Generally the hotter and sunnier side of the island, Kona is frequented by a higher rate of visitors than Hilo on the east side. But Hilo shouldn't be ignored, and a day trip to the more lush side of the island makes any Big Island vacation complete.
Roughly a two-hour drive from the Kona Coast where the high majority of the island's hotels are lcoated, Hilo is home to a number of great places to eat, unique shops and markets, and a lot of attractions with amazing natural beauty. You'll want to get started early for this trip at about 8 am.
As you drive along the Hamakua Coast to Hilo, make a stop at the gorgeous Akaka Falls. Here you'll be treated to a quarter-mile long paved path leading you in a circle through the park. If it's recently rained, which is a frequent occurrence in Hilo, the falls will be rushing extra hard. Bring a camera and notice the tropical rainforest plants and flowers that surround the walk.
Once in Hilo, drop by Full Moon Coffee, one of Hilo's newest breakfast restaurants. Have an organic coffee or a freshly made carrot juice and a bagel or pastry. The family-run restaurant offers healthy and easy to-go food to take to your next stop.
Endless green — Photo courtesy of MadeByMark
Next, head down the street to the Hilo Farmers Market. Explore the many rows of crafts, jewelry, home decor and clothing. Across the street is where locally-made and grown food and produce is available, along with an abundance of flowers and plants.
For another waterfall experience, hop just one street over and up the hill to Rainbow Falls. Here you can stand above the huge pool and take in the sound and sight. It's called Rainbow Falls because rainbows often appear in the cascading water, so keep an eye out for that. The Wailuku River, which runs into Bayfront, turns into the falls and then carries down to the surf break.
Enjoy lunch at nearby Cafe Pesto, a gourmet Italian eatery famous for their custom pizzas all made with a Pacific twist. Try a lilikoi (passion fruit) margarita and the artichoke pizza.
Rainbow Falls — Photo courtesy of Waifer X
Next, stop is the lush Nani Mau Gardens. Makato Nitahara, owner and masterful green thumb behind this exquisite garden, began planting tropical flowers in this former papaya patch more than two decades ago. Today, he estimates that his 2000-plus species of plants and flowers represent one of the largest such collections in the state. The garden's 20 acres include a traditional Japanese garden with waterfalls, a European garden, a lily pond, an annual garden, and a beach garden.