Hidden in the heart of Kauai, Mount Wai‘ale‘ale is one of the wettest places on earth, receiving an average of 450 inches of rain a year. Considering Seattle gets an annual 36 inches of rain, you can imagine the effect of all that water—waterfalls and swamps. Occasionally all that rain will find its way down to the coast and cause flooding like it did in 2006, when it rained for 40 days straight, causing a dam to break and a number of deaths.
I don’t tell this to you to break your spirit and inspire you to select a dry destination in say, Arizona. Rather, to illustrate that rain is a welcome part of Hawaii’s culture, a necessary part of island living. And frankly, those rainy days can offer the best travel moments.
I don’t know about you, but when the sun is out, I can’t stay inside. Maybe because I live in San Francisco and we are plagued with chronic fog, or maybe because the world just looks more lovely in the blinding light of our closest star. Whatever the reason, this is especially true in Hawaii, where i wake with the first sign of light and spend every second soaking up the vitamin D until the sun sets to a battery of applause from the Hawaiian shores.
Yet I often hear people wonder if they should bother staying in Hanalei, on the north side of Kauai, Hana in Maui, of the Big Island’s Hilo, for fear of rain intruding on their tropical holiday. At this moment, I try to gently remind my friend or family member that some of my best Hawaiian travel moments have been blown in by the rain.
You see, when the rain arrives on the islands, it is not the type of storm we typical see on the mainland, or in Europe. Storms pass quickly. Bring a deluge of sorts that forces you to stop and take in nature. It’s a warm rain, that stops after a spell. I have been on an Oahu beach when a mini-tornado blew in from the sea and whipped up a group’s blankets and towels before settling back down. It’s no wonder natives believed in the power of nature to have its own essence.
More than that, rain’s arrival allows us to pause for a moment. Rarely do humans slow their thoughts, their moments, their lives to a snail’s pace. However when it is raining, there is nothing more delicious than sitting on the lanai, listening to the earth getting drummed, the waves pounding a symphony, and the birds tweeting away. A moment in time, a space to be.
That being said, there is a popular phrase you will hear repeated on the islands—you can’t get rainbows without the rain. Embracing Hawaii’s rainy side is like tolerating your lover’s affinity with fantasy football. In general the south and west sides of the island are dry and offer plenty of sunny beach days, while the north is more tropical, but wet.
Consider splitting your time between the two edges of Hawaii to allow yourself a moment to breath, to slow down, and embrace nature without having to ascend her heights, explore her depths, and cover her ground. Rain doesn’t have to equal a bad vacation; maybe it means the best is on its way.
For rainy day ideas, order a copy of my new Backroads and Byways of Hawaii.