The City of Hilo is blessed to be located in a beautiful area with gardens, rainforest, and waterfalls. Hilo Harbor is the gateway to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park about 56 kilometers (35 miles) to the southwest. Even though downtown Hilo Harbor was almost destroyed by the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis, the waterfront was rebuilt and improved. Today, Hilo Harbor is an exciting modern town with many great things to see and do.
Hilo Harbor has a tropical rainforest climate with a lot of rain throughout the year. In fact, Hilo Harbor is one of the world's wettest cities and the wettest city in the United States. Further, Hilo Bay's funnel shape makes Hilo Harbor vulnerable to tsunamis. Temperatures at Hilo Harbor range from an average high of 28°C (83°F) in August and September to an average low of 17°C (63°F) in January and February.
The newest attraction in Hilo Harbor is the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Housed under three titanium cones that signify the island's three biggest mountains, the Center features interactive exhibits and a state-of-the-art IMAX-style theater. The exhibits are divided into two main areas (Origins and Explorations) that present both scientific and traditional Hawaiian beliefs and theories about the Maunakea volcano, the world, and the stars. Hilo Harbor Imiloa Astronomy Center has a full-dome digital planetarium with live sky lectures and the sky as seen from Maunakea. The award-winning landscape of the Center captures the pristine native ecosystem, presenting indigenous and Polynesian-introduced plants.
Hilo Harbor's Pacific Tsunami Museum is dedicated to the historic 1946 and 1960 tsunami disasters, to educating people on how they affect the people that live there, and to providing advice and guidance on what to do when a tsunami comes. The Museum's interactive exhibits include studies of specific historic tsunamis around the world, tsunami science, and local culture.
The Lyman Mission House and Museum explores Hawaii's volcanic origins and its climate, flora, and fauna. Established by the descendants of David and Sarah Lyman, missionaries who came to Hilo Harbor in 1839, the Mission House is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The Mission House is open for guided tours. The Museum building next door to the Mission House contains artifacts, natural history exhibits, fine art, archives, and a gift shop. Open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4:30pm, the Museum is closed on major holidays. Tours of the Mission House start at 11am and 2pm.
The Farmers Market in Hilo Harbor is known as one of the State's best open markets. Shoppers find many rare and unusual items that include exotic fruits and vegetables, jams and jellies, macadamia nuts, and baked goods. When in season, the Market offers papayas (95% of the State's papayas are grown on Hawaii Island). In addition to foods, the market offers wind chimes, orchids and anthuriums, etched glass, and koa wood creations. With over 200 vendors, the Hilo Harbor Farmers Market is open every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year.
The Oceanrider Seahorse Farm in Hilo Harbor is the only marine aquarium of its kind in the world. The Seahorse Farm is dedicated to the protection and propagation of highly endangered reef species. Displays include endangered, exotic, and captive-bred seahorses, sea dragons, and reef fish. Visitors get to contribute to the work of the farm with tax-deductible donations.
Wailuku River State Park features Rainbow Falls, a 24-meter (80-foot) drop where rainbows form in the mist. A little further upriver, Peepee Falls (Peh-EH-Peh-EH) feeds the famous Boiling Pots, pools that bubble like boiling water. The terraced pools are connected by cascading waters that flow along hexagonal columns of cooled basalt lava. The falls and Boiling Pots do not have lifeguards, and swimming is not safe there.
The only natural rainforest zoo in the United States, the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens in Hilo Harbor is a wonderful place to learn about this unique ecosystem. The Zoo houses over 60 species of animals and more than 40 species of plants. The most popular attraction is Namaste, the white male Bengal Tiger. Quickly becoming extinct, these tigers originate in India. Less than two thousand of them still exist in the wild. Namaste enjoys a one-acre enclosure. Visitors can watch Namaste's feeding at 3:30pm each day. With no admission fee (you can make a donation), visitors will delight in seeing the many birds, bearcats, goats, donkeys, and primates in the zoo. It is in a rainforest, so an umbrella is advised.
Southwest of Hilo Harbor on the south side of Hawaii Island, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park celebrates Hawaiian culture, biological diversity, and active volcanism. Visitors can spend a couple of hours, a day, or several days exploring the unique features of the Park. Crater Rim Drive is an 18-kilometer (11-mile) road circling the summit caldera of Kilauea volcano. Portions of the road may be closed due to volcanic activity at any given time. The East Rift and coastal area are reached by Chain of Craters Road, which descends some 1.1 thousand meters (3.7 thousand feet) in 32 kilometers (20 miles). The road ends where lava flow covered the road. Visitors should know that fuel, food, and water are not available along the road. The Park has many trails that hikers and campers will want to explore. There are two drive-in campgrounds in the Park, and the Volcano House Hotel offers cabins for up to four people.
Travelers who want to visit Hilo Harbor by sea can find a list of cruises on the Cruise Compete website.