Hilo (North / South)
Big Island, Hawaii
Hilo is the largest settlement and census-designated place (CDP) in Hawaii County, Hawaii, United States, which encompasses the Island of Hawaiʻi. The population was 43,263 at the 2010 census.
Hilo is the county seat of the County of Hawaiʻi and is in the District of South Hilo. The town overlooks Hilo Bay, at the base of two shield volcanoes, Mauna Loa, an active volcano, and Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the site of some of the world’s most important ground-based astronomical observatories. Much of the city is at some risk from lava flows from Mauna Loa. The majority of human settlement in Hilo stretches from Hilo Bay to Waiākea-Uka, on the flanks of Mauna Loa.
Hilo is home to the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi, as well as the Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long celebration of ancient and modern hula that takes place annually after Easter. Hilo is also home to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, one of the world’s leading producers of macadamia nuts. The town is served by Hilo International Airport.
Around 1100 AD, the first Hilo inhabitants arrived, bringing with them Polynesian knowledge and traditions. Although archaeological evidence is scant, oral history has many references to people living in Hilo, along the Wailuku and Wailoa rivers during the time of ancient Hawaii. Oral history also gives the meaning of Hilo as “to twist”.
Originally, the name “Hilo” applied to a district encompassing much of the east coast of the island of Hawaiʻi, now divided into the District of South Hilo and the District of North Hilo. When William Ellis visited in 1823, the main settlement in the Hilo district was Waiākea on the south shore of Hilo Bay. Missionaries came to the district in the early-to-middle 19th century, founding Haili Church, in the area of modern Hilo.
Hilo expanded as sugar plantations in the surrounding area created new jobs and drew in many workers from Asia, making the town a trading center.
A breakwater across Hilo Bay was begun in the first decade of the 20th century and completed in 1929. On April 1, 1946, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake near the Aleutian Islands created a 46-foot-high (14 m) tsunami that hit Hilo 4.9 hours later, killing 160 people. In response, an early warning system, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, was established in 1949 to track these killer waves and provide warning. This tsunami also caused the end of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway, and instead the Hawaii Belt Road was built north of Hilo using some of the old railbed.
On May 23, 1960, another tsunami, caused by a 9.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile the previous day, claimed 61 lives, allegedly due to the failure of people to heed warning sirens. Low-lying bayfront areas of the city on Waiākea peninsula and along Hilo Bay, previously populated, were rededicated as parks and memorials.
Hilo expanded inland beginning in the 1960s. The downtown found a new role in the 1980s as the city’s cultural center with several galleries and museums being opened; the Palace Theater was reopened in 1998 as an arthouse cinema.
Closure of the sugar plantations (including those in Hāmākua) during the 1990s led to a downturn in the local economy, coinciding with a general statewide slump. Hilo in recent years has seen commercial and population growth, as the neighboring District of Puna became the fastest-growing region in the state.
Geography and Climate
Hilo is on the eastern side of the island of Hawaii at 19°42′20″N 155°5′9″W (19.705520, −155.085918). It is classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as a census-designated place (CDP), and has a total area of 58.3 square miles (151.0 km2), 53.4 square miles (138.3 km2) of which is land and 4.9 square miles (12.7 km2) of which (8.4%) is water.
Hilo has a tropical rainforest climate (Köppen Af), with substantial rainfall throughout the course of the year. Its location on the eastern side of the island, (windward relative to the trade winds), makes it the fourth wettest designated city in the United States, behind the southeast Alaskan cities of Whittier, Ketchikan and Yakutat, and one of the wettest in the world. An average of around 126.72 inches (3,220 mm) of rain fell at Hilo International Airport annually between 1981 and 2010, with 272 days of the year receiving some rain. Rainfall in Hilo varies with altitude, with more at higher elevations. At some weather stations in upper Hilo the annual rainfall is above 200 inches (5,100 mm).
Monthly mean temperatures range from 71.2 °F (21.8 °C) in February to 76.4 °F (24.7 °C) in August. The highest recorded temperature was 94 °F (34 °C) on May 20, 1996, and the lowest 53 °F (12 °C) on February 21, 1962. The wettest year was 1994 with 182.81 inches (4,643.4 mm), and the driest was 1983, with 68.09 inches (1,729.5 mm). The most rainfall in one month was 50.82 inches (1,290.8 mm) in December 1954. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 27.24 inches (691.9 mm) on November 2, 2000.
Hilo is home to a number of educational institutions, including two post-secondary institutions, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College, and the Hilo and Waiakea primary and secondary school districts. There are also various charter schools in the area serving primary and secondary students.
Although sometimes called a city, Hilo is not an incorporated city, and does not have a municipal government. The entire island, which is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut but larger than Rhode Island and Delaware, is under the jurisdiction of the County of Hawaiʻi, of which Hilo is the county seat.
Hilo is home to county, state, and federal offices.
The oldest city in the Hawaiian archipelago, Hilo has a significant tourism sector. It is home to Hawaii’s only tsunami museum, mostly dedicated to the understanding of the 1946 Pacific tsunami, and is notable for the banyan trees planted by Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, and many other celebrities. It is also home to the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, several shopping centers, cafés and other eateries, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, and a developed downtown area with a Farmers Market. The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation makes its home there as well, south of the main town off Hawaii Route 11, north of Keaʻau. Hilo is also known for the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in the Koehnen Building downtown. The museum features interactive and educational exhibits and is dedicated to creating public awareness of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and ocean conservation issues.
Hilo is home to a number of astronomical observatories on Mauna Kea as well as the Imiloa Planetarium and Museum. Astronomy has an economic impact of $100 million annually on the Big Island of Hawaii. Astronomy on Mauna Kea was developed at the invitation of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce following the collapse of the sugar cane industry.
North Hilo District Towns & Localities
ʻŌʻōkala, Laupāhoehoe and the Train Museum, Ninole, Mauna Kea Mountain Road, Puu Huluhulu and others.
South Hilo District Towns & Localities
Honalo, Akaka Falls, Pepeekeo, Wainaku, Hilo Bay, the Wailuku River, Rainbow Falls, Hilo downtown, Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hilo International Airport, King Kuhio Shopping Center, Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, Kaumana, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Puainako Shopping Center and others.