Honolulu, Oahu Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu – Image courtesy of royalcaribbean.com

How to get around Hawaii

The best way to get around the islands is by air. Flights are short and frequent, but expensive. Limited ferry services connect Maui only with Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi.

Hiring a car is the best way to explore individual islands; a 4WD vehicle is useful on Lanaʻi and the Big Island. Taxis are also available as are public buses, which are efficient on Oʻahu but time-consuming elsewhere.

The main islands of Hawaii comprise Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii – the largest island in the group that is often called the "Big Island" or "Hawaiʻi Island" to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago.

Oahu – the third-largest of the Hawaiian islands and the most popular – is home to Honolulu, Hawaii’s state capital.


Transport options in Hawaii

Air: Hawaiian Airlines provides frequent inter-island flights, usually daily. Flying between islands often requires changing planes in Honolulu.

Hawaiian Airlines operates more than 200 flights daily between Honolulu (Oʻahu), Kauaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi (Big Island), with limited flights to Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi.

Three smaller airlines – Island Air, Mokulele Airlines and Makani Kai Air – offer scheduled services daily in turboprop planes. These planes often fly so low that their flights almost double as sightseeing excursions.

Island Air flies turboprop planes directly from its Honolulu hub on Oʻahu to Kahului (Maui), Lihue (Kauaʻi) and Kona (West Hawaiʻi).

Mokulele Airlines flies turboprop planes to Honolulu (Oʻahu), Kona and Waimea (Kamuela) on Hawaiʻi (Big Island), Kahului, Kapalua and Hana on Maui, and Hoʻolehua and Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi. Charter flights to Lanaʻi City (Lanaʻi) are also available.

Makani Kai Air Flies turboprop planes to Honolulu (Oʻahu) and Kaunakakai and Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi.

Airports that handle the most interisland air traffic include Honolulu (Oʻahu), Kahului (Maui), Kona and Hilo on Hawaiʻi (Big Island) and Lihuʻe (Kauaʻi). Smaller regional airports include Lanaʻi City (Lanaʻi), Kaunakakai and Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi, Kapalua and Hana on Maui and Kamuela (Waimea) on Hawaiʻi (Big Island).


Sea: Interisland ferry service is limited in Hawaii. Presently, only Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi have regular, passenger-only public ferry service to/from Lahaina, Maui.

But for those keen on a sea voyage between islands, Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com/au/en/cruise-destinations/hawaii-cruises) operates a seven-day cruise between the four largest Hawaiian Islands – Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. The cruise starts and ends in Honolulu, with fares from US$2,316 per person based on double cabin occupancy.


On land

Slow, courteous driving is the rule in Hawaii. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Speed limits are posted and enforced. If you're stopped for speeding, expect a ticket, as police rarely just give warnings.

The main hazards of driving in Hawaii are narrow, winding and/or steep roads that wash out or flood after heavy rains. In rural areas, watch out for livestock and wildlife, as well as unpaved and potholed roads.

Turning right on red is allowed (unless a sign prohibits it), but island drivers often wait for the green light. At four-way stop signs, cars proceed in order of arrival. If two cars arrive simultaneously, the one on the right has the right of way. When in doubt, politely wave the other driver ahead.

Downhill traffic must yield to uphill traffic where there is no sign. For one-lane-bridge crossings, one direction of traffic usually has the right of way while the other must obey the posted yield sign.

Texting on a mobile phone while driving is illegal. Talking on a mobile phone is only allowed for adult drivers (age 18 and over) who use a hands-free device.

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a serious criminal offense. It's illegal to carry open containers of alcohol (even if they're empty) inside a car. Unless the containers are still sealed and have never been opened, store them in the trunk instead.

The use of seat belts is required for the driver and all passengers, even those riding in the back seat. Child safety seats are mandatory for children aged three and younger. Those aged four to seven must ride in a booster or child safety seat, unless they weigh over 80lbs, in which case they must be secured by a lap-only belt in the back seat.

Diamond-marked carpool lanes are reserved for high-occupancy vehicles during morning and afternoon rush hours. When emergency vehicles (police, fire or ambulance) approach from either direction, carefully pull over to the side of the road.

Car hire: Car rental is available at most Hawaii's airports. Car-hire companies in Hawaii include Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Thrifty and various local agencies.

Rates usually include unlimited mileage. It's best to reserve a hire car in advance as it's not uncommon for all cars to be rented out during busy periods, even in Honolulu.

Free parking is usually available outside of cities and major towns. However, larger hotels, especially in Waikiki, typically charge US$10 to US$40 or more for overnight parking.

US citizens with a driver's license from another state can legally drive in Hawaii if they are at least 18 years old; international visitors require a valid driver's license issued by their home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Most hire companies require that you be at least 25 years old, possess a valid driver's license and have a major credit card, not a debit or check card. However, a few major companies will rent to drivers between the ages of 21 and 24, typically for an underage surcharge of around US$30 per day.

Navigation of Hawaii’s main cities and winding roads can be tricky, and traffic in places like Waikiki and Honolulu downtown is a constant problem. During the rainy season, you need to drive with caution along rural routes.

Moped and motorcycle rentals are uncommon in Hawaii, but are available in some tourist resort areas. The minimum age for renting a moped is 16 years old; for a motorcycle it's 21 years old. You'll need to produce a valid driver's licence issued by your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Mopeds may not be driven at speeds above 50kph (30mph). Helmets are not legally required for anyone 18 years or older, but rental agencies often provide them for free.

Taxi: Taxis are readily available at airports, hotels and resorts, and can also be ordered by phone. Honolulu, Hawaii's largest city, hosts numerous taxi companies.

Taxi fares in Hawaii vary, as they're set by each county, but average more than US$3 at flagfall, then US$3 or more per additional mile (luggage and airport surcharges may apply).

Bicycle: Cycling is an excellent way to explore Hawaii. However, it's worth noting that all the islands have narrow roads, dangerous traffic and changeable weather. Long-distance cycling is best done with a tour group. The Big Island is the most challenging but also the most popular island for cycle tours.

Tourist areas and specialty bicycle shops rent beach cruisers, hybrid models and occasionally high-end road and mountain bikes. Rental rates average US$20 to US$45 per day (easily double that for high-tech road or mountain bikes). Multiday and weekly discounts may be available. Some B&Bs, guesthouses and hostels rent or loan bicycles to guests.

Bicycles are required to follow the same rules of the road as cars but are prohibited from freeways and sidewalks. State law requires all cyclists under the age of 16 to wear helmets. For more bicycling information, including online cycling maps for Oʻahu, search the Hawaii Department of Transportation website (https://hidot.hawaii.gov/highways/).

Bus: The main bus network on Oahu is named TheBus. It offers a frequent schedule, reliable service and inexpensive fares. Tickets for even the longest route are much cheaper than any other option in Hawaii and the Circle Island route takes passengers around the entire island of Oahu.

Private chartered bus services are also available – a great option for groups of visitors who want to explore the islands together.

After Oʻahu, the next best system is Maui Bus. Note: it doesn't run to Hana or Haleakalā National Park.

The Big Island's Hele-On Bus will take you to many towns, but schedules are too limited for sightseeing. It stops at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park's main visitor center.

Kauaʻi Bus takes visitors between the main island towns (with limited weekend service), but not to the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon or Kokeʻe State Park.

On Molokaʻi, the free MEO Bus runs east and west of Kaunakakai every couple of hours on weekdays.


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Latest update: How to get to Hawaii: 13 June, 2020


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