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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Waipi'o Valley, Waipi'o River Mouth: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Morning at Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kona to Hamakua Coast: Spectacular Waterfalls, Incredible Canyons and Lush Rainforest

Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site): 9 hours.

This day offers spectacular waterfalls, lush rainforest and beautiful canyons, shopping, dining and 2-one hour hikes.

Highway 190 leaves Kona north to Waimea then on to Honoka’a and Waipi’o Valley in about 1 1/2 hours driving. The photos from the valley overlook are postcard gorgeous and Honoka’a has cute shops and restaurants. After a 1 hour drive, seeing several sites along the Hamakua Coast, Highway 220 branches to Akaka Falls. Follow the paved loop through the tropical jungle and smell exotic flowers along this not-to-be-missed, easy 1 hour waterfall hike. Be sure to stop in Honomu for the unique shops. Proceeding south on Highway 19, ten minutes, is the Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive (4 Mile).

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hilo's east side is famous for it's numerous, lovely, if tiny, beach parks, Leiiwi Beach, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along this road is Onomea Bay Trail, a 1 hour round trip hike, down to the ruggedly picturesque coastline. From there it’s 20 minutes to Rainbow Falls, Hilo’s signature waterfall. Hilo is the largest city on the island and has numerous shops, malls, museums, restaurants and beaches, such as Richardson Beach, near downtown. From Hilo, it is a 2 1/2 hour drive back to Kona.


Leg 1) In Kailua Kona, start at Ahu’ena Heiau, take Palani Road east to Hwy 190; take Hwy 190 through Waimea to Honoka’a.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The sacred temple carvings at Ahu'ena are considered among the finest and most refined in all of Polynesia, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ahu’ena Heiau and Kamakahonu Beach
Centuries ago the inhabitants of this region built a series of sacred temples, or heiaus, which were originally used for the purpose of sacrificing human beings to their war god, Kuka’ilimoku. This particular archeological site is called Ahu’ena Heiau, which in Hawaiian means “Hill of Fire”.

Built originally in the 15th century and rededicated by Kamehameha the Great in the early 1800s as the main temple of his capital, the current structures seen at Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. There are restrooms and showers located on the pier near the beach. Adjacent Old Kailua Town is a treasure of shops, restaurants and aloha. To learn more about Ahu’ena Heiau, please go here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hualalai Volcano from near Waimea Town, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Waimea Town and Cowboy Country

Snuggled between Mauna Kea and Kohala Volcano in Hawaii’s scenic mountain heart, seemingly always shrouded in mist and chilly, Waimea is definitely Hawai’ian cowboy country. Although jeans and flannel shirts appear to be the town uniform, Waimea is very sophisticated, boasting some of the finest shopping and restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island.

From Waimea, Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road, spills beautifully through mountain, upland meadow and forest to the “Old Hawaii” town and artist community at Hawi.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Boot Sculpture at Waimea Center, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Additionally, the cattle industry centers in Waimea. In 1793 British Navigator George Vancouver presented cows to King Kamehameha which were allowed to roam free and soon became a problem. Shortly after horses were brought to Hawaii in 1804, Kamehameha recruited California vaqueros, whom Hawai’ians called “paniolo”–a corruption of the word “Espańol”–to control the wild herds, and the generations-old ranching lifestyle here was born.

The vaqueros also brought their guitars and their love of music. A deeply musical people, the Hawaiians were intensely interested in these, the first stringed instruments they had seen. They quickly learned to work-out their own tunings, called “slack key guitar”, which more suited the style of their indigenous music. To learn more about Waimea, please go here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

There are lots of interesting stores in Downtown Honoka'a, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Honoka’a Town

Built in the era of sugar great plantations and left culturally and economically isolated after the industry collapse, until recently Honoka’a was content to drowse along through the decades. A boom in real estate and return of vital human energy to the area has made a literal renaissance of the town. It boasts numerous wonderful restaurants, gift and boutique shops and the highest density of antique shops on the island. Be sure to stop to explore a little on your way to or from Waipi’o Valley…it’s a fun, happening kind of place and always steeped with aloha.

Driving north or south out of Honoka’a, remnants of old sugar mills, fields and wild cane can still be seen. When Captain Cook arrived in 1778, only wild sugar cane was growing; at its height in the mid-1960’s one in 12 people were employed in the sugar industry which produced in excess of a million tons of sugar annually. Though the business is gone, what is left are the people who once worked the fields and mills. The melding of the rich cultures of Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, and others is what gives today’s unique Hawaii lifestyle its sweet flavor. To learn more about Honoka’a Town, please go here.


Leg 2) At Honoka’a, turn north on Hwy 240 to Waipi’o Valley.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers at the bottom of Waipi'o Valley, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi’o Valley

Waipi’o Valley is arguably the most magical place on the Big Island. The steep canyon walls and verdant fields of the valley floor, the mile long black sand beach and numerous immense waterfalls that line the valley walls all call out to the visitor for exploration.

Always listed among the most beautiful spots in the State of Hawai’i, this valley is as hauntingly lovely as it is difficult to see in its entirety.

Tours down into the valley in vans, on horse drawn wagons and ATVs can be booked in Honoka’a. Over-flights in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters also offer fine venues from which to see this amazing piece of Hawai’i. Hiking down and wandering the immense black sand beach, exploring the ironwood copses and sand dunes and discovering the hidden waterfalls is also a popular way to see the canyon. Although the hike down is only a little over 1 mile and a thousand feet elevation loss, the climb back up is sweltering in the ferocious sun and heat. Think twice before hiking down. Facilities at the Scenic Overlook include a pavilion and restrooms; there are none within the valley itself. To learn more about Waipi’o Valley, please go here.

