1 TOWN COLORS Every Wednesday and Saturday Hilo’s farmers market transforms downtown into a feast for the senses. Farmers from across the island show up with anthuriums, birds of paradise, and orchids that spill vivid colors over the often-rainy streets. By 6 A.M. voices speaking everything from Tagalog to pidgin punctuate the town’s early morning mists. Treat yourself to an armload of blooms, and fill your basket with papayas, lychees, succulent squash, and other just-picked produce.
2 WISH UPON A STAR There may be no better place than snowcapped Mauna Kea to gaze at the heavens, but reaching the 13,796-foot summit, home to the world’s largest telescope, means a long, steep drive up a bumpy road. Three-quarters of the way up the mountain, the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station offers sky-watching that’s just as good, as well as in-depth astronomy programs complete with presentations, videos, and state-of-the-art telescopes.
3 TASTEFULLY YOURS Had one too many mai tais? Then try a locally handcrafted ale at the Kona Brewing Company & Brewpub in Kailua-Kona. The local hangout has cool architectural details – including the patio’s corrugated tin roof, which was rescued from an illegal okolehao (ti-root liquor) factory that operated in the 1950s. Sample a Lilikoi Wheat Ale, a Fire Rock Pale Ale, or any of the other seven varieties on tap, and enjoy it with one of the pub’s pizzas; the crust is made with spent grain (a by-product of beer brewing).
4 MEMORY LANE In North Kohala time seems not to exist. Even as you browse the contemporary upscale boutiques that line the main street connecting the little towns of Hawi and Kapaau, you’ll feel as though you’re journeying through the past. A statue of King Kamehameha gazes down upon century-old merchants’ buildings that have been renovated in their original sugar-plantation style and now house artists’ shops where you can visit a metalsmith, don hand-painted silks, invest in a painting, or shop for koa-wood bowls. The once-rowdy Nanbu Hotel, built in 1898, is now a lively retail center that is home to the state’s largest used bookstore – which boasts a notable collection of Hawaiiana.
5 NATURE’S TALE Just beyond the steaming caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, at 4,000 feet above sea level, the cool oasis of Kipuka Puaulu echoes with the calls of Hawaii’s native birds: ¿I¿iwi, ¿apapane, ¿elepaio, ¿io, and pueo hide safely among the enormous ferns and ancient koa and ¿ohi¿a trees of this 100-acre rain-forest woodland, which is home to more than 30 endemic species of trees. Before you wander the mile-long trail, ask a ranger to explain the park’s remarkable recovery; the story, which stretches over millennia, involves molten lava, volcanic ash, fire, cattle, pigs, and goats – and has a happy ending.
6 BODY WORK Big Island resort pampering isn’t the exclusive privilege of hotel guests, and spa treatments are not limited to the good ol’ body rubs you can get anywhere. Visit the Spa Without Walls in The Orchid at Mauna Lani, and you can experience something truly different and wholly Hawaiian, like an outdoor massage on the edge of a jagged lava cliff, or a pleasure bath combining macadamia-nut oil and hibiscus, or a Hawaiian body wrap, using local honey, sugar, ginger, kukui-nut oil, and aloe.
7 SERENE SCENE Surrounded by the sweet scents of coffee blossoms and night-blooming jasmine, the Tibetan monks of Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling, a Buddhist temple and retreat in Wood Valley, maintain 25 acres of peaceful gardens. The brightly colored temple, dedicated by the Dalai Lama himself, was originally a religious center for Japanese immigrants; now it hosts visitors, who are welcome to join daily prayer chants or to stay overnight. You’ll know you’re there when you see the prayer flags billowing in the Ka¿u breeze.
8 LAULAU LAND Exotic delicacies from Hawaii’s melting-pot cuisine are showcased at several top island restaurants. But there are lots of opportunities to eat like the locals, too. Head to Kuhio Grille, in Hilo, for one-pound laulau (meat steamed in ti leaves), or to Tex Drive In, in Honokaa, for malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts). In Waimea, Daizen Okazuya offers cone sushi and musubi (rice balls filled with pickled plum); the shave ice is sensational at Tropical Mango Kohala in Kapaau; fried poke (raw fish) and saimin are served up at Sam Choy’s, in the Kona industrial area; and Hawaiian sweet bread awaits at the bake shop in Punaluu.
9 THIS BUSY SEAPORT At the end of a narrow, bumpy road south of Kona, gas lamps on old posts ringing a weathered steamer landing hint of more prosperous times. In the 1880s and 1890s Ho’okena thrived as a fishing village and cattle port; both Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson visited the place. Now it’s a beach park, and its funky charm makes it a favorite picnic spot for local families. You too can pack a lunch basket and enjoy the gray-sand beach and some great body surfing.
10 DRIVE TIME Road warriors, take note: The 20-odd miles of Kohala Mountain Road are quite possibly the most beautiful drive on the island. The road winds through narrow canyons, skirts cinder cones, and curves around cow-dotted pastures that roll down to the ocean 4,000 feet below. At dawn and dusk this cowboy landscape glows with golden red sunlight and, frequently, with rainbows. Prickly cactus plants line the route, which offers superb views of the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and a sprawling vista of the entire Kohala coast. The best direction? Start at Upolu Point and end in the town of Waimea.