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How to Island Hop in Hawaii

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Sylvia Paige

Hawaii is a splendid location, made up of eight major islands, a few atolls, and some smaller islets. Each major island provides a different atmosphere, from the scenery to the island vibe. Instead of staying on one island for the entire trip, you may want to consider island hopping. The below guide will advise you on how to island hop in Hawaii for the ultimate island getaway.

How to Go Hawaii Island Hopping

There are multiple ways to travel between each Hawaii island, from flying to cruises, day trips, and ferry rides. If you’re looking for the most cost-effective and quickest way to travel from island to island, Hawaii island hopping flights are ideal. Below are some of the major Hawaiian islands which have airports that you can fly into.

Hawaiian Islands: Flying to Hawaii

1. Oahu

Flying into Oahu is ideal if you are flying into Hawaii from another country or are looking for cheaper flights. Oahu doubles as the most popular island, and it’s the only island with an international airport (Honolulu International Airport), meaning it has more flight offerings. As the flights are more abundant and typically lower in cost, it’s an ideal location to start a Hawaii island hopping adventure. 

2. Kauai

As one of the major Hawaiian islands, it may be surprising that Kauai has limited flight options, with most traveling to and from California. While you can fly directly to Kauai, it comes with a hefty price tag. Most people fly into Honolulu Airport, then transfer to Kauai as a more cost-effective option.

3. Maui

Maui is another excellent island to fly to, though only if you’re traveling from the U.S. With an increasing number of flights coming and going from Kahului Airport on the island, it’s fast becoming a top destination for many. It’s a great island to book inter-island flights from, as you can book flights through Maui’s smaller airport (West-Maui’s Kapalua Airport) to the surrounding islands.

4. Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island is the largest in the archipelago, providing two airports to fly into (Hilo and Kona). Most airlines do not travel to Hilo or Kona directly. If you do find one that offers this flight, it will be very pricey. So, it’s best to travel to the Big Island using interisland traveling methods. 

As a note, there are no direct flights to Lanai or Molokai islands from the mainland U.S. These islands are only accessible via interisland flights

How to Island Hop in Hawaii: Available Airlines

The following airlines provide flights between the islands, with some offering flights to and from other U.S. states.

  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Mokulele Airlines
  • Lanai City (luxury connection from Honolulu Airport to Lanai)
  • Makani Kai Air

Best Option for Scenic Views

Enjoying the stunning views is part of the appeal of traveling to the various Hawaii islands. Selecting a window seat on each flight will optimize the views during your travels. Knowing which side of the plane to sit on will ensure you catch the most picturesque views. Below is a quick note on which side of the plane to reserve for some popular inter-island trips. 

Honolulu to Kahului – sit on the left side

Maui to Honolulu – opt for a seat on the right

Kona to Maui – sit on the right side of the plane

Hilo to Maui – you’ll also want to sit on the right side of the plane for this flight. 

When in doubt, you can peek at a map before booking your flight to help guide you in choosing your seat. 

Length of Flights Between Islands

The flights between the islands are fairly short, which is part of why island hopping in Hawaii appeals to many people. Expect to spend about 30-50 minutes in the air, depending on which islands you fly between. 

As with traveling anywhere via plane, expect delays and possible cancellations as you travel between islands. Typically, a flight is rescheduled within a few hours during a cancellation. 

Traveling to Hawaii Islands By Boat

There are two options for traveling between the islands via boat – a cruise or a ferry. These transportation options require more travel days. However, they provide even more breathtaking views than you would experience on the plane. 

Hawaii Ferry Rides

The inter-island ferry rides available in Hawaii are more limited in their offerings. Initially, two ferry routes were available, taking passengers from Lanai to Molokai and Lanai to Maui. The Molokai route is no longer in use. However, you can still travel from Lanai to Molokai via ferry. 

Riding this ferry provides scenic views of the marine wildlife and various islands, including Maui, Molokai, and more. This ferry ride is available throughout the year, with four daily expedition times. Ensure you arrive over 30-minutes early for your desired timeslot, as check-in is required 30 minutes before the ferry ride.

Inter-island Cruises

A cruise is the best option for those considering boating between other islands. These inter-island cruises travel between the major Hawaii islands, with stops at most, if not all. Most available cruises last around a week or more, so booking this method means you’ll be on the cruise lines’ schedule. 

You’ll be provided with an itinerary, meals, and accommodation when booking a cruise. This is a great option for those seeking a travel method where planning on your part is minimal. Taking a cruise is best for those with longer travel timeframes.

If you prefer more freedom in choosing which islands to visit and the length of stay, flying is the best option.

Hawaii Island Hopping Itinerary

With so many islands to explore, it can be an overwhelming decision of which ones to visit. The first step in planning an itinerary is considering how many days you can spend in Hawaii. Knowing the length of your trip will narrow down how many islands you can see. Then, prioritize the islands based on your interests and their proximity to each other. 

If the idea of planning a trip for Island hopping in Hawaii seems challenging, there are many options for Hawaii island hopping packages that include a pre-planned itinerary. These vacation packages are sold through various retailers, such as Costco. 

How to Island Hop in Hawaii: Top Places to Visit

While planning an island-hopping Hawaii trip, you can add these top attractions to your itinerary. The below attractions range from stunning nature areas to foodie meccas, aiding in creating a trip that appeals to many interests.

1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Adventurous travelers will want to add Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to their itinerary. Situated nearby Hilo on the island of Hawaii, this national park features various biological, geological, and cultural landscapes.

Two of the largest active volcanoes in the world are found in this park, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. This park offers many outdoor activities, from hiking to driving near erupting volcanoes. A visit to the Kilauea Visitor Center will provide ample details on top hiking trails and park attractions.

2. Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

This national historical park provides insight into Hawaiian culture. The Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park spans 180 acres in South Kona.

This historical park is shrouded in legends that dictate that any lawbreakers who made their way to Puuhonua o Honaunau would find a safe place. After making it to this historical spot, a ceremony would occur. Only then could those who broke the laws re-enter society. 

The park is filled with interesting attractions and things to see, including depictions of gods, a sacred temple, and the Great Wall. 

3. Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu requires a 15-minute drive from the Honolulu International Airport. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with a 2-mile stretch of sandy beach area made of multiple beaches. Waikiki Beach is a top choice for many travelers who want to spend their Hawaii vacation enjoying various watersports. 

This beach is one of the most famous in the world, housing about four million visitors each year. The proximity to resorts, ample water activities, and pretty views help create a magical place you’ll want to add to your itinerary.

4. North Shore of Oahu

A trip to Oahu isn’t complete without visiting the North Shore. This area is well-known as one of the top surf spots in Hawaii, with professionals gathering each winter to test their skills. Take a trip to Waimea Bay to watch the surfers catch big waves with their boards.

Oahu is also a foodie mecca, sporting many food trucks serving international cuisine options from Thai to pizza and local dishes. Before leaving Oahu, indulge in shaved ice from Matsumoto Shave Ice, a local favorite that has been open since 1951.

Perhaps you’re considering a follow-up trip after learning how to island hop in Hawaii. If that’s the case, many international destinations are historically rich, full of natural beauty, and packed with interesting architecture. For your next vacation, consider exploring places like Tuscany, Shark Bay (Western Australia), or La Rozas Village (Spain).

Sylvia Paige

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