Hawaii island hopping: How to travel between islands in Hawaii

Even though Hawaii was already on our never-ending bucket list, our recent trip to the islands was a bit of an impromptu trip. We actually planned to head to Australia in that same period when we spotted a great flight deal for Honolulu. Without hesitation – and without preparation – we booked the tickets for a three-week island hopping Hawaii vacation. This time frame allowed for plenty of time to explore more than one island. So yay, we were going island hopping in Hawaii! But the initial excitement quickly turned into panic when we realized the amount of research ahead. We had no idea which Hawaiian islands to visit and how to travel between islands in Hawaii. So many questions were going through our head: Is it easy to travel between Hawaiian islands? How far are they apart? Which are the best islands in Hawaii for families? What’s the cheapest way to travel between Hawaiian islands? And what’s the quickest way? Can you travel between Hawaiian islands by boat? And if there’s a ferry service, do you book it in advance? And how long does it take to travel between Hawaiian islands?


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In order not to feel any bit as overwhelmed as we did, read this – before you book your flights – and you’ll know exactly how to go island hopping in Hawaii. This is the essential travel guide we wish we had when we booked our trip. So, let’s dive in and find out what’s the best way to travel between Hawaiian islands.

Map of the Hawaiian islands

For your convenience, we’ve created this map showing the inter-island transportation options.

How to island hop in Hawaii

Island hopping in Hawaii by plane

Flying to Hawaii: Hawaiian airports by island

Let’s have a look how many islands on Hawaii are open to visitors and which airports in Hawaii are best to embark on your adventure.

  • Oahu: The most popular island is home to the state capital as well as the only international airport in Hawaii: Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HLN). Because it’s such a hub, flights from the mainland to this airport are often better priced than those to the other islands. So, Honolulu International Airport is a great choice to start island hopping in Hawaii.
  • Maui: The number of direct flights from the mainland of the United States to Maui’s main hub, Kahului (OGG) is increasing which is why it’s becoming a major competitor for Honolulu airport price-wise. Again, a good choice to start off and end your Hawaiian trip. When you’re staying in Ka’anapali, nearby West-Maui’s Kapalua airport (JHM) might be a valid option for inter-island flights but you’ll likely be traveling in a smaller plane and thus spend more time in the air.
  • Kauai: The island’s major airport is Lihue (LIH) to which only a handful of (mainly Californian) destinations fly directly. Most visitors will need to transfer in Honolulu. If you consider flying to Kauai directly, then note that it’ll be more expensive. That’s why Kauai might be the better choice as an in-between island.
  • Big Island of Hawaii: As the name suggests, this is the largest island which explains why there are two Big Island Hawaii airports: Kona (KOA) & Hilo (ITO). Some airlines offer direct flights to Kona and a rare one maybe even to Hilo but it will cost you. So, just as for Kauai, we’re recommend you to visit the Big Island from or in between Oahu and Maui.
  • Lanai and Molokai: There are no direct flights from the mainland to neither Lanai nor Molokai, only inter-island flights.

Flying in Hawaii: Airlines that travel between Hawaiian islands

Hawaii interisland flights make it easy to travel between Hawaiian islands

At the time of publishing this article, these are the carriers offer inter-island Hawaii flights:

  • Hawaiian Airlines (and its regional subsidiary ‘Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines)
  • Southwest Airlines operates between the Hawaiian islands. However, flights always start or end in Honolulu. So, if you want to fly from Maui to Kauai non-stop, then you’re better off opting for another airline.
  • Mokulele Airlines.
  • Makani Kai air.
  • Lanai City is a luxury connection between Honolulu International Airport (HNL) and Lanai.

Cost of going island hopping in Hawaii

We loved our Hawaii island hopper trip Oahu to Big Island

How much does it cost to travel between Hawaiian islands? Well, remember our excitement after booking that great flight deal for our family of four? Turns out it only lasted until we researched tickets prices for flights between Hawaiian islands. Is island hopping in Hawaii expensive? We think so, especially because the number of inter-island flights that are scheduled on a daily basis is pretty high. We therefore never expected to see these relatively high prices. An important Hawaii fact to consider when planning your itinerary.

