HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Far-Sighted Solution

A Far-Sighted Solution

          Over the past 30 years, observatories have been built on many of the cinder cones at Mauna Kea’s summit.  And although a Hawaiian ceremonial structure stands on the very highest peak, science and religion have not always dwelled there in harmony.  But the aloha spirit has prevailed since
2005 with the opening of ‘Imiloa, the Astronomy Center of Hawaii, in Hilo.

      Conceived and built not as a museum but as an “interpretive center,” its three shiny conical roofs evoke the Big Island’s largest volcanoes; and all the landscaping is in native Hawaiian plants.  More importantly, inside, ‘Imiloa honors the Hawaiians’ culture and religion – especially their concept of creation, which is presented in considerable detail, right alongside the findings of today’s astrophysicists about “black holes” and the “big bang.”

          Another large permanent exhibit showcases the Polynesians’ voyages around the Pacific.  Reaching Hawaii would have been impossible without their (literally) astronomical navigational skills.  Wherever links can be made between modern astronomy and Hawaiian cosmology, they are made.  And everything at ‘Imiloa (which means “far-seeing”) is captioned in both Hawaiian and English.

      The work of the various observatories is also explained in plain language, with interactive, hands-on exhibits – something that probably should have been done, somewhere on the Big Island, decades ago.  Mauna Kea is particularly well suited for telescopes that use infrared and “submillimeter” wavelengths of light, which reveal far more details about the stars and galaxies than can be seen in ordinary “visible” light.

          ‘Imiloa ( also has a planetarium, with various star-shows several times a day, and a café run by a local celebrity chef.  It’s just mauka of the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus, and open Tues.-Sun. from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.


Green Goodness

          There is more than one kind of avocado, as you will realize on a walk through the local farmers’ markets.

          What’s available in mainland cities is only the small variety, once known as an “alligator pear,” that’s grown in Southern California and Florida.  But because those places don’t have a particular fruit-fly that lives in Hawaii (though they have their own fruit-flies!) you can’t buy a Hawaiian avocado on the mainland, or take one back with you.

 Well, that just leaves more for us, here.  And we enjoy at least three major varieties: the little “pear” of course, with its thin green or brown skin; a larger version that can sometimes approach a football in size; and a round, softball-size avocado with a thick rind.  They all grow almost everywhere on the Big Island, though Kona seems to produce the largest ones. And while most varieties are bright yellow-green inside, the meat of those “softballs” is darker, and nuttier in taste.

          When an avocado is slightly soft to the touch, it’s ready to eat. And it’s always eaten raw.   Try one on the half-shell with a spoon, seasoning it with salt and pepper, or with Japanese furukake, or even with ketchup (really!)  Most people slice an avocado for sandwiches, or mash and spice it up for guacamole.  An avocado can be heated, as (for example) an omelet filling; but unlike almost every other fruit, it simply can not be cooked, canned or preserved.

          It can, however, be sweetened.  Euell Gibbons, the late naturalist, was fond of making Avocado Chiffon Pie in a graham-cracker crust.  His is a standard chiffon recipe (egg yolks, milk, sugar and gelatin, heated to boiling, then cooled), to which he adds mashed avocado pulp, cools it again, and folds in stiff-whipped egg whites.  As he says in his book Beachcomber’s Handbook, “Don’t dismiss the avocado as a dessert fruit until you have tried this fluffy, delectable pastry.”



Sticky Fingers

          Poi was the staple food of the Hawaiians.  Even late in the 19th
Century, King Kalakaua included a big wooden “calabash” bowl of poi in a banquet he hosted for author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Making poi is tedious but simple: the chunky, purple roots of the taro plant are either baked or boiled (to get rid of the root’s sharp-edged oxalic acid crystals), and then pounded into a sticky paste.  If it’s so thick that a glop will stay on a single digit, it’s known as “one-finger” poi; but it can be thinned with water into “two-finger” or “three-finger” poi. (Traditionally, everyone dips their fingers in one calabash; hence, a child who’s adopted is said to be the family’s “calabash cousin.”)        
     Poi is always served at a luau, and alongside every Hawaiian” plate-lunch or dinner entrée in a restaurant.  Many people – visitors, especially – don’t know what to do with it, and leave it uneaten.  It’s true that freshly made poi is rather bland.  Local connoisseurs prefer “day-old” poi, which has been allowed to ferment slightly, and has a pleasantly sour tang.

          Like corn-meal grits, poi can be eaten plain, but it’s more easily
enjoyed in combination with something truly flavorful.  There is no known
allergy to poi, so any child can eat it, and will, especially if the parents
eat it, too.  Few people can resist kulolo – a fudge-like dessert of taro,
sugar and coconut.

          But poi itself is more useful when paired with a savory food, like
the marinated raw fish in poke, or like the slivers of raw onion crusted
with sea-salt that local folks enjoy.  That’s a pretty strong combination,
even with “sweet” Maui, Kula, or Vidalia onions; but try dipping it in poi,
and both the onion’s bite and the salt’s crunch are moderated.  Similarly,
something made with chili pepper, sharp mustard or hot curry can be “cooled”
by a drizzle of poi.

