Hilo, Island of Hawai’i (March 28, 2023)

My resolve to ignore the elevator and only use the stairs is proving to be exhausting, especially when getting on and off on deck three. Our stateroom is on the ninth floor. Ouch. I digress.

Hilo is one of the seven regions that make up Hawai’i Island, better known as The Big Island. Big as in the largest in the state of Hawaii but in most other ways, quite small. From the southern tip to the northern tip it measures a mere 93 miles, while the distance between the extreme points on the east side and the west side is 76 miles. Five volcanoes and their subsequent lava flows created this ultra green haven.

A busy farming and fishing area in early times, Hilo, located on the northeastern side of the island, evolved into a commercial center for the sugar industry in the 1800s. Downtown Hilo was built around a crescent-shaped bay and became the seat of county government. 

Today’s guide, Gary, was nothing if not jolly and enthusiastic. A confident vocalist, he even sang us two songs. What he lacked in relaying history, customs, and culture he made up for in sharing stories about his family, first surfing experience (the board he had saved up for broke), a memorable fishing trip (he caught a coconut), and his love of food (bring on the Spam).

On our way into town we went down Banyan Drive, a road lined on both sides with banyan trees planted by or in remembrance of celebrities of one kind or another. The first trees went in the ground in 1933. Fifty trees, marked with wooden plaques, still line the drive. Names on the plaques include folks like Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Louis Armstrong, Cecil B. DeMille, and various religious leaders. It was hard to fully appreciate how beautiful this road is from the bus, but we got the gist.

Located on Banyan Drive is Liliʻuokalani Gardens, dedicated in 1917. Built as a tribute to the Japanese who immigrated to work in the sugarcane fields, it is actually the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan. Even from the bus we could tell it was magnificent.

We stopped to see the 14-foot statue of King Kamehameha with his gold sash, cape, and crown. It was sculpted in Italy in 1963 but not installed and dedicated on this site until 1997. Hum? There’s gotta be a good story behind that delay. Speaking of Kamehameha, legend has it that whoever had the strength to move the Naha Stone would rule the islands. He moved it and the rest is history. The stone is now in front of the public library.

Our ride out of town took us past macadamia trees, wild sugarcane, banana orchards, dracaena farms, cattle properties, and breadfruit farms. Everything was green and beautiful. Most of the buildings we saw had galvanized tin roofs which hold up well with all the rain. Speaking of rain, we did get wet off and on today but ended the day with sun. Our objective was to see two beautiful waterfalls: Rainbow Falls with a drop of 80 feet and Akaka Falls with a drop of 442 feet. Both are hidden in dense tropical vegetation. Just passed Rainbow Falls is a large circle of huge banyan trees with intertwined, gnarled roots and branches. Barely any light penetrated the dense canopy. Spooky meets romantic meets bandits’ hideaway. It’s fantastic.

Our last stop for the day was at Big Island Candies, a factory that makes gourmet cookies and candies.

Maui might have Oprah, but Hawai’i has Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s uncle. On our way back to the ship we passed his two restaurants as well as gorgeous umbrella-shaped monkey pod trees, a memorial to the victims of the 1946 and the 1960 tsunamis, and the state flower, yellow hibiscus, in full bloom.

All in all a great day that ended with a chef at the Japanese steakhouse who really got into entertaining us while grilling our supper.

… I Kid You Not …

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, just south of Hilo, is the world’s largest processor of macadamia seeds.

Captain James Cook died on The Big Island during a struggle with the native population in 1779.

The Hawaiian goose is the official bird of Hawaiʻi. 

There are four green sand beaches in the whole wide world, two of which are in the United States.
One of those two is on The Big Island.
(The unique color comes from olivine crystals that wash out of a 49,000-year-old cinder cone next to the beach.)

Hawaiʻi’s Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world and,
if measured from the ocean bottom, is 4,000 feet taller than Mt. Everest.

Hawai’i has a population of a quarter of a million.


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