Exploring East Hawaii

From Majestic Waipio Valley to Fiery Kilauea

Explore East Hawaii on the Big Island and descend in time to historic Hilo and spend the day exploring the beautiful lush gardens, historical museums, tranquil Hawaii waterfalls, original shops, galleries and restaurants.  This charming coastal city by the bay known for its friendliness and diversity of residents receives nearly 130 inches of rain annually making it one of the wettest cities on the planet.  Combine all the rain with some sunshine and rich volcanic soil and you have the makings of a tropical wonderland.

In the distant past, Hilo Bay was used as a trading hub for ships of commerce including whaling ships and sugar transportation for early Hawaiians.  Today the port is used for a different kind of commerce, tourism.  Many visitors aboard the cruise ships come to explore the many attractions in or nearby this resilient little town that has survived two destructive tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.  Learn what it was like to endure the deadly storms by visiting the Pacific Tsunami Museum and listen to the stories from the remarkable survivors. 

Famous for growing exceptional orchids and other tropical vegetation, Hilo has several botanical gardens to marvel at nature’s beauties.  Wander through Liliuokalani Gardens, a 30-acre Japanese-style garden with pagodas, fish-filled ponds, half-moon bridges and a ceremonial teahouse.  Designed to honor Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants, it also offers a picturesque panoramic view of Hilo Bay.

Take a stroll down Banyan Drive near the Hilo International Airport where celebrities including Babe Ruth, President Roosevelt and King George V all planted banyan tree saplings beginning in 1933.  They have grown into a wonderful canopy providing welcoming shade on a sunny afternoon.  Make time on either Wednesday or Saturday to visit Hilo Farmers Market featuring a wide variety of tropical flowers and delectable fruits and vegetables from over 120 vendors from all over the island. 

North of Hilo is the Hamakua District surrounded by views of dramatic elevated coastlines, a stunning emerald jungle, flowing streams and waterfalls cascading down the sides of Mauna Kea.  Take the time to visit the quaint towns of Honoka‘a and Laupahoehoe, former plantation towns, where traditional Hawaiian arts and history come alive.  A few miles north of Honokaa is Waipio Valley, with plummeting waterfalls intersecting the explosion of lush tropical foliage on dramatic cliffs will make your top ten list of one of the most beautiful sights. 

The Puna District, south of Hilo, is a land of contrast and  the fastest growing district on the island.  Open lava fields and lush rainforests where numerous farmers grow everything from tropical plants, macadamia nuts and exotic fruits.  Spend a day exploring the wonders of heated tidepools, natural springs, lava tubes, caves, black sand beaches and parks.

Thirty minutes west of Hilo is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with two active volcanoes and to Pele, the fiery volcano goddess.  Kilauea, the world’s most active and most visited volcano, is best visited around sunset.  Over half of the 330,000-acre park is designated wilderness and provides unique hiking and camping opportunities.  Stop by the visitor center for eruption updates and the all important safety information.  Wear comfortable shoes, bring a sweater, flashlight and plenty of water and be prepared to experience one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world.

As featured in Big Island Traveler magazine

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