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The tropical paradise of Hawaii’s Big Island beckons visitors with its stunning volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and world-famous beaches. If you’re planning your dream Hawaiian vacation to the Big Island, you may be wondering what the best way is to get there.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The easiest and most common ways to reach the Big Island are by flying directly into one of the two main airports or taking an inter-island flight from Honolulu or Maui.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to help you get to the magnificent Big Island of Hawaii. We’ll go over airport options, inter-island flights, cruise ships, ferries, driving directions, and travel tips to make your journey smooth sailing.

Fly directly to Big Island airports

Fly into Kona International Airport

Kona International Airport (KOA) on the western side of the Big Island is the main gateway for visitors flying directly to the island. KOA offers nonstop flights from several major US mainland airports and daily service from Honolulu.

It’s about a 30-45 minute drive from Kona airport to popular west coast destinations like Kailua-Kona town and the Kohala Coast resorts.

In 2022, Kona airport served over 3 million passengers, making it the 2nd busiest airport in Hawaii after Honolulu. KOA has a single runway and open-air terminals, giving it a relaxed island vibe. The airport offers a good selection of dining and shopping options for such a small airport including several restaurants showcasing local Hawaii regional cuisine.

Fly into Hilo International Airport

On the east side of the Island, Hilo International Airport (ITO) offers a quieter, less touristy entry point to the Big Island. Hilo airport is smaller than Kona and mainly offers interisland flights from Honolulu, Kahului, and Kona.

It’s about a 10-15 minute taxi or rideshare trip from Hilo airport to the charming, rainforest-shrouded town of Hilo.

In 2022, Hilo airport served around 900,000 passengers. The single terminal has open-air halls surrounded by tropical foliage. Services are limited to a small coffee shop and news/gift store. Hilo town itself has an amazing farmers market, boutique shops, and restaurants serving fresh-caught seafood and locally grown produce.

Take an inter-island flight

Inter-island flights from Honolulu

The easiest way to get from O’ahu to the Big Island is by taking an inter-island flight. There are frequent daily nonstop flights from Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to both Kona International Airport (KOA) on the west side of the island and Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the east side.

The major airlines offering inter-island flights include Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, and Island Air. Flight time is around 30-45 minutes from Honolulu to Kona or Hilo. Fares on Hawaiian Airlines generally start from around $70-100 one-way.

It’s a breeze to connect to an inter-island flight after arriving on O’ahu. Honolulu International is a major hub, so you can simply collect your bags, exit the secure area, and check-in at an inter-island terminal for your onward journey. No need to re-clear security.

Inter-island flights from Maui

There are also a good number of daily inter-island flights connecting Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui to both KOA and ITO. Flying time is about 25 minutes.

Carriers operating Maui to Big Island routes include Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines and Makani Kai Air. Fares are very reasonable, usually around $70-120 each way.

As with connections in Honolulu, transiting between flights in Maui is straightforward. Kahului Airport has separate inter-island terminals located just a short walk from the main terminal building.

Checking flight schedules and booking inter-island flights is easy to do online. Helpful third-party websites for comparing routes, prices and timings across airlines include Expedia, Kayak and Google Flights. Making early bookings can lead to some super low fares.

Arrive by cruise ship

Cruise ships offer a convenient and relaxing way to reach the Big Island of Hawaii. Most major cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian include stops at Hilo and Kona as part of their Hawaiian island-hopping itineraries.

Here are some key things to know about arriving to the Big Island by cruise ship:

Port of Hilo

Hilo is situated on the east coast of the Big Island and offers cruise passengers easy access to Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park to see the world’s most active volcano Kīlauea. Other top attractions near the Port of Hilo include:

  • Rainbow Falls
  • Lili’uokalani Gardens
  • Imiloa Astronomy Center
  • Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

Port of Kona

The Port of Kona is located along the renowned Kona Coast on the west side of the island. From this port, cruisers can easily explore Kona’s beaches, coffee farms, and historic Kailua Village. Popular excursions include:

  • Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay
  • Swimming with manta rays at night
  • Coffee farm and pineapple plantation tours
  • Historic walks in Kailua Village
Port Key Attractions Shore Excursions
Hilo Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, waterfalls, gardens Volcano tours, zip line adventures, botanical garden visits
Kona Kona Coast beaches, coffee farms, historic villages Snorkeling, manta ray tours, coffee and pineapple tours

By cruising to the Big Island, visitors can experience the diversity of Hawaii’s landscapes all in one trip – from tropical rainforests to arid deserts, volcanoes to beaches. Cruising provides a stress-free way to island-hop.

