Hawaiian Rainbows

One of several rainbows spotted from the car on our way to the North Shore

One of several rainbows spotted from the car on our way to the North Shore

Soon after arriving on Oahu, my parents and I were driving down the inland highway on our way to the North Shore. On this one-hour journey through the mountains, we must have seen five rainbows as it rained on and off.

“Oh, yeah, to see rainbows here is just like,” my brother said as he shrugged his shoulders when we mentioned this to him. “You’ll see them every day.”

He wasn’t kidding. Rainbows happen more frequently here than I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s no wonder that rainbows are on Hawaiian license plates and Hawaii is unofficially nicknamed the "Rainbow State".

Rainbows are formed when sunlight passes through droplets of water and the droplets refract, or bend, the light into the spectrum of colours we see. Brief rain showers create ideal conditions for viewing rainbows, and Hawaii is the star of brief rain showers.

A rainbow through the rain

A rainbow through the rain

Hawaii’s isolated location, its mountains that force the moist air up into cooler elevations, and even its lack of pollutants in the air (which means that salt particles from the ocean form the droplets’ nuclei instead of pollutants like dust) also help to create prime rainbow conditions.

Paddling out into the ocean on our surfboards and kayaks, we regularly spot rainbows arching from the ocean. Unlike rainbows I’ve seen before, which only linger for blink-and-you-might-miss-it moments, here they often seem to last for fifteen minutes or more.

My brother corrected himself a few days later after seeing yet another spectacular rainbow.

“I didn’t mean to say that rainbows are not special,” he said. “I just meant that they’re really common. They are really beautiful.”

Travel + Leisure offers ways to view Hawaii’s many rainbows.