          So, think of poi not as a course but as a dip – even for highly
seasoned chips – and you may soon find yourself asking for more.

Market Conditions Report – Hilo

Here is an updated Market Conditions Report for Hilo:

Market Conditions Report

* Hilo *

Area Characteristics:
Hilo is the second largest city in all of Hawaii. Most of the services and businesses on the east side of the Big Island are located in Hilo. It is also home to the county seat and includes the county, state, federal, and judicial buildings. While Hilo tends to be a rainy place, the weather patterns are not always predictable. Several weeks or months may go by without any substantial rainfall. Nearly all of the important educational and financial institutions are located in Hilo. Visitors and residents find Hilo to be a “local” town with warm and friendly people. While tourism is very important to the east Hawaii economy, it does not dominate, as in Kona.

Buyer’s or Seller’s Market:
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being a buyers market and 5 being a seller’s market, Hilo is at a 2. This is a buyers market.

Recent Price Trend:
On a scale of 1 to 5, with a 1 reflecting sales prices down and 5 reflecting prices up, Hilo is “Down”, with a rating of 2.

Market Report Narrative:
Unlike other areas, such as the Puna District (south of Hilo), there has not been a tremendous drop off in the asking or selling prices of homes in Hilo. When comparing the data from 2005-2006 to 2006-2007 the drop has been less than 10% for those homes priced $500,000 or less.

This is an excellent time for first time home buyers to negotiate a deal.

Hilo is roughly divided into 5 areas according to tax key. The area along the ocean (3-2-1) has zero properties for sale at $500,000 and under. The remaining areas (3-2-2, 3-2-3, 3-2-4, 3-2-5) have 121 listings with an average listing price of $364-380,000. Please note that one of these areas, Kaumana City, does not have county water and features the most affordable homes, some of them with spectacular views of Hilo Bay at an elevation of 2000 ft.

If you want to be close to the heart of activities, live in a town that retains its charm, and enjoy the beauty of Hawaii, then Hilo would be your first choice.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Nature and Culture


Nature and Culture

          It’s the oldest wood-frame building on the island.  Many of its ohia posts and beams, erected in 1839, are still holding it up; and you can still walk on its wide koa floorboards.  What’s different, now, is what’s on top (originally thatch, but by mid-century wood shingles) and what’s inside: a “house museum.”

          It was built by and for David and Sarah Lyman, the first New England missionaries to settle in Hilo.  Progressive educators, they founded two schools, but were also eager to teach local kids about the world beyond Hawaii.  So they asked friends, visitors and sailors to send them mineral rocks, seashells, and man-made artifacts from foreign lands.

          In 1932, the Lyman’s youngest daughter (then in her 80s) saved the house from demolition, and it was turned into a museum.  In 1972 a modern museum building was erected next door, to showcase what had become an enormous and eclectic collection.

          Today, the Lyman Museum is the Big Island’s only natural-history museum, with a permanent display of minerals and shells, plus dioramas and models explaining Hawaii’s oceanic and terrestrial climate zones.  It’s the island’s only cultural museum too, featuring early Hawaiian artifacts, Chinese fine arts, everyday objects from all of the local immigrant cultures, and tours of the original Mission House.

          Currently, there is also a reproduction of an early 20th century Korean homestead; a stunning half-hour film about Kilauea’s eruptions that overran Kalapana in the 1990s; and through April – in celebration of the museum’s 75th anniversary – a display of some odd but memorable objects that have been in storage for years.


The museum ( is at 276 Haili St., just mauka of downtown Hilo, and is open Mon-Sat from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.



Five-O in O-Seven

          There must be an unwritten law in the TV business that there shall always be an action/adventure series shot in Hawaii.  Currently, it’s  “Lost.”  In the early 1960s it was “Hawaiian Eye,” a private-eye show set in Waikiki; more recently, it was “Magnum P.I.”  But perhaps the most famous – certainly the longest-running – is “Hawaii Five-0,” produced from
1968 to 1980 and currently re-running on Honolulu station KWHE.

          “Five-O” is the fiftieth-state’s state police: a plainclothes unit reporting directly to the governor.  In reality, there has never been a statewide police force; each county – essentially, each island -maintains its own.  And real cops in Hawaii don’t work as Five-O’s do, in dark suits and ties.

          The show was filmed almost entirely on Oahu; but some footage was shot here, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, for a 1974 episode called “A Hawaiian Nightmare.”  The premise: Unless a $500,000 ransom is paid, a bomb will explode, sending molten lava down into Hilo.

          Prospective terrorists must look elsewhere for inspiration. Kilauea’s lava doesn’t flow through Hilo; it flows through Puna.  And although lava from Mauna Loa could reach Hilo – it has done so before – man-made explosions can not ignite eruptions.