Travel between Hawaiian islands cost outline (based on our Hawaii island hopping itinerary):

  • Day 1: Oahu (Honolulu airport – HNL) to Maui (Kahului airport – OGG)
  • Day 2-5: Maui
  • Day 6: Maui (Kahului airport – OGG) to Big Island (Hilo airport – ITO)
  • Day 7-14: Big Island
  • Day 15 : Big Island (Kona airport – KOA) to Oahu (Honolulu airport – HNL)
  • Day 16-20: Oahu

We paid a total of $249,60 (about €220) per person for these 3 inter-island flights. The second flight, the one from Maui to Hilo, was the most expensive one at $80 (about €70) per person despite being the shortest of the three. So, we finally did manage to find an okay deal but it took some figuring out the best dates, flight times and route for the most interesting Hawaiian island hopping itinerary. Of course, you could reduce the cost by spending your transferable credit card points or miles wisely.

Tip: Use this Hawaii travel cost calculator to budget your entire trip to the islands (Hawaii inter-island flights, rental car, accommodation, food and excursions).

Baggage fees

Start your Hawaii island hopping from Oahu airport

Before-mentioned ticket price does not include checked bags. Luckily we pack rather light because, for a family of four on a three-week trip, luggage supplements can significantly increase the total cost. On inter-island flights with Hawaiian, you pay $25 (€22) for the 1st bag and $35 (€31) for the 2nd bag. However, Hawaiian Miles members only pay $15 (€13) for the 1st bag and $20 (€17,5) for the 2nd bag so if you haven’t registered for their loyalty program yet, then do so before you travel in Hawaii!

Choose the scenic side

You want to sit at the right side of the plane when you go island hopping in Hawaii, simply because the scenery is spectacular! Of course you could figure out yourself what that side is from the map but hey, you appreciate excellent service just like we do, now don’t you? That’s why we’ve gathered the best seating sides for Hawaii inter-island travel:

Little girl with Hawaiian flower pin in plain dreaming about which Hawaii islands to visit during your island hopping in Hawaii
  • Honolulu → Maui Kahului: left
  • Honolulu → Kauai Lihue: right
  • Honolulu → Kona: left
  • Honolulu → Hilo: both
  • Maui Kahului → Honolulu: right
  • Maui → Hilo: both
  • Maui → Kona: left
  • Kauai Lihue → Honolulu: left
  • Kona → Honolulu: right
  • Kona → Maui Kahului: right
  • Hilo → Honolulu: right
  • Hilo → Maui: right

Flight times and airport infrastructure

Traveling between islands in Hawaii by plane will take anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes. Out of the 3 inter-island flights we took, 1 was delayed and 1 was canceled (we were rebooked after a 2 hour wait).

Hawaii airports Big Island allow to travel between islands in Hawaii

The airports of Kahului and Hilo were pretty decent and staff were very kind and helpful but Kona airport seemed very basic. We had to walk barefooted over a disgusting carpet – luckily, disinfectant wipes are part of my standard equipment – and were treated with anything but the aloha-spirit. At least the gate was the cutest we had ever seen.

Hawaii island hopping vacation packages

For those visitors who don’t have the luxury of spending three weeks on the islands, like we did, day trips between Hawaiian islands are a great alternative.

Hawaii island hopping day trip by helicopter

Costco offers some really interesting deals on Hawaiian vacations. You can start from there and then add one or more day trips. It saves you the fuss of packing and planning and most importantly… it saves you precious Hawaiian vacation time!

Check out some this Pearl Harbour day trip from Maui or any of the other one day Hawaiian island hopping packages at our branded Viator site.

Boating between Hawaiian islands

Island hopping Hawaii ferry service

The island hopping Hawaii ferry service is only available for travel between Hawaiian islands ferry ports in Maui and Lanai

Prior to researching our options for island hopping in Hawaii, we had expected there to be a passenger ferry. Unfortunately, there’s no actual ferry service between the islands in Hawaii anymore, except for the Lanai – Maui ferry (from/to Lahaina harbor). At the time of publishing this post, it operates five times daily. We can’t talk from personal experience but we do imagine the views from aboard the ferry to be very scenic.
Generally speaking though, flying is the best way to island hop in Hawaii simply because the options are limited.

