The first thing our neighbor island guests should understand is that the Big Island is much more than Hilo. While beautiful Hilo serves as county seat of the island and home to the region's airport and university, the Big Island is a majestic place that is home to a vast array of landscapes, locales, and visitor attractions. For our Pamantasan participants planning on coming in early or staying an additional day or two, make it a point to see the Big Island and all its grand offerings. Surely you won't get to see everything, but trust us, there are some great things to be seen.
When in Hilo: Big Island Candies, Imiloa Astronomy Center, downtown Hilo are few of the places we'd recommend to our visiting guests. There are many good eateries in town depending on what you are looking for. Ken's House of Pancakes is a Hilo landmark while Nori's has been featured on many island cooking shows. The Filipino Store down on Mamo Street near the Hilo Farmers Market serves really good Filipino food! If going with a larger group, you may want to call ahead. The business corridor in Hilo is also home to the Prince Kuhio Plaza, Walmart, Target, KTA Superstores, Longs, Safeway and other shopping establishments. Hilo's plantation past is also very alive in some of the very best okazuya lunch shops. Be sure to check out the Hilo lunch shop near the civic or Kawamoto's on Kilauea Avenue. From sushi to nori chicken, you won't be disappointed! Liliu'oukalani Park in Hilo offers a nice, tranquil setting for an afternoon picnic or place to walk and work off some of those calories you may have just put on! Contrary to what many of our visitors believe, the weather in Hilo is actually pretty good this time of year. But you always need to be prepared for rain......just in case.
Going South (Puna, Volcano, Ka'u, South Kona): Visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is usually on the agenda for most folks coming to visit. Remember, there is only one primary highway (11) that circles the entire island. Heading out of Hilo, you can choose to proceed up Highway 11 to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or take a detour on Highway 130 to visit the Puna region of the island. You will pass through many papaya fields as this region is the papaya capitol of our state -- with much of these field being farmed by Filipino farmers and their families. You will drive by places like Hawaiian Paradise Park, Orchidland, and Ainaloa before reaching the historic Pahoa town. This eclectic town is home to some really good places to eat as well as retail establishments and curio shops. Continuing on Highway 130 will take you to some of the newest pieces of earth on our planet -- the freshest lava flows that are currently reshaping the Big Island's landscape. Should you plan on visiting the lava flows, you must be prepared for the elements. Night time visits will require more preparation. Be sure to consult with the Pamantasan planning committee if you are planning on taking a group to visit this attraction.
Once you are back on Highway 11, you will be on your way to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As you come upon the region of the park, you will be entering the historic Ka'u district of the Big Island. When entering the park, be prepared to pay a $10 park entrance fee for each vehicle entering. Once in the park, you will be provided with a map and directions to all that the park has to offer. It is a very special place to both residents and visitors alike, as it serves as the spiritual home of Pele, the volcano goddess who is revered by many who call Hawai'i home, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Also remember that the park is at a higher elevation and it can get rather cold. Temperatures in the 60's at mid day are not unusual. Be prepared for the elements. Shoes should be worn.
The Ka'u district is largely an agricultural region -- home to large ranching operations and is also a world-class coffee producing area. Ka'u coffee has regularly been a top vote getter for many the world's coffee cupping competitions. Many Filipino families call the Ka'u region home and many have been pioneers of coffee production -- getting their start soon after the sugar plantations closed in the 90's. Ka'u is also the southernmost region of the state. Try to make a visit to Kalae, or South Point. Along with this being a very rich fishing ground, it is also a very historical area for both fishermen and celestial ocean travelers alike. The Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) also trace their ancestral lineage to Kalae.
Kalae (South Point), Ka'u
Continuing on through Ka'u, you will pass through vast fields of lava and macadamia nut orchards as you make your way to Kona. The towns of Hawaii Ocean View Estates offer gas stations and eating establishments just in case you and your group need a break from the long ride. Heading in to Kona, you may want to check out the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, also known as the "City of Refuge." The towns of Kealakekua and Kainaliu offer a nice "old town" feel complete with shops and eateries before entering the more modern confines of Kailua-Kona.
Going North -- Hamakua, Honoka'a, Waimea, Kohala, Waikoloa: Another way to get to Kona from Hilo is to head out north via the Hamakua district. This drive will take you through a former sugar enclave with many towns that existed within minutes from sugar mills that once dotted the coastline. Given its strong sugar growing history, many Filipino families have settled in towns along this route. These include places like Pepe'ekeo, Papa'aloa, and O'okala. Continuing on Highway 11 will bring you to the town of Honoka'a. Many stop here to sample one of those famous malasadas from Tex Drive-Inn. Continuing on through Honoka'a town, you will also see a variety of small shops and businesses. You may also continue on out of Honoka'a town to Kukuihaele and the Waipio Valley lookout.
Waipio Valley lookout
Waimea, also known as Kamuela is beautiful town sitting on the northwestern flank of Mauna Kea. Here is a town that is proud of its paniolo (cowboy) heritage that is still home to the historical Parker Ranch. Arrival in Waimea signifies that you are getting closer to both Kohala and the island's "gold coast," lined with beautiful beaches and turquoise-blue waters. Hapuna Beach is a world-class beach often featured on the Travel Chanel. You may also check out Anaeho'omalu Bay and the Kings/Queens shops at Waikoloa. This leeward side of the island is typically hotter and drier than the windward Hilo side. Shorts, slippers, and hot weather clothing is appropriate year around.
Kona remains one of the fasted growing regions of the island. The town is a visitor landmark whose offerings are available to residents and visitors alike. This heart of Kona offers many outdoor activities, shopping, and eating options. Of course, a taste of that world famous Kona coffee is a must when traveling through the region.
Seawall at Kailua Kona
The "Saddle Road." There is a cross-island highway that connects Hilo and Kona known as the "Saddle" road. What was once a military jeep road to Pohakuloa Military Training Area is quickly becoming a major thoroughfare connecting the east and west side of the island. The road has been going through a major re-alignment and repair. The Saddle is also used to also get to the Mauna Kea visitors center. If you are new to the Big Island or have never traveled on the Saddle Road, we advise for you to obey all traffic laws and take extra caution when traveling. There are still a few dangerous turns on the western end of the Saddle.