It has been called ‘the forgotten city’, yet Hilo, lush, green, historical and overlooking expansive Hilo Bay, on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, is actually the second largest in the State, with a population of 50,000 residents and covering a total of 54sq. miles.  

Hilo is a city with a charming small town feel, it’s as if you have discovered something that few other people know and is renowned for its temperate climate, stunning tropical surroundings, variety of activities and sights, two nearby volcanoes, one of which is still considered active and its astronomical observatories. It is also the southernmost and wettest city in the US, with an annual average rainfall of 127”, which explains the lush green vegetation that is such an outstanding feature of the city.

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Why visit Hilo ?

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The forgotten city

Hilo is a city with a charming small town feel

The warm sub-tropical climate is a major attraction to those choosing to relocate to Hilo. Because of its unique location, surrounded by ocean and mostly sloping terrain from scenic mountain backdrops, the weather is fairly uniform throughout the year. Summer, from May to October, has average highs of about 26°C, with low humidity, while winter temperatures don’t often fall below 18°C. High rainfall is limited to the Hilo area alone, while the rest of the island can be suffering droughts. Waterfalls are another stunning outcome of the rain, as is the rich soil, which enables a great variety of local produce to grow.  

The active volcano, Kilauea, which has been oozing lava for the past 25 years, is about 30 miles from Hilo and is one of the big attractions to visitors. Over the years, the area of the Big Island of Hawaii has increased by a few hundred acres because of the lava.  

Hilo is conducive to walking. Shops along the Hilo Bay waterfront are colourful, quaint and inviting. Wednesday and Saturday open air street markets and various forms of entertainment are normal fare too and it is difficult not to be fascinated by local history, which ranges from the original Polynesian settlement from the distant past, to recent devastating tsunamis and from one time major sugar cane plantations to lava flow destruction. Relics of all these may be found by walking around the town. High water marks record the last tsunami, in 1960, as does the Pacific Tsunami Museum.  

The Liliuokalani Gardens, which include the Rainbow Falls, are part of the walk, as is Banyan Tree Drive. This is vaguely similar to Hollywood Boulevard, where you can check which tree belongs to which major past celebrity. The large rough-hewn blocks comprising the Naha and Pinao Stones, in front of Hilo Library, are a testament to the city’s Polynesian roots. Legend has it that whoever can move the Naha stone will be king. Kamehameha I, who ruled the Hawaiian Islands and who first united them, is said to have done exactly that while still in his teens.  

Downtown Hilo has many historic buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and these make up the largest historical building collection in Hawaii.  

If you visit the city during the week after Easter a major treat is the Merrie Monarch Festival, which celebrates the traditional Hawaiian dance, the hula.  

Hilo is a city of many faces and contrasts. You will find everything that other cities have including the University of Hawaii, a cultural centre, fabulous eateries, shopping and accommodation, but it is the contrasts and the differences, which make it memorable.

Photo copyright: ©Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau / Paul Zizka

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