HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Life Goes On
“Hurricane Downs Trees” was last month’s big headline; and “Lava Cuts Highway” may well be next month’s big headline. But right now, the big news in Hilo is that it’s hot.
This time of year is often the warmest, and on occasion the thermometer can hit 90, though that won’t break any records. But for the last few weeks, daytime Hilo temps have been consistently above 85. Some nights, a few clouds may pile up around Mauna Kea, dropping a sprinkle or two on some mauka communities. But in Hilo itself there’s been virtually no rain to break this heat-wave for a month or so.
One effect can be seen at the Farmers’ Markets, perhaps most vividly in the rare proliferation of “dragon fruit.” They are the fruit of those ropey cacti that you see on rock walls, especially on the drier, western side of the Big Island. (Honolulu’s famous night-blooming cereus is in the same cactus family.)
Dragon Fruit Cacti on a Rock Wall
But with all this heat, and in the absence of precipitation that could stunt or rot cactus fruit in Hilo, our local eastside cacti are enjoying the rare dry spell that allows them to set fruit and keep it growing until their green skin turns red at maturity.
Dragon Fruit in the Farmers Market
Dragon Fruit – Unripe
Two kinds of dragon fruit are on the market, the difference being the color – red or white – of the flesh inside. On the outside they look the same, but the vendors know their sources, and will tell you which is which. In general, the white flesh is firmer, with very tiny black seeds; the red fruit is softer, with slightly larger seeds; and though both are sweet, the reds tend to be sweeter – they’re also rarer, and hence more expensive. If you’ve eaten the fruits of prickly-pear cacti, the taste is similar; if you haven’t, imagine a not-so-juicy watermelon.
Chilled fruit is great in hot weather, but when temperatures go up, many people figure it’s time to visit someplace that’s air-conditioned. So here’s one that, while popular with tourists, is visited by relatively few people who live here: the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut factory.
Between Hilo and Kea‘au on Hwy 11, follow the signs for Macadamia Drive, and after three miles through papaya and mac-nut orchards, you’ll come to the factory. The last time I was there, the factory itself was not running; harvest and maintenance schedules control its calendar, and you may want to call ahead and ask if you’ll be seeing it run. But there is a self-guided self-guided tour along the outside wall. You peer through big windows at the machinery, and watch instructive videos that explain the processes of sorting, seasoning and packaging in a delightfully humorous way.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory – Tour Video
Finally, there is that air-conditioned visitors’ center [www.maunaloa.com/visitor-center], where a dozen different flavors of nuts are for sale. Besides “dry roasted” and “sea salt,” there are exotic savories like wasabi-teriyaki, and Maui onion and garlic. And for one’s sweet tooth, there are nuts that are “glazed” with Kona coffee, and nuts that are “enrobed” with several kinds of chocolate. You will notice, however, that like wineries and coffee mills, the mac-nut factory does not undercut its retailers; you’ll pay pretty much the same prices here as anywhere else in Hawaii.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitors Center