On our family’s recent visit to Hawaii, we took a morning to visit the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens outside of Hilo. A small zoo, it contains a lot of native bird species as well as animals from other rain forest areas. Overall, I recommend the Hilo zoo as long as your children don’t have the expectations of seeing elephants or giraffes during your visit.
The zoo’s main star is a white Bengal tiger named Namaste. I’d love to share actual photos of this beautiful tiger instead of the tiger mural, but unfortunately the day we were there it was having hand surgery. This was very sad for the children, and we fielded a lot of questions about returning back to the zoo to see the tiger throughout the rest of our vacation.
One of the biggest draws of the zoo for me was not the animals, but was just the quiet setting and beautiful vegetation. There is a large pond surrounded by rain forest plants native to the Big Island. Palm trees line the pathways and colorful flowers can be found throughout.
The kids loved the large playground area at the Hilo Zoo. Unfortunately they saw it when we entered the zoo, and had a hard time keeping them focused on the animals. We spent at least a half hour playing on the playground before we left. I think it would have been a nice place for a picnic, had we brought food with us.
Zoo admission is free, which is a fantastic help to entertain the kids while staying on budget. As it is a small zoo, I would suggest planning around 3 hours for the visit, less if you think your kids will not enjoy the playground area. We got there when it opened at 9, and made it back to Hilo for lunch and afternoon swimming. There is a petting zoo open only on Saturdays for one hour, so you might want to take that in to consideration if you think your kids would enjoy it.
For more information, check out their website here.