From my many trips to Hawaii, I’ve determined that island hopping around the Hawaiian Islands may not be as straightforward as you might think. In fact, navigating from island to island can sometimes be confusing. To help clear confusion, I’ve created this guide to inter-island travel. Though this guide was originally written in 2009, we aim to keep it up to date as ferry and flight services come and go in the Hawaiian Islands.
Three things you need to know from the start:
- The predominate method of inter-island travel is by air. Most people assume there’s a network of ferries to transport you from island to island. That’s not really the case in Hawaii. Ferry service is only available between Maui and Lanai and Maui and Molokai.
- The vast majority of flights route through Oahu’s Honolulu Airport (HNL), though Maui (OGG) has become a secondary hub within the Hawaiian Islands.
- As you island hop, you’ll discover that some islands have more than one airport. How do you know which airport to choose? Check out our guide, Flying to Hawaii – How to Choose the Right Airport. With Oahu’s Honolulu Airport being the major hub of Hawaii, all the other islands are often referred to as “neighboring islands”. If you want to travel from neighboring island to neighboring island, most of the flights will connect in HNL. With a limited number of direct flights between neighboring islands, I recommend that you search for direct flights when they are available as they can save you hours of needless transit and connection time that you could be spending on a beach.
So, as you are searching for inter-island flights between say Kauai (LIH) and the Big Island (either Kona’s KOA or Hilo’s ITO), for example, the vast majority of flights for that route include a connection in Honolulu (HNL). In that example, if you aren’t careful in selecting your flights, you can end up spending upwards of six hours in transit for what should be about an hour-long flight if it was direct. If a direct flight is not available, then be careful to choose a connecting flight that minimizes the connection time.
Here, I want to provide you with the resources you need to find inter-island travel providers. We’ll start out looking at the air options.
Inter-island Travel by Air
Here are all the inter-island air carriers along with a few notes including some of the local background. (Note that you can visit the individual sites directly to determine their current deals. Just click on the name of each carrier.)
This airline is most established and has the largest inter-island fleet of all jet engines. They fly to all the major islands. Hawaiian Airlines is our preferred airline for inter-island flights. From our experiences, their inter-island aircraft is significantly larger (e.g. jets), roomier, more stable and cleaner than the others. As another benefit, they usually provide free maps to your destination island, too.
Island Air has become Hawaii’s second largest inter-island carrier. They fly turboprop planes sized for up to 64 passengers. They fly between Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island We haven’t had the best of experiences with Island Air. We’ve experienced multiple delays with them. One delay resulted in us missing our mainland flight back home which incurred a change fee from American Airlines. Their customer service was horrible and refused to reimburse us for that fee.
‘Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines started offering flights to Lanai and Molokai in March 2014. Their new turboprop planes seat 48 passengers. We have flown with them and really liked their new planes and friendly service.
This very small airline flies to Oahu, Maui, Molokai, and Hawaii’s Big Island. Mokulele flies with nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft. We have flown several times on Mokulele. Their flights normally leave from the commuter terminals which are much less stressful than the main terminals.
Makani Kai Air
This small airline offer flights to and from Oahu, Maui and Molokai — including flights to remote Kalaupapa. They also offer charter service. They fly nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop planes.
*** General Advice For Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights ***
When you are looking for an inter-island flight, it’s best to explore all your options. I would advise you to search the individual airlines websites as sometimes they offer better rates if you book directly with them online. If you are short on time, use a flight search engine like CheapAir.com — just make sure that you notice the number of stops, e.g. connections. The limitation of CheapAir.com is that it doesn’t normally include the small airlines.
Inter-island Travel by Ferry
After the downfall of the Hawaii Superferry, there are only two inter-island ferry options. One ferry runs between Lanai and Maui only. The other ferry runs between Maui and Molokai only.
Here are the limited ferry options that are currently available in Hawaii.
This ferry offers scheduled ferry service from Lahaina on Maui to Lanai at Manele Bay. In addition to the ferry service, you can purchase Lanai tour packages with this ferry service.
This ferry offers offers scheduled service from Lahaina to Molokai at Kaunakakai Harbor. From there you can pre-arrange to pick up a rental or choose an option for fully guided tours. Morning ferry rides are relatively smooth, but the afternoon passage is extremely rough and the only time we’ve ever come close to sea sickness.
Just a word of caution — be advised that afternoon ferry rides can be pretty rough across the Auau Channel (between Lanai and Maui) and the Pailolo Channel (between Maui and Molokai.) The winds across the water are typically stronger in the afternoons creating bigger waves and choppier water across the channels. I am not prone to sea sickness, but I almost lost my cookies on the Maui-Molokai Ferry on an afternoon ride.