Barbara Blackshear Andersen
The Shipman House Bed & Breakfast Inn
Picturesque Hilo (pronounced hee-low) sits at the water's edge where Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa meet on the lush, green, breathtakingly photographic side of Hawai'i Island. Here one finds the anticipated Hawai'i -- wild orchids blooming along the roadsides, waterfallsplunging through hillside jungles ...and rainbows. Hilo is blessed with more rain than any other city in the U.S. (averaging about 120" annually), and the gulches and hillsides around the Hilo area have more shades of green than there are names. Therain-washed air is sweetened by flowers, and wonderful to breathe. Deep blue waves shatter into white spray against and over a jagged jet-black shoreline edged in vibrant greens. Colorfully dressed children splash in the calmer pools and sheltered beach areas edging Hilo Bay.
Located on the eastern coast of Hawai'i Island, the big island at the southeastern end of the Hawaiian Islands, Hilo is perfect for daytrips to Volcano, Puna, Waipio Valley, Mauna Kea observatories, and Kona. Often just driven past, a closer look reveals the Real Hawaii, not a fabricated tourist resort.
Hilo is the town time forgot, with its false-front stores, covered sidewalks, and small town charm. Life moves at a slow, friendly pace. Shopping downtown is an international adventure, free of "tourist traps". Pick up a walking tour map and just stroll around Old Hilo Town. Refresh yourself with a paper cone ofshaved ice in some exotic flavor (be real "local", order the li hing mui shaved ice), or sample the preserved seed so loved by locals. See how many old hitching rings you can spot, and figure out why Hilo's sidewalks are black instead of gray.
Be sure to visit the farmers' market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings for locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Vendors offer taste samples of the more unusual produce, and sprays of orchids or bouquets of exotic flowers can be bought for just a few dollars.
This county seat wears a wide greenbelt of parks and soccer fields along its half-mile-long black sand beach. Several local canoe clubs house their outrigger canoes along the water's edge, hold practices after work, and, during the summer, compete in day-long regattas with other canoe clubs from around the island and the state. Paddling clubs set up food booths to help pay expenses, and this is real local food. A canoe meet is a "must" experience for visitors.
If you are lucky enough to be in Hilo when it rains, grab an umbrella and go for a walk. The rain is blissfully warm, and brightly-colored umbrellas pop up everywhere. These are not your ordinary umbrellas, as Hilo people favor the large size usually found in golf bags. Few sports events are cancelled by rain, and the sidelines may be a cheery line-up of umbrellas topping shorts, bare legs, and rubber slippers.
Local folks love to be outdoors. Walkers and runners favor the beautiful oceanfront. Others fish along the waterfront and at Wailoa State Park. Golfers abound, and surfers dot the ocean just off downtown, and 2 miles up the coast at Honoli'i Beach. Hilo has public tennis courts and an Olympic-size pool. A favorite picnic spot is the beautiful Lili'uokalani Gardens, 30 acres of Japanese gardens with fishponds, gazebos, bridges, and a spectacular view across Hilo Bay of Hilo town, as it hugs the crescent ("hilo") beach, and edges up Mauna Kea's gentle slopes. Nearby, and across a footbridge, is Coconut Island, just big enough for picnics and open-air concerts. It is from here the fireworks are launched to delight Hiloans on the Fourth of July, as they gather, Norman Rockwell-like, in the park surrounding Mo'oheau Bandstand, across from the farmer's market.
Hilo has a number of restaurants serving delicious and varied fare, and the appropriate dress ranges from quite casual to more dressy (slacks with aloha shirt tucked in), yet none requires a coat and tie. The selection is such that day visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (27 miles away) are encouraged to return to Hilo for dinner and the night.
With all our lush vegetation, it always surprises visitors to learn that Hawaii is snake-free.
There are so many interesting sites to visit in the Hilo area, side roads to explore, legends to ponder, smiles to return, birds to spot, flowers to smell, food to try, waves to jump in.... Hele mai...Come.
A lot is always happening in Hilo. Check out the DIA, Palace Theater, and Big Island Visitors Bureau sites for details. On Saturdays, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald publishes adetailed calendar for the following week.