Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I drink the Hilo water?
A: Yes, Hilo's tap water is very good, coming from an aquifer off Mauna Kea.
Q: Do you have Restaurant Recommendations?
A: Yes, we do. Sombat's has the best Thai food in Hilo. Fresh! Very mild to "Thai hot".
Seaside has the best fish selection, big portions, beautifully presented, good prices. Get there before dark and see the egrets roost in trees edging the old Hawaiian fishpond.
Hilo Bay Cafe is a small, sophisticated yet casual bistro that will surprise you! The best.
Cafe Pesto is a short walk from Shipman House. Popular and reliably good.
Q: Is there a place to do laundry?
A: There are a couple places within 10 minutes of Shipman House that will take your dirty laundry and wash, dry, hang or fold it for about $1.25/pound of dry clothing.
Q: What clothes should I take to Hawaii?
A: Cool, lightweight cotton clothing. Shorts, cool shirts or tank tops, bathing suit, jeans and sweatshirt or jacket for volcano area, and something to wear to a restaurant--slacks, skirt, nothing fancy usually. Plan to buy souvenir T-shirts or tank tops, aloha shirt, sundress, sarongs, rubber slippers, even a cheap beach towel in Hawaii. You will need hiking boots or closed-toe shoes(tennies?) for walking out on the lava trails. A heavy jacket is necessary for going up on Mauna Kea, unless you're going on a tour. **During January to March it can be too chilly for shorts, especially if Mauna Kea has snow on it. Sweaters, socks and long pants can feel awfully good in our wintertime, or up at the Volcano area at night, all year long.
Q: Do you have air conditioning?
A: No, we have lots of windows to catch the gentle tradewind breezes that cool the Hilo area. All rooms have either floor, table or ceiling fans, just in case. Our typical temperatures (Fahrenheit) range from the high 50's (nighttime) to low 70's during the winter, and high 60's to mid-80's in the summer. For Hilo, a temperature of 88 degrees is considered 'a scorcher', and we do not have the high humidity found in the South or on the East Coast.
Q: Is it safe to swim in rivers or sit under a waterfall?
A: No. Most of the freshwater streams and waterfalls in Hawai'i state carry leptospirosis, an organism or disease you do not want to get. Spread by rat urine, you get it through cuts, sores, or mucous membranes when you enter water contaminated with it. Lepto is very bad, and can be deadly. Some streams even have signs warning about touching the mud!
Q: My guidebook says we can swim at Boiling Pots...
A: Absolutely do Not! ...And don't climb down below the viewing area. Besides the chances of leptospirosis, the Boiling Pots area is laced with lava tubes, some horizontal, some vertical like hourglasses. The water appears to boil as it goes into, then shoots back out of these tubes. Most are underwater, out of sight, and it is too easy to be sucked into these tubes, even when the water appears low. There is no way out alive. It has happened for so long, Hawaiians had legends about a greatmo'o, or lizard, that lived in the river. Occasionally it would pull someone under, and release the body several days later. "Wailuku" means River of Destruction...It is an "ai kanaka"...it "eats men".
Q: How about swimming in the ocean?
A: There are two rules Island children learn--Always swim with a buddy, and Never turn your back on the ocean. Waves are sometimes larger than you expect, and can pull you under or out. Pay attention to signs about strong currents. Don't swim too far out--sharks can swim faster than you, and dolphins escape them faster than you can.
Q: Can we take plants back to the mainland?
A: Look for the little bagged plants for sale in many of the visitor locations, including Walmart and Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut's visitor area. These plants have been inspected and certified, and can go to the continental U.S. Up near Volcano, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens will be happy to ship any plants you purchase from them, and they do a very nice job. Plants and the areas they cannot go are noted on signs and/or packaging.
Q: What about fruits?
A: Not unless they have been treated for fruitfly, and have been inspected & stamped by the Dept. of Agriculture. Pineapples from the grocery store can go, as long as the green top is still attached to the fruit...far cheaper than buying them at the airport.
Q: Do we need a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle?
A: Not unless you plan to drive to Mauna Kea's summit, down into Waipi'o Valley, or possibly to theGreen Sand Beach. As a tourist, you are unlikely to visit other places that require 4WD vehicles. The Island of Hawaii (the "big island") has excellent public roads.
Some simple pronunciations:
Hilo (Hee lo)
Waipi'o Valley (Y P O valley)
Puna (Pooh nuh)
Mauna Kea (Mow [rhymes with now] nuh Kay uh)