Leg 3) From Waipi’o Valley, return to Honoka’a on Hwy 240, get on Hwy 19 and head south.

Leg 4) Take Hwy 19 south to Laupahoehoe then Kolekole, continue south to Hwy 220; west on Hwy 220 to Honomu, then to Akaka Falls.

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Wild ocean sprays from the heavy surf along the Laupahoehoe wild shoreline, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Laupahoehoe Park

A place of great beauty, of awesome displays of oceanic power and of tragic memories, Laupahoehoe Park stands where 20 children and teachers at the Laupahoehoe School were killed in the tsunami of 1946. Inside the park on a small hill overlooking the jetty is a memorial stone inscribed with the names of those who died in the tsunami. There are restrooms, campgrounds, picnic facilities, pit barbecues and ball fields. The pounding of the raw ocean on the jetty reminds one that not every beach in Hawaii is made for swimming, however the fishing here is excellent. For more information about Laupahoehoe Park, please go here.


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Kolekole River from the road, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kolekole Beach County Park

The river you saw magnificently jumping with such abandon off the cliff at Akaka Falls ends its journey to the sea by sluicing through this Koa tree-filled canyon and smashing into the surf at Kolekole Beach Park. A wild beach, a jungle canyon and a waterfall swimming hole are fun things to do at Kolekole Park.

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Wild Kolekole Beach Surf, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The visitor is advised to admire the ocean, but not go in. The currents and tides are lethally treacherous here.

Facilities at Kolekole Beach Park include picnic pavilions and tables, pit barbecues, showers, restrooms and drinking water.  To learn more about Kolekole Beach Park, please go here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Akaka Falls, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Akaka Falls

There is a reason that Akaka Falls rates as the most visited tourist site on the Island of Hawai’i. Simply put, the 420 foot, free falling plunge of clear water down a fern festooned cliff is an amazing and beautiful site. Leaving the parking lot, the paved loop trail of about one mile, winds through a wonderful jungle of exotic flowers, ferns, orchids, ginger and bamboo. Two smaller falls are also seen along the way to the stellar Akaka Falls. Akaka Falls has restrooms but no other facilities.

When visiting Akaka Falls, be sure to save some time to explore the shops, galleries and cafes of Honomu on the way back to the highway; it’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before…guaranteed. To learn more about Akaka Falls, please go here.

Leg 5) Return Hwy 220 through Honomu to Hwy 19, then south on Hwy 19 to Old Mamalahoa Highway (or Kulaimano Road to Old Mamalahoa Hwy); this is the Pe’epekeo Scenic Drive. South and east on Old Mamalahoa Hwy to Onomea Bay; continue on Old Mamalahoa Hwy south to southern jct with Hwy 19.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Jungle and stream, along the Pe'epekeo Scenic Drive Near Hilo, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive

Located just a few minutes north of Hilo on Highway 19, this “Old Road through Old Hawai’i”, a four-mile-half hour scenic wander, parallels Highway 19 but is removed worlds away from the traffic and hustle along the main road. Rolling along old cane fields, jungle-canopied in places, passing waterfalls and crossing creeks, the Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive is a special treat for the visitor who may be thinking they waited a century too long to visit Hawai’i. On a sunny day, on a rainy day, it doesn’t matter; this scenic drive is a joy. There are no services available along the scenic drive. To learn more about Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive and Onomea Bay, please go here.


New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sunrise at Onomea Bay, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Onomea Beach Trail

Only a few miles north of tame and sedate Hilo Bay, Onomea Bay is subject to the full fury and magic of the open Pacific Ocean. Rugged, jagged, majestic, the wickedly sculpted cliffs along the bay belie the easy 15 minute walk down to the beach. Accessible to most walkers of even marginal condition, the trail leads alongside a botanical garden (be sure not to wander through any of their gates unless you are a paying customer) and meanders down to the canyon mouth, past a tiny waterfall at the end of the stream and to the beach. There are awesome opportunities for photo

Leg 6) South on HWY 19 to Hilo; get on Hwy 200 (Waianuenue Avenue), head south-southeast to Rainbow Drive and Rainbow Falls.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo Town

Beautiful but wet, metropolitan but decrepit, bustling but laid back, Hilo is a lovely, maddening, heartbreaking, addictive study in contrasts. In can rain all day long for 50 days in a row, yet when the sun does shine, the views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Liliuokalani Gardens, or of Hilo Bay as you drive down from the mountains, or the rain-forest and waterfall choked gulches with lovely beaches along the highway north of town, make Hilo one of the most truly, achingly-lovely spots on earth.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Wailuku River Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

More laid back and sleepier than bustling Kailua Kona, Hilo is the largest town on the island, and the county seat. The Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, Tsunami Museum, Lyman House Missionary Museum and the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo are all wonderful places to learn about various aspects of Hawaii. There are numerous shopping districts, two large malls and the Historic Old Hilo downtown shops to browse through, a variety of sprawling green parks, a fabulous tropical arboretum right downtown and a mile-long black-sand beach fronting the bay to explore. Hilo’s Farmer’s Market is a “must see” for any visitor who is spending time on this side of the island. For more information on Hilo, please go here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Rainbow Falls on the Wailuku River, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Rainbow Falls and Wailuku River Park

The subject of recent and ancient legend, Rainbow Falls is the lovely emblem of Hilo town. The characteristic wishbone shape of Rainbow Falls is best seen at moderate river flows…too little water and only a single drizzle remains, too much runoff and the falls merge into a single, roaring flume. At any time, however, it’s a beautiful place and worthwhile to visit. The rainbows within the falls are best seen in the mid to late morning. Follow the trail to the left along the river bank to delightful swimming and wandering; please note, however, that swimming in rivers and near falling water is dangerous. Don’t go in if the current is swift or if recent rains have swollen the river.

