That charm doesn’t end with our people, our funky flora and fauna (protea and Happy Face Spiders, to name just two), or our trippy little surf towns, either: Hawaii’s unique position as one of the most isolated archipelagos on the planet places it in a time zone all its own—and leads many to ask, what time is it in Hawaii?
Happen to be on the mainland? (Another Hawaiian quirk: We call the entire continental U.S. “the mainland.”) Hawaii, which is part of the Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone, is three hours behind the West Coast, five hours behind the Midwest, six hours behind the Eastern Seaboard, and ten hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.
During summer/Daylight Saving Time—or the Uniform Time Act, which, established to exploit energy during the first World War, accelerates clocks during the summer months to make days last longer—isn’t in our vocabulary: The Aloha State (though not its Aleutian neighbor) opted out of the Act in 1967, thus joining the ranks of Guam, Arizona, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
It was a no-brainer for those who know our islands well: Given our proximity to the equator, there’s only a negligible time difference between sunrise and sunset throughout the year. (Winter where?)
That unwavering dawn and dusk lends itself to Hawaii’s real time: Island (or Hawaiian) time, that is—a phenomenon to non-Hawaiian residents but a wholly natural way of life for those fortunate enough to call the 50th state home.
Much like Hawaii’s modern-day ethnic makeup—a hodgepodge of races, borne from colonialism, immigration during the sugarcane era, intermarriage, and its position as one of the most desirable “inbound” places in the world—island time can only truly be understood and perpetuated if you live in it.
Bearing similarities to the “soon come” of the West Indies—where, as Duncan Hurd points out, today might mean tomorrow (a concept that translates to “bumbye” in Hawaii)—island time has more saunter than swagger.
It’s generally understood among friends and family that one shows up when one shows up (predetermined, definite start times notwithstanding), while cashiers at a number of spots are more kindly and talkative than their corporate and utilitarian, big city counterparts.
And this isn’t simply because Hawaii residents are a talkative bunch: due to the compactness and infrastructure of our islands—where it’s nearly impossible to leave home without running into someone you know—we rely on each other, love each other, and abide by the model of the coconut wireless (another post entirely). Strong ties are formed within each island’s niche and in the larger community as a whole, which occasionally makes a trip to the store, beach, or park a cause for celebration.
And while mainlanders or those new to the island might roll their eyes and sigh when someone rolls in late and says, “I’m not late—I’m on Hawaiian time,” for the most part, it’s just the way we, well, roll. (And trust us: in this era of smartphones, it’s hardly as lax as some might want you to think. Those who truly want to dodge the clock ought to head to Cambodia’s private resort, Song Saa, which sets all clocks “forward an hour to allow guests to catch sunrise at a later time,” The New York Times reports).
Indeed, Hawaii’s chill approach to existence is one of its biggest allures. Life feels more organic when one isn’t a slave to the watch, and the resistance to counting minutes allows for the space to take in our natural space: the beauty of the sea, sky, mountains—and, yes, that beguiling flora and fauna. Further, because we’re rarely in a rush, that languor makes room for warmth towards others, freedom, happiness, and love—in other words, aloha.
Football fans who prefer to toss back beers while watching the NFL must cultivate an iron stomach in order to start partying at 8am during football season—the usual time a number of mainland-based games take place.
Likewise, as Honolulu Magazine puts it, “Our TV shows come from the future,” in that we watch our favorite comedies and dramas with dinner, not after.
What’s more, freelancers throughout Hawaii who work for mainland companies must rise way before the mynahs to make 9am EST calls (but, score, are usually done working for the day by noon).
As many realize shortly after stepping foot on our pikake-and-plumeria-scented shores, what time is it in Hawaii? takes on less and less relevance as their vacation unfolds.
Feel like going to the beach at 7am instead of the 10am you had worked into your mental itinerary? Why, it’s right there for you in the sunshine, just waiting. Inspired to have dinner at sunset instead of making that 9pm reservation? Why the heck not? (To note: The time difference between Hawaii and the mainland—as well as the rest of the world—even inspired Maui to become the first island in the state to sell alcohol 24/7, with supporters of the amendment declaring that it improved our hospitality industry (executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association said, “international visitors regularly check-in to hotels after late night flights and are confused as to why they are not able to buy alcohol during the 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period”). And sleeping, eating, sunning, and adventuring on your own watch is precisely what vacations are made for: to get away from the daily grind and get closer to your brain, body, and spirit’s natural rhythms. As Founder of the Kū Project Daniel Aipa says about Hawaiian Time, “When you find yourself in the flow, don’t worry about the time, ride it for as long as you can. Like the waves, creativity and productivity roll in like sets. Focus on the activity, especially those with family and friends, not the time allotted.”
In other words, what time is it in Hawaii echoes the ethos of Eckhart Tolle, who famously advised to “realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.” In Hawaii, time is now—and one should make that now “the primary focus” of their life.
For the real time in Hawaii, and the time difference between you and the rest of the world, check out this time below. And should you come visit our beautiful islands? Soak it up and stall when you’d like—after all, you are, literally, in your own time zone.
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