The voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu is now very comfortably made in one of the Pacific Mail Company's steamers, which plies regularly between the two ports, and makes a round trip once in every month. The voyage down to the Islands lasts from eight to nine days, and even to persons subject to sea-sickness is likely to be an enjoyable sea-journey, because after the second day the weather is charmingly warm, the breezes usually mild, and the skies sunny and clear. In forty-eight hours after you leave the Golden Gate, shawls, overcoats, and wraps are discarded. You put on thinner clothing. After breakfast you will like to spread rugs on deck and lie in the sun, fanned by deliciously soft winds; and before you see Honolulu you will, even in winter, like to have an awning spread over you to keep off the sun. When they seek a tropical climate, our brethren on the Pacific coast have to endure no such rough voyage as that across the Atlantic. On the way you see flying-fish, and if you are lucky an occasional whale or a school of porpoises, but no ships. It is one of the loneliest of ocean tracks, for sailing-vessels usually steer farther north to catch stronger gales. But you sail over the lovely blue of the Pacific Ocean, which has not only softer gales but even a different shade of color than the fierce Atlantic.
We made the land at daylight on the tenth day of the voyage, and by breakfast-time were steaming through the Molokai Channel, with the high, rugged, and bare volcanic cliffs of Oahu close aboard, the surf beating vehemently against the shore. An hour later we rounded Diamond Head, and sailing past Waikiki, which is the Long Branch of Honolulu charmingly placed amidst groves of cocoa-nut-trees, turned sharp about, and steamed through a narrow channel into the landlocked little harbor of Honolulu, smooth as a mill-pond.
It is not until you are almost within the harbor that you get a fair view of the city, which lies embowered in palms and fine tamarind-trees, with the tall fronds of the banana peering above the low-roofed houses; and thus the tropics come after all somewhat suddenly upon you; for the land which you have skirted all the morning is by no means tropical in appearance, and the cocoa-nut groves of Waikiki will disappoint you on their first and too distant view, which gives them the insignificant appearance of tall reeds. But your first view of Honolulu, that from the ship's deck, is one of the pleasantest you can get: it is a view of gray house-tops, hidden in luxuriant green, with a background of volcanic mountains three or four thousand feet high, and an immediate foreground of smooth harbor, gay with man-of-war boats, native canoes and flags, and the wharf, with ladies in carriages, and native fruit-venders in what will seem to you brightly colored night-gowns, eager to sell you a feast of bananas and oranges.
There are several other fine views of Honolulu, especially that from the lovely Nuanu Valley, looking seaward over the town, and one from the roof of the prison, which edifice, clean, roomy, and in the day-time empty because the convicts are sent out to labor on public works and roads, has one of the finest situations in the town's limits, directly facing the Nuanu Valley.
From the steamer you proceed to a surprisingly excellent hotel, which was built at a cost of about $120,000, and is owned by the government. You will find it a large building, affording all the conveniences of a first-class hotel in any part of the world. It is built of a concrete stone made on the spot, of which also the new Parliament House is composed; and as it has roomy, well-shaded court-yards and deep, cool piazzas, and breezy halls and good rooms, and baths and gas, and a billiard-room, you might imagine yourself in San Francisco, were it not that you drive in under the shade of cocoa-nut, tamarind, guava, and algeroba trees, and find all the doors and windows open in midwinter; and ladies and children in white sitting on the piazzas.
It is told in Honolulu that the building of this hotel cost two of the late king's cabinet, Mr. Harris and Dr. Smith, their places. The Hawaiian people are economical, and not very enterprising; they dislike debt, and a considerable part of the Hawaiian national debt was contracted to build this hotel. You will feel sorry for Messrs. Harris and Smith, who were for many years two of the ablest members of the Hawaiian cabinet, but you will feel grateful for their enterprise also, when you hear that before this hotel was completed—that is to say, until 1871—a stranger landing in Honolulu had either to throw himself on the hospitality of the citizens, take his lodgings in the Sailors' Home, or go back to his ship. It is not often that cabinet ministers fall in so good a cause, or incur the public displeasure for an act which adds so much to the comfort of mankind.
