I left Hilo feeling a little sad. It was the first Hawaiian city I had visited off the island of Oahu, and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to leave; I liked the sleepy hippie-surfer town on the Big Island. It had a much slower pace than anywhere else I had traveled in Hawaii and it was a groove I found appealing, especially with so much to do in the area.
After picking up my rental car, I drove through Hilo and right out the other side to the Rainbow Falls (right) and the Boiling Pots (below). I was ready to experience a little nature after spending so much time in and around Honolulu on Oahu. I certainly enjoyed my time at the gathering place, but was also excited to see something different.
I was immediately impressed by the 80-foot-tall waterfall created by the Wailuku River. The same could be said for the Boiling Pots a little upstream. They were both very scenic parks and an ideal way for me to begin my time on the Big Island. I felt happy and content once more, but also interested – there was so much to explore on a new island and I wanted to see more. So, I headed back to Hilo to walk Kamehameha Avenue, the main drag through town.
My intended first stop was the Pacific Tsunami Museum, but it was closed. I shrugged off the disappointment with a large bag of taffy, my favorite candy. I had heard so much about Big Island Candies before my arrival that I felt obligated to stop there – which I gladly did, leaving with several huge chunks of chocolate – but was overjoyed to find the little-known Sugar Coast Candy (left).
I marveled at the barrels full of various colors and flavors – everything from the basic vanilla or cherry to buttered popcorn – while throwing some of each in my sack to try it all. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, since two girls in line at the counter ahead of me had to return a lot of their candy, unable to afford the $45 bill. Mine was significantly less, but still large enough to keep me satisfied for the rest of my time on the Island.
I felt like a kid again, skipping out of the store with a large bag of taffy in hand. I window shopped much of Kamehameha Avenue, only popping into the stores that truly caught my attention; I was now content just to enjoy the beautiful day while I made myself sick through an overindulgence of candy. And that’s when the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument caught my attention.
Likely entranced by the smell of taffy, I missed it the first time walking past. I was thrilled with my discovery and eagerly walked through the rooms learning about the marine sanctuary that compromises the atolls and reefs – from Nihoa to Kure Atoll – to the northwest of the main islands of Hawaii. If they were stretched out on the mainland, they would extent from approximately Houston, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada – a great distance for plots of land that most people have never heard of, including myself.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument was established in 2006, and is now virtually impossible to visit. A small group coordinated jointly by the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service manage and protect the land, cleaning and preserving it for the good of the life that calls the special place home.
Now intent on seeing wildlife, I headed off for the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens – a beautiful, free zoo just a short drive outside of Hilo. I wandered the jungle pathways learning about a great many animals, generally birds, that I had never heard of before. Albeit small, it was truly impressive and well-maintained, something I had not anticipated from a free zoo; it is obvious the staff and volunteers put a lot of time and care into what they do.
I was fortunate enough to be visiting just before feeding time for the main attraction, Namaste – a White Bengal Tiger. Namaste was up and walking around, not just lounging in the water or up on a hill, and making quite the scene for a small group of kids who were thrilled to see a tiger moving. I normally struggle with zoos, but seeing their enjoyment brought a smile to my face in the hopes that one day one of the children would grow to do good, remembering their time at the zoo, and help the animals in the wild – possibly at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
My first day in Hilo and on the Big Island ended all too soon. But, that wasn’t such a bad thing, since I was excited for what the next day would bring – a true spectacle of gluttony. It all began with my breakfast at the Shipman House Bed and Breakfast, my night’s lodging which was, like the rest of the trip, set up by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
I normally don’t eat a large breakfast, so even a little bit had me stuffed and wobbling like a Weeble. It didn’t end at the Shipman House, though, since I was smack dab in the middle of a glutton’s heaven at the Hilo Farmers Market. I wandered passed the stalls, only sampling a few things, but purchasing enough to take with me for what would be a lot of driving over the nextcouple of days as I ventured toward Kona.
It was highly unnecessary to buy anything else – although that has never stopped me before – after my stops at both Big Island Candies and Sugar Coast Candy. I had enough sugar to put me in a diabetic coma by this point, but was not to be deterred – especially with one of my favorite treats so close at hand. Only a short drive up the road from Hilo on my way to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was one of the reasons I was most excited to return to the islands.
I bounded out of my car and into the gift shop for the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. The employees, likely having seen this many times before, rolled their eyes at me as I raised my arms in the air and proclaimed that I was possibly the happiest man on the planet at that very moment. I didn’t care, though; I was ecstatic to be there and see where all of the magic is made for one of my favorite treats.
With two large bags full of a variety of macadamia nuts – garlic, chocolate-covered, and coffee, to name a few – I took the short, self-guided tour. But, while part of me enjoyed it, I felt like I was a kid spying on Santa’s elves in their workshop; I was witnessing what I considered, albeit a little dramatically, to be magic in the making. And that’s a secret best left in the Hilo area, since I had already stolen so many great memories in such a short period of time.