Do I Need A Rental Car In Hawaii?

One of the most popular questions we get. Read on to the learn answer and reasoning behind it.

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Matt Anderson's Take
Do I need a rental car in Hawaii? We hear this one all the time, and it's often because many people don't understand the layout of the islands and the large distances between various areas, towns, and sights.

First off, if you're staying on the island of Oahu, and specifically in the Waikiki area, then be sure to also read, Do I Need To Rent A Car In Waikiki? That article will cover the question of needing a rental car specifically in Waikiki. If you're staying anywhere on Oahu outside of Waikiki or on most others islands then continue reading here.

Although there are some exceptions to this rule, generally speaking I can tell you that, yes, you will want a rental car in Hawaii. Most of the islands are bigger than you may think, but in almost every case Hawaii is far more fun when you can go out and explore on your own.

Sure, resorts are fun and all but after a while you'll be bored and want to get out and explore the islands, sights, activities, and the beaches! With so much to see and do you really need to be able to get out and the easiest way to do that is with a car. Many islands like Oahu, Maui, and Kaui have a lot of roads to get you all over the island. A place like the Big Island is huge so you're only reasonable option to explore is by renting a car.

The one exception, and only in some cases, is the island of Lanai which doesn't require a rental car in every scenario. If you're at either the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay or Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele (and I can tell you that you most likely are staying at one of those) then you can use their shuttle service to get you between the two properties, the main town area, and even the Lana'i City Airport (LNY). This is fine for somebody who is just wanting to stay on Lanai for a couple of days, but after that you'll even want a Jeep from a place like Dollar Rent A Car Lana'i so you can explore the rustic island roads and trails.

I even see many visitors who are staying at a place like Aulani A Disney Resort And Spa (see Ko Olina Resort) or other resort areas like Maui's Ka'anapali and they don't rent a car and often regret it. Fortunately, many hotels (including Aulani A Disney Resort And Spa) have a rental counter on site so you can get a car for the day or a few days. Still, I'd suggest getting a car right from the airport so you have it for your entire stay. Get out, see the island and explore. You'll also be able to get out of the resort areas and into places with cheaper dining options, which can often pay for a car rental fairly fast!

Many also assume that they'll just rely on public transportation or tour buses but these aren't usually the best option. Sure, some islands do have bus transportation and in some cases, like Oahu, it's very good. But using buses can mean long walks to bus stops and longer travel times (waiting for the bus, dealing with transfers, etc). As you get into a dense city like Honolulu, the bus system can often be very good and efficient but most people want to go far beyond the cities.

As for those tour buses, they're a great way to see a lot of things quickly but you'll be much better off touring the island on your own schedule. Stop and go as you please, take detours as you see fit, and you'll generally have a better time and have a higher quality experience.
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