Landing in Hilo, you’re greeted with attitude–tropical heat and foliage.

It’s lush, green, and hot. Remember I warned you, it’s hot.

Hilo is extravagantly verdant—colorful, vibrant blooms and buildings complementing each other. Stroll the town, look for that Shave Ice treat, check out the various stores. The Farmer’s Market is full of fruit this Pennsylvania had never seen.

When you’re ready to leave the tropical humidity, head out to the other side of the island.

Volcanoes National Park, The Big Island*

Volcanoes National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like Haleakala National Park on Maui, being here is like experiencing another universe. While you can hike into the undergrowth to escape the sun, this part of the island is decidedly arid. The landscape matches the air—rough and craggy. This area is similar to hiking in northeastern New Mexico, where you traverse lava fields guided by rock cairns.

When you go, treat yourself to a stay at the Volcanoes Lodge. Upgrade your lodge room to ponder the view of the steamy red/orange volcano. The cost is worth it to drift off to sleep by the glowing light. 

Hiking within the Volcanoes Park is easy—trails are clearly marked. It’s a treat to take one of the ranger tours—you’ll new learn things. Don’t miss out on wandering through the steam vent area. The path provides educational signs helping you understand what you’re seeing. 

The Pololu Lookout

You can’t hike on this island without treading down and up from the Pololu Valley Lookout. Promise me you won’t!

Parking at the top and gazing out at the view is a treasure, to be sure. Actually descending this steep path to enjoy the forest and beach at the bottom is rewarding. Note that the beach is not for swimming. There can be high tides, nasty undertows, and riptides. Dip your feet in, have a picnic, and get ready for the ascending hike.

Waipi’o Overlook

On the opposite side of the valley, from the south side, is another hike—far more difficult than Pololu. The Waipi’o Valley Overlook consists of a stunning view of the beach and valley. A four-wheel drive vehicle is mandatory for taking the road down to the valley. Even walking it can be strenuous. The Waimanu Valley is used year round for hunting. If you hike, aside from the normal gear, wear brightly colored clothing, and ensure you stick to the trails. This valley trek is not for the casual hiker. It is hard, long, and should be thoroughly planned in advance.

Waipi'o Valley View, Hawaii

Waipi’o View, Hawaii

On a Break From Hiking

When you take a rest, make sure to get a delectable island treat—the Malasadas. Ask a local for the best provider in the area. You won’t be disappointed by this airy treat. The other culinary item on Hawaii is the Kona Coffee. It’s everything it’s noted to be. Surprising, the best price in town to bring beans home: Costco.

This Hawaiian island bears repeating. From Hilo Markets to clear night views at the Manuna Loa Observatory, Hawaii waits for you to explore. 

(The Solar Observatory is not open to the public, however, there is a great visitor’s center with helpful volunteers.),


*Note: This trip was taken prior to the Kīlauea eruption in 2018.

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