Enjoying Nature’s Health Benefits in Hilo

Denise Lau
May 10, 2016

While visiting Hilo with a co-worker, we had some time after a work event to go check out the sights. We only had an hour or two to see some nature and Hilo did not disappoint! We had a local friend Jolynn take us on a half-hour walk to see Akaka Falls, then we drove up to Rainbow Falls to snap some pics. Lastly, we headed up to Mauna Kea. As Jolynn shared, “Where else can you be at the beach in the hot sun then up in the freezing snow on the same island in the same day? Only right here in the Big Island.”  I never really thought of that, but we are very lucky to live in Hawaii and to have so much nature to enjoy and to stay active in. 

When visiting Akaka Falls, Kama’aina are free, so all we had to do was park and show our I.D. to the guide at the entrance. When heading out, you can stop in awe at a peek of Akaka Falls showing through the foliage growing wild around you, instantly transported to a wild jungle it seems. I’m thrilled, I love to see something new and can’t recall the last time I’ve been to Hilo to see these falls. There are two ways to get to the falls, either head left and see the falls right away after a short walk or you take the longer circle route that heads to the right. So, we went right.

As you descend some stairs, you’ll cross a bridge and first spot the smaller Kahuna Falls from a lookout. It’s just gorgeous. Along the way, you’ll see a lot of beautiful bamboo growing wildly and cross a bridge over a gentle stream. From Kahuna Falls, you’ll pass some big, lush trees, some with a colorful bark. As I gazed up at one tree with ferns growing all the way up the tree’s trunk, I had to stop in wonder at how beautiful and green it is here.

After a few minutes, we head out a few more steps and a few stairs here and there and start to hear the rush of water and see the longest waterfall ever. Or at least to me it seemed like the longest waterfall I’ve seen. After taking a bazillion photos as another visitor’s drone buzzed around us, we head back to the car after crossing the stream yet again and seeing a lot of ferns growing along the path back to the start. 

Stopping at the entrance, I read the legend of Akaka Falls. It tells how the huge rock at the top of the falls is actually chief Akaka’s wife who called for Akaka as he jumped over the cliff committing suicide. His guilt after visiting his mistresses Lehua on the north side and Maile on the south side of the gulch drove him to the drastic leap. Some say you can still hear chief Akaka’s wife crying on a quiet night and if you strike the large rock at the top of the falls with a lehua twig or wrap a maile lei around it then it will start to rain as Akaka’s mistresses would always make his wife cry.  

From Akaka Falls we drove up to take a peek at Rainbow Falls, taking a break and heading up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. We took a short walk around an enclosure outside the center that had what looked like a shrine and silversword plants growing around a short path. As I snapped some pics I asked Jolynn, “So is that shrine of sorts to honor Pele?” Jolynn said, “Oh no, that’s for Poli’ahu, the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. Pele is the volcano goddess and lives in Mauna Loa, this is for Poli’ahu who resides here.” Oh, I see, another reason I should have listened during my Hawaiian history class many years ago.

All in all, it felt great to walk around and enjoy nature. As we headed back to the airport for our flight back to Oahu, I heard my phone’s activity tracker chime that I had reached my one-hour of activity for the day! Mission accomplished. 

We asked our psychologist friend, Dr. June Ching, the importance of working out in nature and why (especially in Hawaii) we should take advantage of the year-round mild climate to keep active. Here’s what she had to say: 

“Undoubtedly, some of the greatest benefits of living in Hawaii are the mild year-round climate and the treasure of its natural environment.  Psychologists have long known that being in nature relaxes the body and replenishes the mind, spirit and soul.  When we consider that most everyone has some level of stress from dealing with life’s everyday demands, we in Hawaii are ever so fortunate that we can Ma`lama ourselves by being active in the beautiful outdoors which is but steps away on every island.  Here are some of my suggestions: Holoholo outdoors and give yourself the gift of a stroll.  Listen to the waves and enjoy a spectacular sunset on the beach after a brief swim.  Hike on a trail and soak in the sights of our spectacular landscape. Take your dog for a walk and breathe in the fresh air mingled with scents of our tropical foliage. Yes, lucky we live in Hawaii!”

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