Four-mile beach, Hilo © AlaskaDave
Hula down to Hilo, which has been dubbed 'Hawaii's forgotten city' on the coast of the Big Island, for a dose of old-time Hawaii. The city may be the second largest in the State, but Hilo has a small-town feel. Overlooking beautiful Hilo Bay, and dominated by two volcanoes (the active Mauna Loa and dormant Mauna Kea), the city was a trading centre for native Hawaiians in ancient times, then became an important port once the westerners had discovered that the area was ideal for growing sugar cane.
More modern times have seen Hilo bear the brunt of two tsunamis, one in 1946 and another in 1960, but the hardy citizens of Hilo cleaned up their city after each affliction and now the high-water marks of these devastating events are a tourist attraction, along with the Pacific Tsunami Museum on the corner of Front and Kalakaua Streets.
Although reminders of the past are everywhere, in the architecture and attractions, Hilo is a young, happening city, home to the University of Hawaii and the Merrie Monarch Festival, celebrating hula dancing, held annually in the week after Easter.
Another of the hottest happenings in Hilo is the Farmers' Market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays along Front Street, when more than 100 vendors set up their stalls selling everything from fresh produce to Portuguese pastries and native crafts.
The downtown area of Hilo contains Hawaii's largest collection of historic buildings, dating back to the turn of the century. There are plenty of restaurants, museums, a rainforest zoo and the beautiful Nani Mau Gardens to explore. Beyond the city itself the countryside is photogenically beautiful, with waterfalls plunging down the hillsides, forming rainbows that light up the lush vegetation. It rains a lot, but mostly in the late afternoons, ensuring that the area stays vividly green. The volcanic beaches in the area are covered in jet-black sand, offsetting the brilliant white spray and blue, glassy waters. Hilo is a colourful kaleidoscope of Hawaii, filled with friendly, smiling people waiting to welcome visitors.