Restrooms are by the parking lot and a souvenir shop is located across the street. For more information on Rainbow Falls and the Wailuku River Park, please go here.

Leg 7) Return Hwy 200 (Waianuenue Road) to HWY 19, then east on 19 to Jct with Kamehameha Ave; Kamehameha Ave east to jct with Kalanianaole Ave to Richardson Beach Park.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A quiet morning at Richardson Ocean Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Richardson Beach Park

Richardson Beach Park, with its towering palms, fresh water pools, delightful surf, secluded and calm tidepools, lawns and general ambiance of tropical paradise, is almost certainly very close to what most visitors expect from Hawai’i—hence it popularity.

Views of Mauna Kea at sunrise and sunset from this beach are unparalleled. The snorkeling here along the small black sand beach is the best of the Hilo area and the surf is a busy mix of beginner to intermediate level waves. Restrooms, showers, water, picnic tables and a lifeguard round-out the amenities of this wonderful place. There is also a Hawai’i County Police Department substation here.  To learn more about Richadrson Ocean Park, please go here.

Leg 8) Return on Kalanianaole Ave to Kamehameha Ave to Hwy 19; take Hwy 19 north to Honoka’a and jct with Hwy 190; drive Hwy 190 west to Kailua Kona.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Alpen Glow on Hualalai Volcano, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Nearing Waimea from the Waikoloa Road, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sunset from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

Hilo Town

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hilo's east side is famous for it's numerous, lovely if tiny, beach parks, Leiiwi Beach, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Beautiful but wet, metropolitan but decrepit, bustling but laid back, Hilo is a lovely, maddening, heartbreaking, addictive study in contrasts.

In can rain all day long for 50 days in a row, yet when the sun does shine, the views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Liliuokalani Gardens, or of Hilo Bay as you drive down from the mountains on Kaumana Drive, or the rain-forest and waterfall choked gulches leading to lovely small beaches along the highway north of town, make Hilo one of the most truly achingly lovely spots on earth.

Once the prosperous center of the Hawaii sugar industry, Hilo no longer attracts the amount of visitors, residents or industry required to thrive economically. She is now the seat of political power and dictates policy to the rest of the island.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

An eclectic mix of stores and restaurants energizes Hilo's downtown Bayfront Shops, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In recent years, Hilo has experienced a renaissance in Hawaiian language and hula. The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival held in April each year, named for King David Kalakaua who revived the hula after the missionaries banned it in the 1800’s, is now world famous and attracts hula halau (or hula schools) from as far away as Texas, California, Japan and Chile, for a week long competition and celebration of hula. Hawaiian Studies are taught along side American history in the school system here and the University of Hawaii has a campus in Hilo that specializes in marine biology and rainforest ecologies.

A cornucopia of fascinating things to see and do, Hilo has something for everybody. Hilo has the largest, most diverse farmer’s market on the island. The new ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and Planetarium is a world-class attraction and definitely worth a visit. Hilo hosts the only rainforest zoo in the U.S at Pana’ewa as well as the award-winning Pacific Tsunami Museum in downtown. You can discover how the missionaries lived and explore the natural history of the island at the Lyman House Museum. The numerous beach parks along the eastern shoreline of the bay are true gems of tropical delight and great places to snorkel and sunbathe. The formal Queen Liliuokalani Gardens are restful, peaceful and beautiful. If shopping is your goal, Hilo has not one but two malls and the unique, old-town shopping district at the Bayfront is fabulously interesting and historic.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Due to short-sighted greed and insane urban planning over the decades, Hilo's once magnificent mile-long black sand beach is a mere hollow echo of its former beauty: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

If nothing else, take a moment to walk the mile-long black sand beach fronting Hilo Bay…it was here that Kamehameha the Great assembled his party of 10,000 war canoes to begin his conquest of the islands; here that the missionaries established the first major port and here that the sugar industry flourished for several generations. It was here that the tsunamis of recent years visited death and destruction on the unsuspecting residents of Hilo, not once but twice in the last century. To stop here and absorb the history, to open yourself to the sunlit tropical beauty and stand in the pulsing ocean surf, is to truly soak in Hawaii.

Beautiful Hilo by the bay, from the funky old-Hawaii Bayfront shops to the steamy bustle of downtown, Hilo is truly old style with a modern twist and is a cool stop when on the east side of the Big Island. For those less enamored of Hilo, a darker vision of it is presented here.

Hilo and the Tsunamis of 1946 and 1960

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The lush jungle explodes right up to the edge of Hilo Bay, Hilo Hawaii. All this area was wiped clean by the tsunamis of 1948 and 1960: Photo by Prescott Ellwood

It is not possible to understand Hilo’s current geography without understanding her past tragedies with tsunamis. Of all the natural disasters to which Hawai’i is prone; earthquake, hurricane, volcanic eruption, flooding, more Hawai’ians have died in tsunamis, and more property has been destroyed in their wake, than any other violent act perpetrated by nature.

