When you ask someone to think of vacation spots in the United States, more often than not, they’re going to think of Hawaii. The beaches and other outdoor spots here are some of the best the world has to offer. When people plan trips to go to Hawaii, among the first things they’ll consider are their airfare and accommodations. While these are perfectly rational things to take into account, going on a trip to Hawaii may be a completely different experience – for the better, of course – if you drive around instead of just stay in one place.
Things to Know Before You Get Behind the Wheel
Driving is a perfect way to go through Hawaii since you’ll be able to see the sights you may have missed out on while you were sitting in the place. As we’ve said before, road tripping through Hawaii also allows you to see more of the islands as opposed to being confined to one place. Simply put, some people just like driving and spending time with their friends and family. However, before you turn your car’s ignition and hit the road, let’s first talk about the dos and don’ts of driving in the Islands of Aloha.
Going on a road trip in Hawaii is actually pretty similar to driving through a lot of other states, but with some key differences. With that in mind, let’s talk about the similarities first. First of all, just like in the mainland states, people in Hawaii drive on the right side of the road. This means that if you have a vehicle from your home state that’s built for driving on the right, you can use it in Hawaii as well. If you’ve experienced driving in other states, then there’s no need to worry when you try to traverse Hawaii, as all road signs are expressed using miles per hour (mph).
If you’re not from the United States, but you possess a valid driver’s license from your home country, you can operate a motorized vehicle in Hawaii. However, the license has to be written in English. If you don’t have an English-language driver’s license, an international driver’s license would also suffice. This permit lets you drive in almost any country you go to. You can easily get such a document from the Automobile Association of America or AAA. Don’t even think about driving in Hawaii if you don’t have the proper documentation.
Like in most other places, you can rent vehicles to use on your road trip in the Aloha State. You actually have quite the selection here including sedans, off-road vehicles, motorbikes, and even boats. Renting these vehicles is pretty cheap. In fact, motorcycle or car rental services come in at an average price of around $28 to $35 per day. That’s a bargain compared to most other holiday destinations. The best part is that if you rent for longer than a couple of days, the rental agencies in Hawaii will usually give you a sizable discount. The vehicles you can avail of are also around five to 10 years old, so they’ll still be in peak driving condition.
Now let’s talk about how it’s a bit of a different experience to go driving in Hawaii. For starters, how laidback the Hawaiian people are in their everyday life also translates to their etiquette on the road. You’ll rarely see arguments happening on the streets here about who had the right of way, or whether or not it was the right time to switch lanes. You also won’t hear much horn honking in Hawaii, unless it’s for emergency purposes. If you’re an aggressive driver, try your best to stay calm on the roads of Hawaii. Driving slowly and carefully will allow you to take in the natural beauty of Hawaii as you drive past them.
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As we’ve mentioned previously, renting a vehicle in Hawaii is quite cheap. However, the price of fuel here has steadily increased in the past couple of years. Luckily, most of the routes you’ll be going through are of a short distance only, so you actually don’t need to spend as much on petrol. If you’re looking to hire someone to drive the car for you while you’re in Hawaii, you better look for a driver a few months in advance. There is a high demand for this kind of service here, so expect the prices to be quite steep as well. For some, it’s much better to drive the car themselves, so they have complete control of where their party will go.
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Now that we’ve gotten the rules and regulations of driving in Hawaii out of the way, it’s time to talk about the most scenic routes in the state. Up first is Route 560 on the northern shore of Kauai. This road is perfect for people who dabble a bit in photography or for those who want to soak up as much of the natural beauty Hawaii has to offer as possible. It seems as though no matter where you look in this part of Hawaii, there’s a picturesque spot to behold.
People who’ve gone through this route have described it as being as Hawaiian as it gets thanks to having a more natural feel compared to the more resort-laden parts of the islands. As you drive through Route 560, you’ll be able to see the rolling green hills of Hanalei as well as the vast taro fields of Princeville. The beaches here are not boring either, so make sure to stop over whenever you can. Keep in mind though that you’ll be passing a number of single-land bridges here, so be patient while driving.
The Windward Coast
Oahu is another one of the more well-known vacation spots in Hawaii. Unfortunately, most of the people who visit here only go to places such as Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor, which are both loaded to the brim with tourists. If you want to make the most out of your road trip in Oahu, get yourself out of the tourist traps and make your way along the island’s Windward Coast. This drive is the perfect one to go on if you’re touring Hawaii as a family, especially if you’re letting the little ones tag along.
Your trip through here will start with going out of the crowded city through the Pali Highway. You’d want to stop at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout while you’re at it. Afterwards, you’d want to head north towards the Kamehameha Highway, which houses multiple breathtakingly beautiful islets and beaches. The kids will love exploring the uniquely shaped Mokolii or “Chinaman’s Hat” island. They can also learn a lot about southern Pacific culture by paying a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center located along this route.
