Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Hawaii, Part 2: Maui, Kauai, and island of Hawaii

Written by Steve Atlas

Last month, we visited the island of Oahu in our 50th state: Hawaii. As we saw last month, the wide choice of public transportation combined with a walkable city (Honolulu) make it easy to enjoy a visit without needing to rent a car.

But Hawaii is more than just Oahu. Three other Hawaiian islands have public bus systems that make it possible to visit without needing to rent a car: Maui, Kauai, and the island of Hawaii. However, in these islands, the bus systems are primarily designed for local residents to commute to and from work, and sometimes use for recreation. Many tourist attractions are not served.

For this reason, enjoying a visit to any of these islands requires a different strategy.

First: do not take a local bus to and from the airport. On two of the islands (Maui and Kauai), bus riders are limited to one carry-on bag. On the island of Hawaii, the time required to get to a destination from the airport can take much longer than many of us would like.

Instead, take a taxi or (for a lower cost) take a shuttle that goes to your hotel or town where you will be staying. While the cost is higher than a local bus, you can bring your entire luggage with you and enjoy a reasonably quick trip to your destination.

Second: find one or more towns to use as your base in each island. Be sure that your hotel, B&B or other accommodation is within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, a beach, and—if possible—one or more attractions. You also want easy access to local buses. The best way to use the local buses is for transportation from your hotel to other towns, attractions, some shopping and restaurants (if necessary), and one or more beaches. (Of course, this may not be as important if your hotel is within walking distance of one or more beaches, shopping and/or restaurants.)

Third: accept the reality that many state and national parks and other major attractions and activities are difficult or impossible to reach by public transportation. The solution: find a local tour company and go on one or more of its tours.

I want to thank the Hawaii Tourism Authority and its website:, for most of the information included in this column.

Guide to Restaurants, Attractions and possible Itineraries:  A statewide guide to restaurants or attractions is available at:

(A personal note from Steve Atlas: The island of Hawaii Visitor Bureau suggested that we include the following paragraph: The author recognizes the use of the okina or glottal stop, one of the eight consonants of the (modern) Hawaiian language; and the kahako or macron however, this correspondence does not include the okina or kahako because not all computers are able to reproduce these markings or true fonts in normal text.)

A special note: Because we are covering three islands, this column will focus on transportation, where to stay, and guided tours. There are links to websites that describe attractions, itineraries, restaurants, and accommodations. Each of the three islands has its own Visitors Bureau with a web site andphone number. (The web site for all islands in Hawaii is

Use Inter-Island Flights or Cruises: There is direct air service to individual islands. Some cruise ships also stop at specific islands. Another option is to fly into Honolulu on Oahu, and then use flights or cruises to visit other islands. The following airlines provide inter-island flights. For more details, visit their web sites:

Flight times from Honolulu International Airport (HNL), Oahu to:

  • Lihue Airport (LIH), Kauai: 30 minutes
  • Kahului Airport (OGG), Maui: 30 minutes
  • Kapalua-West Maui Airport (JHM), Maui: 30 minutes
  • Hilo International Airport (ITO), Hawaii’s Big Island: 50 minutes
  • Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), Hawaii’s Big Island: 45 minutes

Consider a Cruise to Hawaii or between the islands of Hawaii: Many cruise lines stop in Hawaii. Below is a list of several cruises that stop in Hawaii: Another great option for visitors interested in traveling without renting a car is an inter-island Hawaiian Cruise, which stops at multiple islands.

Let’s continue our Car Free Journey by briefly visiting three Hawaiian Islands that have public transportation: Maui, Kauai, and the island of Hawaii.


Pools and small waterfall along East Maui
Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

Known as the “Valley Isle,” Maui is dotted with quaint towns, artist communities and local favorites that have been around for generations. Head to Wailuku for pastries from a “mom and pop” bakery, or head to Lahaina for a taste of Maui’s famed farm to table cuisine. Maui was voted the “Best Island” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for more than twenty years.

   Getting Here:  Kahului Airport (OGG) is Maui’s main airport. There are two smaller commuter airports as well: Kampala Airport (JHM) in West Maui and Hana Airport (HNM) in East Maui. Many airlines offer non-stop flights direct to Maui. You may also fly into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu before heading to Maui on a short, 30-minute flight. There is daily ferry service to the nearby island of Lanai.