April Fool’s Day 1946, at a quarter to seven in the morning, Hilo and the rest of East Hawai’i were struck by a tsunami that had been spawned by violent earth movements far to the north in the Aleutian Trench. With no warning, line after line of fifty foot waves overwhelmed the town sea wall, sweeping buildings landward, smashing them into the buildings behind them. Photographs taken of Hilo that morning, after the floods had receded, show a landscape littered with pieces of smashed buildings, cars stacked crazily atop each other, wreckage and muck everywhere. Out of 159 fatalities statewide from this tsunami, a staggering 96 were residents of Hilo, mostly from “Little Tokyo” on the Waiakea Peninsula.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

From this aerial view of Hilo, Hawaii, it is easy to see how the "bowl shape" of Hilo Bay focused the tsunami waves right on to downtown: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

With that kind of “Can Do” spunk and spirit which characterizes the best of human endeavors, but which just as often sadly presage acts of great hubris which result in absolute calamity, Little Tokyo was rebuilt on the same spot. Christening the rebuilt village “Shinmachi”, or “New Town”, residents of this low-lying area became forgetful and complacent about tsunamis as several “tidal waves” during the late forties and fifties had amounted to little more than big surf.

An earthquake off the coast of Chile on 26 May, 1960 created a giant tsunami that sped westward towards Hawai’i at speeds estimated in excess of 440 miles an hour. Slamming into Hawai’i at a few minutes past one in the morning, three immense waves penetrated the city, once again laying waste and destroying everything. Although the tsunami sirens were wailing, many people ignored them because the most recent tsunamis had been so tame. 61 people died that morning and property damage exceeded $20 million.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A peaceful afternoon fishing at Waiakea Fishpond. Wailoa Park, in Hilo Hawaii, was established from the devastation and ruins of downtown Hilo after the tsunami of 1960, to act as a buffer in future tsunamis: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The devastated area of Shinmachi was not rebuilt this time; rather, it was dedicated permanently as park land, a kind of buffer for the rest of Hilo against some future tsunamis’ depredations. The Waiakea Tsunami Clock Memorial, with the clock hands still stuck at 1:04, the moment the waves struck, stands as testament to the hubris of rebuilding in an area that was twice destroyed in just 14 years.

Waiakea Peninsula, Resort Area on Hilo Bay

Waiakea Town Tsunami Clock Memorial

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Waiakea Tsunami Clock, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Waiakea Tsunami Clock Memorial, with the clock hands still stuck at 1:04, the moment the waves of the tsunami of May 26, 1960 struck Hilo, stands on the grounds of the Naniloa Country Club as testament to the ill fortune of rebuilding in this area, twice destroyed by tsunami in just 14 years. A fitting memorial to the 61 residents of Hilo who were killed in that disaster, the clock reminds us that most of those fatalities were residents of Shinmachi, or “New Town”, a Japanese enclave erected directly on the ruins of Little Tokyo which was destroyed by tsunami just fourteen years earlier. The Memorial is along Kalanianaole Street between the two arms of Banyan Drive.

Banyan Drive

Circling through the Naniloa Country Club Golf Course, out along the Waiakea Peninsula and in front of the main Hilo resorts, Banyan Drive is a trip to Hawai’i’s Golden Age. Lined by giant Banyan trees, planted between the nineteen thirties and nineteen fifties by such celebrities and dignitaries as King George V, Cecil B. DeMille, Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart and Richard Nixon, Banyan Drive also gives access to Reed’s Bay Beach Park, Coconut Island and Queen Liliuokalani Gardens. The Waiakea Town Tsunami Clock Memorial is along Kalanianaole Street between the two arms of Banyan Drive.

Coconut Island

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The bridge to Coconut Island, Hilo Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A small island at the tip of the Waiakea Peninsula, Coconut Island, or Moku Ola–the “island of life” to Hawai’ians, is today the site of a charming park. Accessed by a footbridge from near the entrance to the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, Coconut Island is a popular fishing and swimming spot with locals. Moku Ola was, in times past, a Pu’u Honua, or Place of Refuge, an important place for commoners accused of breaching the law. Later, a large wharf made it the central shipping point in Hilo Bay, before the breakwater was built.

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Named for Hawai’i’s last Queen, these 30-acre formal gardens along Hilo Bay have two miles of paths that wind through the streams, over the bridges and along the pagodas and stone lanterns which make a spectacular place to walk and watch the rising sun light up Hilo Bay and Mauna Kea, or the sunset behind the mountains. These gardens are a very special place and deserve to be thoroughly explored.

Hilo Bayfront Area

Bayfront Park

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Even when the weather is threatening, Hilo Bayfront Park is a lovely place to play, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

At one time, a furious surf raked a long black sand beach that once fronted Hilo. From here, Kamehameha launched his war fleet of 1200 canoes on his conquests of the other Hawai’ian Islands. Here, generations of Hawai’ians strolled the coconut tree-lined beach, watching sunrises, spotting dolphin and whale, waiting for the fishing fleet to return from the day’s toil, doing all those things which all people, everywhere, do strolling along a beautiful beach. No doubt they said to each other the same thing today’s residents of Hawai’i say to themselves every day: “Lucky we live Hawai’i!”

