Jet-lag is tough on the body but sometimes it’s worth it. Like when BigB and I traveled from Seattle to Hawaii and found ourselves awake with the birds and a perfect opportunity to explore Liliuokalani park in Hilo without a soul in sight. This park leads to Coconut Island (pictured above), a pretty peninsula with shady trees, small beaches and some structures dating from much earlier times. Although it was not quite 8am, it was already hot. So hot that that BigB was tempted by the gently lapping water. He insisted on paddling British-style. Looking at him I knew that in minutes he’d be wet to the waist – and so it was. We had to dash back to our hotel room to get a quick change of clothes for him before heading out for our day exploring.
You know your day is going to be a good one when it starts with a visit to a chocolate factory! We stopped by Big Island Candies on the recommendation of Warren of NativeGuideHawaii.co and it was a great call. The view into the factory is very industrial, but browsing the merchandise is chocolate-lover heaven. There’s all manner of goodies from milk and dark chocolates to shortbreads and Da-Kine treats . BigB chose a milk chocolate hibiscus flower as a souvenir. The artistic, colorful displays and packaging of the product are also worthy of a mention.
The Imiloa planetarium is on the University of Hawaii campus above Hilo in a beautiful building. We were met by Vincent Ricento for a guided tour. Calling Imiloa a planetarium is a meagre description for what you’ll find if you take the time to visit this attraction. Certainly it has an excellent planetarium which has the interesting twist of being able to teach about two sets of constellations: the usual Greek ones and also the Hawaiian ones. In some cases, these are different names for the same heavenly bodies but in others the Hawaiian constellations were entirely new to my Western mind. In addition, Imiloa is a cultural museum, teaching about Hawaiian cultural roots and also a science museum. Your path as a visitor teaches you about Hawaiian customs, starting with the Kumulipo, or creation chant, through explanations of how Polynesian cultures used astral navigation to travel across the Pacific and leading on to modern scientific displays relating to astronomy. As a mom who’s spent a lot of time in science museums, Imiloa definitely rates as worth a visit for a unique perspective, innovative presentations and an engaging thematic story. There’s also the 4D exhibit on the evolution of our galaxy and it’s placement within the larger known universe which BigB and I liked so much that, even though our visit was short, we sat through this display twice.
After lunch (with Jessica from BIVB) at the Hilo Coffee Mill (yum!) we hit the Hawaii Volcanos National Park . The park was busy, but we were lucky enough to be able to join a ranger-guided walk of the steam vents to Kiluaea overlook. Our guide, a volunteer from the Mid-West who was spending her second sojurn in Hawaii, was full of stories of the park’s early visitors (including Mark Twain) and the evolution of the park. She proudly explained how the location of the hula platform (facing the crater) was originally the site of an old tree. The story goes that Pele, the goddess of fire, struck the tree with lightning so that the platform could be placed where it currently stands – with an incredible view down to the Kiluaea crater.
On our walk I stopped to remark on the pungent flowery scent which filled the air – when we were not smelling the noxious sulphur-like fumes from the steam vents. The ranger disparagingly pointed out a beautiful orange flower and derided it as a plague. Apparently the park service struggles with invasive plant species. She also explained that non-native species of birds and animals are also a problem on the island. We were with another group including kids and the ranger took time to ask all the kids about how plants could possibly move across the ocean to Hawaii. Such impromptu natural science discussions make me a big fan of ranger-led walks at National Parks.
Our ranger was fascinated by Isabella Bird, an Englishwoman who visited the park and spent much time in Hawaii in the late 19th century. The idea of a woman coming from the strictures of proper English society to Hawaii alone at that time and becoming accepted and loved by the Hawaiian people obviously sparked her imagination. We learned all kinds of odd facts such as how difficult it was to get to the crater in those days and how Ms Bird had to learn to ride a horse astride – rather than using the English side-saddle – in order to satisfy her curiosity and get to the point where we were now standing. Interestingly, although I wasn’t expecting this little sociological discussion, it did not detract from our visit and in fact, provided a human interest angle to the story of the park.
My plan had been for us to visit the Jaggar Museum and the lava tubes at the park before returning to our hotel but after a chocolate factory, a planetarium and a hike, all BigB wanted to do was to hit the pool. We headed down the mountain with plans to return again in the morning (thankfully our park entrance fee was valid for a few more days) before heading across the island to Kona.
Our stay on the Big Island was organized by and paid for by Hawaii Tourism. Thanks folks!