Everything you Need to Plan your Hawaii Road Trip

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We all know we can’t drive to Hawaii, but once you are there, each island has its own unique and magical road trips. Planning a trip to Hawaii should always include a few one day road trips. Typically, February is the busiest time of the year for Hawaii tourism, but many families like to go in the summer months or at Christmas vacation while the kids are out of school. With the yearly average weather temperature around 85 degrees, anytime is the best time to visit Hawaii.

Once you have exhausted your time at the pool and beach, you may find you are ready for a road trip and want to explore Hawaii. Always take into account things like ‘Will your route take you through bigger cities during rush hour?’ or ‘Do you have to be somewhere at a specific time?’

Nobody wants to be in a hurry or sitting in rush hour traffic, when you want to journey out and have an adventure. Know the direction you want to head in beforehand and even ask local residents if unsure of the best route to take. Most car rental companies do restrict certain roads on each Hawaiian island. They will provide you with free maps that show which roads are restricted. If you decide to take that route anyway and drive on restricted roads, you will be at the mercy of the car company if you break down or damage the vehicle. Always make wise choices.

Touring the Island

Known as a circle tour, on most Hawaiian islands you can drive completely around the island visiting many of the sites that island has to offer.

Kauai is the exception, as you can only drive to 20% of the island. The North Shore drive to the town of Hanalei is surrounded by majestic mountains and waterfalls, and driving in the other direction brings you to the Southwest side and the famous Waimea Canyon State Park (also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific).

Oahu has an assortment of different road trips you can try. Most visitors make the drive from Waikiki to the North Shore and back. The direction you take is key, as the city of Honolulu has some of the worst rush hour traffic in all the USA. Sitting in traffic at the end of a great day of exploring is not fun. Plan around this so you don’t hit traffic during busy times of the day.

Maui boasts one of the most famous drives in the world, ‘The Hana Highway’. This is a full day adventure and yes the road does go in a complete circle, but a portion of the back side is off limits to all cars from car rental companies. Even if you just drive one way to Hana and just beyond, then drive back the same way you came, you will have a fantastic day of road tripping. Another Maui route to explore is to drive up the dormant volcano, Haleakala. The drive down from Haleakala has some of the most spectacular views of the surrounding Hawaiian islands.

On Big Island Hawaii, you can still drive the island loop, although some side roads were affected by recent lava flows. To drive the entire island in one day will take you 8 hours, but that is with no stops. If you want to do it all the same day, plan for 10 to 12 hours, to have a meal and stretching breaks.

Hawaii road trip safety checks

  • Have a plan for your day, but be flexible and open to immediate changes.
  • Have your maps and GPS ready to go. Know your route and make note of key road names to watch for.
  • Car rentals come with a full tank of fuel, but ensure you have enough for your day’s trip.
  • Knowing your passengers requirements helps, like how long you can travel before toilet breaks. And don’t forget to bring light snacks and drinks for all.
  • Anyone get car sick or nauseous in your group ? Make sure you have paper bags and nausea pills at hand.
  • If you rent a convertible car or removable top jeep, have hats for everyone. And don’t forget to be generous with the sunscreen.
  • Check the local county driving websites for the up-to-date road conditions. When it rains in Hawaii, it rains hard! You must watch for water on the roads and be alert when crossing streams and rivers.
  • Have all paperwork and ID required for every passenger with you. You may need your Hawaii travel vaccine passport to get into establishments, so as long as the rules are in effect, you don’t want to leave your documentation back at the hotel.
  • Make sure you have a charged phone and take phone numbers for roadside assistance if required. Unfortunately things like flat tires do happen.

Hawaii road trip tips include

  • Come prepared for the day, wear a bathing suit under clothes & bring towels. Have any other footwear or outwear needed, packed for your trip. Take a change of clothes and a stocked diaper bag for the little ones. Reef safe sunscreen, bug spray and a first aid kit are great to have on hand.
  • Bring from home a soft cooler and some tailgate supplies, such as; paper plates, reusable cutlery, cloth napkins.
  • Discuss beforehand with family and fellow passengers as to who wants to see what ? Have scheduled stops for sightseeing, bathroom breaks, shopping & just stretching your legs.
  • In Hawaii, the sun goes down every night close to 6:30pm, try to be off the road before it gets too dark. Unfamiliar roads in the dark can be a challenge.
    Bring some cash on your outings, some of the local markets and street side vendors may not take plastic.
    The land and sea are cherished by Hawaiians, please do not trespass or litter anywhere in Hawaii.

When planning your Hawaiian vacation, plan a day or two to go road tripping and explore your island of choice. Each Hawaiian Island has a wetter north shore and a drier south shore, both equally beautiful and worth a visit. Remember nobody wants to sit in a car all day and just drive around, so make sure your destinations and stops are pre-planned. Knowing what an area has to offer beforehand, like well reviewed restaurants and points of interest, always comes in handy.