The mercury ranges between 68° and 81° in the winter months and between 75° and 86° during the summer, in Honolulu. The mornings are often a little overcast until about half-past nine, when it clears away bright. The hottest part of the day is before noon. The trade-wind usually blows, and when it does it is always cool; with a south wind; it is sometimes sultry, though the heat is never nearly so oppressive as in July and August in New York. In fact, a New Yorker whom I met in the Islands in August congratulated himself as much on having escaped the New York summer as others did on having avoided the winter.
The nights are cool enough for sound rest, but not cold.
It is not by any means a torrid climate, and it has, perhaps, the fewest daily extremes of any pleasant climate in the world. For instance, the mercury ranged in January between 69° at 7 A.M., 75½° at 2 P.M., and 71½° at 10 P.M. The highest temperature in that month was 78°, and the lowest 68°. December and January are usually the coolest months in the year at Honolulu, but the variation is extremely slight for the whole year, the maximum of the warmest day in July (still at Honolulu) being only 86°, and this at noon, and the lowest mark being 62°, in the early morning in December. A friend of mine resident during twenty years in the Islands has never had a blanket in his house.
It is said that the climate is an excellent one for consumptives, and physicians here point to numerous instances of the kindly and healing effect of the mild air. At the same time, I suspect it must in the long-run be a little debilitating to Americans. It is a charming climate for children; and as sea-bathing is possible and pleasant at all times, those who derive benefit from this may here enjoy it to the fullest extent during all the winter months as well as in the summer.
Of course you wear thin, but not the thinnest, clothing. White is appropriate to the climate; but summer flannels are comfortable in winter. The air is never as sultry as in New York in July or August, and the heat is by no means oppressive, there being almost always a fresh breeze. Honolulu has the reputation of being the hottest place on the islands, and a walk through its streets at midday quickly tires one; but in a mountainous country like this you may choose your temperature, of course. The summits of the highest peaks on Hawaii are covered with almost perpetual snow; and there are sugar planters who might sit around a fire every night in the year.
Unlike California, the Islands have no special rainy season, though rain is more abundant in winter than during the summer months. But the trade-wind, which is also the rain-wind, greatly controls the rain-fall; and it is useful for visitors to bear in mind that on the weather side of every one of the Islands—that side exposed to the wind—rains are frequent, while on the lee side the rain-fall is much less, and in some places there is scarcely any. Thus an invalid may get at will either a dry or moist climate, and this often by moving but a few miles. Not only is it true that at Hilo it sometimes rains for a month at a time, while at Lahaina they have a shower only about once in eighteen months; but you may see it rain every day from the hotel piazza in Honolulu, though you get not a drop in the city itself; for in the Nuanu and Manoa valleys there are showers every day in the year—the droppings of fragments of clouds which have been blown over the mountain summits; and if you cross the Pali to go the windward side of the island, though you set out from Honolulu amidst brilliant sunshine which will endure there all day unchanged, you will not ride three miles without needing a mackintosh. But the residents, knowing that during the greater part of the year the showers are light and of brief duration, take no precautions against them; and indeed an island shower seems to be harmless to any one but an invalid, for it is not a climate in which one easily "takes cold."
The very slight changes in temperature between day and night make the climate agreeable, and I think useful, to persons in tender health. But I do not believe it can be safely recommended for all cases of consumption. If the patient has the disease fully developed, and if it has been caused by lack of nutrition, I should think the island air likely to be insufficiently bracing. For persons who have "weak lungs" merely, but no actual disease, it is probably a good and perfectly safe climate; and if sea-bathing is part of your physician's prescription, it can, as I said before, be enjoyed in perfection here by the tenderest body all the year round.
Back to: The Sandwich Islands
Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
Online Publication: This book has been scanned, ocr'd and thoroughly vented for errors.
This book includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.