano on the island of Hawaii frequently explodes in fiery ash. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, it’s best to see its lava vents from the safety of the skies.
From the astounding vistas of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in Italy to meandering along a sky-road above the Colorado River as it dashes to the Rocky Mountains, phenomenal aerial views will leave you with long-lasting memories.
Every continent, city, and island has mind-blowing offerings for those willing to strap themselves into a seat on a helicopter.
Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.