Island Hopping in Hawaii

by | Feb 6, 2023 | Trip Planning

Island Hopping in Hawaii

One of the most commonly asked questions Hawaii visitors want to know is about visiting and hopping to another Hawaiian island during their vacation stay. What’s the best way to island hop? Is it worth jumping to another island?

In our opinion, if you have enough time on your trip, Hawaii island hopping is definitely worth your time. Each Hawaiian island is so unique that you can easily create a vacation inside your vacation.

What are the options for Hawaii island hopping?

For a brief moment in time (2007 – 2009), there used to be a “Super Ferry” which allowed you to go between islands with your own vehicle. Now, however, there is only a Maui to Lanai ferry option available. These days you pretty much have to fly between the Hawaiian islands but it’s quite easy; every island has at least one airport and flights between the islands are short (approximately 25-50 minutes). In addition, there are a lot of cost-effective options so there is no need to be intimidated by these added flights to your vacation plans.

There are currently three commercial airlines that operate between the islands: Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines are the major carriers operating between the different islands — as competing airlines, each has its own pros and cons depending on your needs, so it might be good to do some research prior to purchasing tickets — and Mokulele Airlines, a Southern Airways Express company, which serves every airport on Hawaii Island with multiple daily flights.

Airport list for Each Island:

  • Oahu: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Honolulu (HNL)
  • Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG) & Kapalua Airport (JHM)
  • Hawai’i (Big Island): Hilo International Airport (ITO), Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA), & Waimea-Kohala Airport (MUE)
  • Kauai: Lihue Airport (LIH)
  • Lana’i: Lana’i Aiport (LNY)
  • Molokai: Molokai Airport (MKK)

There are other airports on the islands but are either military or primary for private local air needs, instead of operating commercial commuter flights.

Flight time between the islands:

The travel time between the island is generally less than an hour, however, you do need to budget much more time for it if you are on a route with a heavy check-in volume (Hawaiian and Southwest). Mokulele might be quicker since they operate smaller flights and lines aren’t usually as long for these flights. In addition, please keep in mind you still must go through the regular TSA process between islands.

Kauai (LIH) Honolulu (HNL) Maui (OGG) Big Island Kona (KOA) Big Island Hilo (ITO)
Kauai (LIH) x 35 49 55 120 (no non-stop)
Honolulu (HNL) 35 x 39 47 55
Maui (OGG) 49 39 x 35 40
Big Island Kona (KOA) 55 47 35 x (drive – 2 hours)
Big Island Hilo (ITO) 120 (no non-stop) 55 40 (drive – 2 hours) x

 

Ferry option

The only ferry option available in the Hawaiian Islands is between Maui and Lanai; it is operated by Expeditions Maui-Lanai Ferry (https://go-lanai.com/). It is a passenger ferry, so you won’t able to take your (rental) car with you.

Island Hopping Tours

There are many tour companies that have island hopping tours. For example, if you are staying in Maui, you might want to hop over to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbor on a day trip. If you are staying on Oahu, you may want to make a 2-day trip to Maui to visit Haleakala and go on a Road-to-Hana tour, as my cousin did. Instead of having to coordinate a whole separate trip, these set island hopping tours are much less headache-inducing so you can actually enjoy your vacation. These tours often include flights in their pricing, so you’ll know the total cost for your extra island-hopping adventure.

Cruise Option

While this can be a great way to see all the major Hawaiian Islands, we do not recommend this option unless what you want to spend your entire vacation on a cruise ship island hopping. The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Pride of America offers a 7-day, four-island hopping cruise package. Although it’s not our style to travel this way, my grandparents really enjoyed it and if you like cruising and want to get a taste of the four major Hawaiian Islands, then this might be a great option for you.

How much does it take to cost to travel between the Hawaiian Islands?

Flights between the islands are less than an hour. In fact, it’s been our experience that by the time they offer you a drink (if at all), the flight is already descending (so drink fast! LOL). The price is also quite affordable. Small, specialized flights will be a little over $100 per seat and, for the major destinations, you might find flights as low as $39 per person.

