If the airport at Honolulu was an odd place to blog about volcanos, then sitting in a 33rd floor luxury room in the 'Augustus Tower' at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas is just as weird a place to say goodbye to quaint old Hilo in Hawaii. This blog is playing catch-up with the speed at which we're travelling, but I just couldn't leave beautiful Hilo without showing you a bit more of it, and especially the superb botanic gardens just nine miles out of town.
Hilo in the rain, on the first day we landed there, in a pic taken from our hotel balcony. This might be the biggest town on the big island of Hawaii, but it's still a country town, with country town ways. Tourists are welcome, but it's not set up for tourism. It's the locals' town, and they are of course welcoming and friendly with visitors, but many of the town's buildings have a ramshackle charm and the people have a slow-paced laid-back, 'what's the hurry?' way of going about things that's very different from smiley-cheesy 'have a nice day' Honolulu. It's appropriate to have a photo of Hilo in the rain, because Hilo is a rainy town, and we'll be back no matter what the weather gods have in store for us.
Whether you're a garden lover or not, I'd really recommend a visit to the Hawaii Botanic Garden, which is about nine miles north of Hilo. Sited in a steep gully which descends all the way to the sea, it includes a stunning waterfall and is filled with stunning tropical blooms at their best. Like the beautiful gardens we visited in tropical Darwin two years ago, this Hilo garden had many blooms which had obviously just finished flowering, and there were also countless others which bloomed at other times of year, and yet there was still so much to see and enjoy here. It's a showcase of tropical flowering abundance. So, on with the show. First up, above, is a beehive ginger bloom, which measures around eight to ten inches high (20-25cm). Such a rich red.
While flowers are the beauties which always first catch your eye, the foliage here is exceptional, too. The labelling of plants within the gardens is pretty good, but not comprehensive, so excuse my guesses. However, the sign next to this backlit beauty says it's Calathea crotalifera.
Also unsigned, this was along the heliconia walk, and while it's not exactly my idea of a heliconia, I'm just looking upon this as expanding my awareness of what a heliconia might look like. Who would have thunk it.
The impressive thing about the orchid garden here is that all the orchids are just growing outside, on their own, in a sheltered, permanently misted and constantly warm area. For visitors, bringing mozzie repellent and a bottle of water is a must. And your walking shoes. And a preparedness to descend steep walkways, then walk back up them to the top!
I know I splurged on orchids in a recent posting, but seeing orchids outdoors, as if they are part of nature is something really special.
What the hell, one more gorgeous orchid. I love the splashes of colour on the margins of the foliage.
Torch gingers get very close to native Australian waratahs in not only their impact but the 'wow' factor when you turn around a jungly corner and first come across one.
If you are going to plant a variegated bromeliad you might as well plant 50 and stick a sign on top saying 'Bromeliad Hill'.
All the pathways and boardwalks are well maintained and safe to be on, considering what a generally wet area this can be. Numerous comments in the visitors book mentioned that it was gently raining when the visitors were there, and that only seemed to make the visit to this 'rainforest garden' all the more special, saying it was their 'first true rainforest experience'. I wonder if those visitors realise that real rainforests don't have boardwalks? No matter, it did certainly feel like you were in a rainforest, but without the leeches and sense of 'what am I doing here?' desperation that the real things probably engender. Now, notice that I haven't attempted to tell you what that gi-normous leaf is? I don't know, but there were lots of them here. They might be a colocasia, but that's just a guess, of course.
At first when you see this cute little critter you go "Oh, look, wildlife!". Then, when you do some research and discover that it's about the only wildlife left, because it has eaten all the native species, it's not so cute. It's a mongoose (yep, the cobra-fighters) and it is a major feral pest on most Hawaiian islands. It's the usual stupid story. Mongooses (mongeese?) were introduced in the 19th century to control rat problems in cane farms, and instead of eating rats they just escaped into the hills to eat the far more docile and easy-to-catch native fauna. And Aussies will be comforted to know that Indian mynah birds are plentiful here in Hawaii, too. They're another sugar-cane-pest-control environmental disaster story, along with the cane toad of course.
However, let's not finish with a furry fink. Let's marvel at the waterfall here, a triple decker that side-steps right, left, right then left again until it settles into a pool surrounded by trees whose trunks are dressed in a thick coating of woolly green moss.
So, it's a temporary farewell to Hilo, we'll be back, but next time we'll stay for a couple of weeks if we can. I could spend a whole day in these gardens, two days at the volcano at least, and then there's the rest of this beautiful, big island to explore.
And so, as I mentioned at the start of this posting, we're in the home of restrained good taste, Las Vegas, and that is what we'll probably update you on next.