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Cliffs on the coast of Hawaii Island

One With The Island: Hilo, Hawaii, the Eco-friendly Way

“When we say we are Hawaiian in the Hawaiian language, we say, ‘He Hawai’I au,’ which translates to, ‘I am Hawaii.’...

"We don’t separate the person from the place. Something that I’m very proud of is that without Hawaii I don’t exist, and without me neither does Hawaii.” –Cliff Kapono

Kapono, the pro-surfer-turned-scientist, encapsulates what it means to exist as one with the island, and Hilo, Hawaii, is a place where the worlds of people, science, nature and discovery beautifully converge. Here are our top hits for responsible tourism on the Big Island.

Rainbow Falls waterfall in Hilo, Hawaii

Beautiful Surroundings

The pristine seashores and pastoral countryside of the Aloha State have long held court as the most popular desktop screen savers for a reason: the North Shore, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, the road to Hana – they’re nothing short of breathtaking. For Mother Nature at her finest on the Big Island, pull yourself out of bed for an early morning trip to Rainbow Falls, easily accessible by car from downtown Hilo. Named for the prismatic light the rising mist catches, the dramatic waterfall plunges over a natural lava cave and into the cool, crystalline river 24 meters below. Get your cameras ready — this one, and let’s be honest, everything else here in Hilo, is Instagram-worthy.

If you’re up for a challenge with an awe-inspiring view at the end, summit great Mauna Kea, the tallest sea mountain (and dormant volcano) in the world, rising 10,200 meters from the ocean floor. This 18.5-kilometer, round-trip hike with a 1,300-meter elevation gain takes the seasoned hiker about eight hours, so while not for the faint of heart, we think it’s worth it. If you’re not quite ready to make your way to the top, let the Milky Way melt over you outside of Mauna Kea’s visitor’s station. At night, local volunteer astronomers set up telescopes as part of a free stargazing program that’s... out of this world.

Fresh fruit and vegetables at the Hilo Farmers Market in Hawaii

Good Eatin' For The Environment

There’s an inseparable connection between Native Hawaiians and their land – a deeply rooted need to protect and nurture so it can provide for generations to come. As Hawaii stakes claim as a culinary hot spot, there are myriad ways to eat not only wonderfully, but locally and sustainably as well. The Hilo Farmers Market is a must-visit when you’re in town. One of the best open-air markets in Hawaii, the constellation of colorful stalls are a foodie’s Eden, bursting with perfectly ripe, locally-grown produce, the freshest catches of the day, exotic tropical flowers and artisan handicrafts. You can knock out your beach picnic pickings and gifts for the family back home all in one fell swoop.

The cultural phenomenon that is poke is alive and very well in the mainland USA, and with good reason. But the delicious seafood fare is one of the main dishes of Native Hawaiian cuisine. Plump and perfectly skinned raw fish, delicately sprinkled with sea salt, soy sauce, Maui and green onions, and Limu (the Hawaiian word for seaweed) – we’re hungry just thinking about it. And for the most unadulterated indulging of this island favorite, look no further than Suisan Fish Market. A staple in the local fishing community, the market works with anglers who practice environmentally-safe methods of fishing, to serve you up an unrivaled bowl of the beloved dish. Suisan is nestled next to the charming Liliuokalani Park and Gardens – the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan – so enjoy a scenic stroll post-lunch.

Cliff Kapono of Hilo, Hawaii, about to hit the waves

Wave Patterns

Take note from Cliff and sign up for a surfing class and enjoy a beautiful part of Hawaiian history. Honoli’i Beach is a local favorite that’s great for boogie boarding too. If standing up and hanging ten seem like a stretch, make your way to Kahaluu Beach for some excellent snorkeling opportunities. But remember to enjoy the beautiful creatures and protected marine species from a distance – you’re in their home.

The people of Hilo, Hawaii, are incredibly proud and protective of their piece of paradise. The way to experience the breathtaking natural beauty, explosive flavors and all-around fun of the Big Island is to do so with a deep respect for all of these treasures.