Depending on whether you want to spend your holiday visiting different islands or staying on just one island, choose the modes of transportation that best suit your needs. The flights from island to island are very short — however, sometimes you might need a connecting flight through Honolulu International Airport in Oahu.
Each of the Hawaiian Islands provides you with infrastructure for great road trips. Renting a car is your best option as it will give you the independence you need. The only island with an extensive bus system is Oahu, where buses operate mainly in Waikiki, Ala Moana Mall and downtown Honolulu.
Each Hawaiian Island offers great opportunities for road trips and other activities. The Island of Hawaii, which is also called Big Island, is the largest island of the state. It is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with its rainforests and deserts, as well as Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. With its two international airports — Hilo (ITO) and Kona (KOA) — Big Island is easy to reach.
Hawaii Belt Road consisting of the Highways 11, 19 and 190 is a route that circles the entire island. Route 11 takes you from Hilo to Kailua-Kona. From there, you can take Route 19 to Waimea along the coastline, or take Route 190, which is one of the oldest and longest roads in the state with 150 miles.
Maui, as the second-largest island, is the perfect destination for a relaxing beach holiday. Maui has three major highways and consists of five different regions that can easily be reached by car. Honoapiilani Highway (Route 30) connects West Maui and Wiluku, passing beautiful white sand beaches and spectacular cliffs. Famous Hana Highway starts at Kahului on the north coast and leads to Hana on the eastern shore. If you want to drive up to the summit of Haleakaka, follow Routes 37, 377 and 378. The Road to Hana is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, passing through lush rainforests replete with waterfalls and impressive scenery.
Kauai is the oldest and fourth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is the perfect place for hiking and other nature adventures. It is known as "The Garden Isle”. Apart from the network of state highways that will get you everywhere, there is the Holo Holo Koloa Scenic Byway that is 19 miles long and leads past Kauai’s most famous sights like the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Molokai is the fifth-largest of the eight Hawaiian Islands and is famous for its breathtaking tropical landscapes. The major roads are Highways 450 and 460, which run from east to west, giving you easy access to these regions.
Oahu, as the third-largest island, is home to Hawaii’s state capital Honolulu, which is also its biggest city. Oahu offers a perfect mix of tropical and city adventures. It has three interstate highways that reach all parts of the island. The main highway, Kamehameha Highway, starts from Pearl Harbor and travels through central Oahu up to the town of Kaneohe.
The Hawaiian Islands have three international airports: in Hilo, in Kona, and in Honolulu — with Honolulu International Airport/Daniel K. Inouye International Airport being the destination that most inbound flights land at. Once you are on one of the Hawaiian Islands, you can find connecting flights from one island to another.
Honolulu International Airport offers flights to all of the other Hawaiian Islands, all with flight times under 50 minutes. You reach Kauai and Maui in 30 minutes, Molokai in 20 minutes, Lanai in 25 minutes and Big Island in 50 minutes. It also offers international flights to destinations such as New Zealand, China, South Korea and Australia.
Hilo International Airport on Big Island is located on the east side of the island. It offers flights to top destinations, such as Honolulu on Oahu, Kahului on Maui and Los Angeles on the US mainland.
Kona International Airport on Big Island offers inter-island flights to Honolulu, Kahului and Lihue, as well as domestic flights to the US mainland, including Denver and San Francisco.
Maui also has two airports: Kahului Airport is the main airport of the island and has flights to Honolulu, Lihue and Kailua-Kona, as well as to destinations in the states of California, Texas and Washington. Maui’s second airport Kapalua Airport is a small airport that only serves the destination Honolulu.
From Lihue Airport on Kauai you can fly to Kahalui, Kona and Honolulu and some US mainland destinations, while Hoolehua Airport on Molokai only offers flights to Honolulu.
In Hawaii, you will find many different options for travel, whether on land, on water, or by air. From these options, you can find the perfect choice for your travel needs.
Arriving at the airport, you can either take a shuttle, or pick up your rental car that you have arranged beforehand. The second option gives you the advantage of being independent from the get-go. You make your reservation in advance and your car is ready for pick-up when you land.
Check out the Oahu bus system called "TheBus" with its fleet of more than 500 buses and more than 110 routes. However, it does not give you quite the freedom that having your own rental car does.
On Oahu, you will also find that the Waikiki Trolley is an excellent way for getting around Honolulu. You can reach Pearl Harbor and all other top attractions. Within the cities on the various islands, there is also the option of taking self-guided walking tours. You can explore downtown Honolulu on Oahu, Hilo on the Big Island, and Hanalei on Kauai this way.
Less common ways of exploring the islands are helicopter tours. Popular routes are along Kauai’s NaPali Coast and flying over Kilauea volcano on Big Island.
When driving your rental car, make sure to adapt to Hawaiian driving etiquette. This includes that honking is not customary. In general, people in Hawaii are polite and defensive drivers. Speed limits are 60 mph on interstates, and 55 mph on all other freeways except some that pass through the center of cities like Honolulu. In school zones, the speed limit is 25 mph.
Discover North Hilo and Hamakua Coast
Big Island offers many great routes for road trips. One that definitely stands out is the drive from Hilo to the Hamakua Coast. Starting near Hilo with the spectacular Rainbow Falls, you head up the coast, passing Akaka Falls State Park and the Mauna Kea Summit. The destination of your trip is Waipio Valley with its spectacular lookout and black sand beaches.
Mauna Loa road trip
This 17-mile trip leads to Mauna Loa, one of the world’s most massive mountains and offers you spectacular views along the way. Starting from Kona, you take Highway 190, seeing impressive lava rock formations while you drive. During most of the drive you can see Halemaumau Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Coffee Country scenic drive
This scenic drive on the Big Island starts at Kona, where you follow Highway 11, leading through lush green landscapes with coffee plantations. Along the way, there are plenty of snorkeling and diving spots like Kealakekua Bay. Another highlight is the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, which is a perfect spot for hiking, relaxing or picnicking.
Saddle Road on Big Island
Saddle Road on Hawaii’s Big Island runs from Kona to Hilo, i.e. from one side of the island to the other. It is a 55-mile drive, passing through all four of the climate zones, and offers many exciting sightseeing stops on the way. Check out Puu Huluhulu Native Tree Sanctuary and Nature Trail that is very popular with hikers and bird-watchers.