Hawaii isn’t just a single destination; it’s an archipelago of 137 islands that are scattered across the North Pacific Ocean. However, only a handful of these islands are inhabited; with only six of them open for exploration by eager tourists:
Hawaii’s charm lies not only in its individual islands but also in seamlessly traversing between them. This begs the question, how do you travel between islands in Hawaii?
From the vibrant streets of Oahu to the volcanic wonders of the Big Island, we’ll show you how to navigate this tropical paradise with ease, comfort, and a touch of humor.
How Many Islands Can You Visit on One Trip?
With such a wide array of unique experiences to offer, it’s tempting to want to see all of Hawaii’s islands all in one go.
However, before you start packing your bags for an epic island-hopping extravaganza, you must consider a few practical factors.
Time and Logistics
Picture this: you’re lounging on a sandy beach in Maui, sipping on a colorful cocktail, when you suddenly realize it’s time to catch your flight to the Big Island.
Sounds idyllic, right? Well, the reality is a bit different.
Island-hopping in Hawaii involves more than just basking in the sun; it requires careful planning, transportation logistics, and some time spent in airports and rental car shuttles.
One Island Per Week
To make the most of your time and genuinely immerse yourself in the spirit of each island, it’s advisable to limit your island-hopping to no more than one island per week.
Consider the process of checking out of your hotel, navigating through traffic, heading to the airport, catching a flight, and then checking into your new island accommodation. It’s an adventure in itself, but it can also eat up a significant portion of your day.
Of course, you can always take a Hawaiian Helicopter Ride if you are a little more adventurous.
An 8-Day Itinerary
If you’re determined to see more than one island during your Hawaiian journey, especially if your stay is short, there’s an option to create an eight-day itinerary.
For instance, you can enjoy 2 days in the paradise of Maui, soaking in its beauty, then allocate 2 days to explore the iconic Pearl Harbor or the awe-inspiring Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Do the same with the other 4 days for a total of four islands visited.
Just keep in mind that this condensed itinerary leaves little room for leisurely exploration.
Day Trip Adventures
For travelers with limited time, day trips to nearby islands provide a taste of island-hopping without the full commitment.
Whether it’s a snorkeling excursion to Molokini Crater from Maui (some of the best snorkeling in Maui) or a quick ferry ride from Oahu to the serene Lanai, you can squeeze in a mini-island adventure while on your primary island.
So, here’s the bottom line: while it’s entirely possible to explore multiple Hawaiian islands in one trip, it’s crucial to have a realistic perspective of what you can achieve in the time you have.
Anything less than 8-9 days, and you might find yourself rushing through these paradisiacal destinations, leaving you with more regret than relaxation.
How Can You Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?
So, how exactly should you travel between islands in Hawaii? Should you do it by plane? Are boats more convenient?
Island Hopping by Plane
Let’s take a look at the three main airlines that make island-hopping a breeze:
- Destinations Served: Hawaiian Airlines connects you to the major airports on various islands. You can fly to Honolulu International Airport on Oahu, Kahului Airport on Maui, Lihue Airport on Kauai, and both Kona and Hilo airports on the Big Island.
- Note: In early 2021, Hawaiian Airlines temporarily suspended flights to Lanai and Molokai, and there are currently no plans to reinstate these routes.
- Destinations Served: Southwest Airlines provides a growing network of inter-island flights, offering service to Oahu, Maui, Kona, Hilo on the Big Island, and Kauai.
- Perks: Southwest often allows the first two standard checked bags for free, making it an attractive option if you’re carrying a bit of extra baggage.
- Destinations Served: Mokulele Airlines, whose name aptly means “island hopper” in Hawaiian, offers connections to several airports, including Oahu, Maui, Kona on the Big Island, Molokai, and Lanai.
- Versatile Aircraft: Mokulele operates smaller aircraft like the Cessna 208 EX Grand Caravan propeller planes. These can access some airports that larger airlines may not serve. For instance, you can use Mokulele to reach Hana on Maui or Kamuela-Waimea on the Big Island.
