Hilo is a lovely town to visit on your Hawaii vacation with plenty of natural as well as historic attractions. I was reminded of that again last weekend when checked into a great Hilo vacation rental and enjoyed an adventurous two days touring the whole area.
Hilo is located on the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawaii and is the site of a beautiful coastline and bay as well as many natural and historic attractions. Hilo is also a hip college town as the home of the campus of the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo. The town buzzes with student life and there are lots of interesting educational events.
The plentiful rain in the Hilo area produces many rainbows along with lots of luxuriant growth and also energizes the many cascading waterfalls. Many flowers are grown in Hilo’s greenhouses and nurseries including orchids, gingers, and anthuriums.
Another notable aspect of Hilo is the Merrie Monarch Festival held each April. This esteemed cultural event is the most renowned hula competition in the world.
Whenever I visit Hilo I like to take a tour around Banyan Drive on the Waiākea Peninsula on Hilo Bay. The road passes Hilo’s bayfront hotels and also the Naniloa Country Club Golf Course as well as Lili‘uokalani Gardens.
After an hour relaxing on the nice big lawn, I walked around near some of the large and sprawling banyan trees lining Banyan Drive. The trees are marked with plaques identifying the various celebrities and royalty who planted them including Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, Cecil B. DeMille and many others.
Lili‘uokalani Gardens is a tribute to the region’s Japanese immigrants and encompasses 30 acres along Banyan Drive. The park features bridges over streams as well as a ceremonial tea house and pagodas.
Another great park in Hilo is Kalakaua Park, which is located in the downtown area. I was most impressed with the sundial which was placed there by King Kalakaua more than a century ago, in 1877.
A bronze statue of King Kalākaua is located under a nice banyan tree in the park. King Kalakaua’s summer home, known as Niolapa, is located near the park.
The Lyman House
Another interesting Hilo site is the Lyman House Memorial Museum and Mission House. Built in 1839, this is the oldest frame structure on the Big Island. It was the home of missionaries Reverend David and Sarah Lyman who came from New England.
The Lyman Museum features exhibits on Hawaiian culture as well as other immigrant cultures, and there is also a display on early missionary life.
The Naha Stone
If you visit the Hilo Public Library where you can see the famous Naha Stone. Whoever could move this huge stone, the prophecy stated, would be able to rule all of the Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha I met this challenge in 1775 and then went on to fulfill the prophecy.
Pacific Tsunami Museum
One of my favorite places to visit in Hilo is the kid-friendly Pacific Tsunami Museum, which is located right next to the Hilo Bayfront.
The Tsunami Museum has fascinating exhibits about the devastating 1946 and 1960 tsunamis. I was riveted by the personal stories of the survivors and the photos of all of the damage that occurred in the area right where I was standing. Amazing!
A theater at the Museum shows videos about tsunamis. There is also a keiki (children’s) area, and an interactive computer exhibit.
Rainbow Falls State Park
Not far above Hilo town is spectacular Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River. The waterfall plunges down about 80 feet into a huge pool below.
About 1½ miles above Rainbow Falls is Pe‘epe‘e Falls and Boiling Pots where four streams cascade down a cliff into large pools. The name Boiling Pots comes from the churning water in the lava rock depressions. This whole area is lush with growth and humming with the excitement of the river and waterfalls.
Nani Mau Gardens
Another great attraction in the Hilo area is beautiful Nani Mau Gardens located about 3 miles south of town. Nani Mau features a great variety of native and exotic plants and a wonderful array of flowers including many different types of anthuriums and orchids.
Nani Mau Gardens also provides tram rides through the gardens as well as a educational botanical museum with great displays.
I sure worked up an appetite with all of this touring so I was happy to partake in the sumptuous Polynesian buffet at the restaurant at Nani Mau. Then I headed over to my Hilo vacation rental where I could truly relax as I gazed out over Hilo Bay, which by the way is the Big Island’s capital city and also the second largest port in the Hawaiian Islands.
I am coming back in three weeks because I got a deal I couldn’t pass up on another oceanfront Hilo vacation rental that was such a low price in such a great location that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. What can I say? I love this town!
By the way, another great source of information about things to do is the Big Island Visitors Bureau.