Today, tamed by the breakwater that protects Hilo from the ravages of the turbulent ocean, there is still a three thousand foot remnant of now grey-sand beach along the Hilo Bayfront Park. Squozen between the bay and the road, this long, narrow park is phenomenally popular with local surfers and fisherman and is the launching spot of outrigger canoe enthusiasts. It is not much for swimming because the water is cloudy and cold and it makes for dismal snorkeling; still, it is a lovely place to watch the sunrise and to stroll with someone special.

Wailoa River Park

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Wailoa River Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Wailoa Park is a peaceful, bucolic and broad expanse of rolling lawns, coconut palms, gardens, ponds and soccer fields following the lazy path of the Wailoa River into Hilo Harbor, on the land where the Japanese enclave of Shinmachi stood before the Tsunami of 1946. Reached by Pauahi Street off either Kamehameha Avenue or Kilauea St, this enormous park is home to the Tsunami Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Waiakea Fish Pond and the Wailoa Center, an arts and community activities center.

The park is also home to the world famous Kamehameha Statue. During the reign of Kamehameha the Great, Hilo was an agricultural backwater in Hawai’ian society. In fact, it was so isolated and cut-off from regular travel routes, that Kamehameha commissioned his craftsmen to build him an armada of 1200 war canoes here, knowing that it would never occur to spies to search there for evidence of war preparations.

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King Kamehameha Statue in Wailoa Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The statue of Kamehameha in Wailoa River Park serves as a focal point for celebrations and ceremonies among native Hawai’ian groups and for holiday parades.

Downtown Hilo

Pacific Tsunami Museum

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Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

One of the most spectacularly destructive of natural disasters, more Hawai’ians have died in tsunamis than all other natural disasters combined. This brilliantly-done museum discusses, educates, elucidates and scares the bejesus out of you on the topic of Pacific basin tsunamis generally, and about those which have affected Hawai’i in particular. The films, multi-media presentations, photos, artifacts and interactive computer displays are as interesting as they are informative. The docents are extremely well-informed; in fact, many are survivors of Hilo’s tsunamis which gives this museum experience an angle of reality you cannot get elsewhere.

Bay Front Shops and Old Downtown

Fun, busy, interesting; the shops and restaurants in the area along Hilo’s Bayfront Park are housed in beautiful, historic buildings which have survived the ravages of two tsunamis, one in 1946 and again in 1960. Everything between these buildings and Hilo Bay was destroyed in these disasters; fearing further destruction, Hilo’s leaders have turned the vulnerable landscape into large, municipal parks.

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Hilo Bayfront Shops, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Bayfront shopping area boutiques, restaurants, antique stores, a museum, theaters, street performers, the farmer’s market and all manner of fun and interesting diversions are to be found here. There is ample parking at the park across the street; public restrooms, a police substation and information booth is also located there.

Mokupapapa Discovery Center

An exciting, interesting, recent addition to Hilo’s cultural life, the Mokupapapa Discovery Center is designed as an interpretive center for the natural science, culture, and history of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Center boasts interactive computer displays, three-dimensional models, an immersion theater, murals and well-informed staff. There is even a 2,500-gallon salt-water aquarium with representative fish from the Hawai’i reefs. Using working robot arms in a submersible vehicle mock-up, visitors can even experience descending in the Undersea Research Laboratory’s Pisces V submersible down into the ocean depths off Hawai`i.

The Mokupapapa Discovery Center is free to the public and open Tuesday through Saturday 9AM to 4 PM, except Federal Holidays.

Hilo Farmer’s Market

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Hilo Farmer's Market, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Free-wheeling, fun, big and full of surprises, the Farmer’s Market in Hilo is more like a fair than a farmer’s market…food, produce, clothing, jewelry, tourist items, art, Hawai’iana, souvenirs and even street performers make this place one of the more interesting things to see when in Hilo. Open dawn to dusk, Wednesday through Sunday and even most holidays, the Hilo Farmer’s Market is even a good time in the infamous Hilo rain.

Maui Canoe

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Maui Canoe, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawai’ian legends tell us the Hina, the mother of the demi-god Maui, lived in the cave under Rainbow Falls. A mo’o, or sea monster, beset her, and attempted to drown her by damming the river and flooding her cave. Coming to her rescue, Maui paddled his canoe with such strength that, upon crashing into the island, his canoe turned to stone.

Maui’s canoe can be seen in the Wailuku River at the north end of Keawe Street from the Pu’ueo Street Bridge.

Lyman House Museum

Too rainy to venture out on the day you planned to visit the volcano? We are not surprised…but there is a brilliant alternative…the Lyman Museum and Missionary House. Their excellent and stimulating new installation, “Hawai’i Before Humans” takes you through the mouth of a lava tube into the beating heart of the volcano itself, through brilliantly developed multimedia presentations.

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Lyman House Museum, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The rest of the Lyman Museum is an outstanding, artfully imagined and skillfully executed look at the impact that various waves of human immigration have had on Hawai’i, as well as the island’s natural history, geology and plant and wildlife biology. There is an outstanding rock and mineral collection from around the world which may seem out of place to the visitor, but remember this is the only place Hawai’ian school children can see something other than the ubiquitous basalt and coral, the basic building blocks of the island.

The Lyman Museum is a “must see” and the $10 entry fee is well worth paying.

Naha and Pinao Stones

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Pinao and Naha Stones, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

It was prophesied that the man who could overturn the Naha Stone would lead the armies which would unite the Hawai’ian Islands into a single nation and then become their first King. The penalty for attempting this feat and failing was instant death. It is said that the young Kamehameha, at age 14, approached the 7000 pound stone which was, at that time, stuck into the surrounding soil.

