The Hawaiian Islands are a unique blend of beauty and adventure, so close together that a quick thirty-minute flight will take you from one fun-filled island to the next. So, why not visit the great volcanoes of the Big Island, sip a cocktail on Oahu’s beaches, and hike the beautiful waterfall trails of Maui? Well, island hopping in Hawaii isn’t quite so simple. Before you fill your itinerary with activities on one island after another, here are eight questions to consider about island hopping in the Aloha State.
Table of Contents
- 1. Is Island Hopping in Hawaii Worth It?
- 2. How Many Days Do I Need to Island Hop in Hawaii?
- 3. What Are the Top Attractions on Each Island?
- 4. What Is the Best Way to Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?
- 5. Where Are the Airports in Hawaii?
- 6. How Much Does It Cost to Island Hop in Hawaii?
- 7. What’s the Cheapest Way to Go Island Hopping in Hawaii?
- 8. Are There Ferries Between Hawaiian Islands?
- Next Vacay Finds You the Cheapest Flights for Hawaiian Island Hopping
1. Is Island Hopping in Hawaii Worth It?
Island hopping in Hawaii is worth it if you have the time. With so many incredible attractions on each island, island hopping is a great way to sample the smorgasbord of attractions on the islands. In fact, it’s the perfect way to discover what makes each island so unique. So whether you split your vacation between a few or several islands, you won’t regret a single second of your time spent exploring and discovering the things that make each of the Hawaiian Islands one of a kind.
2. How Many Days Do I Need to Island Hop in Hawaii?
If you’re set on island hopping Hawaii, we recommend having at least ten days. While the flights are relatively quick, you’ll still have to account for time spent getting to and from the airport, security checkpoints, and waiting for your flight. The time quickly adds up, especially if you’re visiting multiple islands.
And considering there’s so much to do and see on every island, you don’t want to sacrifice your precious hours for adventure to the black hole of time that is the airport. Instead, you’ll want at least five days on each island to see the main attractions and soak in the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands properly.
3. What Are the Top Attractions on Each Island?
The major Hawaiian Islands are much like a group of rowdy siblings. They may all come from the same place, but their vastly different personalities will quickly let you know just where you’ve landed.
If Hawaii has an island that never sleeps, it’s Oahu. Easily the most populated Hawaiian island, Oahu is busy and beautiful. Though it’s best known for containing the state’s cosmopolitan capital of Honolulu and the glamorous Waikiki Beach, the Gathering Place is a heavy-hitter for top attractions. Travel through time at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Pearl Harbor Memorial, hike lush trails to view hidden waterfalls, and even pay a visit to Kualoa Ranch for face-to-face encounters with dinosaurs—well, their replicas anyway.
As an almost perfect antithesis to Oahu’s hustle and bustle, Kauai lets its towering mountains and dense rainforests do the talking. With government regulations curbing the overdevelopment of the Garden Isle, it’s hard to argue against Kauai being the most beautiful Hawaiian Island. Between the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon, Kauai is a land of adventure and paradisiacal beauty, with sweeping views that never disappoint.
Maui is the Hawaii island to go for a taste of the sweet life. A perfect blend of Kauai’s beauty and Oahu’s bustle, this Hawaiian Island is a lovely reminder to take it slow. Nowhere does this reminder stick out more than on the Road to Hana, Maui’s top attraction. With its winding curves and endless stops for flowing waterfalls, lush jungles, and stunning coasts, the Hana Highway delivers a highlight reel of Maui’s best features. Still, visitors can’t afford to miss out on other unique experiences, like a sunrise from the top of Haleakala or snorkeling off Molokini.
Large enough to fit the other Hawaiian Islands within its sprawling mass, the Big Island lives up to its name. And just like its size, the Big Island delivers big fun to its island-hopping visitors. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park shines as the island’s top attraction, but nearby black sand beaches are more than enough to lure visitors to the rocky coasts. If Haleakala on Maui is where one goes to greet the sun, then it’s Mauna Kea on the Big Island where one must go to greet the stars. The observatory at Mauna Kea’s peak offers unmatched views of the heavens.
