Hawaii in Winter
3 Things to See or Do Only in the "Cooler" Months
Despite the popular belief that Hawaii only has one season, there are actually two - Kau (Summer) April to October and Hoolio (Winter) November to March. Not much changes between seasons, but there are some subtle differences. The weather in winter is about six degrees cooler than summer, with average daytime highs in the high 70’s. In winter, the already amazing surf gets even better with swells growing up to 20’ higher than normal. Also, winter brings with it rain, more than usual, which isn’t much to begin with. Summer averages about a half-inch per month, while winter can bring as much as two and a half inches per month. The great thing about rain in Oahu is that it typically occurs overnight and clears out by morning, leaving the daytime full of sunshine to move about and explore.
With such temperate conditions people enjoy Oahu all year long – tanning by the pool, playing in the waves (the warm ocean water only slightly cooler in winter) or hiking. However, when winter arrives, a few new activities emerge that can only be enjoyed during these “cooler” months such as whale watching, world-class surf & golf tournaments and believe it or not, snowboarding become optional activities in the winter in Hawaii.
Snowboarding on Mauna Kea
Island hop over to the Big Island of Hawaii if a day skiing or snowboarding sounds interesting. Yes, there’s snow in Hawaii, who would have thought? The volcano Mauna Kea (meaning white mountain) at over 13,000 above sea level, is known to get snow in the winter and not the wet messy snow, great fluffy snow they refer to as “pineapple powder”. However, there are some considerations when pursuing an afternoon on the slopes. While there are over 100 square miles of skiable terrain, none is managed or maintained. This means no amenities, no resort, no ski rentals, no restrooms and most importantly no ski lifts. To get to the top, one needs a 4x4 vehicle to drive the trail to the top with a friend who can drive back down to meet up at the bottom and then do it all again. Ski Hawaii does offer rental equipment and ski guides for aspiring skiers and tourists without their gear. Personal safety should be the main concern when skiing or snowboarding Mauna Kea, as this is not a monitored area with facilities nearby should an accident occur.
Beginning in mid-December and continuing on through April, the Humpback “Kohola” whales migrate 3,000 miles down from the Gulf of Alaska to breed in Hawaii’s warm waters. It’s believed that nearly two-thirds of the Pacific whale population arrives in Hawaii to mate yearly. Adult males range from forty to fifty feet in length and weigh about forty-five tons. Despite this massive girth, they are known to be quite spry, jumping out of the water (nearly 40% of their bodies) to splashback down on their sides. Hawaiians believe the Kohola to be guardians “Aumakua” of them and as such confer upon the whales a great deal of honor and respect. While they can be seen all winter, the best months for whale watching are February and March and the best locations are on the southern shores of Oahu near the Makapuu Lighthouse and near Diamond Head by Waikiki. Tour operators abound to take tourists out to see the magnificent creatures such as Star of Honolulu and Tom’s Barefoot Tours.
World-Class Surf & Golf Tournaments
Every year over the months of November and December Oahu’s North Shore is host to the world's most esteemed surf competition, the Van’s Triple Crown, bringing in top talent from all over the globe to participate. The competition consists of three individual events on days when the surf is at peak conditions, requiring holding periods between events while contestant officials wait for the best waves. At the end of the three events, the scores are tallied and the winner is deemed the reigning king of surfing. Watching the pro’s make it look easy, surfing on swells peaking at 20’ can be quite exhilarating to see. Witnessing such spectacular displays of athletes connecting with nature in this type of symbiotic communion is breathtaking.
Following the Van’s Triple Crown in January, is the Sony Open, a PGA tournament part of the Fed-Ex Cup Series. The event is held just minutes away from Waikiki at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. The tournament has been in Hawaii since 1965 and is the largest charity golf event in the state, having raised over $18 million for the Friends of Hawaii charity since its inception. The tournament itself brings world-class golfers from all around to compete for a piece of the over $6 million prize purse. Spectators can watch this event with awe and admiration as the golfers who excel in the sport play and possible score a rare hole in one on this Par 70, 7044-yard course.