Big Island’s Small Spot

The Shipman House offers clients an authentic Hawaiian experience

By: Fadra Perrin

If your clients think they’ve seen Hilo when they passed through on their way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, they’ve missed out on a unique opportunity to enjoy one of the last unspoiled towns in the islands. To really appreciate this sleepy little spot on the Big Island’s east side, they should spend at least a couple of nights there. And, if they want a truly authentic old Hawaii experience, they can stay in a historic 1899 Victorian mansion, whose guests have included writer Jack London.

Today the Shipman House Bed & Breakfast Inn is owned by the great-granddaughter of the mansion’s original owners. Barbara Andersen and her husband, Gary, have renovated the old family home, turning the upstairs ballroom into guestrooms and adding modern amenities without compromising the feel of an elegant bygone era. The Shipman House is on Hawaii’s National Register of Historic Places, and it still retains such original features as old-growth Douglas fir floors, 12-foot ceilings, hand-rolled curved glass windows and oversized claw-foot bathtubs. Guests can tour the antique-filled public rooms, aided by Barbara’s self-guided tour brochure which includes historic anecdotes about the heirloom furnishings, extensive art collection and family mementos.

The five guestrooms have private baths, small refrigerators and special touches like cotton kimonos and fresh flowers. On a recent visit, we stayed on the second floor in Auntie Clara’s Shell Room, named for Barbara’s great-aunt. The spacious room has a queen bed, sitting area and lovely views of lush vegetation and Hilo Bay. When Jack London visited in 1907, he slept in Flossie’s Room on the first floor, with antique koa-wood twin beds.

The home is situated high on a ridge overlooking a deep canyon, with 5½ acres of tropical gardens. The rolling grounds include a stream, waterfall and 20 varieties of exotic fruit trees. While it feels far from civilization, it’s conveniently located five blocks from historic downtown Hilo. It’s an easy walk to restaurants, shopping and the Hilo Farmer’s Market, and umbrellas are provided in case of sudden showers.

A bountiful breakfast is served each morning on the lanai. Some of the unique island offerings include macadamia nut granola, Kona coffee, fresh juice, breads and muffins and a huge array of local fruits, many of them from the trees on the property.

Charming and knowledgeable hosts, the Andersens often join their guests for breakfast and share helpful information about secret swimming beaches, natural saunas, lava tide pools and snorkeling lagoons. Come evening, clients can relax on the lanai and listen to the frogs and the sounds of the waterfall.


The Shipman House Bed & Breakfast Inn
131 Kaiulani St.
Hilo, HI 96720

Rates: $199-$219 per night, double, with a discount for multiple-night stays. Rates include continental breakfast.
Note: Air conditioning and television sets are not available in the guest-rooms.
Commission: 10 percent

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