Landing in Hilo, you’re greeted with a typical attitude of tropical heat and foliage. It’s lush, green, and hot.
Drive around the island to Volcanoes National Park (a World Heritage Site) and experience another universe. While you can still hike into the undergrowth and get out of the sun, this part of the island is decidedly arid with a rough landscape to match. It is similar to hiking in northeastern New Mexico, where you traverse lava fields guided by rock cairns.
When you go, treat yourself to a stay at the Volcanoes Lodge and upgrade your room to get a view of the steamy red/orange volcano. It’s worth it to drift off to sleep by the glowing light and ponder the very existence of the lava boiling so nearby.
Hiking within the Volcanoes Park is easy—trails are clearly marked. It’s a treat to take one of the ranger tours—you always new learn things. Don’t miss out on wandering through the steam vent area. The path provides educational signs helping you understand what you’re seeing.
You can’t hike on this island without treading down and up from the Pololu Valley Lookout. Parking at the top and gazing out at the view is a treasure, to be sure. But actually hiking down this steep path to enjoy the forest and beach at the bottom is completely rewarding and gives you an entirely different point of view. Note that the beach is not for swimming—there can be high tides, nasty undertows, and riptides. Dip your feet in, have a picnic and get ready for the hike back up.
On the opposite side of the valley, from the south side, is another hike—far more difficult. The Waipi’o Valley Overlook consists of a stunning view of the beach and valley. A four wheel drive vehicle is mandatory for taking the road down to the valley. Even walking it can be quite strenuous. The Waimanu Valley is used year round for hunting, so aside from the normal hiking gear, your clothing should be brightly colored and ensure you stick to the trails. This valley trek is not for the casual hiker. It is hard, long, and should be thoroughly planned in advance.
When you take a hiking break, make sure to get a delectable island treat—the Malasadas. Ask a local for the best provider in the area and you won’t be disappointed. The other culinary item on Hawaii is the Kona Coffee. It’s everything it’s noted to be and the best price in town to bring beans home: Costco.
This island bears repeating. From the Hilo Farmer’s Market to the views on a clear night near the Mauna Loa Observatory (The Solar Observatory is not open to the public, however, there is a great visitor’s center with helpful volunteers.), it is diverse, open and waiting for you to come and explore!