Hilo is the second biggest town in the state of Hawaii, though with a population of 50,000 residents is not large by most people’s standards. Located on the Eastern side of the Big Island, it is one of the least-traveled tourist destinations in Hawaii. It has been rated one of America’s top 10 most liveable and desireable cities. For a peaceful tropical getaway, you should definitely consider visiting Hilo. You get the same amenities, perfect weather, ocean fun, and spectacular sights as you can get elsewhere, but there are far fewer people. A visit to Hilo is a visit to the real Hawaii.
Hilo is the wettest city in the United States and one of the wettest cities in the world. Nearly 130 inches of rain fall there every year. However, this comes in the form of tropical trade showers, so there is never a day without at least some sunshine. If you don’t like the weather in Hilo, you need only wait 15 minutes and it will change. All of this rain provides Hilo with fresh air, clean streets, and one of the most lush tropical jungles you will ever see. Driving down the main road, you will constantly see coconut palms, banana trees, scarlet hibiscus, giant philodendron with leaves as big as your car windshield, and fruit trees bearing papaya, lychee, citrus, mango, and more.
One of the more obvious features of Hilo is the gorgeous Bayfront beach and park. It fronts on Hilo Bay, one of the few navigable ports in the state. Many people see this wide park and assume that good city planning has left this park free of businesses and homes, but that’s not the case. Hilo Bay acts as a natual funnel for tsunami waves, and Hilo has twice been hit with major tsunamis. Both times the entire bayfront district was destroyed, and so people have learned to not do business there.
Also in Hilo Bay is Coconut Island. It is a popular family destination, with shady groves of coconut and ironwood trees offering shelter from sun and rain alike, and incredible views of the bay, Hamakua coast, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa. Liliuokalani Gardens sit right next to the island footbridge, and offer the zen-like experience of walking through an oriental garden. Nearby Wailoa river park offers a serene lagoon spanned by arched bridges, walking paths both paved and grassy, picnic areas, and the city’s statue of Kamehameha the Great, sporting $40,000 of gold leaf on his helmet and robe.
A short drive up Wainuenue street will bring you to Rainbow Falls. This is a lovely broad waterfall on the Wailuku River. The mist that rises from the large pool fed by the falls often creates rainbows, especially in the mornings when the sun is low. Surrounded by lush greenery, Rainbow Falls is a fine example of a tropical Hawaiian waterfall. Don’t try to swim there, however, as the falls can easily create dangerous conditions if you get too close.
Also on the Wailuku River is the Naha stone. Weighing two and half tons, this stone was used as a royal test of strength. It was said that whomever could move the stone would conquer and unite the islands. This came true when 14 year old Kamehameha moved the huge stone. It is a piece of Hawaiian history not to be missed.
Other attractions in Hilo include the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Hilo Arboretum, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company, Pacific Tsunami Museum, the bustling Farmer’s Market, and Honoli’i Beach Park, which is a local hot spot for surfing and body boarding. More mainstream activites such as golf, shopping, local theater, and fine dining are also available.
Hilo is also an excellent place to set off for even bigger Hawaiian adventures. It is a brief drive to the Kilauea Caldera and the live lava flowing there. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa both sit majestically over the city, and you can drive nearly 14,000 feet above sea level to the top of Mauna Kea for a view of the entire island. The visitor center at Mauna Kea often has stargazing parties, as the weather atop the mountain is clear 99% of the time. Imagine watching a meteor shower in the best sky watching conditions on the planet!
The Puna district is within a half hour drive, and offers such outdoor attractions as the Ahalanui volcanically-heated hot ponds, multiple steam vents and caves for natural sauna visits, surfing and body boarding at Pohoiki Bay, and the freshest cleanest air on the planet at Cape Kumukahi. The air here is so clean that it is sampled by scientists for comparison with less-clean air in other parts of the world. At nearby Kehena Beach, visitors frequently watch whales passing the mouth of the bay, and swim with spinner dolphins and sea turtles.
Others may travel to Honolulu on Oahu, Kihei on Maui, or Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. If you wish to see the real Hawaii and avoid the tourist traps, consider a visit to Hilo instead. It is an undiscovered jewel in a tropical paradise.