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Hawaii Travel Tips


Statehouse, Honolulu (808) 586-0178
The word that aptly describes Hawaii's Statehouse is "breezy." Perhaps it seemed so because we arrived at daybreak in the hollow silence of an unawakened building; or, perhaps it was the early morning wind and misty air drenched in dawn's golden light;. or it may be that the statehouse was purposefully designed that way. This modern structure, a most unusual public building, was designed to showcase Hawaii's natural beauty, with every architectural detail relating to Nature. For example, the two cone-shaped legislative chambers symbolize Hawaii's volcanoes. These conical legislative halls are separated by an open-air atrium that invites sunbeams, raindrops and tradewinds to enter freely through its center hallway ringed by the eight terraced stories of the building. The chandeliers inside the legislative chambers -- a gold-plated copper-and-brass chandelier in the House and a polished aluminum chandelier in the Senate -- represent the Sun and the Moon respectively. The fluted columns supporting the Capitol's exterior represent Hawaii's ubiquitous, life-sustaining palm tree. And surrounding the whole statehouse are reflecting pools, symbolizing the island state.

Hilo Farmer's Market, Historic Downtown Hilo (808) 961-5797
Hilo is a charming little town that hugs a half-moon bay and rests peacefully in the lap between Hawaii's two volcanic mountains, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. When the tsunamis of 1946 and 1961 wiped out most of the modern part of town, Hilo's leaders wisely chose not to rebuild, leaving, instead, a beautiful aquamarine waterfront trimmed in emerald greenery. At the northern end of the bay lies "old town" which had been spared the fatal damage of the two tsunamis, and today retains much of its old charm as a 1920s trading port. Every Wednesday and Saturday an old-fashioned Polynesian farmer's market unfurls its tents and enriches the old town even more with the sights, sounds and smells of vibrant outdoor trade. Shoppers can find everything from fresh orchids to fresh okra, from tender red meats to plump white fish, with some island specialty items and handmade crafts in between. It's a pleasant, memorable way to experience Hawaii's natural gifts.

Pacific Tsunami Museum, Historic Downtown Hilo (808) 935-0926
Rushing across the ocean at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour tsunamis can lift and hurl houses, cars and buildings as though they were unmanned surfboards, crashing them into a watery whirl of destruction. The town of Hilo has been the victim of three such devastations, occurring in 1946, 1961, and most recently in 1975. Experts say it's not a matter of "if" but "when" the next one will strike. The Pacific Tsunami Museum, housed in a restored 1930 bank in historic Hilo exposes this tidal tyrant. Films shown in the old bank vault, "The Vault Theatre," present actual footage of its madness and rage. The Ocean Science Center provides the supporting hard data while the exhibits and displays feature personal accounts of survivors, bringing this monstrous disaster to a personal, palpable, frightening level.

Lyman Museum & Mission House, Historic Downtown Hilo (808) 935-5021
Built in 1839 as a home for the newly arrived New England missionaries, Sarah and David Lyman, this double-porched, thatched-roof wooden house made of local timber, is the oldest wooden frame structure on the island. A humble cottage, it served as living quarters, church and bartering office for the Lyman family. Puddle glass windowpanes were imported from New England, and in 1856 the thatched roof was replaced with galvanized zinc. Furnished as though the family still lives here, the house contains authentic 1830s "Sandwich Island" antiques that supplement some of the family's original belongings, while replicas of lamps from old whaling ships cast the interior in proper lighting. A guided tour of the home with a personal narration of a different story in every room, illuminates the past and links events to current times. The modern annex next door houses various changing exhibits pertaining to Hawaiian history and culture.

Wailuku River State Park, Hilo (808) 961-5797
Rainbow Falls
The longest river in Hawaii, the Wailuku runs a furious 18-mile course to Hilo Bay as it cascades over cliffs and rushes over lava rocks, frothing and churning in violent protest to its ultimate destiny. Wailuku, which means, "Destroying Water" once had a fearful reputation as an impossible river to cross during heavy rains. Today, three bridges scorn the river's ranting, making it passable to tourists yearround. The main feature of the state park is Rainbow Falls, a cacophonous, foaming waterfall that cascades down 80 feet as it thunders over a dark, silent cave, the legendary home of Hina, mother of Maui. Clouds of mist plume in the air as the rushing water hits the aqua pool below, and in the early morning light, it creates a dazzling rainbow against the dark stone wall. To the right of the paved walkway, at the top of a few stone steps is a peaceful, shady, stone patio offering a great view of the falls. To the left of the walkway, more stone steps climb higher and narrower to a spot that offers a birds-eye view of the falls, looking over the water as it tumbles below.

Tip: For those who don't like to climb, the lower view actually offers a better vantage point of the rainbow. So rest assured that the easiest path is actually the prettiest.