The Road to Hana
A road trip through Hawaii isn’t complete without going to Maui, and the route leading to Hana is arguably the most famous. The Hana Highway on the northeastern part of the island boasts multiple twists and turns, but it doesn’t get repetitive at all. This is because you’ll pass by natural wonders such as cliffs and waterfalls as well as roadside fruit stands that boast some of the freshest produce you’ve ever had the privilege of tasting.
If you want to have the full Maui experience, you’d want to start your journey at Kahului and end it at Hana. This drive is on the longer side at roughly 52 miles in length and will take you two to four hours to complete. Keep in mind that it may take longer because of all the stopovers on the way to your final destination. Some travelers also suggest to take your trip past Hana and go all the way to Oheo Gulch. This lesser known spot has beautiful waterfalls where you can cool off with a swim.
Mauna Loa Road
On the shorter side of things, we have the scenic drive through Mauna Loa Road. A road trip here will take you straight through the heart of Volcano Village, starting at Highway 11 going towards Kona. You’ll only need one day to go through here, as the route from point A to point B measures in at only around 11 miles. Those who road trip here recommend stopping at the Bird Park for a short hike through its mile-long trail. They also recommend stopping on the side of the road about halfway through the trip to feast your eyes on the beautiful Kilauea Volcano.
This road is different in that it doesn’t necessarily lead to another location you can drive through. Instead, it takes you through dense Koa forests and lava flows all the way to the trailheads of Mauna Kea. Once you get to the parking lot at the end of the road, you’ll see two trailheads. Hiking up Mauna Kea can take a couple of days to finish, so if you’re planning to do this, you better be prepared. However, the payoff to this challenging hike is seeing some of the best views the island has to offer.
Haleakala National Park
The island of Maui finds itself back on this list thanks to the scenic route through Haleakala National Park. If you’re planning to drive through here, you’d want to get up early so you’ll be at the summit before the sun comes up. Doing so lets you see one of the most beautiful sunrises you’ve ever seen. If you have the time to spare, stop by the Waikamoi Cloud Forest as well. This place is ideal for a bird-watching hike. Plus, isn’t the name “Cloud Forest” enough to interest you to go there already?
Just remember that even if you’re in a tropical island, it’s going to be cold in the Haleakala National Park. Remember to layer your clothing and bring some blankets to warm yourself up. The change from sea level to over 9,000 feet in altitude may also cause some people to feel uneasy, so come prepared for that aspect of the trip as well. If you approach this trip all geared up, then you’ll have no problem enjoying the views in one of Hawaii’s most unique landscapes.
Hamakua Coast on the Big Island is one of the more historic scenic drives on this list. As you maneuver your way through this road, you’ll see a memorial for the people who lost their lives in a 1946 tsunami that struck the area. You’ll also pass through the Waipio Valley, which is a great lookout point to see the home of a young King Kamehameha I. Beginning at Hilo and ending at North Kohala, this route is also home to some of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches and jungles.
The Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods in Lanai is another must-visit scenic route in Hawaii. While Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, recently purchased a majority of the island, you can still stay at the resorts here to immerse yourself its many wonders. If you want the whole shebang, consider renting an SUV or an all-terrain vehicle to drive through the seven-mile long Polihua Road that will take you all the way from Lanai City to the Garden of the Gods.
If you think going to the beaches in Hawaii is a bit cliché, try taking a road trip to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Pacific’s version of the Grand Canyon. If you want to go on one of the best hikes in your life, drive through Route 550, which guides you through the outline of the canyon. It also has multiple stopovers that are perfect for sightseeing and picture taking. Just be careful if you’re going to go on a hike here, some parts can be pretty muddy and slippery, especially if it’s been raining.
Pepe’ekeo (Onomea Bay)
Going on a drive in the Pepe’ekeo or Onomea Bay region of Hilo is also something we highly recommend. If you follow High 19 in the northern portion of Hilo, you’ll easily see the way to this path thanks to the sign aptly marked “scenic drive.” Although only four miles in length, this route has a lot of picturesque spots. One such place is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, which over 2000 species of plants call home – some of them you can only find in this part of the world.
The Chain of Craters Road
Last, but certainly not the least, we have the appropriately named Chain of Craters Road – the second scenic drive on this list which can be found in Volcano Village. It’s going to take you around two and a half hours to complete a round trip of this route. You’ll go past craters, trails, and even a petroglyph field. If you can, try scheduling your road trip here when the skies are clear. This lets you see a majority, if not all, of what the Chain of Craters Road has in store.
Hawaii is home to many more beautiful routes than the ones we’ve mentioned. We’re pretty sure that once you get through all the scenic drives on this list, you’d want to do more. We recommend asking locals for their suggestions on where you can go next.
- Big Island Scenic Drives – To Hawaii
- ROAD TRIP! THE 5 BEST SCENIC DRIVES ON THE BIG ISLAND – Love Big Island
- Scenic Drives in Hawaii – Trip Advisor