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Liliuokalani Gardens, Hilo

Ornate stone bridges, footpaths looping past planting of strange-looking tropical shrubs, and serene fish ponds full of darting, colorful fish can all be found just a short walk away from Hilo's Bayfront heading toward Waiakea Peninsula.

This is Liliuokalani Gardens, a 24-acre park southeast of downtown Hilo adjacent to the bay, which is home to 100-year-old Edo-style Japanese gardens. The bridges, ponds, pagodas, statues, and "torii" - the iconic traditional Japanese gates found at the entrance to Shinto shrines - are spread throughout the park, connected by meandering concrete footpaths that fork in many places, joining each area. A wide sidewalk runs around the park's perimeter, making it popular with joggers and dog-walkers, and brings passersby through a part of Banyan Drive and along the edge of Hilo Bay and within sight of its scenic Coconut Island, or "Moku Ola", both of which are covered in-depth in their own articles.

Some say Liliuokalani's Edo-style Japanese Gardens are the largest such outside of Japan, serving as a testament to Hilo's substantial Japanese-American population and its historical legacy and cultural influence on the area. Above all, the park seems peaceful and serene on a sunny day with a cool ocean breeze coming off the bay that rustles the leaves in the banyan and ironwood trees and makes the massive stand of bamboo sway to and fro.

Sun bathers and casual fishermen inhabit the sections of lawn at water's edge, while bikers and joggers rest in the shade of several simple shelters scattered throughout the gardens. The orange woodwork of a covered stone bridge stands out strikingly against the background of green foliage and grey pond water. The bridge's benches are often occupied, but on an off-day you can get lucky and have them all to yourself, offering possibly the best vantage point of the park in its entirety. It's also a great place to watch fishermen ply the ponds with their nets attached to long poles, shuffling after the darting fish that can be seen just below the surface in seemingly every pond in the park. Birdwatching is also a worthwhile pursuit in Liliuokalani Gardens, whose fields are littered with shore birds from time to time, and whose ponds often resound with the quacks of its resident flock of ducks.

At sunset on a clear day, the rolling slopes of Hawai'i Island's Hamakua Coast stand out in golden relief across Hilo Bay, as seen from the park's western edge, while a line of palm trees planted along the curving, oceanfront sidewalk cast long shadows onto the dark, still pools of brackish water where the fish can no longer be easily spotted.

It's wise to exercise caution and wear good shoes when perusing the park's footpaths; the concrete slabs making up the various walkways can be uneven in some places, flooded in others, and even covered in slippery moss, and there are no guard rails preventing accidental falls into the ponds.

Hilo Bay Cafe is right across the street from Liliuokalani Gardens and is a great place to grab lunch before exploring the park and its surrounding attractions like Banyan Drive and Coconut Island. Also, Suisan Fish Market, famous for its wide variety of local raw-fish dishes known as "poke", is next door to the cafe, serving up traditional Hawaiian plate lunch and offering a firsthand look at Hawai'i's many different types of tropical fish.

Mahalo nui loa to Stefan Verbano, Content Blog Writer for Kona Wedding Officiant® - Hawaii 101 - Things to Do On Hawaii Big Island -

Aloha - Deanna - Kona Wedding Officiant, Licensed Minister and Marriage Officiant.

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