Settle in for an awesome display of nature as the sun goes down in Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii is better known by its nickname, the Big Island. The "big" probably refers to its geographic size – it's nearly twice as large as all the other islands combined – but many things about this beautiful isle are large and bold, including nature's nightly sunset show.
What time is the right time?
A trip to Hawaii is a sensory treat, from the sound of wind in palm leaves to the smell of plumeria to the warmth of the black sand beach. But no single experience on the Big Island will stay in your memory longer than witnessing a glorious sunset. As the sun sinks into the deep blue sea, the sky becomes a palette of crimsons, oranges and purples. It's quite a sight to behold, and you don't have to buy tickets.
But timing is important, especially for those hoping to see the famous "Green Flash." And the timing of the sunset varies from season to season.
Some say that the Big Island of Hawaii has only two seasons: the summer months (May to October) and the winter months (November to April). But the best time to see the sunset varies by almost 90 minutes as the year passes.
In the summer months, the moment of sunset ranges between 6:39 p.m. in June to 7:06 p.m. in August. To see an autumn sunset, get to your vista from 5:43 p.m. to 6:38 p.m. The sun sets in winter at some point between 5:44 and 6:29 p.m., while in spring, the sun sinks below the horizon between 6:29 and 6:54 p.m. Check with a weather website to figure out the exact sunset moment during your stay.
Note: To see the full show, arrive at your viewing spot a half-hour before the actual sunset, and plan to stay for 30 minutes after the sun sinks below the horizon. Expect vivid color after it's gone.
Any special effects?
The Big Island sky turns golden, pink, red and purple – and sometimes all of these shades – as the sun plunges into the ocean. But lucky viewers might catch one more color: green.
Those who watch carefully from the Big Island as the sun drops sometimes see the green flash, described as a green spot just above the upper rim of the sun's disk. What's actually happening is that the atmosphere is separating the light into different colors, but locals say witnessing one brings good luck. It's a fun phenomena to look for during a stay on the Big Island.
So where's the best place to watch?
The sun sets in the west over the west coast city of Kona. While sunset skies are generally visible from any spot on the island, it's from the Big Island's western edge – also called the Kohala Coast – that sunsets are most impressive and most dependable.
While rain or clouds may block other vistas, nothing blocks the sunset view from the west coast. Maybe one reason is that the Kohala Coast is much drier than the east. It gets no more than 5 inches a year, while east coast Hilo gets 130 inches.
Almost any beach on the western side of the island is great for sunset viewing. One to try is Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, which, at almost 200 feet wide during the summer, is one of the island's largest white-sand beaches. Go early to snorkel in the indigo water. Hapuna regularly makes the list of best beaches in the country.
For the sunset setting of a lifetime, drive up to Mauna Kea, a 13,800-foot volcanic peak in the interior of the Big Island. The summit is only open to the public from 30 minutes before the sun sets to 30 minutes after. There's no guarantee of clear weather, but if it's clear, the sweeping panoramic views offer a sunset second to none. But remember that there is 40 percent less oxygen at the summit than at sea level, so arrive early and take it slow to acclimatize to the altitude.
For the drama of watching a sunset from a black volcanic rock beach, head to Kailua-Kona Bay for an exceptional sunset view. It provides a glimpse into old Hawaiian history, as well as stellar sunsets made dramatic with the dark, volcanic rocks along the coast. Stroll out on Kailua Pier for a stunning view of the sun dropping into the ocean. Then check out the Ahu'ena Heiau, a Hawaiian temple that's on the list of National Historic Landmarks.