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As the largest city in Hawaii, Hilo is a natural landing point for those enjoying a luxury cruise around the Hawaiian islands. Located on Hawaii - also known as ‘The Big Island' to avoid confusion - Hilo has a diverse landscape which is rich in beaches, volcanic mountains, waterfalls and lush vegetation. Most luxury cruise lines make the most of this, offering a good choice of excursions which showcase the best of its natural wonders.
Hilo has been settled since 1100AD, though it didn't get its name until 1794, when Kamehameha I, King of the Hawaiian islands, celebrated there after gaining control of Hawaii and used a special braid to secure his canoe. The name of that braid, when translated, was ‘Hilo'. What was then a village became the king's governmental seat but as well as being a political base, it expanded thanks to a burgeoning sugar trade. Hilo has suffered two devastating tsunamis in its history, in 1929 and 1960, which took the lives of 160 and 61 people respectively, though since then has continued to expand as popular tourist destination. Both its many surrounding natural wonders and its cultural centre continue to draw many visitors, year on year.
If you decide to explore some of Hilo's landscape during your visit, then Akaka Falls State Park is the perfect place to start. It's a short drive from the city itself, so relatively easy to get to. The 442-foot falls are of course the star of the show and a truly dramatic sight, but the lush jungle landscape which surrounds them makes the journey even more rewarding. In contrast, a visit to the Volcanoes National Park will showcase the island's more rugged wonders, namely its fantastic lava formations and volcanic craters. For a taste of the outdoors a little closer to downtown, be sure to visit Liliuokalani Gardens, which offers a tranquil escape in the simple surroundings of a well-tended Japanese garden.
The cultural attractions within Hilo itself offer a different kind of experience, but one which is just as rewarding. The Pacific Tsunami Museum is fittingly located in downtown, an area which was destroyed by the previous devastating tsunami. The building it's housed in was one of the few which survived and it's a great place to learn about tsunamis in general as well as the effect they've had on Hilo itself. The Lyman Museum, meanwhile, enjoys an affiliation with the Smithsonian, so expect a particularly well-informed account of the history of the Hawaiian Islands and its people when you visit. Other notable cultural attractions include the Palace Theatre, which offers a wealth of back-in-time charm and St Joseph's Catholic Church, which is as popular for its architecture as it is for the warm welcome offered by its parishioners.
For a more traditional shopping experience, be sure to head to the downtown areas Bayfront. It's a great place to browse as well as the larger stores on the front, there's a wealth of smaller stores to be found in the myriad side streets. Downtown's also the place where you'll find the Hilo Farmers Market. The altogether more modern Prince Kuhio Plaza is where you'll find all your larger American-style retail shops.
Hilo's a great place to eat out, no-matter what you fancy. There's plenty of opportunity to sample traditional Hawaiian cuisine and there's an impressive choice of Eastern-style restaurants too, such as specialist Thai and Japanese outlets. The island's proximity to the mainland USA means of course that you'll have no trouble finding a burger, either.
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