Boiling Pots
Two miles upriver from Rainbow Falls, the Wailuku River rolls down a disturbing path of natural potholes, a series of lava rocks worn by water and time into little pots that capture the bubbling water and create a natural, steaming jacuzzi. Seven or eight of these pots capture the rushing water as it flows beneath the old lava and then suddenly bubbles up as though in a state of rapid boil. Scattered in different levels these boiling pots make the river appear to "hopscotch" downstream. An unmarked, ungraded trail leads to a closer view of these pots -- but stay on the shore! The Wailuku River isn't called "Destroying Water" for nothing. It conceals long lava tubes that act like giant straws, sucking up water (and anything else) and spitting it out on the other side. (Unfortunately this site has been the cause of many drownings, and perhaps the trail may be closed in the future because of this deceitful risk.) Upstream from the Boiling Pots is Pee Pee Falls, a beautiful five-spouted waterfall.

Lili'uokalani Park and Coconut Island, Hilo (808) 961-5797
Encompassing an ornamental Japanese garden, this peaceful, tranquil 30-acre park borders the rocky coast opposite Hilo Bay and the shadowy sentries of its two mountains, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Designed by landscape architect Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto University in Japan, the garden is a tribute to the thousands of Japanese immigrant laborers who came to Hawaii at the turn of the century to work on sugar plantations. The centerpiece of this Yedo-type garden is the placid Waihonu Pond juxtaposed to the rippling seashore. An old-fashioned promenade and manicured lawn separate this quiet pond from the undulating sea. Graceful weeping willows, bamboo glades and colorful flowers yield in quiet contrast to the bright red gazebos, pagodas, and footbridges along the manicured rim of this serene, silvery pond. The opposite attractions of rushing sea and quiet pond, of graceful, pliant plants and strong pavilions, make this garden a spiritually enriching experience. A slender footbridge links the park to Coconut Island, so named because it's perimeter is trimmed in tall coconut trees. The island was once called Mokuola, which means, "healing island," because of it natural spring that mixes with seawater to form what was believed to have been a healing elixir to cure all kinds of ailments, injuries and curses. Ancient Hawaiians once flocked here seeking a cure. Today they arrive to fish, swim, picnic or promenade. *FREE*

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Plantation, Hilo (808) 966-8618
The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation invites visitors on a free tour to learn about the marvelous macadamia nut, its inner and outer shells, and how it travels from a double-armored nut into a chocolate-coated candy. The self-guided tour ends at the visitor center and museum where you can buy gifts, view a film and munch on some great macadamia nut treats, like macadamia ice cream. Beyond the the factory and museum is a wonderful trail that leads through a grove of nut trees, ginger plants (in such strange colors, like purple, red, orange and of course, the fabulous "white ginger"), pineapple plants and other exotic flowers and shrubs, all tagged with descriptions for a truly educational and enjoyable visit. (Note: the gifts in the gift store are pretty unusual, too, and reasonably priced.)

Akaka Falls State Park, Honomu (808) 974-6200
Honomu, an old town located ten miles north of Hilo, was once a bustling center where sugar workers could find hotels, saloons, stores, bordellos and churches, all the necessary ingredients for a budding society. Today the town is the defacto welcome center to visitors passing through on their way to Akaka Falls State Park. A few ice cream shops, cafes and other retailers are located along the string of 19th century, western-style false-front buildings. Akaka Falls, "one of the most photographed sights on the Big Island" is just three miles from the town. At the park, a paved four-mile "loop trail" leads tourists through dense bamboo forests, past giant ferns that tickle one's ears as one passes by, and through fields of sweet ginger in strange colors and lovely fragrances. Brilliantly colored birds frequenlty fly by, momentarily stealing the attention from the radiant flowers. The trail leads to the "appetizer" waterfall, a smaller version of Akaka, before it winds up a steep, breathless climb to the "big one." The sound of roaring water gives sweaty, tired visitors the impetus to keep climbing for the ultimate view. The falls are indeed lovely, but the walk back down the trail equals it in head-turning, captivating, exotic beauty. *FREE*

Check it out . . . A native craftman is often found outside the park selling beautiful, handmade baskets woven from the fronds of palm trees. He says he makes the baskets the same way his grandfather and father had done before him while lamenting that "it's an art quickly vanishing in the modern Hawaii," especially among the younger generation who "are more inclined toward headphones and videogames than in cherishing the past." This native craftsman, a grandfather himself, claims to climb the trees himself to gather the fronds, and yet, amazingly, the baskets sell for a mere $15. His last basket sold to a woman in front of us, so we had to leave empty-handed. We still long for one. So if he's still there, still selling baskets, buy one. It's a Hawaiian heirloom that will soon be lost to the progressive world.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (808) 985-6000
The best volcanoes this side of Jupiter! One of main attractions of this stupendous national park is its craters. For example, the huge 500-foot Halemaumau Crater, is merely a crater-within-a-crater, nothing but a small pockmark on the expansive, three-mile face of a larger crater, Kilauea, on top of the Kilauea volcano, the world's most active volcano. Kilauea, which means "much spewing," erupted in 1983 and is still fuming furiously. This 230,000-acre park is mind-boggling not only because of its stupefying landmass and volcanic activity, but also because of its full range of topographical celebrities, from its lowest point on lava laden beaches at sea level to the top of Mauna Loa's 13,677-foot peak. Throw in a dash of writhing active volcano mutterings, occasionally spitting fire when the mood hits it and you've got yourself a natural theme park full of thrills, excitement, and, yes, danger. From trails with names, such as "Devestation Trail," to lighthearted paths in feathery, 20-foot fern "forests," a sanctuary to exotic birds and weird insects (like the yellow, happyfaced spider), to breezy black sand beaches, to sulfur-smoldering craters and extinct lava tubes -- that you can actually walk through -- this park offers raw, pulsating excitement.