The following airlines fly into Kahului Airport from the United States and/or Canada:

  • Air Canada: (888) 247-2262
  • Alaska Airlines: (800) 252-7522
  • American Airlines: (800) 433-7300
  • Delta Airlines: (800) 221-1212
  • Hawaiian Airlines: (800) 367-5320 (also has inter-island flights from Honolulu)
  • United Airlines: (800) 824-6200 (Flight), (800) 864-8331 (Reservations)
  • US Airways: (800) 428-4322
  • Virgin America: (877) 359-8474
  • West Jet: (888) 937-8538

The following three airlines provide inter-island flight service from Honolulu:

  • Hawaiian Airlines: (800) 367-5320
  • Island Air: (800) 652-6541
  • Mokulele Express: (866) 260-7070

Once you arrive at Kahului Airport, take the Airport Shuttle (one-way fares start at $10 per person one way, and $20 per person round trip) to your hotel. For details and reservations, go to, or call (808) 539-9400 (7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Hawaii time, daily.

    Getting Around

The Maui Bus, the island’s public bus system, operates daily and serves nearly all towns on the island. The one-way fare is $2. However, the best value is a $4 daily pass. For information about schedules and fares, visit, or call (808) 871-6226.

According to transit staff, the most important bus routes for visitors are:

  • #10: Known as the Kihei Islander, this bus stops at Kamaole Beach III.
  • #15: Known as the Kihei Villager, this bus stops at the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium: the Aquarium of Hawaii ( or call (808) 427-0827). You can see reviews of the Ocean Center at
  • #10 (Kihei Islander) and #30 (Napili Islander) go to many beaches.
  • #35: Known as the Haiku Islander, a ride on the 35 gives you an enjoyable trip along the ocean.

All Maui buses begin and end at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, which calls itself the Town Square of Maui.  If you plan to use the buses to travel around Maui, there are two hotels near the center:

Other good towns to stay, if you don’t have a car, include Lahaina, Wailea, Kihei , and the Ka’anapali resort area. From Kihei, it is possible to walk to shopping and beaches. From many Lahaina area hotels, the Shopping Shuttle ($3 per one-way trip) travels to the Outlets of Maui in downtown Lahaina.

For details, go to  (see the bottom of the page.) Walk along Front St. in downtown Lahaina and explore many stores and restaurants.

   What to Do

The Maui Visitors Bureau has these suggestions: “Your time may be short but there’s never a rush on Maui. Head to West Maui and spend your day on Ka’anapali Beach. Watch the sunset cliff diving ceremony before you head to Lahaina. Learn about this historic town while you shop, dine and take in some Maui nightlife. If it’s whale-watching season (December- May) go out on an unforgettable whale-watching excursion.” More itinerary recommendations can be found here:

For information about Maui attractions, go to this web site:

To find beaches in Maui, go to the following web site:

    What’s Your Pleasure?

Each of us has our own special interests. Maui has attractions and travel ideas that can match many of your interests. Go to

Sometimes a Guided Tour may be your Best Choice

Unfortunately, there are many attractions in Maui that require a car. Since you won’t be driving, check out one of the following tour operators in Maui:

     Where Can I Eat?

For a list of restaurants and other ideas for outings and what attractions to see while you are here, go to

    For More Information about Maui

Call or visit the Maui Visitor Center: 1727 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, HI 96793; Phone: (808) 244-3530. You can also visit their web site:


Unwind and let the oxygen-rich air of Kauai’s Wailua River invigorate your spirit as you kayak to a cascading waterfall. Or breathe deeply at the edge of the time-swept Waimea Canyon as it speaks to you without words. On Kauai, native fishponds amaze with 1,000-year old forward thinking, while legends of the Napali Coast transport you back in time. From the small towns of Hanapepe and Old Koloa Town to sunny Poipu Beach, this is truly “Hawaii’s Island of Discovery.”

Visitors view Waimea Canyon from Lookout
Courtesy of Hawaii Tourist Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

    Getting Here: Kauai’s main airport is Lihue Airport (LIH) in southeastern Lihue. Many airlines now offer non-stop service to Kauai. There is also the option of flying into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu and then heading to Kauai. The following airlines fly into Lihue from several airports in the U.S. and/or Canada:

  • Alaska Airlines: (800) 252-7522
  • American Airlines: (800) 433-7300
  • Delta Airlines: (800) 221-1212
  • United Airlines: (800) 241-6522
  • U.S. Airways: (808) 241-7739
  • WestJet: Reservations: 1-888-937-8538 (1-888-WESTJET)

You can also take Island Air and Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu.