- Note: Mokulele Airlines can take you to destinations that larger carriers may not cover. This is perfect if you’re looking to explore some of the more off-the-beaten-path locales within the Hawaiian Islands.
Booking Your Flights
When booking your inter-island flights, it’s essential to check each airline’s schedule, availability, and pricing.
Flight frequency between the main islands is generally high, with flights departing almost hourly between popular routes like Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.
A Note on Layovers
While flight times between islands are short, some routes may include layovers, especially if you’re traveling from a smaller airport to a larger one before connecting to your final destination.
Be prepared for the possibility of spending a bit of time in airports during these layovers.
Island Hopping By Boat
While boat travel might conjure images of leisurely cruises from one island to another, the reality in Hawaii is a bit different.
Here’s what you need to know:
No Regular Ferry Services
Unlike some coastal regions, Hawaii doesn’t have a robust system of regular passenger ferry services between its major islands.
There are two significant reasons for this:
- Choppy Waters: The oceanic waters between the islands can be quite choppy, making it challenging for passenger boat services to operate reliably.
- Environmental Concerns: Hawaii is home to a delicate marine ecosystem, and any plans for a regular ferry service have faced immediate opposition from local residents and environmental advocates. The potential environmental impact on marine life in these waters has been a major concern.
The Exception: Lanai Ferry
There is, however, an exception to the absence of ferry services. You can make a short sea voyage from Maui to the nearby island of Lanai.
The ferry ride offers a unique opportunity to explore the charm of Lanai, with its secluded Four Seasons Resorts and pristine landscapes.
While passenger ferries might not be the go-to option for island-hopping in Hawaii, cruise ships offer an alternative way to explore multiple islands in one journey.
Cruise lines like Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity offer itineraries that start and end in Hawaii, making stops at different islands during seven-night cruises.
This option allows you to enjoy a multi-island experience without the hassle of constant packing and unpacking.
Note: While cruising offers convenience and a taste of multiple islands, keep in mind that your time on each island can be somewhat rushed and regimented. Evenings on a cruise might feel more like a Caribbean vacation than an immersive Hawaiian adventure.
How to Island Hop in Hawaii for Cheap
Hawaii is a dream destination, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to experience its wonders.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the paradise of Hawaii without emptying your wallet:
If you’re flying Southwest Airlines, take advantage of their generous baggage policy. They typically allow the first two standard checked bags for free. This perk can save you money, especially if you’re traveling with lots of beachwear or souvenirs.
If you’re flying Hawaiian Airlines, consider joining their HawaiianMiles loyalty program. Members enjoy reduced baggage fees, with the first checked bag costing $15 and the second bag costing $20. It’s a significant savings compared to the standard fees.
Earn and Redeem Points
If you’re flying Southwest, consider joining their Rapid Rewards program. You can earn valuable points with each flight, which you can later redeem for travel anywhere Southwest flies.
When booking inter-island flights with Hawaiian Airlines, join their HawaiianMiles loyalty program. Even if you don’t plan to return to Hawaii soon, you can convert leftover miles into Hilton Honors points, providing flexibility for future travel.
Additionally, if you’re a member of the Points program, you can exchange HawaiianMiles for points in other loyalty programs through their Points Loyalty Wallet.
Airline Credit Cards
If you’re flying Hawaiian Airlines frequently, consider getting the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®.
It offers benefits like earning 3 miles for every dollar spent on Hawaiian Airlines flights and 70,000 extra miles after spending $2,000 during the first 90 days.
The card also includes a 50% companion fare discount, making it tempting to return to the islands.
Southwest Airlines offers a range of credit cards that provide bonus points on Southwest purchases.
For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card offers a welcome bonus of 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Not a bad idea to rack up some points touring Oahu in a Helicopter.
