Car Rental in Hawaii
Why rent a car in Hawaii?
Hawaii is a major resort destination for American travelers and in recent years has become more and more popular amongst international tourists. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, its islands are a long way from any continent.
As Hawaii is generally an exotic destination, costing a considerable amount in airfare to reach, most would never think of saving money by not renting a car while in the islands. While it is possible to reach many places on O’hau with public transportation, it is all but impossible on the other islands.
Some may prefer to not have a rental car while spending days in resorts, such as Waikiki. This is possible since a rental car can be picked up in many towns and resorts on the islands.
Top ways to enter Hawaii
Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is the largest airport in Hawaii and the main gateway for travelers from both the mainland U.S. and other countries. It is located just north of Downtown Honolulu on the island of O'ahu. Most suppliers have rental desks inside the airport.
The island of Maui’s main airport, Kahului Airport, is located just a few miles east of Kahului’s downtown. Most of the flights that land at the airport originate from Honolulu International Airport, with the route being one of the busiest in the United States. The airport also has flights from some cities on the mainland of the U.S. and in Canada. Rental cars can be picked up at the airport in the car rental building just past baggage claim. All rental car companies except Sixt have desks in his building. For Sixt, a shuttle is required.
Kona International Airport is one of the major airports on the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). It is located on the west side of the island near the town of Kalaoa. Most of its flights are from Honolulu, though it also hosts seasonal flights from the mainland and Canada. Rental car companies are located off airport and a shuttle is required to reach all of them.
Hilo International Airport is the other major airport on the island of Hawaii. It is located near Hilo on the eastern side of the island. Most of its flights are to and from Honolulu International Airport, though United Airlines also has flights to the airport from Los Angeles. The rental car companies serving the airport have offices across the street from the airports single terminal.
Most cruises from the mainland U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia are round-trip but do usually offer a few days ashore on one or more of the islands during which a rental car may be useful. A few one-way cruises are available every year. If arriving on one, it is usually possible to pick up a rental car on whichever island you arrive at without going to the airport.
It’s worth noting that American citizens traveling to the islands by boat, either ferry, freight, or private, must first stop in another country unless on a rare American-flagged vessel. This is due to an obscure old law prohibiting foreign vessels from carrying American passengers within the U.S.
Top cities and places to visit
- O’ahu - The most popular of Hawaii’s islands, Oahu is home to the capital city, Honolulu which is the economic and cultural center of the state that is home to the overwhelming majority of the state’s residents. Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach is the most famous beach in the state. In addition, Pearl Harbor is probably the most visited site in the state. Of course, the island isn’t all urban jungle. Head outside the city for lovely beaches and don’t miss the North Shore which has some of the world’s largest wave during winter.
- Pearl Harbor - This harbor was permanently etched into the memory of the American nation when on December 7, 1941 the Japenese Empire launched a surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy stationed in it bringing America into the second world war. The harbor is now a National Memorial with a visitor center, multiple memorials, and an aviation museum.
The centerpiece of the National Memorial is the USS Arizona Memorial which sits on top of (but not touching) the sunken USS Arizona. The battleship was bombed on that fateful day and exploded killing 1,177 sailors and Marines, the overwhelming majority of which remain onboard the ship. The memorial honors the memory of these sailors along with the other service members that died that day, 2,341 members of the military and 49 civilians in total. The memorial can be visited by boat from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center after watching a 23-minute film about the events of that day. As seating on the boats is limited, it is best to reserve a free ticket (with a nominal booking fee) in advance. Note: The Memorial is closed until the fall of 2019 and tours of the harbor are offered in place of visitation of the Memorial.
As a compliment to the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri is permanently docked in the harbor with its bow facing and overlooking the USS Arizona. The battleship is famous for having been the location of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender ending the war (though it was in Tokyo at the time). Tours are available with a bus carrying visitors from the Visitor Center to the ship's location on Ford Island.
- Maui - Maui is the second most-visited and second largest of the islands. The island has numerous resorts and hotels and some of the best beaches in the state. Though sometimes known as the island of the rich and famous, there are many opportunities for those with lower budgets too. It is also known for Haleakala National Park named after the volcanic crater contained within it. The road between the national park and the town of Hana is considered to be the most scenic drive in the state.
- The Big Island (Hawaii) - The largest island of the group is also the most southerly too. Given its size, there is, of course, much to explore. The Kailua-Kona serves as a great base with all of the amenities of a resort destination available. The real adventure, however, lies in the rural parts of the island. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hosts the island’s most famous landscape with the Crater Rim and Chain of Craters Roads. Visitors shouldn’t miss the Green Sand Beach even though a short hike is required to reach it. The most southerly point of any U.S. state is also nearby the beach and there is a spot where many dive off the cliffs there which is great for watching if you aren’t brave enough to take the risk.
- Kauai - The northwesternmost of the major islands is the fourth most-visited island of the state. It is known as the “Garden Island” as it is full of lush vegetation and tropical plants due to the large amount of rainfall the island receives. The island also has the longest sandy coastline of the islands. Lihue Airport is the main gateway to the island and rental cars can be picked up at the airport.
- Molokai - One of the least developed of the islands and therefore least-visited, Molokai is a great destination for the more adventurous that are looking to get away from the crowded resorts. The most popular attraction is the Kalaupapa National Historic Site, a former leper colony. The colony is not reachable by road, being cut off by mountains and steep cliff leading to the sea. Visitors can reach it via a flight from the island’s airport (and from other islands), private boat, or by a trail the head of which is located off of Highway 470. In addition to hiking on your own, mules are available for rent to make the journey along the steep trail. The island also has many more scenic places that can be visited without the crowds of the other islands.
