How To Travel Between Islands In Hawaii: A Complete Guide

Hawaii how to travel between islands
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Hawaii is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and any trip to the Aloha state is sure to be unforgettable. If you’re planning a visit you might be wondering how to see as much as possible and how to travel between Hawaii’s islands.

The good news is that island-hopping in Hawaii is pretty straightforward. There are long-established travel routes between all of Hawaii’s main islands, with many regular and affordable flights scheduled between them every day.  As long as you have a decent amount of time in Hawaii, as well as a little extra in the budget, traveling between Hawaii’s islands is a great way to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in America.

From the best way to travel to how much it’ll cost, here’s everything you need to know about how to travel between Hawaii’s islands.

What Are the Main Islands in Hawaii to Visit?

View of Hawaii's main islands
Michelle Spollen via Unsplash

Hawaii is made up of 137 islands sprawled out across the North Pacific Ocean. Of these islands, only seven are inhabited and just six can be visited by tourists. The six Hawaiian islands that can be visited are Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and the island of Hawaii, which the state is named after. The island of Hawaii is commonly referred to as the Big Island in order to distinguish it from the state as a whole. The three main islands of Oahu, Maui and Hawaii are all destinations in their own right, with plenty to see and do to keep most people entertained for a week or two.

How Hard Is It to Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?

A beach in Hawaii
Samantha Sophia via Unsplash

Traveling between Hawaii’s islands is incredibly easy. A number of airlines operate dozens of quick flights between the islands every day. No matter where your final destination in Hawaii is, almost all visitors to the islands will start and end their journey on the island of Oahu. This is home to Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii’s main commercial airport which serves destinations around the world. Most internal flights from other states within the United States will also land here too. Whilst there’s plenty to explore on Oahu, you can also travel between islands and venture out to other parts of Hawaii relatively easily.

What is the Best Way to Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?

Honolulu in Hawaii
Joyful via Unsplash

By far the best way to travel between Hawaii’s islands is by plane. In almost all cases it’s also the only way to travel too. There are three main airlines that operate regular daily flights between Hawaii’s main islands, Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Each airline operates over a hundred flights a day between Hawaii’s islands and there are almost hourly flights between Oahu, Maui and Kauai. There are also daily though less frequent flights to the smaller islands of Lanai, Molokai and Kauai too.

Most islands have more than one airport, meaning that there’s often a choice of final destination when booking flights between the islands. While Kauai and Lanai both have just the one airport each, Maui and Hawaii (a.k.a the Big Island) each have three airports. These are all served by commercial flights, while the island of Molokai is also served by two airports.

It’s well worth checking to see which airport is nearest to your accommodation or the sights you want to see on each of the main islands as this can drastically reduce your traveling time during your trip. This is especially true of the Big Island. Kona International Airport, on the west coast, and Hilo International Airport to the east each has its own logistical advantages for visiting certain sites on the island.

How Long Does It Take to Travel Between Hawaiian Islands?

A beach in Hawaii at sunset
Joe Cook via Unsplash

Traveling between Hawaii’s islands by plane is incredibly quick. If you’re starting from Honolulu, you can be in any of the other main islands in well under an hour. Kauai is the nearest and quickest island to get to from Honolulu at just 20 minutes away by plane. Maui and Molokai are around a thirty-minute flight, whilst getting to the Big Island takes around 40 minutes. The longest flight, from Kailua-Kona airport on the Big Island to Lihue on the northern island of Kauai takes an hour.

However, though the flight times between the islands is short, keep in mind that time spent waiting in airports can easily add up. This is especially true if your flights between the islands require a stopover. For example, flying from the Big Island to Molokai will most likely require a transfer at Maui or Oahu. Though the flight times are pretty short, you could be hanging around for a while waiting for your connection and the total journey time could easily be four or five hours. This is valuable vacation time that could be spent on a beach rather than in an airport. If you are traveling between Hawaii’s islands it pays to plan ahead and wherever possible book direct flights between each island.

Are There Ferries Between the Hawaiian Islands?

Surfboards on a beach in Hawaii
Robert Linder via Unsplash

There is no ferry service between Hawaii’s islands. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the oceanic waters between the islands are often far too choppy for a passenger boat service to operate in. Secondly, environmental concerns mean that any plans for a ferry service have always faced immediate opposition from the people of Hawaii. The seas around Hawaii’s islands are home to a huge and delicate ecosystem of marine life, to which it’s feared a regular ferry service could cause a lot of potential damage.

That said there are a couple of ways to sail between some of Hawaii’s islands. It is possible to take a ferry from Oahu to the nearby island of Lanai. This is the only regular passenger ferry service in Hawaii, and the trip takes around an hour, costing $30 each way for adults $20 for children. Another way to sail around Hawaii’s islands is on a cruise. Several cruise operators have routes around Hawaii which include stopovers usually in some or all of Maui, Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai. Such cruises are obviously a whole separate holiday and not something you can do during a typical trip to Hawaii.

How Much Does it Cost to Travel Between Hawaiian Islands?

Drone shot of a Hawaiian beach
Channey Tang-Ho via Unsplash

Americans often complain that the price of flights between Hawaii’s islands is comparable to the cost of much longer cross-country flights. But international travelers might not balk too much at the relatively low price of a plane ticket from one Hawaiian island to another. The prices of inter-island flights do vary depending on each journey but as well as being incredibly quick, flights between Hawaii’s islands are also generally pretty affordable. Factors such as the time of year and demand determine the cost of plane tickets but the increase in competition between the airlines that operate routes in Hawaii has had a positive impact on the price of local flights.

If you book far enough in advance directly with the airlines, you can often find flights between Hawaii’s islands for as little as $30 per person, one way. These will typically be for the most popular and frequent routes, such as between Oahu and Maui, and even without taking advantage of special offers or scouting around for deals the same flights are usually around $70 per person each way.

Flights to the smaller islands, such as Molokai, from Oahu are usually around $80 but can be even cheaper if you fly earlier in the week. Longer flights, such as from the Big Island to Kauai are usually similarly priced, typically between $80 and $120 per person each way, though don’t be surprised if they cost a little more during the busiest times of the tourist season, which runs from December to April.

How Many Hawaiian Islands Should You Visit in a Single Trip?

A sunset in Hawaii
Michael Schofield via Unsplash

You should only really consider island-hopping in Hawaii if you have a long enough vacation to justify the additional travel. Oahu, Maui and the Big Island all have plenty to see and do to keep most people busy for at least a week and even a fortnight. If you are determined to see more than one island during a trip to Hawaii, then it’s only really worth it if you have around two weeks (or ideally more) to explore the islands. A day or two in Molokai or Lanai from one of the main islands is an easier way to island hop, but if you want to really get your teeth into a couple of the islands, you’ll need plenty of time to really do them justice.

Potentially an eight day trip in Hawaii could be spent split between two islands, though you would need to factor in the time lost to traveling and finely tune your plans so that it doesn’t impact your holiday as a whole. If you have more time to spend in Hawaii then island-hopping starts to make more sense. Even with more time a good amount of planning will still be required to ensure you don’t spend too much time at airports that could be spent enjoying Hawaii’s breathtaking beauty. Remember to book direct flights wherever possible so that traveling between Hawaii’s islands is limited to the shortest amount of time possible.

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