When I moved to Hawaii in 1974, I settled
in Hilo, then the main gateway to the Big Island of Hawaii. Over
the years, as resorts blossomed along the islands Kona and Kohala
coasts, Hilo, on the wetter east coast, slumbered. That sleep
deepened as sugar plantations, lifeline to the local economy,
closed in the 1980s. What Hilo did retain, as it quietly awaited
rebirth, was small-town charm, even as shopping malls began opening
on its outskirts, once the boondocks.
Today, a number of
factors are conspiring to put Hilo back on the map as a
destination, not the least of which are new daily nonstop flights
to and from Oakland, Calif., on ATA Airlines. Nonstop service
between Hilo and the U.S. mainland was last offered in the
nonstop flights after investigating claims by local tourism officials
that Hilo could support direct service again, according to Rick
Hightower, ATAs manager of corporate communications.
We did our homework
and came to the same conclusion; we found that there was a market
for passengers and cargo between Hilo and the San Francisco Bay
area, Hightower said. Hilos got a different feel than west Hawaii,
and we think that this sense of authenticity has real appeal to a
growing number of people.
He added that ATA
has enjoyed high load factors since launching the route in
ATAs decision is
one sign that Hilo is back on track. In another, hotelier Ken
Fujiyama has begun a multimillion-dollar, property-wide remake of
the 391-room Naniloa Volcanoes Resort, aiming to provide upscale
accommodations in town.
Fujiyama also owns
Volcano House, the lodge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and
expects to parlay bookings there into combination stays that add
overnights in Hilo to itineraries.
Resort, with rates in the $200 to $300 range, will have a mix of
rooms, including some high-end inventory. The first renovated rooms
will be available by years end, with the entire revamp, including
restaurants and spa, due to be finished in 2007.
Hilo also offers a
great bed-and-breakfast, the Shipman House, as an accommodations
Completed in 1900,
the buildings been in the Shipman family for more than a century,
although it was only seven years ago that Shipman descendant
Barbara Andersen and husband Gary restored it and opened it as a
Set in lush rain
forest a half-mile from downtown, Shipman House offers a memorable
setting for a Hilo stay, with commissionable nightly rates of $205
to $225 that include a delicious homemade breakfast.
Hilos proximity to
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just a 30-minute drive away, has
long been its strong suit. Six operators fly Hawaiis largest fleet
of tour helicopters out of Hilo Airport on hour-long swings that
take in the parks eruption zone and fly over some of the numerous
waterfalls that give Hilo tropical appeal.
Theres lots to do
and see on the ground, too, with beautiful Rainbow Falls an in-town
landmark and the spectacular nearby gorges, rain forest and
waterfalls of the Hamakua Coast reachable on four-wheel-drive
include the Imiloa Astronomy Center, a $35 million facility on the
University of Hawaii campus thats world class in scope and impact.
It joins the Pacific Tsunami Museum, in the heart of downtown, in
providing a unique perspective on Hilo and Hawaii -- so does the
Lyman House Museum, built in 1836 when Hilo was a missionary
outpost, and the restored Palace Theater, a 1920s landmark that
offers live theater.
On Saturdays and
Wednesdays, Hilo hosts one of Hawaiis best street markets, with
lots of local color and island-grown fruits and flowers.
The abundance of
flowers attests to another fact about Hilo: Flower farms
proliferate in the surrounding flatlands, where hundreds of acres
provide year-round harvests of anthurium and orchids.
Gardens, 20 miles east of Hilo, is a great place to take in the
hundreds of varieties of orchids that give Hilo the nickname Orchid
All of this has got
local tourism officials, with fingers crossed, thinking
Were ready to
welcome many more visitors than we currently do on an overnight
basis, said George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island
Visitors Bureau. We hope the combination of direct flights and
infrastructure upgrades will reposition Hilo as a multinight
destination in conjunction with a resort stay before or
contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].