Hawaii: How Do I Get There?

View of the Kaua'i North Shore

The vast majority of visitors to
Hawaii is by air. That's because the Hawaiian Islands sits right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sure there might be cruises that traverse the vast Pacific to get to the islands from a main continent, but why not cut to the chase and experience the islands immediately instead of spending oodles of time out at sea? However, when you visit the Hawaiian Islands, you generally have to figure out which island you want to visit. There are four major islands with nonstop flights from the West Coast of the USA. For other countries, there are nonstop flights from Asia (e.g. Japan or China) to Honolulu, O'ahu - the capital city and island, respectively. For domestic flights, most major (United, American, Delta, etc.) and budget (Northwest, Southwest, Hawaiian, etc.) airline carriers have nonstop routes from the West Coast.

If you're flying to a particular island, here are your destination options...

  • O'ahu - this is the island synonymous with Hawai'i. The airport is in Honolulu, the capital of the state. A flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) is typically 5.5 hours.
  • Maui - The capital city of this island is Kahului. A flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Kahului (OGG) is about 5 hours.
  • Kaua'i - The capital city of this island is Lihu'e. A flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Lihu'e (LIH) is between 5.5-6 hours.
  • The Big Island of Hawai'i - There are two main airports on this island - Kona (KOA) and Hilo (ITO). There are non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Kona requiring around 5 hours. However, flights from Los Angeles to Hilo requires a transfer (usually in Honolulu). The transfer flight from Honolulu to Hilo usually takes around 75-90 minutes. However, there are other domestic inter-island routes easily taking you to Hilo from airports from Kahului, Kona, etc.

The Kona Coast on the Big IslandAs stated in the Big Island section, there are numerous and pretty frequent inter-island flights that you can easily book while you're there and even pick your seat (they usually assign them by groups). This lets you visit some of the smaller islands like Lana'i and Moloka'i in addition to hopping between the major islands. Regional carriers like Hawaiian, Aloha, Island, Go!, Pacific Wings, etc. can have reasonable rates as competition is fierce.

If you're shuttling between Maui and Moloka'i, there is a ferry option that goes from Lahaina, Maui to Kaunakakai, Moloka'i and back. If you're shuttling from Maui to Lana'i, there is a ferry option that goes from Lahaina or Ma'alaea, Maui to Manele Harbor, Lana'i.

Traffic on the H-1 Freeway in Honolulu, O'ahuFinally, there's the controversial Hawaiian Superferry, which intends to go between the ports of Nawiliwili Harbor (Kaua'i), Kahului Harbor (Maui), and Honolulu Harbor (O'ahu). There are plans to have a route to the Big Island as well. Numerous environmentalists and residents outside O'ahu have vehemently opposed the project citing the lack of an environmental assessment, territorial concerns, invasive species, crowded beaches, and the perception of bringing O'ahu's "problems" over the suburb islands. You'll have to check the Superferry website for the latest developments on which routes are available should you choose to go with this inter-island option.

Once you're on your island of choice, by far the most common way of getting around is by renting a car. This is pretty competitive and prices are quite reasonable. All major vendors from Budget, National, Alamo, Dollar, Avis, Enterprise, Thrifty, etc. are here. Plus, there are smaller companies (typically charging even less). These companies differ from island to island. Unless you're hiring 4wd, you generally aren't covered (i.e. don't expect car rental companies to bail you out nor their insurances to cover you) for unpaved roads. This generally isn't a problem as the majority of roads are paved, though there are some exceptions like the Pi'ilani Highway in Maui or even the paved Saddle Road on the Big Island.

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