  • Hawaiian Airlines: (800) 367-5320
  • Island Air: (800) 652-6541

     Baggage Inquiries: 1-866-666-6224; TTY: 1-877-952-0100.

Once you arrive, take an airport shuttle to your hotel. The following shuttles are available:

     Where to Stay

Kauai bus staff members recommend staying in Kapaa. Shopping is within walking distance, and beaches are nearby. The Hotel Coral Reef in Kapaa has received many positive reviews that are posted on Trip Advisor ( This beachfront hotel is within blocks of Kapaa town shops and restaurants. The Kauai Bus’ Route 400 (southbound) and 500 (northbound) go through here. The Kauai Museum is approximately a 45 minute bus ride away on the 500 (going there) and 400 (returning to Kauai).  (Please note that these bus numbers could change, so check with the Kauai Bus: go to or call (808) 246-8110.

The Kauai Visitors Bureau suggests the following small towns that offer activities/attractions within walking distance:

 For accommodations on Kauai, go to

   Getting Around

The Kauai Bus provides daily service (Monday-Sunday) to many communities on Kauai, from Kekaha to Hanalei. The cost is $2 for a single ride ($1 for senior citizens or young people 17 and younger), or $40.

For a monthly pass (good for a calendar month only). If you are staying for several days, the monthly pass may be worth considering. You can buy a monthly pass at the Kekahi, Kapahi or Kilauea Food Marts, or at the main Kauai Bus office. (A rental car could easily cost $40 or more daily.)  For more information about bus schedules and fares, go to or call (808) 246-8110.

    What to Do

For a list of attractions in Kauai, visit:

Find beaches at

The Kauai Visitors Bureau has these suggestions: When it comes to short stays on Kauai, your schedule will depend greatly on where you’ll be staying. Wherever you stay you’ll be close to one of Kauai’s incredible beaches. A visit to Kauai’s small towns will also give you a taste of the island’s culture, from Hanalei Town in the north to Old Koloa Town in the south and Hanapepe Town to the southwest. You may be able squeeze in seeing a waterfall like the easily accessible Opaekaa Falls or a natural attraction like Spouting Horn on your travels. More itinerary recommendations can be found here:

    What’s Your Pleasure?

You can go beyond doing what “everyone does.” Instead, consider your interests and check out what is available to satisfy them. On Kauai, go to

     Consider a Guided Tour to see Sites that are Only Accessible by Car

You can have a wonderful experience on Kauai by staying in Kapaa or one of the other towns recommended by the Kauai Visitors Bureau. Eventually, you will realize that without a car, it is difficult to reach some of the top attractions on the island. Fortunately, there are several tour operators that offer guided tours that will take you to many or all of these attractions. Here are a few tour operators:

 Where Can I Eat?

For restaurants and attraction information, go to

For More Information about Kauai

Go to, You can also call either the toll-free phone number: (800) 262-1400 or the local number: (808) 245-3971, or visit the Kauai Visitors Bureau at 4334 Rice St. #101 in Lihue.

Island of Hawaii

Blue waters along the Kona Coast
Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

Think big. The island of Hawaii is the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian chain, but it’s remarkable for more than just its size. Visit Kilauea:  one of the most active volcanoes in the world, or talk story with a cultural demonstrator at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a historic park that was once a place of refuge. Whether you’re walking on a black sand beach, snorkeling with manta rays, horseback riding in Waimea or sailing along the Kona Coast, Hawaii, the Big Island is your island for adventure.

     Which Side of Hawaii Should You Visit?

The Island of Hawaii has two distinct regions. The west/leeward side of Hawaii has less rain and is the more popular region for most travelers, primarily because of its beautiful beaches. Kona is the main town here. Kona Airport is the more popular of the island’s two airports, and more flights stop there.

If you don’t have a car, your best choice is to stay at a Kona hotel served by the Kona Trolley ($2 per ride), and take the Trolley to a nearby beach. For the Trolley’s schedule and a list of hotels where the trolley stops, go to

The east/windward side of the island (the main town here is Hilo) has more rain, and less popular beaches. Botanic Gardens, hiking, sightseeing, and exploring small towns are reasons to visit.

