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Ka'u / Volcanoes
Big Island - Hilo Scenic Tour
Hilo, the state of Hawaii's fourth largest city, is a colorful port town that lies along a lovely crescent bay. When the coast is clear, often snow-capped Mauna Kea is in view, and much of the year the air is scented with the heavenly fragrance of ginger blossoms that bloom in profusion.
Located on the windward side of the island, Hilo experiences a good deal of rain, which makes it lush and green year round and also makes it the center of the state's flower-growing industry. There are a host of tropical gardens to visit, displaying hundreds of varieties of exquisite orchids and other exotic flowers.
Most important, the folk in Hilo are friendly, and the town has a great deal of "hometown" charm. It's a great place to park your car and walk around, visiting historical sites, sitting under canopies of massive banyan trees, and shopping in local stores where bargains can still be found.
Bring an umbrella in case you get caught in a shower, and remember the old Hawaiian saying: "No rain -- no rainbows." Hilo has rainbows galore and much more. Here are few of the sites to see there.
Lyman Mission House and Museum is old home of Hilo's first Christian missionaries built in New England style in 1839. The house is furnished with mantels, doors, floors, and furniture of rich Hawaiian Koa wood, much of it crafted by the ship's carpenter. The museum has a unique collection of island memorabilia and artifacts from the pre-contact and monarchy eras.
Liliu'okalani Gardens winds along Banyan Drive.It features Japanese-style gardens with fishponds, torii gates, oriental bridges, pavilions, pagodas, sprawling banyans, and a ceremonial teahouse. To mingle with residents here on a sunny Sunday is about as good as it gets.
Hilo's tropical gardens are legendary. Because the area is a natural greenhouse, it produces a multitude of flowers, but the main cash crops are orchids and anthuriums. Check out the Hilo Tropical Gardens and Gallery, and the Nani Mau Gardens, which charge admission for tours and the Hilo Arboretum, which is free. Many local nurseries will send these long-lasting blooms to the mainland for you so that you won't have to worry about carrying around gifts.
Outside of Hilo are a few attractions you won't want to miss if you're traveling with children. Onekahakaha Beach Park is the best all-round beach in the area, with white sand, safe swimming, and lifeguards year round. There are picnic pavilions, showers, and restrooms.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is a delightful spot in one of the nation's few tropical rain forests where the animals live in natural environment enclosures. There are exotic birds and animals from around the world -- a white bengal tiger, monkeys, anteaters -- as well as those indigenous to Hawai'i.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory has a self-guided tour where kids can run around the trails and a visitor center where you can see the processing start to finish and a video about mac-nuts. They sell snacks and every kind of macadamia nut product, from ice cream to mac-nut oil.
To the south of Hilo is the Puna District, an area of lava fields, rain forests, and a rugged coastline. You may want to check out the little town of Pahoa with its wooden boardwalks and funky shops or these other Puna attractions:
Lava Tree State Park features tree molds from a 1790 lava flow through a forest of ohia trees.
Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse, at the island's easternmost point, narrowly missed the ohia trees' fate when a lava flow split off within yards of the lighthouse, sparing it. The locals said it was Madame Pele herself who intervened for the sake of the fishermen.