For starters, take the 11-mile Crater Rim Loop Road and then descend the serpentine, 20-mile Chain of Craters Road that winds down the mountain and slithers to the sea. Watch crashing waves along the way, and if you're lucky, perhaps the fire-breathing volcano will spew some red hot lava, spilling into the ocean, and setting off fountains of steam. These two park roads are filled with enough sights to dazzle even the most traveled and jaded tourist. But there's much more to the park. If you've got the time, they've got plenty of adventure!

Tip: Be sure to see all the films shown at the Visitor Center, every 20 minutes, all day long. Each 10- to 15-minute film shows a different personality of this rare and wild national park. The displays and exhibits at the Visitor Center and the Jagger Museum are a must.

North Kohala
Located on the most northern tip of the island, North Kohala is the oldest part of Hawaii, geologically speaking. Its two major towns, Hawi and Kapaau, former sugar plantation towns, offer quaint cafes, antique shops and art galleries. The area is rich in history. For example, Hawi is the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great. First named Paiea, meaning Soft-Shelled Crab, Kamehameha was born in 1758 to a Hawaiian Chief. Legend claims that a brilliant star appeared in the sky just before the great king was born and that the Hawaiian "kahunas" (prophets), predicted a superb leader was about to be born who would surpass all rivals. (That "star" could have been Halley's comet in 1758.) When word got out, a rival chief ordered the death of the infant prince, but he was safely hidden away and renamed, Kamehameha, meaning "The Very Lonely One." After warring against his cousins and uncles over other Hawaiian islands, the 6-foot 6-inch Kamehameha became the victor and undisputed ruler of the entire island chain. In the nearby town of Kapaau, in front of the old courthouse stands the original bronze statue of the great king. The statue itself has a bit of history: Commissioned in 1883, it was lost at sea during transit. Another statue was quickly commissioned to replace the sunken statue, when, a few weeks later, the original was miraculoulsly found in the Falkland islands. (The replacement statue is in Honolulu in front of the judiciary buildling near the Capitol.) Not too far from Hawi is Lapakahi State Historical Park, a preserved 600-year old Polynesian fishing village. This quiet place is a historical goldmine. A diamond-in-the-rough. A place of ancient history and exquisite beauty that seems to have escaped the stampeding feet of eager tourists. The two of us spent the day here and only saw three other visitors walking among us in the marvelously preserved ruins of this seaside village. The self-guided walking tour (amid a ghostly silence, save the rhythm of the waves, and the relentless Kohala wind), stings the conscience and sparks one's imagination as the interpretetive trail unfolds the tales of a Polynesian village from long, long ago. The trailguide and markers explicitly detail every dwelling, every pile of rocks, every tree and plant, and their significance to the ancient mariners who lived here. It's a fascinating way to spend an afternoon.

Greenwell Farms Estate Kona Coffee Plantation, Kona (888) 323-2275
Leaving England in 1849 adventurer/entrepreneur Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived in the hilly Kona district of Hawaii in January 1850 where for the next 40 years, along with his wife and 10 children, built a successful general store and coffee export business. In the 1860s and 70s Greenwell was the only Kona coffee exporter, purchasing his KOPE (coffee) from native Hawaiian growers. Greenwell and these Hawaiian growers are credited with having kept this industry alive during this 10-year period, and in 1873 Greenwell was awarded a Recognition Diploma at the World's Fair in Vienna. After his death, Mrs. Greenwell began expanding their farmland to what it is today: 35 acres on an elevation of 1500, the ideal altitude for coffee-growing. Today visitors can take a free tour of the estate to learn about how Kona coffee is grown, picked and processed, as well as insider information on how to prevent a bitter coffee, how to make a dark roast, a medium roast and the macadamia nut roast. After the tour, visitors are encouraged to try various samples of Greenwell Estate coffee.

Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook
Off Route 11 in the town of Captain Cook a thin ribbon of road takes travelers down a tortuous descent past residential homes on the left and a beautiful sparkling bay on the right. As the twisting, winding road descends farther and farther it becomes more and more narrow until it ends in a sharp point at the foot of the bay where Captain Cook was slain on February 14, 1789. (See for more about Captain Cook's death, see Fun Facts Fun Facts A bronze plaque marks the spot where the famous explorer was slain, but beach erosion has submerged it in water. Today it can only be seen by boat. However, at the nearby beach of Napo'opo'o, a 27-foot marble obelisk erected in 1874 by Cook's countrymen honors their hero.


Didn't take the RV. Stayed in a hotels.

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