Hotel Credit Cards
If you plan to stay in chain hotels during your Hawaiian adventure, consider getting a hotel credit card that earns points you can redeem for award stays.
Major hotel programs like Wyndham Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, Hilton Honors, and IHG Rewards all have properties in Hawaii. Choose a credit card that aligns with your preferred hotel brand to maximize rewards.
Some hotel credit cards also offer bonus points when you use them to pay for your stay at specific properties. This can help you earn additional points during your Hawaiian getaway.
Rental Car Savings
If you plan to rent a car for your Hawaiian explorations, visit DiscountHawaiiCarRental to find discounted rates from popular rental car companies like Avis, Thrifty, Dollar, Enterprise, and Alamo. You can often find notable savings, especially if you’re only renting a car for 1-2 days.
Book your rental car early, as Hawaii experienced a reduction in rental car fleets during the pandemic, which led to higher prices. Waiting too long could result in steep rental costs.
Island-Hopping Itinerary Inspiration
Now that you’ve mastered the art of traveling between the Hawaiian Islands and snagging some budget-friendly deals, it’s time to plan your island-hopping adventure.
Here’s a sample itinerary to spark your wanderlust and help you make the most of your time in Hawaii:
Day 1-3: Oahu – The Gathering Place
- Start your Hawaiian journey on the vibrant island of Oahu. Explore the iconic Waikiki Beach, catch a wave, and indulge in some world-class shopping.
- Visit Pearl Harbor to pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial and explore the rich history of this significant site.
- Discover the lush landscapes of Oahu by hiking to the top of Diamond Head Crater for panoramic views.
Day 4-6: Maui – The Valley Isle
- Hop on a short flight to Maui and embark on the famous Road to Hana, a scenic drive filled with waterfalls, tropical forests, and breathtaking vistas. Great ideas when visiting Maui.
- Witness the sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā Crater, a spiritual experience like no other.
- Spend some downtime on the stunning beaches of Maui, like Kaanapali or Wailea, and savor the local cuisine.
Day 7-9: Kauai – The Garden Isle
- Fly to the “Garden Isle” of things to do in Kauai and explore the rugged Napali Coast, either by boat tour or hiking the Kalalau Trail.
- Take a leisurely kayak trip down the Wailua River and visit the Fern Grotto, a natural wonder.
- Discover the beauty of Waimea Canyon, often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” with its vibrant red hues and striking landscapes.
Day 10-12: Big Island – Hawaii Island
- Arrive on the Big Island, where you can explore the diversity of its geography, from lush rainforests to volcanic craters.
- Visit Volcanoes National Park to witness the active Kilauea Volcano and explore its otherworldly landscapes. Must-do when visiting Hawaii.
- Don’t miss a stargazing adventure atop Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier astronomical observatories.
Day 13: Lanai – The Secluded Paradise
- Take a ferry to Lanai, the “Pineapple Isle,” and enjoy a day of relaxation at one of its secluded Four Seasons Resorts.
- Explore the Garden of the Gods, a unique rock formation, and marvel at Shipwreck Beach.
- Savor a tranquil evening on this charming and less-traveled island.
Day 14: Return to Oahu
- Conclude your island-hopping adventure with a flight back to Oahu.
- Spend your last day on the islands indulging in some last-minute shopping, enjoying local cuisine, or simply unwinding on the beach. A great option would be to catch a Dinner Cruise in Oahu.
- Reflect on your incredible Hawaiian journey and bid farewell to the islands with a traditional luau. More great ideas on things to do in Oahu here.
Navigating between Hawaii’s captivating islands is a breeze, thanks to frequent flights by Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Mokulele Airlines. While ferry services are limited, cruises offer a unique way to explore.
Traveling smart with loyalty programs, credit cards, and budget-saving tips ensures you can indulge in the magic of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and the Big Island without breaking the bank.
So, pack your swimsuit, hiking shoes, and a sense of adventure, and let Hawaii’s islands weave their enchanting spell on you. Aloha!