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Wailuku River Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Of the many legends surrounding Kamehameha the Great, those of his great, brutish strength are the most taxing of credulity. Straining and trying to move the stone, he struggled for hours in vain. Just as the priests were moving in to take him to his sacrificial death, he made one last, enormous effort, overturning the rock. From that moment on, Kamehameha was considered a royal contender, a youth to be reckoned with. Although he had many more battles, trials and political fights in his future, his supporters could now claim Kamehameha was the Chosen of the gods.

The origins upright Pinao stone are much less certain, but it has long been associated with the Pinao Heiau that once stood on the Wailuku River, near the site of the Library.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Billed as “Where Astronomy meets Hawaiian Culture.”, ‘Imiloa seeks “To celebrate Hawaiian culture and Mauna Kea astronomy, sharing with the world an inspiring example of science and culture united to advance knowledge, understanding and opportunity“.

‘Imiloa’s digital full-dome planetarium creates a spectacular experience of immersion.

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Dramatic Wailuku River above Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Museum exhibits are organized into two main categories: the Origins exhibits explore the origins of the universe, solar system and life on earth; the Explorations exhibits concentrate on explorations by Polynesian navigators, space explorations and explorations of the universe from the Mauna Kea observatories. ‘Imiloa’s award-winning grounds spotlight Hawaii’s ecosystem, including living examples of endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian-introduced plants (or “canoe plants”). Other facilities onsite include the Sky Garden Restaurant and the Imiloa Bank of Hawaii Museum Store.

West Hilo Parks and Waterfalls

Wailuku River Park/Rainbow Falls

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Rainbow Falls During Monsoon, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The subject of recent and ancient legend, Rainbow Falls is the lovely emblem of Hilo town. The cave beneath Rainbow Falls is said to have been the home of Hina, mother of the demi god Maui, who brought fire to mankind. It is also said to be the place where Kamehameha buried his father’s bones.

The characteristic wishbone shape of Rainbow falls is best seen at moderate river flows…too little water and only a single drizzle remains, too much runoff and the falls merge into a single, roaring flume. A remarkable and lovely waterfall, the rainbows within it, which are the emblem of the state of Hawai’i, are best seen in the mid to late morning.

Follow the trail to the left along the river bank to delightful swimming and wandering; please note, however, that swimming in rivers and near falling water is dangerous. Don’t go in if the current is swift or if recent rains have swollen the river. You can learn more about Rainbow Falls, here.

Wailuku River Park/Boiling Pots

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Swimming and diving are favorite activities at Boiling Pots on the Wailuku River in Hilo, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Wild swimming, a jungle of ferns and blossoms, forest solitude and a raging river, all within a few miles of downtown Hilo! Boiling pots is a short section of rapids in the Wailuku River between Pe’epe’e Falls and Rainbow Falls that is popular with locals for swimming, cliff diving and body surfing the rapids. Set in an emerald jungle canyon, the river is an open invitation to cool off for visitors who may be unaccustomed to Hilo’s climate of fierce heat and unrelenting humidity.

If swimming is in your plans, however, be very, very careful; conditions at Boiling Pots are not as benign as they seem and can change instantly with a minor cloudburst anywhere upstream.

East Hilo Parks and Beaches

Loko Waka Fishponds

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Rainbow at Lokowaka Fishpond, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Madame Pele is famed for her fits of jealousy and pique over her many, many human lovers. Here at Loko Waka, Pele battled the mo’o named Waka, a lizard woman-sea monster. Waka apparently had been romancing one of Pele’s favored courtiers. Seeking to escape Pele’s wrath, Waka dove into the Loko, or pond; she has remained as the guardian of the fish there ever since.

Loko Waka, a productive aquacultural fish pond for many generations, has a fascinating hydrologic configuration, cycling over 100,000,000 gallons of water a day through its porous sides and bottom. Today the pond serves as a site of scientific research and as a source of fish for the Seaside Restaurant, which has been operated by two generations of the same family, serving world-renowned, five-star meals on this site.

Onekahakaha County Beach Park

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Morning at Onekahakaha Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Of the long strip of shoreline encompassed by this park, the most popular swimming is on the east side, across Kalanianaole Street from Loko Waka Fishponds. Here, two protected pools beckon swimmers; the one on the right is sandy and perfect for small or uncertain swimmers, the one of the left is rockier and filled with “vana”, or sea urchins.

Snorkeling is fair at Onekahakaha Beach, and locals seem to be able to coax good rides out of the diminutive surf on both boogie and long boards.

Leiiwi Beach Park

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The shoreline of East Hilo, Hawaii is punctuated with small, but gorgeous, beach parks: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A real jewel of a beach park, Leiiwi is a collection of tidepools, tidal ponds, lawns and rocks shaded by great palm trees, African tulips and hala trees. This park is one of the better places to pass a day at the beach in the Hilo area. Picnic tables, pavilions, barbecue pits, water and clean restrooms comprise the infrastructure at this lovely park.

Richardson Beach Park

The almost universal experience of visitors to Hawai’i is that, although it is certainly beautiful, delightful and a unique, special place, no matter what pre-conceptions a traveler may bring about Hawai’i, their experience is a bit different to what they expected. Richardson Beach Park, with its towering palms, fresh water pools, delightful surf, secluded and calm tidepools, lawns and general ambiance of tropical paradise, is almost certainly very close to what most visitors expect from Hawai’i—hence its popularity. If you are here on one of the two or three sunny days Hilo will have this year, Richardson Beach Park is perhaps the most lovely, calming and inviting place on the East side of the island. Views of Mauna Kea at sunrise and sunset from this beach are unparalleled.

