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Are you organizing a trip to Hawaii and wondering if there’s an inter-island Maui to Honolulu ferry? While some ferries are operational between certain islands, if you intend to do some island hopping, it’s recommended to fly instead.
The Maui to Honolulu ferry stopped operations in 2009 under a cloud of controversy and was never revived. The ferry was owned by a Hawaii-based transportation company called Hawaii Superferry and was operational for a short period before shutting down completely.
A ferry journey can be delightful. Passengers can take their cars, sit on the open-top decks and appreciate the views and fresh air. So why are there no ferries between Maui and Honolulu and the other islands in Hawaii? Let us find out why.
Is There A Ferry Between Maui And Honolulu?
The Hawaii Interisland Superferry began its services in 2007. It suspended services in 2009 when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared that a law allowing services to operate without an Environmental Impact Report was unconstitutional.
The idea behind Hawaii Superferry was to operate a daily service between Honolulu, Oahu, and Kahului, Maui. Two vessels were commissioned, designed, and built in the USA by an Australian-owned company, Austal. The vessels were high-speed craft, 350-foot long, aluminum-hulled catamarans, and could accommodate various commercial and passenger vehicles.
The ferries were built for stability, speed, and comfort, primarily to navigate the Pacific’s often windy and choppy waters. It boasted environmentally friendly MTU Friedrichshafen engines using ultra-low sulfur diesel and waterjet propulsion using the most advanced marine technology and safety standards of its time.
The first ferry, Alakai, arrived in the middle of 2007. The second ferry, Huakai, was scheduled for completion in 2009.
The ferry boasted a unique travel experience. It accommodated up to 800 passengers with plenty of room to roam freely. Passengers could utilize the observation deck for a breath of fresh air and unobstructed views.
Other amenities included three restaurants, a kid’s play area, and an arcade. Live television was readily available on any of the 34 widescreen television sets, and for those who enjoyed a bit of retail therapy, there was also a gift shop onboard.
The Hawaii Superferry, Alakai, made its maiden voyage from Kahalui, Maui, to Honolulu, Oahu, charging a $5 fare per seat and a $5 fare per car with over 500 guests aboard. The fees were set especially low as a marketing ploy to speed up a rushed launch amidst the ongoing legal dramas. It sold out within 30 minutes.
The vessel traveled at approximately 35 knots. Some passengers complained of a bit of swaying, but the 3-hour trip, for the most part, was uneventful until they arrived in port. About a dozen protesting surfers blocked the ferry from docking. Eventually, the ferry was forced to turn back, to the delight of hundreds of environmentalist protesters.
Why Were Protesters Anti A Maui To Honolulu Ferry Service?
Environmentalists were concerned that the size of the Hawaii Superferry, traveling at fast speeds, would strike and kill humpback whales. Invasive species could also be easily transported aboard the Superferry between islands. Further worries related to more significant opportunities for drug trafficking and increased homelessness.
Some islanders felt traffic congestion would surge as infrastructure inside and around harbors was not improved to accommodate the hundreds of guests and passenger and commercial vehicles when they disembarked.
There were also concerns that pollution from the ferry and cars would cause harm to the reefs around the islands.
What Were The Legal Battles Of The Maui To Honolulu Ferry?
In 2005, state officials erred in their decision when they exempted Hawaii Superferry from conducting an Environmental review. When massive projects used state money and land, environmental assessments were required. These usually take years to complete.
The Hawaii Supreme Court overturned this ruling and issued a temporary restraining order preventing the ferry from docking at Kahului Harbor, causing the Maui leg of the journey to be suspended. Further protests followed, suspending further services.
Later in 2007, another ruling was made by the Hawaii Supreme Court. This ruling dictated that the Superferry could not operate while the State completed an environmental impact assessment. Certain officials were dissatisfied with this ruling and forced a bill through the State Senate that allowed large ferries to operate between Hawaii ports while an environmental assessment was being conducted.
The Superferry continued services that December, but environmental groups again took Hawaii Superferry to court to appeal the previous ruling as unconstitutional.
Hawaii Superferry then immediately suspended all services and laid off its workforce. It filed bankruptcy in 2009 and sold the two Superferries at auction to the United States Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.
After a few failed attempts to revive a ferry service between the islands, it does not seem it will ever come to fruition.
Why Is A Ferry From Maui to Honolulu Not A Feasible Idea?
Distances between islands on the map appear short, but it’s not. It’s just under 100 miles from Maui to Honolulu. Depending on how fast it’s going, a ferry journey could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.
Operational costs will far outweigh profits and cannot be justified to potential investors.
No level of government is interested in subsidizing an inter-island ferry service to make it a viable business which could mean an increase in local tax.
Another factor is the Pacific waters around Hawaii. These can often be temperamental, with huge waves and strong currents, making a ferry journey unpleasant and unsafe for most people.
Hawaii also does not have the pier space or infrastructure to accommodate a large ferry.
With a final report issued in 2017, the Hawaii State Department of Transportation finally concluded that an inter-island, intra-island, and inter-continent ferry service is infeasible.
How To Travel If There’s No Ferry Between Maui And Honolulu?
The easiest way to island-hop is to fly. It is the most popular and least expensive way to travel to the various islands. Three main commercial airlines offer this service, and each island has at least one airport, making island-hopping a breeze. Flights are relatively short, but it’s important to plan extra time to accommodate flight schedules.
If flying is not an option, then booking an inter-island cruise could be an alternative. Most cruise liners depart from the major hubs and stop at neighboring islands along their route.
A Maui to Honolulu ferry service will not be resurrected anytime soon. The government or environmentalist groups have shot down all attempts to revive this service. When planning a Hawaii vacation, it is highly recommended to visit other islands, as each one is unique and beautiful. Whichever mode of transport is chosen, plan for extra time, and expenses in the budget.