Located on the harbor's edge near Hilo Bay, the Wailoa River State Recreation Area could be thought of as Hilo's equivalent to New York City's Central Park, albeit on a much smaller scale. The capital planners were wise to leave this large, open area along the Wailoa River as a refuge from development, so that all can enjoy the great outdoors right downtown.
The Wailoa River State Recreation Area covers 131.9 acres. It includes not only the banks of the Wailoa River, but also the spring-fed freshwater Waiakea Pond, which stretches out alongside it. The "pond'' is so large, in fact, that geographers have classified it as a lake.
Fishing is permitted here, but those wishing to do so should consult with local guides and resources regarding required permits and restrictions. There is a boat ramp for those who prefer to head for deeper waters, although most anglers simple cast their lines into the pond from the shore. Pleasure boating on Waiakea Pond is also permitted.
The Wailoa River, from which the State Recreation Area takes its name, has played a role in Hilo's development since the earliest of times. Seafaring Polynesians arrived in this area about 1100 A.D. and inhabited the shores of Hilo Bay. The river provided them with fresh water for drinking, bathing and irrigating the crops that they farmed. It was also a commercial route for transporting goods in conjunction with the nearby Wailuku River.
Today, the Wailoa River State Recreation Area serves the recreational needs of Hilo's 45,000+ residents, as well as its visitors. There are a number of small picnic shelters and a central pavilion that attract families and vacationers alike. The surrounding grassy areas are great places for leisurely strolls or throwing a Frisbee. A number of meandering footpaths and high-arched footbridges lead through the park for walkers, joggers and those who enjoy getting around by bicycle.
The Wailoa River State Recreation Area is also the home of a circular exhibition center - Wailoa Center - which offers information services and cultural displays. Monthly art exhibits are held here, and an annual newsletter with a calendar of events is available to subscribers. Accessible by car via Piopio Street, Wailoa Center is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and Wednesday from noon to 4:30pm. It is closed on weekends and state holidays.
Just in front of Wailoa Center is a bronze statue of King Kamehameha I. Made in Italy in the late 1980s, it is a full 12 feet tall and the King's feet are adorned with gold Roman sandals. Also nearby the Center, memorials to Hilo's Vietnam War veterans and tsunami victims can be seen.
Among other facilities that can be found in the Wailoa River State Recreation Area are restrooms, picnic tables, trash cans, and drinking water. There is free parking at end of Pi'ilani Street in downtown Hilo. The area is open daily, year-round, during daylight hours and there is no entrance fee. Visitors should note that camping is prohibited here.