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Morning at Richardson Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The snorkeling here along the small black sand beach is the best of the Hilo area and the surf is a busy mix of beginner to intermediate level waves. Hawai’i County Division of Aquatics is located at this park; lots of interesting information is available from these friendly, helpful folks.

Frequented by dolphins and sea turtles, the near-shore water is a little cold when getting in, due to fresh water springs, but soon warms-up a few dozen yards from shore. The currents and surf can occasionally be tricky here, so heads-up, pay attention to what the lifeguard is advising.

South Hilo

Hilo’s Busy Commercial Center: Puainako Center, Prince Kuhio Mall, Waiakea Center

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Inside Prince Kuhio Mall, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The beating heart of the Hilo commercial center, Prince Kuhio Mall and Waiakea Center sit adjacent to each other across Maka’ala Street and Puainako Center sits across Kanoelehua Street from both.

Within this commercial area are several major chain grocery stores and pharmacies, many outstanding restaurants, “big-box” discount stores, office supply stores, travel agencies, banks, music, book and clothing stores, cosmetician shops, real estate agents, insurance agencies, law offices and all the chain stores one normally associates with a major metropolitan shopping mall.

In addition to several first-rate restaurants sprinkled around this commercial center, Prince Kuhio Mall and Waiakea Center also have food courts which feature not only national-chain fast food establishments, but also fine local food restaurants, as well.

Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo

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Namaste, the cross-eyed, white Bengal Tiger at Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

On the south edge of Hilo, located 1 mile off the highway headed to Puna, Kea’au and Volcano on Mamaki St, is the small, but interesting, Pana’ewa Zoo. The admission price is the best deal in Hawai’i: it’s free, as are the loaner umbrellas—a tacit recognition of Hilo’s sometimes overtly tropical weather.

The most interesting part of the zoo are the endangered bird exhibits, but children will enjoy the petting zoo and Namaste, the cross-eyed, white Bengal Tiger.

All the amenities generally associated with zoos, including ever-present, strutting peacocks, are present here.

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Early morning light on Mauna Loa from downtown Hilo, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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Mauna Kea from Downtown Hilo, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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Kamehameha Statue, Wailoa Park, Hilo Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

By Donnie MacGowan

Coming to my island for a vacation? There are three things I always recommend the first-time visitor do. First, go on an air tour. Secondly–go to a luau. Finally, I advise people of every age to get in the water and go snorkeling. The “one-one-one, experiencing the world through the fishes’ eyes” magic of swimming in those bath-warm lagoons surrounded by clouds of tropical fish is an amazing, restful and restorative pursuit-you will find your mind going back to that experience over and over through the years much more so than many of your other travel experiences. Part I of this series discuses Snorkeling Gear; Part II of this series discusses Snorkeling Technique and Part III covers Snorkeling Etiquette; Part IV of the series covers Snorkeling Safety and Part V discusses Big Island Snorkel Spots and Part VI discusses Wilderness Snorkeling on the Big Island.

Let’s Chat About Snorkeling, Part V: Hawaii’s Best Snorkeling Beaches

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Honaunau: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaii’s varied landscape and dynamic shoreline provides for an amazing array of snorkeling experiences, from broad, sandy beaches with placid and inviting turquoise water to broken glass-sharp cliffs where the swimmer leaps into surgey dark water. Everywhere I’ve snorkeled on Hawaii, from lazily paddling in calm waters at Kahalu’u to rappelling into the wild surf and open ocean currents at Pau’ekolu, the snorkeling is wonderful, beautiful, exhilarating. But many of the best places to snorkel are difficult or scary for the beginning snorkeler, some could be lethal. Here’s a list of the crown jewel snorkeling spots that are easy for the beginner, tantalizingly fascinating for the experienced.

Westside Beaches:

Hapuna Beach (turn off Highway 19 at mile marker 69): Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach is long, wide and phenomenally sandy. The center of the beach is tailor-made for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, better for snorkeling or gentle floating. Although most of the shore is relatively free of currents, only experienced snorkelers who are strong swimmers will want to snorkel around the south end of Hapuna, past a sea arch and to the reef and cove of Beach 69—a long, but rewarding swim with some of the most incredible underwater vistas available to the snorkeler in the word.

Anaeho’omalu Beach (turn off Highway 19 at mile marker 76): The most photographed sunset view on the Island of Hawai’i, Anaeho’omalu Bay is the icon of what most visitors envision Hawai’i to be like before they get here. Although the water tends toward being cloudy, this is an excellent beach for beginning snorkelers.

Kekahakai State Park, Kua Bay (turn off Highway 19, between mile markers 88 and 89): Kua Bay has a lovely white sand beach and full facilities although there is no shade to speak of. Swimming and boogie boarding in the crystalline waters is primo, though strong currents and large waves call for respect, here; if the surf is up, don’t go in. Also, sometime in winter, the surf removes the sand to offshore, leaving a rocky shelf that is less fun to frolic on than the sandy beach.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu’u Beach (in Kailua Kona, along Ali’i Drive, between mile markers 4.5 and 5): This is the premiere snorkeling beach of the Island of Hawai’i; protected from the open sea by a jetty, the reef is also protected against commercial aquarium fishing. Thus, the snorkeling is in calm, shallow water. Also, there is an abundance of fish of an enormous variety…perhaps the best display on the island. Numerous freshwater springs and shallow water bathers make the near-shore snorkeling unpleasantly cloudy, but about 50 feet offshore the water turns crystal clear and the display of coral is nothing short of amazing. There is a fair current north out of the bay and along the coast. Incredible archeological sites abound in this area and make a fine after-snorkel exploration on foot; ask for details at the concierge desk at the adjacent Keauhou Beach Resort.

