Day 2 – Waterfalls, Hilo, and the Saddle Road

Our second day on the island, we planned our first adventure: a phenomenal 75 miles to the opposite side of the island to see Hilo and a number of promising waterfalls. All of our guide books wrote of the treachery of the Saddle Road, a road built by the military in the 1940s that, if driven in your rental car, may void your insurance. However, we found that the road was renovated in about 2013 to a much safer, more relaxing drive.

We had also heard that the east side of the island is the rainier side of the island, and while the vegetation as we came into Hilo was much more lush and tropical, we were greated by warm, bright sunshine. Our first stop was the Wailoa Cultural Center for a restroom break, but also to explore the cute arcing bridges spanning the fish ponds.

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A short drive away, we found Rainbow Falls, known for producing a rainbow in the mist of the falls during bright sunshine days. However, with the scattered clouds dotting the skies, we were disappointed to not see even a glimpse of a rainbow. The hike was fairly short; the best view was only steps from the parking lot. Walking up the steps to the left of the falls, we were able to get a higher vantage point, but not necessary.

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We had lunch at one of the only restaurants open in town on a holiday weekend – Bears’ Coffee. We walked in to find that the chef was getting ready to go home, but was willing to stick around for our group of ten.

After lunch, we started a drive north up the coast. We took a scenic route along the Old Mamalahoa Highway, then stopping short of the Tropical Botanical Gardens, we found a short hike down to the coast for an amazing view of the ocean, crashing into palm trees and lava rocks. We decided to bypass the Tropical Botanical Gardens in favor of the World Botanical Gardens, which was further up the road.

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‘Akaka Falls, just a little further up the road, was another short hike through a tropical forest, which we found was mostly man made by a previous, private, owner who had wanted a more tropical feel to the property. The falls were definitely worth the stop, even if just for a couple of idyllic pictures.

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The World Botanical Gardens spans a large property, complete with more waterfalls. As our third waterfall of the day, Kamae’e Falls was a little underwhelming, but for a short, one mile drive from the registration hut and a few steps from the gravel parking lot, was worth the drive.

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However, walking through the gardens themselves was an interesting adventure. My strongest recommendation is to BRING AND WEAR YOUR BUG SPRAY. IT DOES NOT HELP YOU IN THE CAR. The mosquitoes are VICIOUS and PROLIFIC. We had fun walking through and learning about the various plant we had encountered along our hikes, but shortly through the gardens we began being eaten. Through their fun, short maze, we were encouraged along faster by being swarmed. The orchard was informative as well, especially with cautionary signs by the cashew trees warning of their poisonous nature?

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We made a short hike down to a second set of falls, dodging gnat infested, rotten fruit on the trail that smelled of sickly sweet fermentation, then hurried back to the van to escape the hoards of mosquitoes.

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Rain poured on us as we started back westward. We had dinner near Waimae at The Fish and The Hog, a delicious restaurant serving an assortment of Hawaiian themed barbecue and seafood dishes.

The drive home was mostly uneventful, as most my passengers fell asleep – except for the mosquito bites, of course.

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