Inter-Island Travel: An In-Depth Guide

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By now, you’re probably aware that Hawaii is an archipelago.

For those of you who have forgotten your 6th grade geography, an archipelago is a group of islands.

In Hawaii’s case, the archipelago stretches across a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and includes tiny, nameless islets and sunken craters to the northwest of what most people consider Hawaii.

Only seven islands are inhabited, however, and these (with the addition of the uninhabited Kahoolawe) are generally considered to be the State of Hawaii.

Considering the fact that the different islands are separated by the Pacific Ocean, it should be obvious that a statewide road trip isn’t an option.

In fact, the only way to get between most islands is by air.

However, traveling from one island to another isn’t easy if you’re carrying around luggage, have to check in and out of hotels, and worry about car rentals.

This guide is meant to explain the benefits, logistics, and possibility of traveling inter-island during your visit to Hawaii, with simple questions posed to guide you through making your decision on whether to island-hop or to just come back on a later trip.

Question One: Why Travel Inter-Island?

Short answer: each island is unique.

Long answer:

Since they’ve always been separated by ocean, each of the Hawaiian islands has developed its own flavor, environment, and local culture over centuries.

 

Besides that, each island has its own famous natural and historical landmarks, not to mention the wide variety of climates.

Lastly, the local culture of each island is different, including different variations of pidgin on every island!

Only visiting one island and saying you’ve seen Hawaii is like visiting California and saying you’ve seen the United States.

If you really want to experience the islands (plural), then you have to visit them all!

Question Two: Should I Travel Inter-Island?

Short answer: visit two islands, maximum, for every week of your stay.

Long answer:

As I’ve mentioned, island-hopping can be very time intensive.

Flying from one island to another usually takes 30-50 minutes, but getting through airport security will take you at least an hour.

Suppose you’ve spent a fun three days on Oahu and now want to go to Maui. You’ll have to:

  1. Pack your things
  2. Check out of your hotel
  3. Return your rental car
  4. Get to the airport
  5. Check in your luggage
  6. Fly over to Maui
  7. Pick up your luggage
  8. Rent another car
  9. Check in to your hotel
  10. Unpack your things

Of course you can cut out a lot of time by packing light (which I recommend) and not renting a car (which I don’t recommend), but those aren’t always an option.

hawaiian air.jpg

Assuming you’ve done all of the above, you can consider half your day gone, dedicated just to traveling.

That’s why you shouldn’t visit multiple islands if you’re staying less than a week—expect to spend a full three days on a single island to really experience what it’s about.

If you’re not staying long enough to island hop, don’t sweat it: just come back later!

Question Three: What If I Only Visit for a Day?

Short answer: Sure, if you really only want to see one or two things.

Long answer:

Since inter-island flights are so quick, one option is to take a day trip: fly to another island in the morning, spend the day touring the island, then fly back to your initial island at night.

The best part about this is that you won’t have to worry about hotel accommodations or carrying your luggage with you.

Some tour companies even organize inter-island tours for you, with round-trip airfare included!

Day trips are a great way to see all the major attractions of another island without investing too much time into traveling.

The biggest caveat is that you can’t really experience the entirety of an island in a single day.

However, it’s a great way to satisfy your curiosity about a single part of another island—for example, if you’re staying in Waikiki (Oahu) and want to check out Lahaina (Maui), or are visiting Kauai but also want to see the volcano (Big Island).

Question Four: Which Islands Should I Visit?

Short answer: It depends.

Long answer:

If, after all of this, you think you’re ready to visit multiple islands in one trip, you should check out our top-10 lists of things to do on each island to see if they’re worth a day trip or an extended visit.

The four islands that are regularly visited are (from west to east) Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island—you’ll probably be staying on one of these.

hawaii map

A brief overview of the four main islands can be found in our mega-guide for first-timers.

As to which islands you want to visit, that’s something only you can answer.

Do your research on the main attractions of each island and figure out which ones you want to visit, as well as which one you want to spend the most time on.

Want to experience the great outdoors? Kauai and the Big Island will be the go-to destinations for you.

Into nightlife? You’re going to want to stay in Waikiki or Chinatown on Oahu, though Maui also has a good number of bars.

Here on a honeymoon? Maui offers plenty of romantic things for couples to do, but you’ll probably find lots to do on any island, depending on what you find to be romantic.

In addition, the lesser-visited islands are Lanai and Molokai, just off the coast of Maui, so consider hopping over if you’re staying on Maui.

You can get to Lanai via ferry ride from Maui, but don’t expect to be able to bring your rental car with you. (Molokai also had a ferry, but that’s no longer in operation.)

Finally, the last two islands, Niihau and Kahoolawe, are inaccessible to the public, so don’t expect to be visiting unless you have official business there and express permission to land.

Question Five: What Do I Need to Know Before Booking an Inter-Island Flight?

Short answer: Time is more valuable than money.

Long answer:

You’re on vacation, so you need to make the most of every hour.

This means sitting at an airport for longer than you need to is a waste of good vacation time.

It also means that waking up before your hotel serves breakfast to catch a flight that was five dollars cheaper is less than ideal.

The most important thing to consider when booking an inter-island flight is to always fit your flight to your schedule, not the other way around.

The money you save will likely cost you in either added stress or wasted vacation time.

Another piece of advice that’s somewhat unexpected is to always fly direct.

Even though inter-island flights are less than an hour, you’ll regularly be able to find flight transfers at discounted prices.

If you’re looking to fly from the Big Island to Kauai, for example, you might find schedules that include stopovers to Oahu, the biggest airport hub in the state.

Doing this, however, will cost you valuable time during your vacation.

Considering how short the flights are, using connecting flights can double or even triple the amount of time you spend traveling between islands.

And when you’re on vacation, time is the one thing you don’t want to waste.

 

Hopefully these questions helped you decide on inter-island travel during your next trip to Hawaii. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

 

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