This is a part of our 9-day Big Island Itinerary.
Before Arrival: Planning the Trip
The Big Island is called big for a reason – it’s biger than the rest of Hawaiian islands and has two airports. After searching the internet for ideas, I decided to fly into one airport and out of the other. I found flights from Oakland to Hilo and back from Kona to Oakland and paid some extra for the rental car to be able to return it to another location. I found the best deal on rental car on Discount USA Car Rental.
We wanted to see Hilo and Volcano, but we also wanted to spend more time on Kona side. After finding a cute vacation rental cottage in Puako – a residential community north of Kailua-Kona – for the last week of our vacation, I decided to spend two first nights in Hilo and one night in Volcano. I booked the Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo, and a small cottage in Lava Lodge in Volcano.
Now that we had plane tickets, car rental and places to stay, it was time to book activities. I was reading about the Big Island on and off for weeks and decided that we definitely want to bike/walk to lava viewing areas from Kalapana, see the Jaggar Museum in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and swim with dolphins. It was much later that I found the Wild Cave Program with Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and learned about the Pua Po‘o Lava Tube hike. The date that we could actually do that hike was already sold out, so I put this hike on my list of things to do on the Big Island next time around.
Sunday, December 24. We arrived to Hilo at 3:15 pm and very quickly received the baggage and rented the car. No need to board a shuttle to rent a car – all companies are located just across the street from Hilo airport bilding. We declined the offer of the liabilty waiver for $30/day – between the travel protection policy on our Costco Visa Car and our Farmer’s Insurance auto policy we should be fine. The driving is mostly slow and laid back in Hawaii, but accidents happen, so please be your best judge in terms of protection you need.
It was a few minute drive to the Grand Naniloa Hotel, and we are entering a spacious entry hall to check in. The lady at the reservation desk informs us that unfortunately, they don’t have the king suite with garden view that we had booked, but they can offer us a smaller king room with the best ocean views, a free roll-in bed for our son and coupons for the restaurant ($160 total value). It was a great deal, and we were really pleased.
Recently, the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo was extesively renovated for $30 million. The spaces are clean and bright with comfortable furniture everywhere, nice fitness center, good restaurant, and photographs of Hawaii hula dancers by Kim Taylor Reece decorate the lobby and rooms.
We decided to walk around the hotel and the neighborhood. The Grand Naniloa Hotel stands at the north point of the Banyan Drive – a loop drive that goes around the small peninsula overlooking the Hilo Bay. The Banyan Drive began in early 1930’s with stars of a Cecil B. DeMille’s movie planting the first few banyan trees. This tradition continued into the 1970s and more trees were planted by famous people, like Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, Richard Nixon, and people who might not have been widely famous, but who made their contributions in politics, entertainment, social or religious life. The Banyan Drive is now called the “Hilo Walk of Fame”.
Even after some of the trees were destroyed by tsunamis, a number or them remains. They grew into large, stately, magestic banyans that are a joy to see. We passed Liliuokalani Gardens on the right, reached Mamalahoa Highway and turned left to go around and return to the hotel from the other side. We noticed a clock with flowers under it, looking like a memorial, and came closer. It’s a monument to 61 people killed in Hilo in 1960 by the largest tsunami on record. The tsunami was caused by a 8.5 magnitude earthquake in Chili that killed thousands there. The deadly waves reached thirty five feet, and wiped away most buildings. It hit at 1:05 am, and that’s the time when this clock stopped and which it shows since 1960.
There is Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, but it was too late to visit today, and tomorrow is Christmas, so it will be closed. We will definitely visit it when we are back in Hilo.
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