Everything You Need to Know About Inter-Island Travel in Hawaii

Oct 28, 2018

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Aloha! October is Hawaii month at The Points Guy, so check back regularly for flight and hotel reviews, features and deals from Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii.

With just eight miles separating some of the closest major Hawaiian Islands (like Lanai and Maui), this Pacific archipelago is a tempting destination for island hopping. And it can be quick and easy to explore multiple islands — but you have to be strategic.

When I visited Hawaii for the first time, I was confused about the best way to travel between the islands: especially the smaller specks of land like Molokai and Lanai. After all, you can fly around the islands by plane and helicopter. But you may not want to rule out ferries and boats altogether. 

The fact is, inter-island travel in Hawaii can be a bit tricky, especially if you’re trying to save time and money. To help you plan a seamless Hawaiian vacation, we’re breaking down all the ways you can get around the Aloha State.

Start in Either Oahu or Maui

Oahu is the hub of inter-island travel, and you can catch a flight to almost all of the major neighboring islands from Honolulu International (HNL). If you’re not sure which islands you might want to hop to and you’re comfortable making a spontaneous decision, consider making Oahu your home base. It’ll be the cheaper ticket anyway, since most flights connect through Oahu. Every day, travelers can catch frequent inter-island connections from HNL, and it only takes about 30 to 45 minutes to get to any island on a direct flight.

Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) is a secondary travel hub for the islands. There is another airport on the western edge of Maui, Kapalua Airport (JHM), but you’ll find more inter-island flights (and cheaper fares) from OGG.

Unfortunately, there is no major ferry system for Hawaii. So for most travelers, flying is the easiest and, in some cases, only way to island hop.

There are two main carriers that fly between the Hawaiian Islands — Hawaiian Airlines, typically via Ohana by Hawaiian, and Mokulele Airlines. There are smaller charter plane companies that you can take to the islands, too, but they mainly operate sightseeing tours.

Makani Kai Air is a charter company with a fleet of Cessna Grand Caravans and Piper Chieftains that will fly travelers from Oahu to either Maui or Molokai. The charter company will also specifically fly travelers to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, a national historic park that requires a permit to enter.

Take the Ferry to Lanai

Prefer to spend a day at sea? It is possible to take a ferry between Maui and Lanai with the Expeditions Lanai Passenger Ferry. The hour-and-a-half-long journey will cost you about $30 one-way, but there are only five departures and returns each day, so you have to plan day trips carefully. It is, however, a much more affordable and convenient way to travel between these islands, as you would otherwise have to connect in Oahu, making the trip closer to two-and-a-half or three hours.

Photo by Isabel Thottam.

Fly to Molokai by Plane

The island of Molokai is not accessible from the continental US. In order to get to this island, you’ll need to take a connecting flight from HNL, OGG or JHM. Both Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines offer flights to Molokai from these three airports, and the flight only takes about 25 minutes.

Though there used to be a ferry from Lahaina to Molokai, it is no longer in operation.

Book a Cruise Between the Islands

If you really want to get the most out of your Hawaiian vacation and have the budget to do so, consider taking a cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line offers a variety of itineraries that take you to the four major islands — some even include overnight stays. To do the most inter-island travel, consider flying into Oahu and taking a seven day round-trip cruise from Honolulu. You’ll see Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island without worrying about how to get around. Photo by Isabel Thottam.Photo by Isabel Thottam.

Helicopter to Remote Areas

If you want to get dropped into a really remote area, the only way to do so is by helicopter. Blue Hawaiian is a charter company and will take hikers and travelers to less-touristed areas and far-flung trailheads.

Helicopter is also the only way you’ll land on the so-called Forbidden Island of Niihau — unless you’re personally invited by the island’s owners. Barring that, you’ll need to book one of two tours through Niihau Helicopters or Niihau Safaris. But visiting this remote island won’t come cheap: half-day excursions start at $440 per person.

Unfortunately, helicopter tours do not allow you to bring your suitcase and simply get dropped off on an island — you’ll have to return with the pilot to the island you departed from.

Feature photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy. 

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