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To enjoy Hilo Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island, you can paddle out in a canoe, ride out on a jet ski or sail out on a boat. Or, you can just take a walk around Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, the beautiful Japanese-style garden on Hilo’s famed Banyan Drive.
Taking a morning walk around Liliuokalani Park is one of my favorite weekend Hilo rituals. This beautiful 30-acre park was created to honor the Japanese immigrants who worked on Big Island sugar plantations and is named after Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, who donated the land in the early 1900’s. (Each September, the He Halia Aloha No Ka Queen Liliuokalani Festival is held at the Gardens to celebrate her birth.)
On my walks, I often see fishermen “talking story” while waiting for a morning catch, motorcyclists gathering at the Suisan Fish Market parking lot before a morning ride, tour buses stopping to let groups of visitors walk through the gardens to take photos and families out claiming spots a few minutes in the sun. My favorite thing to see, I must admit, is the quintessential “big tough local guy” who is out walking his toy dog. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done double-takes while walking around the perimeter of the Garden—there is something amusing about crossing paths with a man about three times my size who is out walking his 3-pound miniature dog!
In the park, there are beautiful stone sculptures, an arching footbridge, a traditional tea house and a monument commemorating Hilo’s “sister-city” relationship with Japan’s Oshima Island. There are benches along the paths for quite reflection, or you can walk from the Park over to Coconut Island (know locally as Moku Ola) where there are picnic pavilions and beautiful views back across the Bay toward Hilo town.
Each time I walk at the Park, I am reminded that one of the reasons I choose to live in Hawaii is the true persity of the community. In East Hawaii, Liliuokalani Gardens captures the “old Hawaii” spirit of Hilo and honors the heritage of those who arrived from Japan during the plantation days but also welcomes newcomers and visitors alike.