It doesn’t get much better than visiting Hawaii during the cold winter months.
Leading a group of garden and nature lovers on a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii revealed some interesting sites that go beyond sun and sun. The dirt cheap ideas below may be a bit off the beaten tourist track, but exploring all the variety that this island has to offer is one reason it has become so popular.
Hilo Japanese Garden and Banyon Trees
This public garden in Hilo, on the rainy, green side of the Big Island was planted to honor the Japanese immigrants, and this lovely park is the site of many local weddings.
Arched bridges, weeping willows, azaleas, bamboo groves and easy-to-stroll pathways make this garden a favorite of anyone who visits Hilo. You can also enjoy the shade of the huge Banyan trees, each marked with the name of the famous person that planted it — from Babe Ruth to Richard Nixon. Admission is free.
Make a pit stop at Parker Ranch Shopping
A stop at the Parker Ranch stores makes for a great rest stop on the two-hour drive from the sunny side of the island near Kona (where most of the resorts are) to the Volcano Park and gardens near Hilo on the rainy side of the Big Island.
Gift shops offer free coffee tasting, the restrooms are modern and clean, and the nearby McDonald’s has island-style Spam and other local foods on the menu.
Walk the World Botanical Garden
The lure of this Botanic Garden near Hilo is that members of your party can sign up to use the zip lines or Segway while others can stroll the collection of tropical plants.
Our group enjoyed an interactive garden tour that had us tasting and smelling the leaves and stems of exotic spice plants such as cinnamon and allspice, but we also saw white pineapples and huge cattleya orchids growing on tree trunks.
Pay extra for a garden guide if you want to really experience the tropical plants, and book in advance to reserve zip lines. worldbotanicalgardens.com
Kealakekua Town — a place that time forgot
Not far from the bustle of Kona and the ocean waves is a tiny town on state Route 11 with what looks like a 1940s movie theater (The Aloha Theatre, still hosting local stage and music shows) plus the charm of locally owned businesses untouched by upgrades and corporate chains. A candy factory makes chocolate “Donkey Balls” and vintage salvage stores resell Hawaiian print shirts and used books, but the real draw might just be the fully stocked fabric store on main street.
Reams of Hawaiian and novelty print fabrics including oil cloth perfect for outdoor living as well as drawers full of old sewing patterns and buttons are offered on cardboard cards yellowed and brown with age. This place may even inspire you to dust off your old Singer sewing machine and make yourself a mumu — or at least some tropical print pajamas.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
Experience gardens around the world
Marianne and Joe Binetti lead tours to beautiful places all over the world. For information about their trip to Spain this October, visit her website at binettigarden.com.