Hawaii Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Driving in Hawaii
Hawaii drives on the right and you can use the photo licence of any country to drive here, providing it’s written in Roman alphabet. Drivers from other countries need their own licence plus an international driving permit. Hawaii has the lowest speed limits of all US states, with a general 55MPH limit on main roads. The exception is two 60 mph stretches – Interstate H-1 between Kapolei and Waipahu, and Interstate H-3 between the Tetsuo Harano Tunnels and the H-1 junction.In built up areas the limit is 25-30mph.
The islands have an extensive network of well maintained roads. Highways are prefixed with an H and a number, but most locals use names to refer to the roads. eg the largest highway, H1 on O’ahu is known as the Lunalilo Freeway in parts and Queen Liliʻuokalani freeway in others. Road conditions will generally be similar to those in USA ie roads will be in very good condition with many multi lane highways. However, there are some challenging drives on many of the Islands.
Hawaii/ Big Island has a good network of highways, including the ‘Belt road’ which encircles the Island. The road running across the width of Big Island is known as the Saddle Road, taking its name from the stretch of road that passes between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. This “saddle” area is prone to mist, fog and poor visibility and is marked by small crosses which commemorate motorists who have died on this stretch –there are a quite a few!
An unusual road on Big Island is Route 137 from Kapoho-Kalapana in the South East of the Island. Its known as the Red Road due to its unusual red cinder pavement, derived from the iron in the lava from nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Despite its name, the road has mostly been resurfaced in standard grey pavement and only small sections remain in the original red. Parts of this road can flood at exceptionally high tides.
On Maui ,State Highway 340, known as Kahekili Highway, is a well known 17 mile long scenic drive. It’s characterised by a series of hairpin bends, twists, turns, steep inclines and narrow sections. The road runs from Kahului and passes through the West Maui Natural Area Reserve , often close to the Pacific Ocean onto the village of Kahakuloa ,one of the most isolated spots on Maui. The road is now entirely paved, though some rental companies still place restrictions on their cars being driven on the road so best to check with them first if you’re planning to do this. The main hazards on the road are that there are often no guardrails or reflectors with sheer drops to the side and often very narrow passing places. Your speed will often be around 15 MPH and the road should definitely be avoided at night.
If you don’t fancy tackling the Kahekili Highway, the main route to Keawalua, in the North West of the Island is the Honoapiilani Highway (Highway 30) which begins in Wailuku. This is a good road though the last ten miles are narrow and winding in parts (though not as bad as the Kahekili Highway!). To the East of the Island of Maui, the Hana Highway (Highway 360) leads from Kahului to the town which gives the highway its name, then onto Kipahulu. The 60 mile stretch from Kahului to Hana is a well known scenic route, but is also a challenging drive due to the narrow,winding and sometimes steep nature of the road and the number of single lane bridges which you need to cross. Don’t be surprised if the journey from Kahului to Hana takes nearly 3 hours (assuming you’ll be stopping to take photos of some of the spectacular views!)
Oahu is by far the busiest Island, but renting a car is still the best way to get around. You can drive right round the Island in a day (around 230 miles if you followed the road right round the coast), but with so many sights, most visitors rent a car for at least a few days. Waikiki and downtown Honolulu can be busy though,and parking spaces hard to find, so you may want to ask your hotel if they have free parking before making your reservation. Honolulu also has a rush hour to avoid with the second longest average peak hours commute time in the U.S, after Los Angeles. Particular hot spots are to and from the western suburbs of Kapolei, Ewa, Aiea, Pearl City, Waipahu, and Mililani. The main Road on Oahu is Highway 1, which, coming into the city from the west, passes the International Airport, passing just north of Downtown and continuing East to Kahala. Highway 3 is the main Road from Honolulu to Kaneohe in the East. The road passes over viaducts and through tunnels as it passes through the Hālawa Valley and the Ko’olau Mountains and is viewed as an engineering marvel in some quarters.
Unfortunately, since the demise of Hawaii Superferry in 2009, there is no longer a vehicle ferry service between any of Hawaii’s islands. If you want to self-drive on more than one island, it therefore entails multiple rental agreements. If you want to ship a vehicle from mainland USA it apparently costs around $1500.
In General on the Hawaiian Islands, drivers tend to abide by road rules and driving style is laid back – locals employ what they call the ‘Aloha Spirit’ on the roads which means letting vehicles merge onto main roads, not tailgating, not speeding, not using your horn etc.
If you have to stop and ask a local directions they may refer to ‘Makai’ which means toward the ocean or ‘Mauka’ which means toward the mountains .Roads may become slippy after rain and you should also exercise caution if you intend to drive at night, particularly in mountainous areas.
There are a number of websites which provide detailed info on potential self drive itineraries on all the Hawaiian Islands with some good maps and suggestions of where to go and what to see, such as -.
Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.
Hawaii Car Rental
Alamo,Hertz and National have branches on all the main islands as do many of the big international companies.
We currently have no local car rental partners in Hawaii. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on DriverAbroad.com please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on ADriverAbroad@Outlook.com
Hawaii Self Driving rules
Depending on the car, the company and which Island you rent on, there may be restrictions on taking the car to certain locations. Hertz website is quite specific on these rules under ‘Driving Restrictions’. Hawaii seems quite strict on age of renters which seems to be minimum 25 in most cases though some may allow younger drivers to rent and pay an additional charge (Hertz do). There are often debates on Travel forums about whether rental companies allow their cars to be driven on Big Island’s Saddle Road (see below). It seems that rules change regularly but last time I checked, Thrify informed me that they allow their cars to be driven on the road.