How long does the trip take between the Hawaiian islands?

The flight itself is pretty short as mentioned above – less than 60 minutes in most cases, however, waiting in line, checking in, and the TSA process, not to mention, finding/getting your rental car, can all add up to 4-5 hours just to leave one island and go to another. For some travelers, that alone might be time-consuming and exhausting and you haven’t even left an airport yet! At a minimum, we recommend carefully planning out your island-hopping adventure prior to getting on that plane, but we also highly (highly!) recommend using a tour company for your island-hopping trip instead. The tour companies will often arrange everything from hotel pick-up, flights, island hopping tours, then flight and transportation back to your original hotel – it saves a lot of time (and you don’t run the risk of missing your flights back to your home island!) This is especially encouraged if you’re not familiar with the Hawaiian Islands or the island you are planning to hop to.

FAQs

Are there ferries?

The only ferry option is between Maui and Lanai and it is a passenger-only ferry. If you were wondering about what happened to the Hawaii SuperFerry, operations were canceled for legal reasons and nothing has taken its place.

What’s the cheapest way to travel between Hawaiian islands?

Flying is pretty much the only option and the prices are quite reasonable. The lowest promotion that we see (and relatively frequently) is $39 one-way and very often you will see a price tag of $59 one-way. Mokulele Airlines has somewhat specialized routes starting around $100 one-way; be aware that pricing varies by season, time of the flight, and day of the week but all-in-all, flights actually aren’t too bad compared to other traveling expenses like accommodations and activities. Plus, you get to see another island!

What’s the easiest way to island hop?

Flying is the way to do it. There are almost 200 flights daily connecting our Hawaiian islands so you should be able to find an option that suits your needs.
If you don’t want to worry about the logistics like finding rental cars, looking for spots to visit, and driving around unfamiliar areas, then a tour company-facilitated island hopping tour is a great option.
If you want to check out all the major islands then a cruise ship tour is another solid suggestion; with this option, you won’t need a car and food will be covered via the cruise package. ????

It is worth it to visit another island(s) during our vacation?

If your vacation is jammed packed with activities from arrival to departure, an island-hopping tour might need to be a little difficult to fit in. However, if you’re still in the planning stages then it’s definitely something to consider. I’ve had many friends find their new “favorite island” by doing a quick island-hopping adventure during one of their Hawaii vacations. In fact, they don’t even visit us anymore, they just visit their new favorite (not Oahu) island. LOL. (I guess that gives us the incentive to make the neighbor island trip to visit them?! ????)

But really, every time we visited another island, it was a lot of fun in its own special way. Each island is different and has very different things to experience. Your flight taxiing into Honolulu International Airport is completely different compared to landing on the Kona side of the Big Island. You won’t even feel like you are landing in the same state! Likewise, visiting the top of Haleakala is going to give you a drastically different experience than looking at Waimea Canyon in Kauai. If you and your family have enough time and you feel like adding to your Hawaiian Island vacation, we definitely recommend visiting another island (or two) during your stay. Personally, we haven’t really done the one-day island-hopping trips but that’s just our personal travel style; we have a larger family and we like to relax a bit and visit a few places at our own pace (it’s not fun to get frustrated with dawdling toddlers or laid-back teens when I want all of us to have fun and relax so a 2~3 days minimum is what we usually do. At the same time, if we had a limited time to visit one of our dream locations, I think we would certainly consider it – especially if it was the only way we’d have a chance to go, especially is there a specific destination that you want to visit on that island. Keep in mind that a day trip to another island will often start quite early in the morning, like 5 AM or so, so be prepared for that.

Aloha!

Hi, we are the Kim Family. We wanted to share our experiences living on Oahu and traveling around Hawaii.  We have four kids and who enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities.  We’ve learned a lot raising our kids here and wanted to share with you.  We hope it helps with whether you are visiting, living, or a little bit of both.

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