The Pineapple Island doesn’t have much in the way of pineapples anymore. Still, it has two secluded island resorts and exciting adventures, allowing for indulgence and fun during your island hopping trip around Hawaii. Horseback riding is one of the most popular activities on the island, with over 400 miles of dirt roads and trails waiting. Lanai’s visitors can often be found relaxing on gorgeous white sand beaches, swimming among corals and lava tubes, or venturing deep into the lush valleys of the island’s interior.
The rugged and untouched landscapes of Molokai produce an image of wild splendor, but that hardly means unvisited. The Kalaupapa Cliffs of Molokai’s north shore draw crowds as the tallest sea cliffs in the world. And hidden within these cliffs lies what might be Molokai’s most significant attraction: Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Many visitors dare the grueling journey here to see the stunning views and learn more about the park’s tragic history and isolated community.
4. What Is the Best Way to Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?
Flying is the best and quickest way to go island hopping in Hawaii, making it a popular choice for island-hopping vacations. But, while inter-island flights are quicker, those looking for a more relaxed form of travel may prefer going by ferry or cruise.
In Hawaii, island hopping flights are the quickest way to travel, taking between 20 and 50 minutes. Flight prices on the islands haven’t always been cheap, but you can often find rates as low as $39, thanks to the arrival of Southwest Airlines on the inter-island flight scene. However, even with the addition of Southwest, only three airlines provide inter-island flights: Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.
Considered Hawaii’s number one airline, Hawaiian Airlines offers the most daily flight options, with roughly 170 inter-island flights per day. The number of daily direct flights between the four major islands is the biggest advantage of using Hawaiian Airlines. However, the downside is that you can no longer use them to island hop to Lanai or Molokai after they permanently discontinued these routes in 2021.
Thankfully, Hawaiian Airlines still offers full services to the four major Hawaiian islands, including both Big Island airports:
- Honolulu International Airport, Oahu
- Kahului Airport, Maui
- Lihue Airport, Kauai
- Kona and Hilo International airports, Big Island
Up against Hawaii’s number one airline, Mokulele may be the best island-hopping airline in Hawaii. Its name, Mokulele, means just that, “island hopper.” Southern Airways Express owns Mokulele Airlines. Consequently, the name may pop up during your hunt for inter-island flights.
But the most important thing to know about Mokulele Airlines is that it’s the only airline to offer inter-island Hawaii flights to Lanai and Molokai. Additionally, it has the added advantage of servicing smaller destinations that often are overlooked by the bigger airlines:
- Honolulu, Oahu
- Kona, Big Island
- Kamuela Waimea, Big Island
- Kahului, Maui
- Kapalua, Maui
- Ho’olehua, Molokai
- Hana, Maui
- Kalaupapa, Molokai
- Lanai City, Lanai
Southwest is the only budget airline to fly from the mainland to Hawaii, though this may change in a few years. But, for now, Southwest reigns supreme as the only budget airline operating inter-island direct flights in Hawaii. As such, it comes with many advantages that mainland travelers know all too well, like cheaper flights, free checked bags, and no change or cancellation fees.
However, similar to Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines only covers inter-island travel between the major airports on Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui:
- Lihue Airport, Kauai
- Honolulu International Airport, Oahu
- Kahului Airport, Maui
- Kona and Hilo International airports, Big Island
Taking the ferry is a scenic way to island hop in Hawaii. The upside is the more affordable price tag. The downside is that ferry services only travel between Maui and Lanai.
Expeditions Lanai offers ferry services between these Hawaiian Islands at reasonably affordable rates. One-way tickets cost $30 for adults and only $20 for children. Of course, if you only plan to do a day visit to Lanai, you’ll need to book return tickets too.
The ferry departs from Lahaina Harbor in Maui and takes visitors on a scenic forty-five-minute journey across the Au’au Channel to Lanai. During whale season in Hawaii, the channel teems with majestic humpback whales, and it also has a popular spot scuba divers enjoy year-round.
If you don’t like the idea of flying, a cruise is the only other way to visit multiple islands in a short period. Norwegian Cruise Lines handles all inter-island cruises and offers several Hawaii island hopping packages from Honolulu.
