When I think of Hilo I think of rain -- up to 200" annually. Located on the windward side of Hawaii it's the wettest US city (outside Alaska) and among the wettest in the world. (However we were fortunate to avoid the rain on this visit. What are the odds? ) Hilo is a rustic port town with Hawaii's largest community living in a climate of alternating wet and dry. It's lush and green with active waterfalls, good museums, beautiful rainforest and coasts. And that's what we came to see...
Hilo's Rainbow Falls gushes constantly, discharging runoff from the slopes of Mauna Loa. The best time to see the rainbow is in the morning, so I had to climb the lava rock to catch the colorful display from 80 feet above the falls in the noontime sun. Legend says the cave under the waterfall is home of Hina, the mother of the god Maui, but I saw no one. However the sound of roaring water gave me great respect for the power of the other mother -- Mother Nature.
Our drive across the Big Island included Saddle Road, a beautifully scenic shortcut that crosses the flanks of Hawaii's two dominant volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Once a dangerous and winding route, it's now improved and a delight to drive while saving an hour of travel back to Kona. The road passes through a barren volcanic landscape with close-up views of the two volcano summits, recently dusted with snow.
The altitude (13,800') and isolation makes Mauna Kea one of the best places on earth for a ground-based observatory station. It's an ideal location for the eleven infrared and optical telescopes managed by the University of Hawaii.
The summit of Mauna Kea is so high that we were cautioned to stop at the visitor station for 30 minutes to acclimate to the thin atmosphere before continuing to the summit, and scientists often acclimatize for 8 hours before spending a full night there. For these reasons, we decided not to drive the final 7 mile dirt road to the top, and continued onto Kona to end our day back at sea level and another dramatic sunset.