Hawaii island hopping cruise

UnCruise Safari Explorer for luxury transportation between hawaiian islands
Attributed to Un-Cruise Adventures [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The only real option to travel between Hawaiian islands by boat, is by booking cruise. You can find several Hawaiian island hopping cruises at CruiseDirect or Expedia. Can I make a confession? We’ve never taken a cruise before. I do feel we would prefer prefer small-vessel cruises, comparable to low-key, boutique style hotels with personal service. The UnCruise Hawaiian Seascapes adventures, for example, really appeals to us. With a capacity of just 36 persons, this is the only Hawaii island hopping cruise we would consider.

Which Hawaiian islands to visit and for how long

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of many islands but only six of those islands are inhabited.

Oahu

Two girls exploring the coast of Honolulu

‘The Gathering Place’ is Hawaii’s most popular island and home to state capital Honolulu. Apart from the famous tourist sites, such as Waikiki beach and Pearl harbour, Oahu is actually surprisingly rural. But since many tourists are keen on exploring the island’s attractions, it can get quite busy. The Oahu GoCity Card is the perfect travel companion. After all, with 100 things to do on Oahu, there are plenty of exciting sightseeing options. We barely got to see the Honolulu highlights in the time that we spent on Oahu. Okay, I admit that we had a hard time leaving our superb Alohilani resort at Waikiki beach too but still….

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Alohilani resort Waikiki beach rooftop is perfect for relaxing in between your Hawaii islands trip
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If you want to explore the Honolulu area and you’re ready to book your attractions in advance, then we’d recommend to spend at least four days on Oahu. However, if you really want to discover what Oahu is all about then we would advise you to stay a bit longer, like we will next time. And if you prefer to see the true soul of the island, then these top things to do in North Shore Oahu are a great place to start. I really wish we had taken the time to explore that part of the island. Next time, for sure, we’ll be planning some outdoor adventures in Oahu.

The Big Island of Hawaii

Visiting the Big Island is a must when you travel between the Hawaii islands during your Hawaii island hopping trip

Often referred to as ‘Hawaii’, this island is all about purity and authenticity. This is the best Hawaiian island for families with a sense of adventure, nature-lovers and thrill-seekers. The landscape is incredibly diverse:

This is the youngest island out of all six inhabited ones and also the biggest, almost twice the size of the other three vacation islands combined. Therefore, it is recommended to divide your time over the two inhabited coasts, the lush east coast (Hilo area) and the sunny west coast (Kona area) with its white beaches. Check out our article on where to stay on the Big Island to find your perfect spot.

Car rental Hawaii family vacation

You should at least spend a week on the Big Island to take in all its beauty. If you want to add a few days to relax too, as you should, then you’re looking at 10 days.

Maui

This beautiful dormant volcano on Maui is just one of many highlights on a Hawaii island hopping adventure

‘The Valley Isle’ forms the perfect introduction to Hawaii. The island offers an excellent combination of gorgeous resorts, lush nature and the best beaches around. There are no cities, only some small towns so it never feels crowded (except when you’re driving the Road to Hana but that’s another story). Everyone will feel right at home in Maui.

  • Right at the popular Kaanapali beach strip you’ll find Black Rock, one of the best snorkeling spots on the island.
  • Sports enthusiasts for one, since the island is ideal for water sports and hiking. We’ve dedicated an entire article on the most spectacular Maui hikes.
  • But also families with young children have plenty of options on the Valley Isle since it’s just as perfect for little adventures. Just check out our ultimate list of things to do in Maui with kids.
  • With all this activity, you’d almost forget that the island also counts as a prime honeymoon destination.
Two girls in rental car during island hopping in Hawaii vacation, learn how to travel between Hawaiian islands

So, whether you’re looking for romance, family fun of thrills, Maui is the place to be. Check out our article on where to stay in Maui to find your perfect spot. Since our stay was just a day or so too short to see all highlights (and to make a second attempt to drive the Road to Hana), we’d recommend you to spend a week on Maui.

Kauai

island hopper Hawaii article to learn how to travel Hawaiian islands

‘The Garden Isle’ is the one that got away… this time! We’re already making plans to return to Hawaii in a year or two and then this little gem will be the first we’ll visit. Kauai is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands but also the wettest one, especially in some areas. But that’s not all bad because the rain results in the most stunning scenery. Thanks to its unique climate, Kauai is often described as the most beautiful Hawaiian island. Do carefully consider where to stay on Kauai to find your place in the sun because some areas are wetter than others.
From what we’ve researched, this Hawaiian island has the same adventurous soul as the Big Island but is a bit less accessible. That was also the reason why we chose not to include it in our planning. This actually turned out to be a good decision because the island of Kauai suffered some severe flooding when we were in Hawaii (april 2018).