In general, the Hawaii Travel Bureau recommends flying into Kona Airport and spending a few days in Kona enjoying the beach. Then, take one of the free local buses from Kona across the island to Hilo (the trip takes 3-4 hours). In Hilo, visit the Botanical Gardens, explore the city, and spend some time hiking. If you are here on a Tuesday, take Keikana Tours’ Hoppa On Hoppa Off bus tour of Hilo. With unlimited on and off privileges, this is a great way to explore the city. For details, visit Then, return home from Hilo Airport.

     Getting There

Most flights to the island of Hawaii go to Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), so this is the best airport to use when coming to the island. The following airlines serve KOA:

  •  Air Canada: (888) 247-2262,– Seasonal nonstop service (DEC-APR) between KOA and YVR
  • Alaska Airlines: (800) 252-7522,–Nonstop service between KOA and SEA, ANC, BLI, OAK, PDX, SAN, SJC
  • American Airlines: (800) 223-5436, or (800) 433-7300,–Nonstop service between KOA and LAX, PHX.  Effective 12//15/2016 seasonal service to DFW
  • Delta Air Lines: (800) 221-1212,–Nonstop service between KOA and LAX, SEA.
  • Mokulele Airlines: (866) 260-7070, www.–*All Mokulele flights depart and arrive at the commuter terminal
  • Hawaiian Airlines: (800) 367-5320,–Interisland service and connecting international/mainland service * Effective 12/21/2016, nonstop service to Haneda,    Tokyo, Japan
  • Island Air: (800) 652-6541,–Interisland service and connecting international/mainland service
  • United Airlines: (800) 824-6200, (800) 241-6522 (Arrival & Departure Info)  (800) 864-8331 (Reservations), Nonstop service between KOA and SFO, LAX, DEN
  • Westjet: (888) 937-8538,–Nonstop service between KOA and YVR (Vancouver)

After You Arrive at KOA

Speedi Shuttle operates airport shuttle service at KOA and other airports throughout the state of Hawaii. Fares to Kona hotels start at $14 per person, based on 2 riders sharing the ride. Be sure to ask about rates for solo travelers. For details, go to

Getting Around on the Island of Hawaii

Local bus service is provided by the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency’s Hele-On Bus. One-way fares are $2 ($1 for seniors age 60 and over, students 17 and younger, and persons with disabilities). Service is generally Monday-Saturday, and many routes have only limited service. A Kona-Hila route operates 2-3 times each day (except Sundays and holidays). A 10-ticket book for $15 ($7.50 for seniors, students, and persons with disabilities) can be ordered by downloading an online order form. Frequent bus users can purchase a monthly pass for $60 ($45 for seniors, students, and persons with disabilities).

For information about where to purchase 10-ticket books, monthly passes, and shared-taxi coupons, go to

For information about Hele-On schedules and fares, go to, or call (808) 961-8744 from 7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, Hawaii time.

Because of the limited frequency of most bus routes, we recommend using Hele-On buses as just one of your resources. Walk; use shared taxi service, and trolley and shuttle service.

Tour operators can take you to many attractions that can otherwise be reached only by car.

       Where to Stay on the West/Leeward Side of the Island of Hawaii

The Hawaii Visitors Bureau recommends Historic Kailua Village, located just 15 minutes south f Kona International Airport.  The area is a destination for affordable accommodations, shopping, dining, and cultural education.  Here are their suggestions for exploring this village: Stroll down the main road of Alii Drive and you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants. But look closer and you’ll also discover some very important Hawaii Island historic spots. Hulihee Palace and the Mokuaikaua Church are both located right on Alii Drive. King Kamehameha I spent his later years living near the current site of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel until his passing in 1819. The Ahuena Heiau, located on the grounds of the hotel, is a reconstructed temple rebuilt by Kamehameha himself and is on the register of National Historic Landmarks. Kailua Pier is a great place to watch the sunset and is also the starting and finishing point of the Ironman World Championship (October).

