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Hilo, Hawaii Port Review
By Tom Ogg

Hilo Hawaii Port Information and Revew by Tom Ogg
A Banyan Tree, Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, Hilo, Hawaii


Hilo Hawaii Port Information and Revew by Tom Ogg
Hilo's Bay Front Parks

If the Big Island of Hawaii were located somewhere other than as part of Hawaii, it would be a major tourist destination. But, because of its location in the Hawaiian Island chain it is often overlooked as a destination. It offers everything that all of the other islands do, it is just that it isn't as concentrated and easy to access. Hilo is the epitome of this fact. It is a laid back city and port and offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience the Hawaiian culture and diversity.

During the 1900s Hilo was devastated by tsunamis that completely wiped out the bay front portion of the city of Hilo. Today, lush parks and sandy beaches reside where once Hilo did and the city has been relocated to higher ground. Even the recent tsunami caused by the earthquake in Japan in 2011 had an effect on Hilo's bay and ocean front. Today a large breakwater protects Hilo Harbor where the cruise ship docks and Hilo's Downtown area.

Welcome to Hilo Sign
Welcome to Downtown Hilo

Since Hilo is the gateway to Volcanoes National Park, most cruise passengers will undoubtedly take a shore excursion or private tour of the park. This is too bad because much of Hilo's charm is found in its historic downtown areas. Hilo is not a tourist town like much of the rest of Hawaii's wonderful destinations and this is because of the amount of rain that Hilo receives. With over 120 inches of rain per year, Hilo is easily the wetest city in the United States. This also creates much of the beauty of Hilo. Its vegitation is simply stunning.

Cruise Port Location and Information:

Cruise Ship Docked in Hilo Hawaii
Docked in Hilo's Cruise Ship Terminal

Cruise ships dock in Hilo's cruise ship terminal in Hilo Harbor. Note that the terminal is not dedicated to cruise ships, but also handles lots of cargo and containers, as well.

Carnival Spirit Docked in Hilo Hawaii
Docked in Hilo as Seen from the Naniloa Hotel on Banyon Drive

The cruise terminal is a short distance from Banyon Drive, the main hotel area in Hilo. People can easily walk from the ship out of the port itself without having to take a transfer within the port. However, virtually all of the ship's tours will depart from within the port. The port is not only convenient to Banyon Drive, but the Hilo International Airport is only 5-minutes away.

Exploring on Your Own:

Port of Hilo Bay
Beautiful Hilo Bay

Hilo is easily explored on your own. In fact, that is the very best way to do it. While there is a free shuttle from the cruise terminal to Hilo's downtown shopping area, the walk to downtown Hilo is so rich with beautiful sights that walking in one direction or the other is suggested.

Also, right outside of the port entrance you will find a number of local tour guides offering you tours of the Volcano National Park and surroundings. While I normally would not suggest seeing a port in this fashion, these guys would make an excellent choice. They generally use small vans, whcih make the process much faster than waiting for an entire motor coach to load and unload. Also, walking in the national park is challenging, so the speed at which you explore the park is dependent upon the slowest walker on your coach. This can be extremely frustrating, as there always seems to be one or two people that insist they go and they hold up the entire group. The park headquarters will require that the groups all stay together.

The group will visit Thurston's Lava Tube, which requires walking along a gravel trail and through the tube and climbing back up to the parking area. What would take a normal person maybe 20-minutes at the most, will take the group in a motor coach at least an hour. If you intend to visit the Volcano National Park I would strongly suggest that you book a private tour with a local tour operator, rather than book a ship's shore excursion. You will see tons more and have a wonderful experience.

Banyan Drive Hilo Hawaii
Beautiful Banyan Drive

Once you leave the port of Hilo simply follow the road until you see the Hilo Seaside Hotel and then turn right onto Banyan Drive. You will pass several access points to Hilo Bay along the way and each one can be explored for some beautiful vistas of the area. Banyan Drive is the main hotel street in Hilo and there are many shops along the way.

Shopping Tips:

Port of Hilo Hawaii Cruise Terminal Shopping
Shopping in the Cruise Terminal

Many of Hilo's craftsmen bring local products right into the cruise ship terminal to sell to the cruise passengers. You will find many unusual products here and will certainly find the small market interesting.

Port of Hilo Uncle Billy's General Store
Uncle Billy's General Store and Cafe

As you walk along Banyan Drive you will pass several hotels and condominiums before you arrive at the entrance to Uncle Billy's General Store. Uncle Billy's is a budget hotel that offers a very complete general store containing just about every souvenir you could imagine and is certainly worth a visit. Note that the cafe also offers free wi-fi just in case you need to get on-line without paying the ship's Internet connection fees.

Hilo Hawaii Bayfront Shopping Area
Hilo's Bayfront Shopping Area

The shuttle from the ship will drop you in front of Hilo's Bayfront shops. This historic and classic shopping area reminds you that you are definitely not in a tourist town at all.