Take a ferry from Maui

Taking a ferry from Maui to the Big Island of Hawaii is a scenic and relaxing way to travel between the islands. Here are some tips for booking and taking a ferry to the Big Island:

Choose a ferry company

There are a few ferry companies that offer routes between Maui and the Big Island. Some popular options include:

  • Expeditions Ferry: Offers daily ferry service from Lahaina Harbor on Maui to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. The crossing takes around 2.5 hours.
  • Sea Link of Hawaii: Provides a ferry route that connects Maʻalaea Harbor on Maui to Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island. The journey takes about 3 hours.

When choosing a company, compare crossing times, amenities, ticket prices, and cancellation/refund policies.

Book ferry tickets in advance

It’s highly recommended to book your ferry tickets well ahead of your intended travel date. Ferry seats can sell out weeks or months in advance during busy seasons. Booking early ensures you get a spot.

Many ferry companies allow you to book online or over the phone. Have your travel dates handy when booking.

Arrive at the harbor early

Be sure to arrive at the harbor at least 60-90 minutes before your scheduled departure time. This gives you a buffer in case there are traffic delays en route to the harbor.

Keep in mind that ferry boarding often begins 30-45 minutes prior to the stated departure time. You’ll need time to park, take luggage to the terminal, go through security screening, etc.

Relax and enjoy the ride

Once aboard the ferry, sit back and soak in the views! Ferry rides between the islands are wonderfully scenic. You’ll cruise past the smaller islands of Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi along the way.

Most ferries have open-air decks where you can spend time whale watching (during winter months), snapping photos, and taking in the fresh island air. There are also indoor cabin areas on most ferries.

Ferries like Expeditions have snack bars and televisions on board as well. But much of the joy is simply being out on the water and watching the islands slowly come into view!

Drive to the Big Island

Driving from Honolulu

There is no direct driving route from Honolulu on O’ahu island to the Big Island of Hawai’i. To drive to the Big Island, you’d need to take your car on a ferry or cargo ship from O’ahu island. The more common route is to fly from Honolulu International Airport to one of the two main airports on the Big Island – Kona International Airport or Hilo International Airport.

There are frequent daily nonstop flights available.

Driving within the Big Island

The Big Island has excellent roads that circle the island as well as transverse roads that cut across. You can easily drive to see all regions of the island. The scenic highways offer stunning coastal views with beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, and volcanoes to be explored.

Here are some driving tips for the Big Island:

  • Get an early start each morning to beat the clouds which often shroud mountain and volcano views later in the day
  • Fill up on gas when you see a station, some areas don’t have services for long stretches
  • Watch for one lane bridges that require taking turns
  • Allow extra time to get anywhere, roads are winding and slower speeds
  • Use caution driving Saddle Road which transects from Kona to Hilo as it has areas with narrow shoulders

The normal car rental terms are for driving only on paved roads. If you want to go off-roading to see more remote areas, you’d need a specialty vehicle rental arranged through companies like Hawai’i Forest & Trail.

This off-road option opens up seeing lava flows, rainforest trails, and scenic wilderness found only on the Big Island of Hawai’i.


With stunning scenery, incredible outdoor adventures, and perfect weather nearly year-round, the Big Island of Hawaii is a dream destination. By flying directly into Kona or Hilo, taking an inter-island hopper flight, cruising in by ship, or even making the long drive from Oahu, traveling to the Big Island is easier than you may think.

Use this guide to help choose the best transportation option for your upcoming Hawaiian vacation and before you know it, you’ll have your toes in the sand on those world-famous black and green sand beaches.

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