Destinations · Hawaii

A Hilo Kind of Day on the Big Island, and the Bird House

Our Bird House

When we first flew into Hilo, it was already dark, and raining. We had not seen rain since Christmas so that was surprising. We needed to rent a car. Easily done, because Hilo Airport is so small that all we had to do was step out of the airport door. There were groceries to purchase. Then, thirty miles to Volcano. As we rode, I started noticing elevation signs. By the time we arrived at our AirBnb, The Bird House, we were at 4,000 feet and solidly in the rainforest. The temperature was cooler.

In the morning, when we could see, we walked outside and got a good look at where we were. Pleasant surprise, looking at the Bird House from outside! After a few days, we noticed a pattern: mornings were generally sunny, although not the warmest, but by afternoon it would start clouding up. Usually it would be raining by late afternoon, or at least misting. It was OK. We’d had two weeks of fun in the sun in Hawaii, and we figured this week was just going to be different.

After a few days of this, and a lot of volcano activity on our part, we were ready to hop down out of our perch, warm up a bit, and see something of the island.

Preparing coconuts for sale at the Hilo Market

Our first stop was the Hilo Farmers Market. There was produce for sale which we were not used to seeing in a market.

Bright anthuriums for sale

Behind the fruits and vegetables tent was a crafter’s market. Everything was made in Hawaii. That was a good spot to finish up all of my gift shopping.

There was a tourist street near the water which looked similar to Front Street in Lahaina, Maui. We were done with all of that after Lahaina, so we skipped it and drove north of Hilo to the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. Compared to our elevation at the Bird House, here we were at 120 feet above sea level to start the garden visit.

Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse purchased a little valley containing 17 acres on Onomea Bay. It was full of junk and overgrown jungle. They spent six years hacking and clearing and giving space for native plants to grow back. Dan designed a boardwalk down into the Garden over uneven terrain and large boulders, like a bridge. Dan and Pauline are gone, leaving a treasure in this non-profit preserve.

Our walk through this garden was one pleasant surprise after another. Orchids were growing on many trees, and there were other flowers such as I’ve not often seen:

Purple anthurium – I had only ever seen red before
Heliconia

We looked at Onomea Waterfalls, which goes into Onomea Stream, and right out to the bay:

A cute little gecko popped in to say hello:

I liked the effect of the sun on the picture I took of this monkeypod tree.

Finally, as always in Hawaii, ocean in view! Now we were at sea level.

Twin Rocks on Onomea Bay

Have you ever seen a cannonball tree? This was truly amazing.

We really appreciated the love and care that has gone into this garden. What a gift they have left us.

After most of the morning spent at the gardens, we headed even further north, past the village of Honumu. Japanese immigrants once harvested sugar cane here. Past Honumu, we visited Akaka Falls.

On our little hike to Akaka, there was the smaller Kahuna Falls.

Akaka Falls has a drop of 442 feet and was the most impressive of all the falls we’d seen so far on Hawaii.

We had had a huge delicious breakfast at Ken’s Pancake House in Hilo, so in the early afternoon we were still only hungry for a small snack. There were some tables for a picnic at Akaka Falls. We enjoyed our manju (soft cookies with red bean paste filling) and banana bread that we’d purchased at the Hilo market, and sweet easy-to-peel Hawaiian grown oranges. I didn’t say too much to Cal about what was inside his manju, and he thought it was pretty tasty.

This cute and furry cat came by as soon as we started eating. It didn’t want food or much attention, and promptly curled up near us for a nap. When we finished our lunch it woke up, stretched, and off it went. Pretty fine day for a cat, if you ask me.

Returning to Hilo, we drove to Rainbow Falls. The sun shines on the falls in such a way as to produce a rainbow effect. But there was no rainbow. Later I found out that the best time to see the effect is in the morning. Oh well, it was still pretty.

Back in Volcano, we loved our stay at the Bird House. It was a welcoming place. When the owners first saw it, they thought it looked like a bird house, and so all of the decor inside is bird related. There is even old-time newspaper design tile in the entry way, like you might put newspaper in the bottom of a bird cage. I thought that they must have had fun scouring the earth for every bird-design item possible, because the birds were in every nook and cranny.

This was advertised as a “tiny house”. In my mind before our arrival it kept shrinking; I had no idea how tiny it was going to feel. In actuality, I think it was slightly bigger than a typical tiny house. We had plenty of space on the first floor. The loft where we slept was spacious and we could fully stand up in it.

There were birds in a cage above us–

–and this parrot seemed to look askance at me for whatever I happened to be doing in the bathroom.

We were back at the Bird House one day for lunch, and it was warm enough to have a little picnic on the porch. There was a bird wind catcher above me and a big red bird in the yard.

But the piéce de résistance was this diorama, set into the landing on the stairs. YFlipping a switch to turned it on. It lit up, and one of the birds and the butterfly started flapping their wings. I couldn’t even dream of setting something like this inside a house, and there was so much artistry involved.

The bird theme continued outside with thanks to Mother Nature: a flock of Kalij pheasants visited our front lawn every morning and sometimes returned late afternoon.

We took some walks around our neighborhood. All the houses were different from each other, some expensive-looking, some weren’t much better than a shack. Some were right on the road, and you could hardly see some others. Most had some nice landscaping with local plants in the yard. But none were too close together, and in between, the rain forest was allowed to grow unchecked in a riot of many different trees and plants. We rated the Bird House as our favorite stay.

I would like to credit my niece Rachel for her travel suggestions. She had recently traveled to the Big Island, and most of the places that we visited and enjoyed in our Hilo day was thanks to her advice.

Next time: the south side of the Big Island