Hilo Hawaii Port Shopping Information by Tom Ogg

Hilo Hawaii Port Shopping Revew by Tom Ogg
"The Most Irresistiblde Shop in Hilo"

As you investigate the various shops and boutiques in the Bayfront shopping area, you will come across a sign stating "The Most Interesting Shop in Hilo". This is a great little store to find some of the most interesting things in Hilo (no pun intended)

Hilo Hawaii Shopping Street
Hilo's Shopping Area

The city of Hilo extends inland from the Bayfront and offers shopping opportunities for more traditional stores along it downtown streets. Look for shops selling authentic Hawaiian wear, koa wood items, art, local crafts and unique boutiques mixed in with the typical downtown stores.

Hilo Hawaii Flea Market
Fresh Flowers at the Hilo Flea Market

On Wednesday and Saturdays the Hilo Flea market takes place right next to the Bayfront shopping area.

Hilo Hawaii Flea Market Fruit
Flea Market Fruit

You will find just about every flower and fruit grown on the Big Island for sale here by the growers themselves. The prices reflect the fact that you are buying right from the growers too.

Hilo HawaiiFlea Market Information and Revew
Flea Market Produce

The amount of fruit and produce that is offered is almost overwhelming. Bananas, mango, papaya, coconut, pineapple and many other tropical fruits and vegetables are sold.

Hilo Flea Market Information
Gifts and Clothing at the Hilo Flea Market

If you are in port on a Wednesday or a Saturday, don't miss the Hilo Flea Market. The eclectic array of products, fruits, vegetables and organic home made treats are overwhelming, as are the characters that are manning the booths. You will love the experience. Of course, Hilo is famous for Hilo Hattie's, the large retailer selling everything Hawaiian. Now a worldwide conglomerant, Hilo Hattie's had its beginnings here in Hawaii.

Port Highlights:

Hilo Hawaii Port Information
Thurston's Lava Tube - Volcano National Park

Without question, Volcano National Park is the number one tourist attraction on the Big Island and Hilo is the gateway for visiting the park. If you have never visited Volcano National Park, you are sure to make this your first choice when calling on the port of Hilo. There are a number of ways to see the park and I explain the situation at the beginning of this review on how best to do it. Imagine walking through the above lava tube with 48 other typical cruise passengers and you will get my point.

Big Island Hilo Hawaii
Beautiful Akaka Falls

Beautiful Akaka Falls State Park is well worth a visit. The short 1/2 mile hike takes you by two separate waterfalls and through unbelievable foliage. The small town right on the outskirts of the park is also well worth a visit.

Hilo Hawaii Review
Hilo's Rainbow Falls

As the Wailuku River rushes towards Hilo Bay it takes an abrupt 80 foot plunge creating Rainbow Falls. Located right in Hilo itself, Rainbow Falls is beautiful not for the falls themselves, but the lush vegetation that adorns the walls surrounding the falls. Upriver a couple of miles are the boiling pots, an area where the river traverses lava tubes, large pools, waterfalls and extreme turbulence. The water appears to be boiling as it makes its way through the area.

Hilo Hawaii Liliuokalanie Gardens Sign
Queen Liliuokalanie Gardens

Right next to the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel along Banyon Drive is the Queen Liliuokalanie Gardens. This 20-acre Japanese / Hawaiian garden is well worth a visit.

Hilo Hawaii Liliuokalanie Gardens Pond
Queen Liliuokalanie Gardens

Ponds connected by pathways and bridges featuring pagodas, Japanese statues and structures give the gardens a very unique feeling.

Hilo Hawaii Liliuokalanie Gardens Pagoda
The Japanese Influence is Everywhere

Cross the bridge over to Coconut Island and enjoy its wonderful grassy lawns, swimming holes and beaches. It is not uncommon to see Green Sea Turtles feeding around Coconut Harbor, so keep an eye out for them. One of the most fascinating sights in the gardens are the Bonsai Trees growing in lavas rocks that are sticking out of the bay itself. One could easily spend hours at Queen Liliuokalanie Gardens for a most enjoyable visit to Hilo.

Off the Beaten Path:

The big island is full of adventure and wonderful places to visit and you could easily spend a month here without even scratching the surface.

Dining and Drinking Suggestions:

Hilo Hawaii Cafe Pesto Sign
Cafe Pesto

Voted "Best Big Island Restaurant" by Honolulu Magazine, it gets my vote too.

Hilo Hawaii Cafe Pesto Exterior
Cafe Pesto Exterior

Cafe Pesto is located right in the center of the Bayfront Shopping area and can't be missed. Dining at Cafe Pesto is reason enough to visit Hilo.

Hilo Hawaii Cafe Pesto Interior
Cafe Pesto

We asked our waitress what her favorite entree was and she responded "I have worked here for 8-years and I still can't make my mind up". That about sums up their unique menu. Don't even think about going anywhere else.

Must Do List:

I would give a visit to Volcano National Park a "must do" rating if you have not visited it before. But, be sure to follow my advice to hire a local guide who can tailor an itinerary just for you during your visit. It will be worth the extra money because of the restrictions of doing one of the ship's shore excursions will place on you. I would suggest leaving the ship and going directly to the Volcano National Park then returning to Hilo for a lunch at Cafe Pesto and then doing Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the Boiling Pots and then shopping for the remaining time before returning via Banyan Drive and Queen Liliuokalanie Gardens to the ship.

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