Exploring the Gateway Communities Around Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
When you hear Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, images of spewing lava, lush tropical forests, and dramatic volcanic landscapes might come to mind. However, any great adventure to this remarkable natural wonder is not complete without delving into the surrounding communities, where a mix of local hospitality, unique hotels, and culinary delights await the curious traveler.
Hilo - The Tropical Town
The largest nearby town to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is Hilo, located approximately 30 miles northeast of the park. Hilo is known for its old-town charm, laid-back character, and tropical climate. Rainy weather keeps the town lush and green, giving it an almost ethereal feel. For accommodations, visitors can choose from a number of hotels and inns that cater to a range of budgets and preferences.
When it comes to food, Hilo offers a variety of local restaurants where you can try the famous dish lau lau, a traditional Hawaiian meal of pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed to perfection. Don't miss another local favorite, the poke bowl, a dish featuring raw, marinated fish, usually tuna, which can be found fresh in the seaside town.
Volcano Village - The Rustic Retreat
Just outside the entrance to the national park is the small community of Volcano Village. This hidden gem provides a retreat for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a more intimate experience. The village boasts several bed and breakfasts, lodges, and vacation rentals that offer a cozy and rustic atmosphere for your stay.
While in Volcano Village, embracing local cuisine is a must. One of the most popular eateries is the Kilauea Lodge, an establishment that offers a range of dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients. Make sure to taste the ahi (yellowfin tuna) or ono (wahoo) if available, as they are often caught in Hawaiian waters and are incredibly fresh.
Pāhoa - The Relaxed Hideaway
Traveling about 35 miles east of the national park, you’ll find Pāhoa, a small, historic town with a relaxed vibe and an alternative flair. Quaint lodgings such as guesthouses, inns, and vacation rentals are readily available for a comfortable stay.
Dining in Pāhoa reflects the town's eclectic style, with a number of cafes and restaurants showing a mixture of traditional Hawaiian and international cuisines. Try local dishes like kalua pig, slow-cooked in an underground oven, which gives it an unforgettable smoky taste.
Keaau - The Convenient Stop
Keaau is another town close to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, about 25 miles on the northeast. Keaau serves as a convenient stop for travelers headed to the park with a number of hotels and dining options. The specialty here is simple, hearty fare that draws from the islands' multicultural heritage.
One should not miss sampling a Spam musubi, a local comfort food that's a grab-and-go style sushi made with Spam, rice, and nori (seaweed), found at many stores and eateries throughout Keaau.
Notable Regional Cuisine
Whether it is Hilo, Volcano Village, Pāhoa, or Keaau, you are sure to encounter dishes unique to the Hawaiian archipelago. Be sure to indulge in regional desserts such as shave ice, a perfect cool-down treat after a day in the park, or the rich haupia, a coconut milk-based dessert.
Hawaii’s culinary offerings are as dynamic and varied as its landscapes. Sampling these local dishes allows visitors to connect more deeply with the cultural and historical roots of the islands, making a trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park an immersive experience both in natural beauty and cultural richness.
For those planning a visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and its surrounding towns, here are a few websites that could be of great help:
- National Park Service - Hawai'i Volcanoes: For the latest information on park entry, fees, and safety guidelines.
- Hawaii Tourism Authority: Offers a comprehensive guide to accommodations, dining, and activities on the island.
- Yelp: To read reviews on local eateries and hotels.
- TripAdvisor: For visitor reviews and recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and attractions in the area.
While Hawai’i’s natural splendors are the main attraction, the flavors and hospitality of nearby towns are what truly complete the experience of a visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.