Two-Step Beach (adjacent to Pu’u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park on Highway 160): Some of the finest, protected snorkeling on the Island is located at Two-Step Beach. A wonderland of turtles, coral and fish, with frequent morning visits by dolphins, this snorkeling experience shouldn’t be missed. No swimming is allowed within the Park out of respect for its sacredness; however, Two-Step Beach offers a convenient place to enter Honaunau bay. One can enter the bay either by the boat ramp, or by stepping off the short cliff into the water from near the center edge of the lava beach, where two ledges serve as steps down into the ocean. Getting in is a simple matter of stepping down these steps, “1-2-OCEAN!”–to get out, reverse the process.

Ho’okena Beach (turn off Highway 11 near mile marker 102): Brilliant snorkeling, decent boogie boarding, passable shell collecting and wonderful camping—it’s a wonder the large and warm stretch of sand at Ho’okena Beach is not more popular with visitors. Frequented by dolphin, stuffed full of pelagic and reef fish and turtles and boasting crystal clear, warm and calm waters, Ho’okena is a must-visit beach for avid snorkelers.

Southside Beaches:

Punalu’u Beach (turn off Highway 11 between mile markers 55 and 56): A truly remarkable place of great peace, beauty and spiritual healing, Punalu’u’s black sand-lined coves and beaches are world-renowned. With dozens of endangered Hawai’ian Green Sea Turtles and superabundant abundant fish, this is a truly snorkeling experience–made unique because of the black sand bottom of the bay. Due to chilly waters, off-shore winds, strong currents and a fearsome rip, swimmers and snorkelers should use caution when swimming at Punalu’u, but it’s hard to resist getting in and swimming with all those turtles. There are abundant Hawaiian cultural sites in the park that are worth visiting.

Photo by Bradford T. MacGowan

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Basks in the Sun at Punalu'u Beach: Photo by Bradford T. MacGowan

Kehena Beach (on Highway 137 near mile marker 19): A quick scramble down the bank on a dirt path quickly brings you to the Kehena Black Sand Beach. Once on the beach the first thing that may strike you is that many of the locals who frequent this park have forgotten to put on proper beach attire…or any other attire whatsoever, for that matter. In the shade of palms and ironwood this wonderful beach is generally sunny even when the rest of Puna is rainy. Swimming here is great near-shore, but ocean currents are strong and dangerous not far from shore. The locals are friendly but frisky, so don’t leave valuables in your car.

Pohoiki Bay at Isaac Hale Beach Park (on Highway 137 between mile markers 11 and 12): A lovely black sand beach with an expert surf break, Isaac Hale Beach Park is one of the very few real beaches and boat ramps in Puna District; as such this park sees a lot of traffic. It is also the site of the best surfing and some of the wildest snorkeling and scuba diving in Puna.

A short path along the shoreline leads from the parking lot, past a house with abundant “No Trespassing” signs, just a few minutes stroll then turns about 20 yards into the jungle to a secluded, perfectly lovely, natural hot spring that is wonderful for soaking. Locals usually don’t bother with swimwear here; you shouldn’t feel required to, either.

Kapoho Tidepools (turn off Highway 137 and head east on Kapoho-Kai Road, left on Kaheka and right on Waiopae): Stuffed with abundant sea life, this sprawling basin of lava tidal pools is a remarkable treasure for snorkelers of all abilities from the starkly frightened to the seasoned veteran. Moorish idols, yellow tangs, various wrasses and eels, sea urchins and sea cucumbers abound and there are even some nice corals in the deeper pools. The largest pool is called “Wai Opae”, which means “fresh water shrimp”.

Keeping to the left of the main channel keeps one away from most of the ocean currents, which can be surprisingly strong, even in small channels, where ponds empty into the ocean. No real facilities exist here beyond the parking lot, so come prepared.

Eastside Beaches:

Richardson Beach Park (Take Kalaniana’ole Street 3.6 miles east from the intersection of Highways 19 and 11 in Hilo): The almost universal experience of visitors to Hawai’i is that, although it is certainly beautiful and unique, no matter what pre-conceptions a traveler may bring about Hawai’i, their experience is a bit different to what they expected. Richardson Beach Park, with its towering palms, fresh water pools, delightful surf, secluded and calm tidepools and general ambience of tropical paradise, is almost certainly very close to what most visitors expect from Hawai’i—hence it popularity. The snorkeling here along the small black sand beach is the best of the Hilo area.

Frequented by dolphins and sea turtles, the near-shore water is a little cold when getting in, due to fresh water springs, but soon warms-up a few dozen yards from shore. The currents and surf can occasionally be tricky here, so heads-up, pay attention to advice from the lifeguards.

Be sure to watch for Part VI which talks about snorkeling the wilderness beaches of the Island of Hawaii.

A short video discussing many of these topics can be found here.

For more information about visiting and touring Hawaii in general, and exploring the fabulous snorkeling on the Big Island in particular, visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. For information about the author, go here.

All media copoyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan