SUMMER IN HAWAII

By Robert W. Bone

Closeup of a blossom from the African Tulip TreeHONOLULU -- Hawaii is the only state in the U.S.A. where the sun ever shines from directly overhead. If you stand on Waikiki Beach at high noon in June or July, you can hardly see your own shadow.

What you will see in Hawaii are brilliant flowers and tempting fruits that do not grow elsewhere in the country. And you'll experience comfortable temperature and humidity levels that make some sweltering mainlanders jealous.

The summer solstice, the date when the sun reaches its southernmost point, is June 21, the official beginning of summer. But Hawaii's summer begins before that, and it is positively the most beautiful season to visit the 50th State.

But who needs a vacation in Hawaii in June or July when the sun shines also in North America?

Often overlooked is the fact that while summer can get devilishly hot, muggy and maybe smoggy in many parts of the U.S., it does not do so in Hawaii.

Blooming bombax tree on the grounds of the Queens Medical Center, Honolulu.Daytime temperatures in the islands generally hover between 75 and 85 degrees. The relative humidity is kept down to a tolerably dry level in the islands. At about 54 percent, it is usually even lower in the summer than in the winter.

The cooling, northeast ``trade winds'' are more reliable in the summer than in the winter, gently caressing the islands and rustling the palm fronds as they're supposed to do, about 90 percent of the time.

On those ten days out of 100 when they don't -- when the uncomfortable “kona winds'' blow up from the southwest -- everyone escapes to their favorite air conditioned bar or hotel. Or sometimes they seek the climatically controlled halls of the Bishop Museum, whose cool cases preserve the mementos of Polynesian history -- and also preserve the sanity of the patrons.

At any given location in Hawaii (and on non-kona wind days), the temperatures vary little, kept steady by benevolent ocean temperatures which hold the water at 70 to 75 degrees. When the sun heats up the land during the day, sea breezes continue to keep everyone cool.

Surfing at Waikiki Beach is better in the summer, with waves high enough to be interesting but still gentle enough for the malihinis (newcomers) to tackle. It's an ideal time to learn how to ride the breakers. The ever-optimistic beach boys guarantee you will stand up on the moving board by the end of your short lesson.

There are also fewer tourists to trip over in the summer. Because of this, some hotels offer summer rates. Even at those who don’t, summer means more plentiful rooms and rental cars. Travel agents will also keep up with last-minute deals. Flying from island to island is easier, too, with no long lines at the airports.

Poinciana tree blooming beside the Hawaii State Capitol.Many with an appreciation for color believe the most important reason to fly to Hawaii in the summer is to experience a more elaborate profusion of nature than is seen during the winter months. From late May through July, masses of tropical blossoms decorate flowering trees. And you can find assortments of tropical fruits that aren't even available in winter, including some you can pick yourself.

Periodically, I also enjoy exploring some of the commercial gardens on the islands. The estate of the late Sen. Hiram Fong on the Windward side of Oahu is a personal favorite – especially in May and June.

Some of Hawaii's most dramatic flowering trees go virtually unnoticed for nine months out of the year. One is the Royal Poinciana, which turns a bright crimson in June and July, both in urban areas and also arching over many country roads, contrasting nicely with the bright green mountains.

Gold tree on the grounds of the Robert Louis Stgevenson Intermediate School, Honolulu.The blue flowers of the jacaranda trees, which begin blooming in May, may be gone by the end of June. But they are quickly replaced by the purple andira tree whose flowers shoot upward in lilac-like clusters along many residential streets. Lighter violet flowers are also found in the queen's crepe myrtle tree, also lining suburban thoroughfares.

Winter visitors occasionally catch an occasional glimpse of an erratically blooming gold tree. But in the early summer these shining specimens seem to be all over the place and absolutely packed solid with brilliant yellow blossoms.

Other trees in full summer bloom include the umbrella-like monkeypod trees, with their pink flowers, and several kinds of shower trees, including the unique rainbow shower -- a hybrid which appeared out of nowhere in Hawaii around the time of World War I.

On a lower level, Hawaii's wildflowers are also at their best during the summer. On the Big Island of Hawaii, you see yellow ginger and white ginger along the highways. Shell ginger populates rural areas on Kauai. And the varieties of the state flower, the hibiscus, seem endless in the summer on all the major islands.

Also in the trees and bushes, many of Hawaii's distinctive fruits will soon be ripe and juicy. Mangoes are bustin' out all over in June, of course. And you'll have to enjoy them in Hawaii. The law prohibits your taking them home.

Deep in the upland valleys, you can find the mountain apple, a delicious red fruit. These are descendants of the ohia ai brought to Hawaii a thousand years ago by the first Polynesian settlers. You'll seldom see them in the stores, but they are often sold by entrepreneurs along the roadside together with other tropical fruits and vegetables.

Wild strawberry guavas found in the hills above Honolulu.The lychee is in season during June. Many mainlanders seem to think lychees are nuts, but they're a genuine fruit, native to southern China. You eat the ``aril'' -- the translucent, succulent meat between the rough skin and the large seed.

Hikers and back-road motorists often find more guavas than they can handle, especially the delicious strawberry guavas (which come in both red and yellow skins). In early summer some rural areas will soon be loaded with the Hawaiian lilikoi, a Hawaiian word for one type of yellow passion fruit. It's loved by many who ignore the seeds, lapping them up along with the tart flesh.

There are many more unusual summer flowers and fruits. Serious students and determined visitors usually pick up pictorial Hawaiian fruit and flower guides from one of the book shops after arriving in the islands and refer to them often during their excursions through the colorful countryside.

Robert W. Bone lived in and wrote about Hawaii for 38 years. He now lives near San Francisco, a good jumping off place for visits to the Aloha State. He also maintains two websites: http://travelpieces.com and http://robertbone.com. More of his Hawaiian summer photos can be seen at http://robertbone.com/summerhawaii.

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