Hilo is located on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii on the Bay of Hilo. Hilo has a population of about 40,000 people and is home to the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Downtown Hilo is laid out along Hilo Bay and spreads inland. At the center of town is a large public park called Waiola River State Park with large grassy areas and ponds.
Hilo gets a lot of rain, and some claim it is the rainiest city in the United States. The city is well adapted and accustomed to the massive amounts of rain. Streets and parking lots are designed to drain water into man-made streams that run through the city as they eventually drain into the bay. Don’t be surprised if you get some rain while you are in Hilo. Sometimes it can be a nice, refreshing change from the sun shine of the west side of the island.
The farmers’ market in downtown Hilo is one of the best in the Hawaiian Islands. You can find almost any fruit you can imagine here. With Hawaii’s year-round growing season and fertile land and multiple climates, almost every kind of fruit you have ever heard of is grown here and much of it comes into Hilo to be sold at the farmers’ market.
Hilo has had a busy history. From the ancient days, Hilo has been a populated place due to the bay, rivers and fishing. It had all the ingredients to support life in the old days. Around the beginning of the century, sugar became a large business in the Hilo area. Sugar was grown here, processed and loaded on ships in the bay for export. Sugar plantation owners imported many workers from Asia and other parts of the world to work in the sugar cane fields. Many of these workers had families and children, which has added to the cultural diversity of the Hilo area. Many Hilo residents have ethnic roots from Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and other places.
The Tsunamis that have hit Hilo have left a lasting impression on Hilo’s history.
On April 1, 1946, a large earthquake off of the Aleutian Islands created a large Tsunami that rolled across the Pacific Ocean and pounded Hilo 4 hours later. There were no warning systems at that time and the only warning was when the water was pulled out into the ocean and the bottom of the bay was exposed. Some people ran out to pick up fish that had been left on the waterless bottom flapping about. A few of the people knew this was a sign that a Tsunami was coming so they ran through town yelling for people to run to higher ground. Being April Fool’s Day, many of the people thought this was just a joke and went about their daily routine. The Tsunami hit land, smashing into Hilo, killing 159 people.
On May 23, 1960, an earthquake off the west coast of South America sent a Tsunami rolling towards Hawaii reaching the big island fifteen hours later. Most of the island was not hit very hard from the tsunami, but Hilo bay was in a direct line and it rolled right into the bay and into downtown Hilo killing 61 people and destroying much of downtown.
After the 1960 Tsunami, the area around what is now know as Waiola River State Park was completely wiped out. Officials decided to declare it a park and that no more dwellings should ever be built here due to the low lying area and the danger of future Tsunamis.
Hilo has a few nice and inexpensive things to do and see for travelers and is worth spending a day or two looking around the town.