When you arrive on the Big Island of Hawaii, you don’t quite know what to expect (just yet), especially if your only experience of Hawaii is Maui or Oahu. I have been wanting to go to the Big Island for years and to have the Shipman House B&B (built in 1899), as my first place to stay couldn’t have been more perfect.
I flew into Hilo, not Kona, which most people do, so the airport was small, and I was in my car and at the B&B within the half hour. Hilo is a charming little town which I think is underrated (more on that later).
My Hawaii lodging experience has been diverse. I stayed in a Makena Surf luxury condo, Lumeria’s renewing educational retreat center, Hawaii Island Retreat, a luxury holistic retreat getaway, The Fairmont in Maui, which only has suites, The Four Seasons which opens up to lush flowers and wild tropical vegetation with a beach view, and an unexpected two bedroom apartment in a new resort in Maui’s Lahaina. So, the only thing missing is a hostel (been there, done that), camping (I’d choose a different destination) and someone’s house. Enter Shipman House, a perfect choice for an intimate B&B “home” experience.
The Shipman House is own and run by Barbara Andersen and her husband Gary, whose bedroom was immediately across from mine, both of which faced the front of the house. The room I had while I stayed there below – it not only looks charming, but it is…and the room is much larger than it looks here, with a fairly large bathroom as well.
Below is a room in the back carriage house, which is a separate building to the rear of the house, where many guests park their cars. The upside is that it is its own building, so you’re more remote, the downside is that you can’t just walk downstairs into the incredibly historical house, hang out and read a book.
Leaving the back carriage house porch.
The inside of the house is like walking through a museum. Although many historical B&Bs have lots of antiques, old paintings and knick-knacks, Barbara has added a number of fine touches that add to the warmth and home-iness of the place. Many of the antique furnishings are apparently original to the house and the original Shipman family who lived in it. It also happens to be the only historic Victorial B&B on the Big Island. Here’s an extensive write-up on the history of Shipman House so you can travel back in time and learn a bit about Hawaiian history and culture at the same time.
They also have a fabulous grand piano if you happen to play which I do. And, if you don’t, it’s a great sight to see when you walk through the living room.
While the inside of the house is beautiful, its exterior is not any less so. Take a look at what you see when you come up the driveway.
The side porch (to the left if you’re facing the photo) has a view of lush vegetation and trees that make you feel as if your’e in a tropical getaway, yet you’re only a couple of miles from the center of Hilo. This is the place to be in the morning, which is right next to the room where they serve breakfast.
While we’re on the topic of breakfast, I’d be negligent in my write-up if I didn’t mention the exquisite fruit platter that they prepare for their guests. Its loaded with so many unusual tropical fruits, some of which I had never heard of and I’ve been to many a’ tropical place. Imagine mangoes, papayas with lime or lemon, lychees, longan (dragon’s eye), apple bananas, star apple (purple outside, gelatinous white center), eugene cherries/Surinam cherries (they look like little maroon pumpkins), pineapple, soursop (small white juicy, gloppy hunks), eggfruit and sapote mamey (orange flesh, tastes like yam).
And, they serve a variety of jams, teas, raisins, macadamia nut granola, hashed brown taro, coconut and freshly made breads. Then there’s the yummy not-to-be missed Ka’u coffee. Accustomed to catering to people’s dietary needs, they’ll also workaround a number of intolerances, such as nut allergies, lactose, celiac, diabetes and gluten-free.
Barbara (who btw, is over-the-top helpful in one of those “she wants to make sure my stay is perfect, that I don’t get lost, that I go to the right places, eat the best food, and even know the right names of Hawaiian birds), brought me a pot of tea after I got home. Her husband btw, is equally as helpful and together, they make you feel like family, so much so that it’s hard to leave.
While all of the above is enough of a reason to stay here, the two additional fun things worth mentioning are the bridge that you have cross to get to their house and sitting on their fabulous upstairs porch by night.
The house itself is located on Reed’s Island, which isn’t really an island in the way we think of islands, but a neighborhood that sits across from a wooden bridge that divides it and downtown Hilo. Crossing this very small bridge, which only takes a couple of minutes, takes you world’s away from the town. Suddenly, you’re in a world of rainforest, bamboo, palms and mango trees. Take a look at the bridge – it rocks as you cross it, which adds to the divide between town and tropics.
While the side wraparound porch is a relaxing wonderful place to sit by day, by night, I hung out on the second floor porch facing the front for hours. As I sat back and gazed into the dark of the night on that incredible porch, the sound of the frogs came alive. (at first I thought it was birds, but it was too loud and too familiar – crikey, I remember hearing frogs by night where I grew up in the upstate New York’s Adirondack mountains, but we never had that many FROGS, there were never that MANY, and they were never that LOUD).
When the day crept into dusk in Guatemala and Belize, I remember hearing the sound of the tropics come alive. It was like that in Ecuador’s Amazon, Southern Africa’s game parks and East Africa’s coastline. And, it was like that in parts of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and Fiji. Somehow, you don’t expect it somewhere in the states, especially so close to a town.
If you listened closely enough, it was as if they were a choir and one of them was conducting. I had a hard time reading and so gave up. I wanted to write but the frogs said “no, listen to us and just be present,” and so I did. The experience was magical, so much so that I must have been on that porch until the wee hours of the morning until my eyes finally gave up staying open. While there were a few mosquitoes, they didn’t seem to be a problem and the joy of sitting on that porch far outweighed the few I saw buzzing around.
When I returned to my room, I saw that Barbara had left a pair of ear plugs for me – clearly some people have a hard time sleeping when the frogs are singing, not surprising if you’re not used to it. While yes, they may have been loud, they were pure and it was such a beautiful reminder of how close we were to nature and that some forced construction of something human had not dampered their desire to sing to us stressed out humans at night. And so I listened and was present with their performance and off I drifted into a deep sleep, only to be woken by another great joy – the smell of great cooking in the kitchen below.
Thanks to the Andersens for such incredibly warm hospitality, for their frogs and for bringing back so many memories of my childhood in just a matter of hours.