Lahaina Noon in Honolulu & Queen Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden | Written by Curtis | July 2020
We’re currently living in this weird sort of limbo where we don’t know exactly when we’ll move, but we know it’s coming. Any day now, the Navy could issue us a waiver to travel, and then we’ll have less than a week before we leave. All of our plans are tentative — for our time on the island, for our move, and for our arrival in Nebraska. On Thursday, July 16th, I started the day with high spirits, thinking that I might have my paperwork in to leave the island, only to drive across the Ko’olaus and find out I did not. So we went forward with our previous plans and did the unthinkable: we drove into Honolulu right before noon.
Normally we tend to avoid downtown Honolulu, but this afternoon was (or so I thought) special. For (I believed) on July 16th at 12:38 pm, Honolulu would be at the ‘sub-solar point’, a term locally referred to as Lahaina Noon.
At any given moment the sun is at the perpendicular zenith to a singular point on Earth (called the sub-solar point in astronomy circles). This point moves East to West around the earth as the Earth revolves about its axis. But the point also travels North and South due to the axial tilt as the Earth revolves about the sun. That is, the sub-solar point will move between the Tropics throughout the year in the following cycle: at the Vernal Equinox the sub-point will be at the equator, it will then progress North ultimately reaching the Tropic of Cancer on the Summer Solstice. The sub-solar point then reverses course and heads South, passing over the equator again at the Autumnal Equinox and reaching its Southern terminus at the Tropic of Capricorn on the Winter Solstice, then returning North again for the Vernal Equinox. Therefore, any point that lies in the Tropics will pass through the Subsolar point twice every year. In Hawai’i’s case this occurs in mid-May and mid-July.
Hawai’i, being the only State within the Tropics, has also lent the name to whenever a place is under the sub-solar point: Lahaina Noon, which translates to ‘cruel sun’.
But what does this have to do with Downtown Honolulu? Besides being an interesting astronomical phenomenon, Lahaina noon also has the added effect that vertical objects will not cast a shadow. A Japanese-American artist/sculptor named Isamu Noguchi took it one step further by designing a sculpture that, when the sun is at Lahaina noon, the shadow cast by the sculpture (called ‘Sky Gate’) is a ‘perfect’ circle.
We essentially went downtown to look at shadows.
We parked in front of Iolani Palace and walked to the green space in front of the City Hall/Civic Center where the sculpture is located. We showed up about 45 minutes early so we could see the sculpture and shadows before Lahaina Noon struck. The sky was partly cloudy, but the sun would come out frequently enough that we weren’t too concerned.
When we got to the sculpture, the shadow was off center and showed the bumps as it was intended. We took some before pictures, expecting there to be an obvious difference at the exact time of Lahaina Noon.
As 12:38 approached the shadow of the sculpture clearly started to move inside the circular concrete base, but it still had a hexagonal look to it. I pulled out my phone and double checked the time given by the Bishop Museum and saw to my horror that Lahaina noon was at 12:38 – on the 15th! We were 24 hours too late. The sub-solar point was 18 miles south of us. No wonder there was only one other group of people at the sculpture.
Oh well, looking online I don’t think that the sculpture actually makes a perfect circle, but it was still cool to see. Our piece of advice to you if you’re trying to view Lahaina Noon in Honolulu at the correct date and time is to check the Bishop Museum’s website, or make sure whatever search page you stumble across on Google clearly says the correct year. There are plenty of pages sharing the date for previous years, and the exact day can move around a bit.
To make the most out of our trip downtown, we decided to follow up by visiting the last botanical garden that we hadn’t yet seen — Queen Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden. It’s located on the other side of H1 from Foster Botanical Garden, but it isn’t possible to walk between the two gardens. There is a small lot off of Kuakini Street and admission is free.
The story behind this garden is that it was partially on Queen Lili’uokalani’s property and she donated the land to the City and County of Honolulu to be preserved and enjoyed by many. The gardens are still under development, so there isn’t as much to see as there is at any of the other gardens on the island. For now, there’s a paved path that leads you through the majority of the park with some native plants and a stream with a small cascading waterfall.