We feel that 5 days would be a minimum to spend on this beautiful island.

Molokai and Lanai

The other two inhabited islands, Molokai and Lanai, may be great for day trips but also for visitors who have been to Hawaii numerous time and are ready to travel deeper and more off-grid. Or maybe for the unconventional tourist who’s looking for unspoilt beaches and rolling green hills untouched by tourism.

Travel deeper… with the Lonely Planet Hawaii travel guides. Click here to discover them.

Suggested island hopping Hawaii itineraries for first time visitors

Island hopper Hawaii trip to Maui

10-day Hawaii itinerary

A two-island combination of either Oahu, Maui or Kauai would be ideal to explore the best of the chosen islands but it won’t allow much time for relaxation. We would personally suggest to start your 10-day Hawaii itinerary on Maui. It’s the perfect place to recover from a jetlag and very well-connected to the mainland which might save you a layover.

2 week Hawaii itinerary

Again, a combination of two of the above islands would be ideal because at this pace you’ll have plenty of time to spend to relax on one of the beautiful beaches. If you’re more of an active type, you could try and squeeze in a third smaller island (just not the Big Island) or book a one-day island hopping package. Start in Maui and build up from there.
Or, if you’re looking for a very active vacation, you could combine Big Island with Kauai for the ultimate outdoor experience in Hawaii.

3 week Hawaii itinerary

Three weeks is just enough time to combine the Big Island with two smaller islands, like we did. Or you can take spend your days on the three smaller islands at a slower. Whatever option you choose, after three weeks of island hopping in Hawaii you’ll have explored some pretty amazing places.

Car rental Hawaii family vacation

Best time to travel to Hawaii

The weather may also be a deciding factor in selecting the islands for your Hawaiian island hopping itinerary. After all, rainbows and waterfalls wouldn’t be there without the occasional shower. Each of the Hawaiian island boasts several climate zones, one more humid than the other. Hawaiian summer runs from May to October and has an average day temperature of 85° F (29.5° C). The winter months are November to April with an average day temperature of 78° F (25.6° C). Tropical storm season typically runs from July through November.

Take the weather into account when booking a trip to the Hawaii islands

Also the trade winds are a big factor in Hawaiian weather. Coming from the north and east, these pick up moisture from the warm ocean waters and bring heavy rainfall to this side of the Hawaiian islands. That’s why these northeastern sides are called the windward sides. Now you know why you’ll find most of the lush nature and waterfalls on this side of the islands. This picture was taken on the Road to Hana adventure which is clearly located on the windward side of Maui. We gave up after a while since it got too dangerous…


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When will you go island hopping in Hawaii?

If you made it to this point, then you might consider yourself an expert at how to travel between Hawaiian islands. 

It’s an ambitious adventure, especially when you’ve traveled over 35 hours to even get to Oahu like we did. Oh yes, we did: a 3 hour drive to Amsterdam, an 8,5 hour flight to Washington DC, waiting at immigration for 2,5 hours, a 16 hour stopover and a 10,5 hour flight to Honolulu. Was it worth it? Totally! Would we do it again? In a heartbeat because it was our most epic travel adventure so far. Can you see yourself as a Hawaii Island hopper too? Let us know in the comments!

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11 Comments

    1. Sarah

      How exciting, Holly! There’s so much we’re yet to explore on the island! And if you can fit it in, a Hawaii island hopping day trip by helicopter might allow you to see even more. Hope you’ll get to meet some turtles there too, just like you did in Belize!

    1. Sarah

      Thanks, Sima! It was an amazing trip but it does require a lot of research. So, I made the guide I wish I had to start the planning process. Hope you’ll need it someday to plan your family’s Hawaiian island hopping adventure.

    1. Sarah

      Mission accomplished! 🙂 Hawaii was everything I thought it would be and more. It’s the kind of destination that never disappoints. And there’s so much we’re yet to explore. Always good to have a reason to return, right? Hope you get to travel to the Hawaii islands again in the future. Thanks for passing by, Monica!

    1. Sarah

      So glad you find this guide helpful, Lindsay. And how exciting that you’re planning a first family trip to Oahu! The same island but an entirely different experience ahead. Your family will have an awesome time island hopping in Hawaii!

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