Hawaii is a gorgeous island state that millions visit every year to enjoy an escape from the ordinary and relax amidst a tropical backdrop. Unfortunately, the beautiful waters and lush landscapes here have a cost and the Pacific Tsunami Museum is one of the places where you can learn more about the inherent risks of living in paradise.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is a two-story building located near the waterfront in Hilo on the Big Island. As its name suggests, this museum is dedicated to documenting tsunamis and their impact on these islands. The Pacific Tsunami Museum also prides itself on serving as a sort of living memorial to those lives lost to this type of natural disaster.
The museum itself is not very old. The concept began in 1988 when University of Hawaii professor Dr. Walter Dudley began soliciting stories from the community for an upcoming book. The book, entitled Tsunami!, told the story of recent tsunamis and their impact on survivors and those they lost.
One of the interviewed and chronicled tsunami survivors, Jeanne Branch Johnston, saw the value of creating a more concrete memorial and in 1993, formed a steering committee to create a museum dedicated to tsunamis and their impact on Hawaii. She partnered with Dr. Dudle and in 1997, their dream became a reality after the First Hawaiian Bank donated its Hilo branch building as the permanent site for the envisioned Pacific Tsunami Museum. Thus, this May, the museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary, certainly a momentous occasion.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 4 pm. The average amount of time spent here is about two hours, although you can go through it faster or linger longer by reading each of the exhibits in full.
There are two primary tsunamis that the Pacific Tsunami Museum highlights. Those tsunamis are the April 1, 1946 Pacific Tsunami, also known as the April Fools’ Day Tsunami, and the May 23, 1960 Chilean Tsunami. Both of these had a devastating impact across the islands, with the latter Chilean tsunami devastating almost every mile of the Big Island’s east coast. The exhibits for these tsunamis include survivor stories as well as photographs, videos, and other memorial elements of the events.
There is also more generalized information about tsunamis as well as the history of tsunami warnings available at this museum. There is an area dedicated to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami as well as other such major natural disasters that occurred elsewhere in the world. There are also interactive displays here and in the aforementioned major exhibits.
General admission is $8; $7 for seniors and Hawaiians. Children and teenagers are $4 and all toddlers and babies under the age of 5 are free. While not expensive, this is an older museum and so some more used to big city museums with many interactive exhibits and state-of-the-art tech might not appreciate the less technological layout of this one.
Note that while the museum is open until 4 pm, entrance into it is not. They will generally stop allowing new entrances a half-hour to one hour prior to closing, this is to give plenty of those coming in time and to allow staff to start the proper closing procedures.
-This part of Hilo is a great spot for general grocery shopping. The Locavore Store, an indoor market that specializes in locally-sourced products and produce, and Abundant Life Natural Foods, an organic and natural food store, are both within two blocks of this museum.
-You can enjoy the view from the top of the Pacific Tsunami Museum anywhere in the world (so long as you have an internet-connected device). That’s because there is a camera set up here to provide a live video stream of the beautiful Hilo Bay at all times. This is one of a series of Big Island cameras that make it easy to check surf conditions and current weather at specific local points.