Hawaii has more going for it than most tropical vacation destinations. We’ve got the sunshine, of course, and our white sand beaches and clear blue waters. We’ve got rainforests and ancient, long dormant volcanos (and Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island, which hasn’t finished yet). We’ve got the “Aloha Spirit.” Arts, culture, dining; we’ve pretty much got it all out here, when it comes to tropical paradises.
What is often overlooked or taken for granted, however, is the quiet. We have our share of construction and traffic noise, certainly, and feral chickens, loud vehicles and what-have-you. The decibels go up in population and commerce centers. By now, Oahu residents who live and work in rapidly-developing Kaka‘ako or along the rail construction line are probably used to the constant din. But for the most part, it’s easy to find peace and quiet. In fact, quiet is normal. And we take it seriously.
There are official “Hawaii Administrative Rules” under the Department of Health’s Community Noise Control program which regulate “maximum permissible sound levels in dBA.” Variances are granted for construction projects, outdoor concerts, fireworks displays and such, but the rules and time constraints are exacting. Just ask any outdoor concert promoter.
In 1972, the Department of Health was authorized by the Legislature to “promulgate rules for each county to control all sources of noise.” Those rules were adopted in 1996. The State agency is authorized to “impose penalties” for violations. (Noise control regulations have been in place for the City & County of Honolulu since 1976.)
The Department’s Noise Reference Manual identifies over 40 types of noise pollution. Many of these are things you’d expect, but there are a few that are, perhaps, unique to Hawaii and places like it. Karaoke bars, for instance. Swimming pool pumps. Watercraft. Tour buses. Some tour bus routes have even been changed because of noise complaints.
Hawaii is a natural symphony of soothing sounds. The rolling surf or ripples lapping at the shore. Songbirds in the rainforest. Buffeting trade winds. Lilting tones of Hawaiian music. All of these are part of the Hawaii experience. But so is pure, precious quiet.
For most vacationers, the whole point of going on holiday is to “get away from it all” and “find some peace and quiet.” Some visiting urbanites are unnerved by the lack of an ambient cacophony, but they are the exception to the rule. For city dwellers, Hawaii offers respite from the constant sounds they’re bombarded by at home. And for those that come from quiet places, Hawaii provides the relative tranquility to which they’re accustomed.
Hawaii is not entirely free of noise pollution, to be sure. In fact, there’s a jackhammer going below my apartment as I write. Yesterday it was a leaf blower. But getting away and being alone with your thoughts is a part of the Hawaii experience for residents and visitors alike.