Additional information on Historic Kailua Village can be found here:

In Kona, consider staying at one of the hotels where the Kona Trolley picks up passengers and takes its passengers to nearby beaches and resorts ($2 per ride). The Trolley stops at the following hotels:

  • Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort,
  • Kona Bali Kai
  • Aston Kona By The Sea
  • Royal Sea Cliff, and the
  • Royal Kona Resort

To find out more about beaches, go to

For Trolley schedules, go to   

Now, it’s time to explore the east/windward side of the island of Hawaii. The most affordable way to travel from Kona to Hilo is by taking the Hele-On Bus’ Kona-Hilo route.  For schedules, go to  Check to see if that bus stops at or near your hotel. If not, all three trips stop at K Mart.

    Welcome to Hilo

Hilo and the rest of the east/windward side of Hawaii is a contrast from the beaches on the west (Kona) side.  There is much more rain, and many neighborhoods and attractions to explore. Hilo is well-known for black sand beaches, but white sand can also be found at a few spots on this side of the island. To see what other travelers think about Hilo and the rest of the island of Hawaii, go to

According to the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, “On the island of Hawaii, the best area for visitors without rental cars to stay is near Downtown Hilo which offers a variety of activities within walking distance. Hilo is also the gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“Start your visit with a stroll down Kamehameha Avenue facing beautiful Hilo Bay and discover a variety of local shops, restaurants and attractions including the modern aloha wear at Sig Zane Designs, the neo-classical Palace Theatre built in 1925, and the bustling Hilo Farmers Market. You’ll also find a variety of art galleries featuring paintings, woodwork, glasswork and jewelry from artists with a unique island point of view. Visit the East Hawaii Cultural Center, the central hub of the Hilo art scene, dedicated to preserving and sharing cultural, creative and traditional arts on the island.”

Additional information in Hilo can be found at

A list of accommodations in Hilo can be found here:

For information about parks on the island of Hawaii, go to:

For information about attractions and activities, go to

The major attraction on this side of the island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Unfortunately, you need either a car or an organized tour to explore the park.

However, there is a lot to see in and near Hilo. Nearby you’ll find a variety of off-the-beaten-path discoveries. Visit the Puna area to find charming restaurants shops and amazing sights like Lava Trees State Park. You’ll also find even more interesting attractions like the Panaewa Rainforest  Zoo, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.

An affordable way to travel around Hilo is the Hele-On Bus Shared Taxi program, which is available 24 hours every day in the Hilo urbanized area. For details, go to

A great way to see Hilo is on Keikana Tours’ Hoppa On Hoppa Off bus.  For $20, you can see the major sights of Hilo, and enjoy unlimited on and off privileges. However, these tours are only offered on days when cruise ships stop at Hilo. Fortunately, they are available nearly every Tuesday.  For details and reservations, go to or call (808) 895-4188.

What’s Your Pleasure?

To learn about attractions and activities that match your interests, go to:

Let’s Eat

For a list of restaurants and other attractions and activities on the island of Hawaii, visit

Explore the island of Hawaii on an Organized Tour

There are many attractions that require a car or joining an organized tour. The following tour operators’ web sites are a good way to find the right tour for your interests and needs:

 Another way to learn about guided tours on the island of Hawaii is at the following web site:

            It’s Time to Leave from Hilo International Airport

The best way to get to this airport is on the Hele-On Bus’ Intra Hilo-Kaukaha route. Buses stop at the airport 8 times daily, Monday-Saturday. Buses stop at the airport beginning at 8:00 a.m., and then running at 80-minute intervals (1 hour and 20 minutes) until 5:20 p.m. (last bus).

If you need to reach the airport on Sundays or evenings, the only ground transportation are taxis. A visitor information staff member at the airport estimates that a taxi costs approximately $14-$16 to reach several hotels near downtown Hilo.

There are only two airlines that serve Hilo International Airport. United flies to and from LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) 4-7 days a week, depending on the season. Hawaiian Airlines offers daily service from Honolulu International Airport (Oahu), and from Kahului Airport on Maui. (See the section under Kona Airport for phone numbers and web site information for both airlines.)

For More Information about the Island of Hawaii

For information about where to stay and what to do, contact the Island of Hawaii Visitors’ Bureau. Their website is   The phone number is (808) 885-1655.

 For information about public bus service on the island of Hawaii, contact Hele-On Bus. Its website is,   The phone number is (808) 961-8744 (7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, Hawaii time).

 Steve Atlas welcomes your comments, and suggestions for cities or vacation destinations to feature in future Car Free Journey columns. E-mail In the subject line, put “Car Free Journey.”

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at