Hilo: The Real Hawai'i

Trip Start Oct 22, 2012
Trip End Nov 23, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

For those of you that have been to Hawaii, you'll understand when I say that the Hilo side feels more real; more authentic; more Hawaiian.  What I mean is that the Hilo side isn't exclusively about tourism (not that tourism itself can't be authentic...); rather, the Hilo side just feels more down to earth and normal, without all of the glam and yuppy resorts.  The Hilo side offers more than just Lua'u's, fancy condos, exclusive golf courses and up-scale restaurants.  It also offers up a lot more rain... usually.

In anticipation of the rains that we expected to fall, we had planned to visit a number of museums.  While we actually only received 1 day of rain in nearly 10 days spent on the Hilo side, we still ended up visiting some very interesting museums and really began to delve into Hawaii's history.  In the process, we gained a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for the Big Island.

Early on, we decided it most appropriate to visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum, a rather run-down looking place that was quaint and visually unimpressive on the inside as well.  Despite the poor visuals, the content was quite good: we learned about Hilo, and Hawaii in general; what a tsunami is; when and how to react; how tsunami are predicted and measured; and history relating to the devastating and fatal tsunamis of 1946 and 1960.  

In case you're not quite sure what a Tsunami is (it's a Japanese term meaning harbor wave)... it is a series of waves caused by movement of the earth's crust  - say, an earthquake, volcano eruption, landslide, etc., that displaces a large amount of water as a small wave in deep ocean.  As the displaced water reaches a coastline, moving at great speeds, it begins to run out of room and builds into a huge, and often devastating wave (in the past often referred to as a tidal wave - though it has absolutely nothing to do with the tides).  

Later on, we visited the Lyman Museum and Mission House, which was a great museum on the natural history of Hawaii.  The mission house was the original building belonging to the first missionaries in Hilo - early 1800s; while the museum itself featured exhibits on the geology and formation of the Hawaiian islands, lava, climate/weather, flora and fauna.

On another day, we stopped by the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, a fresh, new-looking, well-designed museum devoted to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

But perhaps the best stop of all was the beautifully designed, incredibly large, Imiloa Astronomy Center and planetarium.  This incredible facility required an entire day to appreciate, as the bilingual English/Hawaiian displays detailed everything planets to galaxies, stars to telescopes, astrological legends to constellations and everything in between.  The museum also featured a few exhibits on early Polynesian exploration/wayfinding, the Hawaiian language, and the Hula.

By now, you're probably wondering if there is anything besides museums on the Hilo side (if you've actually managed to continue reading to this point, that is...), but yes, there's more.

In terms of food, we managed to find a number of delicious, eats, assuming you could get over appearances...  Ken's House of Pancakes was a 24-hr old-school diner featuring, you guessed it... pancakes (among the 100+ item menu).  There was also a great sushi place, called Ocean Sushi.  And then of course, there was the Hilo Farmers' Market: a real farmers market that, while open daily, became a huge event on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  there were stalls filled with crafts and home-made gift ideas, stalls overflowing with fresh, inexpensive, delicious produce, and stalls with other ready-to-eat foods.  The energy and excitement that emanated from the marketplace was tangible, and became one of my favorite things to do while in Hilo... just walk through the market.

And remember, there's more to "The Hilo Side" than just the city of Hilo itself.  There are many interesting towns to drive through, such as the former village of Kalapana, which was destroyed by lava in the past (it is now supposedly a great place to view lava from - but sadly there was no activity while we were there).  And then there is Pahoa... a sketchy, skeezy, shithole.  A community in which everything (and everyone) looked rather run down, unkempt, and rough-around-the-edges (to put things in a politically correct way).  

Lastly, there is a somewhat noteworthy little national park that one can't but help to pass through... The beautiful Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  This US NPS location features some incredible vistas, challenging hiking trails, beautiful scenic drives, a few well-staffed information centers, more than a few laval tubes to explore, and arguably the world's most active volcano: Kilauea!

Unfortunately, Kilauea wasn't being very cooperative with us; there was no visible, active lava flow the entire time we were on the island.  In hind-sight, the worst part about it was that the day after we left Hawaii and returned to Canada, Kilauea began to belch tons of lava down it's volcanic slopes and directly into the ocean!  Talk about rotten luck!
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