- Lanai - This small island can be seen from the western part of Maui. It used to be completely owned by a food company and was used for growing pineapples. Now it serves as a place for very exclusive resorts. Part of the island has a landscape that reminds of that of the moon. Of course, travel in this Garden of the Gods requires a four-wheel drive SUV as does travel in general outside of the resorts and Lanai Town.
Most popular rental car
The most popular class of rental car in Hawaii is the economy of which the Nissan Versa is a good example. Renters also often choose intermediate class cars, such as the Hyundai Elantra. Given the state of some of the roads, particularly on islands other than Oahu, many renters prefer to rent an SUV and the Toyota Rav4 is often their choice.
Driver license requirements
While an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is recommended if your driver’s license is not in English but is in a Latin script (for example, Spanish, German, or French), an IDP is required if your driver’s license is in a different script (for example, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Greek). An IDP does not substitute for your driver’s license, though. You still must provide a driver’s license from your country along with it.
Whether you are a U.S. citizen or a foreign citizen, your driver's license must have been obtained at least a year prior to renting the car.
Drivers must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Hawaii. Any driver that is under 25 years of age will be charged and Underage Drivers fee.
The only way one would be able to cross a border with a rental car that was picked up in Hawaii would be if the car was taken on a cargo ship. It shouldn’t need to be said that no rental company would ever allow this.
Unlike some other island groups (such as the Greek Islands), there are no car ferries in Hawaii. If planning to travel across different islands, plan to rent a different car on each.
Top driving routes
- Hana Highway - Widely considered to be the most scenic drive on any of the Hawaiian Islands, Hana Highway is a must-not-miss experience if there ever was one. Located on the island of Maui, the road is around 64 miles long traversing the lush rainforest between Haleakala National Park and Kahului through the town of Hanna. Even though the distance is short, it takes around three hours to travel the entire road. And that’s without any stops, which anyone in their right mind will make. The road has multiple single-lane bridges where one must yield to oncoming traffic.
If you were to stop at every point worth seeing, traveling the road could possibly take days. Multiple stunning waterfalls are right off the road. Stunning beaches along the highway include the black sand beach in Waianapanapa State Park that was made from the rough sea eroding lava flows and grounding them into sand over millennia.
The Hann Lave Tube is a cave unlike any you’ve ever seen having been formed from molten lava that spewed from underground and flowed toward the ocean. You can descend into the cave and walk through it. High-powered flashlights are provided with the admission fee.
- Kamehameha V Highway - Also considered one of the most beautiful drives in the state, Kamehameha is a 28-mile road on the island of Molokai. It runs from the town of Kaunakakai along the coast to Halawa Valley, where it dead ends. Most of the coast consists of former fish ponds instead of beaches, though this could be an interesting change. The road passes through multiple small communities and countryside fields. The latter part of the road narrows and turns to the mountains before ending at Halawa Valley where travelers can take a guided hike of the Halawa Valley and see a gorgeous waterfall.
- Chain of Craters Road - Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii, the Chain of Craters Road passes through the East Rift and coastal area of the park. It starts from the equally stunning, though much shorter, Crater Rim Drive which circumnavigates the Keanakakoi Crater. The Chain of Craters Road has changed in length over time having had parts added and the end of the road closed due to lava flows. After passing by craters and trails to others, the road makes its way to the coast, currently ending near the Holei Sea Arch where restrooms (drop toilets) can be found. Be sure to fill up before setting out for the National Park as there are no services available.
- Haleakala Highway - Located on the island of Maui, the Haleakala Highway is also known as Crater Road. It snakes its way up from the lowlands to the summit of Haleakala (the Red Hill). An observatory sits on top of the summit. At 10,000 feet, the summit is the highest point on the island. An entrance fee to the national park is required to be paid around mile 10 of the road.
- Kokee Road - Located in the northwestern part of Kauai, Kokee Road ascends from the coast to Waimea Canyon which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The canyon is about ten miles long and 3,000ft. deep. In addition to multiple hiking trails, the state park that contains the canyon also has some small, but paved roads. Further along, the Kalalau Valley is very scenic with a lookout located just off the road. On the way to the state park, there are two roads that can be taken, which make for an interesting way to come down differently than you went up.
- Farrington Highway - A major highway located on Oahu, the Farrington Highway travels through the western part of the island. It begins near Pearl Harbor and used to end near the North Shore. Unfortunately, it is now split into two sections since the section at Kaena Point is no longer passable. The route passes by many beaches. It also passes by the Kaneana Cave. Of course, hiking to Kaena Point is the highlight of the route.
- Kamehameha Highway - the other long distance road on the island of Oahu, the Kamehameha highway leaves Honolulu heading for the North Shore. The road passes by most of the beaches of the North Shore, where surfing is popular. The route then goes around the northeastern tip of the island and heads down the eastern coast. It passes through coves and state parks like the Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park which has miles and miles of trails through the tropical forest. If staying on the island of Oahu, a trip around the eastern side of the island on this road is a must-do.
Car Rental Prices
Map of Car Rental Locations
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Dollar||Mazda 3||2||2||Large cars|
|Dollar||Ford Focus||3||2||Medium cars|
|Thrifty||Mazda 3||5||3||Large cars|
|Dollar||Chevrolet Spark||4||2||Small cars|
|Advantage||Toyota Yaris 3d||3||2||Small cars|
|Dollar||Jeep Wrangler||2||2||Large cars|
|Dollar||Ford Mustang Convertible||2||1||Convertibles|
|Dollar||Buick Regal||3||2||Premium cars|
|Dollar||Chevrolet Spark||2||1||Small cars|
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