Like the ferry to Lanai, cruises provide a more scenic island hopping experience to appreciate the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. However, while they give you a brief glimpse behind the curtain, they’re not a great form of travel if you want to explore the islands in-depth.
5. Where Are the Airports in Hawaii?
Hawaii island hopping flights are the only way to visit all six major Hawaiian Islands. But, only some of the airports support international and overseas domestic flights. So, if you’re hoping to start your island-hopping journey in Molokai, you’ll need to rework your itinerary.
The biggest airport in Hawaii resides in Oahu, just minutes from downtown Honolulu. Officially named Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), many simply refer to it by its former name, the Honolulu Airport. Most flights from the mainland US and Asia fly into the Honolulu Airport, making Oahu the undisputed hub of transportation in and around the Hawaiian Islands and the best base of operations for your Hawaii island-hopping itinerary.
Lihue Airport (LIH) is the only airport located on Kauai, on the island’s southeast coast. Despite its small size, it handles both inter-island and international flights. Flying here is a breath of fresh air, from the open-air building to the outside check-in. And once you leave the airport, the island’s small size actually comes in handy, as you’re only a short journey to some of Kauai’s top spots like Poipu Beach (30 minutes) and Waimea Canyon (1 hr).
Three airports operate on Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG), Kapalua Airport (JPM), and Hana Airport ( HNM). However, only Kahului, located on Maui’s east side, operates overseas and inter-island flights. As such, it’s the best option for your Hawaii island-hopping adventures. As a bonus, flying into Kahului puts you minutes away from town and the official start to the Road to Hana.
Big Island Airports
The Big Island of Hawaii sports two airports for your island hopping needs. Kona Airport (KOA) sits on the island’s west side, while Hilo Airport (ITO) is on the island’s east. While Kona primarily handles domestic overseas and international flights, both airports support island-hopping flights. From Kona Airport, visitors can head to historical parks and coffee plantations only minutes away, while visitors to the Hilo side are a short drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The tiny island of Lanai only has one similarly tiny airport. Located just outside Lanai City, the only flights into Lanai Airport (LNY) are from inter-island routes departing from Oahu and Maui. Therefore, if you want to island hop to Lanai via the skies, the only option is to fly in from Honolulu or Kahului Airports.
Like Lanai, the Hawaiian Island of Molokai has only one airport. Situated at the heart of the island, minutes from the largest city, Kaunakakai, Molokai Airport (MKK) only supports inter-island planes. So, the only way for Hawaii island hoppers to get to Molokai is by flight from Oahu or Maui.
6. How Much Does It Cost to Island Hop in Hawaii?
The cost of travel between the Hawaiian Islands depends on your mode of transportation. Flights cost roughly $80 per person, while cruise packages cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Ferry services are relatively cheap, but you can only use them to travel between Maui and Lanai.
7. What’s the Cheapest Way to Go Island Hopping in Hawaii?
While taking the ferry is technically the cheapest mode of transportation, the lack of options makes it obsolete for true island-hopping adventures. Consequently, flying takes the crown as the cheapest, most viable way to travel between the Hawaiian Islands, with deals as low as $39 one way. However, even without special prices, you can find flights between $50-$100 per person to island hop in Hawaii.
8. Are There Ferries Between Hawaiian Islands?
Only one ferry service operates on the Hawaiian Islands, with trips between Maui and Lanai. The journey spans the Au’au channel between the two islands and takes roughly 45 minutes. Due to its limited scope, it’s not a practical option for seeing all of the Hawaiian Islands, but it is an excellent option for island-hopping day trips from Maui to Lanai.
Next Vacay Finds You the Cheapest Flights for Hawaiian Island Hopping
You can find excellent deals on island hopping Hawaii by plane, but how about getting to Hawaii? Before you can set foot on the Hawaiian Islands, you need a separate flight to get you there. Next Vacay can help.
With avid deal-watchers at the ready, you’re guaranteed to get only the best deals to the Aloha State. So, whether you want to fly into busy Honolulu or quiet Kauai, let Next Vacay save you money, so you can spend more on the things you love as you island hop Hawaii.