          On the fan web site at there are cast bios, links galore, and some unexpected trivia.  Turns out there are lyrics (who knew?) to Morton Stevens’ hard-driving “Five-O” theme music, and Don Ho used to sing them:

Hawaii Five-O

If you’re feelin’ lonely / You can come with me.           
Feel my arms around you / Lay beside the sea.           
We will think of somethin’ to do.           
Do it till it’s perfect for you / And for me too.           
You can come with me.








Rainy City

          Somebody always asks, “Does it really rain a lot in Hilo?”

          Most of the year, Hawaii’s weather comes from the northeast tradewinds, and Hilo’s on the northeast side.  Being in the middle of the ocean, though, the island gets most of its rain in brief squalls, from small clouds that drift ashore and empty themselves in a couple of minutes.  You can look out to sea from Hilo and watch them coming in, so there’s plenty of time to get under shelter.  On average, though, most of Hilo’s rain falls late in the afternoon or at night, when the land is cooler, and those squall clouds pile up against Mauna Kea before condensing.

          And occasionally we get two or three or four days of rain in a row.  So Hilo does have the reputation of a rainy city.  But it’s all relative.  Seattle, with about 40 inches of precip a year, gets a rainy reputation.  New York gets forty, too, but not the rep.

          Hilo does get more rain than any other city in Hawaii, and more than the other northeast-facing towns on the Big Island: annual rainfall goes down as you go up the Hamakua Coast.  In a normal year, Hilo will get about 120 inches – one is tempted to say “ten feet” – of rain.  When less than eight feet falls in a year, people here will say we’re in a drought.

          Keaukaha Rainbow

So, yes, by Mainland standards, Hilo is a rainy city. 

But hey! Hilo’s most famous natural attraction isn’t called “Rainbow Falls” for nothing.  

You may see a lot of rain here, but you see a lot of rainbows too – like this one just offshore from the beach parks in Keaukaha.



And anyway, Hilo isn’t the wettest place in Hawaii.  Far from it. Literally.  That honor belongs to Waialeale, on Kauai, which every year gets nearly 500 inches – some forty feet of rain.

HERE IN HAWAII – Driving Local


Driving Local

          Driving on the Big Island takes a little getting used to.  You can go up to 55 on only a few highway stretches; almost everywhere the limit is 45 or less.  Passing lanes are rare; and off the highways, most roads are skinny, with narrow shoulders.

          You may be surprised at other drivers’ courtesy: many will wait to let you make a left turn in front of them.  And at their informality: some people drive barefoot, or in zoris (“flip-flop” sandals).  To the delight of car-renters, the nearest gas station to the Hilo Airport – aptly, the Aloha brand – is also among the least expensive.

          At the urging of astronomers to minimize the island’s nighttime glow, streetlights use low-pressure sodium lamps that have a yellowish color, similar to the “caution” light in a red/yellow/green traffic signal.  That unfamiliar hue may be disconcerting, but it’s easy to see by, especially in the rain.

          Unlike houses, car roofs don’t have overhangs.  So a lot of drivers here get “rain-guards” installed.  They’re rigid strips of transparent plastic that are fastened to the top edge of the car door’s windows; so you can keep the glass rolled down an inch or so yet stay dry when it’s pouring outside, or cool the inside temp a bit when you have to park and lock in the sun.   (Makes you wonder why they aren’t standard equipment. But they’re available online from WeatherTech (, which catalogs them as “side window deflectors.”)

Rain Guards <Auto Rain Guard>

          Whenever you’re driving, though, please be alert.  Remember that motorcyclists here are not required to wear helmets; and that nearly all Big Island police cars are unmarked.




The Big Island’s summits are once again wearing their white diadems. The first snow of . . . yes, winter is upon both the “white” and the “long” mountain. Snow comes to Hawaii in a storm, with thunder and lightning; wind and rain. Local TV newscasts originate in Honolulu; they do run video clips of snow-capped Mauna Kea. But their big weather story is what the storm leaves there: a soggy mess of drains overwhelmed, puddles for intersections, and stuff washed out to sea.Though snow on Mauna Loa is a rarer event than snow on Mauna Kea, it often goes under-appreciated. So big and broad is Mauna Loa that, on TV, it doesn’t look like a snow-capped peak; it looks like a snow-capped stadium roof. Better to see it in person; though the only way to make snowballs there is to make a high-altitude hike first.You can get to the snow on Mauna Kea, however, sitting down. A car or truck with four-wheel drive can get you up to where there’s enough to play on. Some winters, there’s even enough to ski on. You still have high altitude to reckon with; and sunburn; but (for a change) it helps to have had experience driving through snow and ice.If you don’t visit the snow, you will at least take delight in seeing what it does to the vistas of our tallest mountains. And you will probably grin every time you see a four-wheel-drive pickup come down from the Saddle, its bed heaped high with snow, to play with back home.