Big Island for Little People Part 3October 5, 2010 No Comments
Big Island of Hawaii Hilo Family Vacation – Hotels and Sights
No matter which side of the Big Island of Hawaii you explore, the sand, sun, and lava rock beaches of the west, the raw sea scape and rolling farm land of the south, the steaming volcanos in the middle – it feels as if you’re visiting many different islands all rolled into one when you’re on the island of Hawaii. This blog covers the east side of the island, waterfall rich to the north end, tropical jungle to the south; Hilo, rainy but cultured in the middle.
Although flights from the mainland and abroad land on the west side in resort-rich Kona, island hoppers frequently land in Hilo. We like coming to the Big Island via Hilo because the airport is less crowded, friendlier, and you can get a better buy on a rental vehicle. If you’re combining a trip to the Big Island with a visit to any others in the Hawaiian island chain, we highly recommend flying in to Hilo.
And if you do, take a brief stop at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation just outside Hilo. This is the world’s largest macadamia nut product maker, purchasing macadamia nuts from orchards all across the Big Island. With free samples, a large grassy area for kids to run out on – a must after any flight, and a view of the processing plant assembly line, this is a fun way to begin your visit to this side of the island.
In Hilo itself, you’ll find beautiful old banyan trees along the appropriately named Banyan Drive, the street that lines the waterfront and leads to several of the old fashioned Hilo hotels. Speaking of old fashioned hotels, Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel has a pleasant, inexpensive lunch menu and a bountiful brunch on the weekends, and a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere. The fresh fruit juice is delicious. Ken’s House of Pancakes is another family-welcoming restaurant. Your kids will love the pancakes, the super friendly waitresses will offer you advice on what to see and do and offer chocolate chip and whipped cream faces on the children’s pancakes. Even nicer, they serve pancakes all day and into the evening – until 9 pm, which is late night dinner in Hilo.
In front of the Hilo Hawaiian you’ll find the Babe Ruth tree – the baseball legend planted it himself. Take a pleasant stroll across the arched foot bridge in front of the Naniloa Hotel to Coconut Island, if it’s a clear day you may be rewarded with a view of the top of Mauna Kea mountain.
Further along Banyan drive you’ll find a formal Japanese garden, the thirty acre Liliuokalani Gardens, with ponds filled with koi, ornamental bonsai trees, moon gates and pagodas. The kids will enjoy it, and it’s free to visit.
The Lyman Museum is Smithsonian-run and filled with interesting history about Hawaii’s islands and people. A good introduction to flora, fauna, and volcanos and the variety of immigrant cultures that shapes the islands. Kids will like best the impressive collection of shells and gems and the recreations of 19th century missionary life available through a tour at the adjoining Lyman Mission House. This historic structure is the Island’s oldest wood frame building; built in 1839 it survived a tsunami. Speaking of tsunami’s, learn about Hilo’s big one at the Pacific Tsunami museum, a small scientifically oriented museum with some nice interactive exhibits for the kids and a wonderfully friendly staff to explain the power of the waves.
Just outside Hilo to the north you’ll find Akaka Falls State Park. Termed the drive up water fall, you can literally drive up, park, and walk a short paved path to the beautiful four hundred and forty two foot fall which flows into a pristine pool in a rich tropical setting.
Want to see more waterfalls, check out Rainbow Falls and beyond. Be sure and make a stop at the corner fruit, fish, and smoothie stand just as you make the turn to Rainbow Falls road. It depends on the time of year and recent weather as to just how spectacular these falls will be, but you can see them either from an overlook or you can take a trail that leads off to the left side of the falls. Note that the trail can be slippery, and you should carry small children. There are beautiful trees with low hanging branches about one-third of the way down the trail, and these make a fun climb for kids ages four and up. Watch out for rainbows and remember to tell your older kids that legend has it that King Kamehameha’s father’s bones are buried beneath the waterfall. Back in the car, keep driving and you’ll find several other falls including Boiling Pots and Pe’e Pe’e – always good for amusing kids old enough to read.
Heading south from Hilo to the district of Puna Hawaii, you’ll find a different form of water-pleasure, the Kapoho tidepools. Individual natural swimming pools made of lava, many of them extraordinarily shallow and filled with warm, wave-less water. Calm water is perfect for swimming, floating, basking, or experiencing a mild, natural hot-tub experience. During the week you’ll have the larger pools adjacent to the open ocean more or less to yourself. A great water going experience for small children.
In Puna, you’ll want to stop in Pahoa, an old fashioned small town with a wild west feel. The town has wooden boardwalks, and classic store fronts and Victorian houses. There are some galleries, Mexican and Thai food, and the historic Akebono Theater. Built in 1919, its the oldest operating theater in Hawaii, and showcases local live theater as well as classic movies like The Sound of Music or Lilo & Stitch – perfect for Hawaii.
Nearby you’ll find The Lava Tree State Park- a sculpture by Mother Nature. Your kids will be fascinated by the weird and wild trees – this is what occurs when hot lava coats wet ohia trees. The trees burnt of course, but the lava formed a mold around the trees. End result: trees created by Tim Burton.
From the east coast of the Big Island – Aloha again.