Big Island's Hilo Harbor

History, Weather, & Things to Do

The Big Island is the epitome of variety in a vacation destination. Here, you can enjoy everything the other islands have, sans the traffic and crowds. Plus, you can experience balmy tropical rainforests AND snow-covered summits on some of the most active volcanoes anywhere. And if you're planning a cruise vacation to the Big Island, you'll be arriving at Hilo Harbor.

Hilo Harbor is located on the east coast of the Big Island, about 2.5 miles from the Hilo International Airport, and just over 2 miles from downtown Hilo, Hawaii's second-largest city. The harbor has been instrumental in the formation of the city of Hilo.

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Hilo Harbor History

In 1823, a missionary from London named William Ellis arrived in order to look for suitable locations to establish missions. At that time the main settlement was called Waiakea.

As missions were established, missionaries continued to arrive at Hilo Harbor until the mid-19th century. Soon after the missionaries arrived, commercial whalers and trade ships began to utilize the harbor. This increased activity spurred continued growth as shops, taverns, roads, and churches were constructed to meet the retail and community needs of an ever-increasing population.

Eventually, the whaling activities began to taper off as the demand for whale products decreased. There were also growing tensions between the whalers and the missionaries, who frowned upon some of the whalers' recreational pursuits.

This downturn in whaling activity was soon replaced by agriculture, however, as American and European businesses began to acquire land for sugar plantations. The industry created a huge demand for workers in the plantations, mills, and shipping processes. In order to meet the demand, many new immigrants began to arrive from Asia. The population of Hilo grew in leaps and bounds as the sugar industry boomed, and the harbor area continued to expand to accommodate larger vessels.

A breakwater was built in the early 20th century in order to reduce wave action in the bay, but it proved no match for the wave that would challenge it just a few years later.

In 1946 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the Aleutian islands generated a 46-foot high tsunami that caused extensive damage to Hilo Harbor and the railway that transported goods to and from the sugar mills. Sadly, 160 people were killed in the disaster. As a result of this tragedy, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was launched in 1949 in order to track waves and warm the public of their arrival.

in 1960, another tsunami was triggered by a 9.5 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile. The low-lying areas in and around the Hilo Harbor were completely inundated, especially in the Waiakea Peninsula. Tragically, 61 lives were lost. Rather than risk rebuilding homes and businesses in the hardest-hit areas, parks and memorials were constructed.

The 1960s also saw Hilo Harbor expand inland significantly, and by the 1980's the Hilo Harbor downtown was considered a cultural center, hosting art galleries and museums.

The 1990s saw the decline of the sugar trade, but it wasn't long before the cruise ship industry stepped in to fill the void. And today, Hilo Harbor is experiencing renewed commercial and population growth.

Hilo Harbor Weather

In preparing for your cruise, keep in mind that Hilo receives quite a bit of rainfall, with about 134 inches being the yearly average. Average annual temperatures are in the mid-70s°F. However, we recommend you plan ahead and know where you'll be going on the island to pack/dress accordingly. Check out our Big Island of Hawaii Weather page for more detailed information

Hilo Harbor Shopping

If you'll be doing your shopping in Hilo, you'll have many unique boutiques featuring local arts and crafts, T-shirts, and the like. There are many shopping spots within easy walking distance.

Hilo Harbor cruise ship, in port.

Hilo Harbor cruise ship, in port.

Hilo Harbor Things to Do

The Big Island offers a wide array of activities for every adventure level and personality. Your cruise ship will most likely have several tours and excursions at your disposal. Depending how long you'll be on the island, you might want to check out some of the most popular things to see and do. This includes whale watching tours (during the winter months), waterfall tours such as Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Makalawena Beach, and Waipio Valley Overlook. Of course, this is just a sampling of some of the amazing activities to enjoy.

We're sure you're eager to see the Big Island via Hilo Harbor soon and get started on your tropical adventure. Be sure to check out any of the following cruise lines: Princess, Norwegian, Holland, Celebrity, Cunard, Costa, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Oceania, Ponant, Carnival, Seabourn, Hapag-Lloyd, or Crystal- you're sure to find the perfect cruise to kick off your Hawaiian adventure.

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