Where to Go in Hilo:

Where the Turtles Stay

Richardson's beach in Hilo on a blue-sky, sunny day with palm trees in the background and the black lava rock shore.

Writer: Nick Wagner, Associate Editor
Photographer: Caralyn Fitzpatrick

Richardson Ocean Park, though commonly known to locals of Hilo as “Richardson’s”, is one of the most popular spots in Hilo, well known as the best place to snorkel on the east side of the Big Island, according to LoveBigIsland.com. it not only brings great snorkeling, but also the breathtaking black sand beach, the pond spreading across the park, and an opportunity to see the turtles of Hilo as well.

Why is the property called “Richardson’s” anyway? Being that the beach park is in Hawai’i, some might find the name of the beach park to be a little random. In the book “Beaches of the Big Island” written by John Clark, the origin of the name comes from Sheriff George Richardson, who once owned the property and then built the home that is there today.

Long ago the beautiful beach park that we know today was set to be a seven-story hotel, which would’ve been where the green house currently stands.WHile home in the summer of ‘91, Hilo local Chris Yuen, became worried about the zoning of the area and eventually created a petition to halt the construction of the hotel.

Yuen says that at that time the federal funding allowed for the county to purchase the area of Richardson’s Beach Park. While Yuen’s petition barred the hotel from being built in the area where the house stands, he also notes that they were unable to inspire change when the seven-story condo was built in Keaukaha in 1972. Yuen says that a local “old-timer” of Hilo had told him that the black sand beach at Richardson’s used to be a lot bigger before a tsunami in 1946 hit. He then goes on to say that the public was unable to go to those same beaches that now stand in front of the house around the 1970s due to a fence that was put up by the owners of the home back then. After the purchase of the beach park by the county of Hawai’i, many people volunteered to help clean up the area, which Yuen says was “largely overgrown.” This assistance gave Hilo locals access to the beaches of Richardson’s once again.

Once efforts were made to clean up the area, visitors and locals started to visit the area whether it was to swim, relax, surf or snorkel. The turtle is indigenous to Hawai’i, and it seems that Richardson’s is the place where the turtles like to congregate the most. From one side of the park to the other you are likely to see a turtle peeking their head up while the high tide of the ocean clashes against the seawall. Although Yuen has no explanation for why the turtles love the spot so much, he mentioned that he once counted “50 turtles” in an hour while snorkeling along the bay. “I'd like to give your readers the message that committed people with the right cause can make a difference, even though most of us had no experience in a movement like this.”

Hundreds of people now are able to enjoy the beauty of Richardson’s due to the efforts of Yuen. He stresses how the Hilo area has so few locations that provide access to beaches and sheltered lagoons like Richardson’s has. Yuen still works hard today to preserve various beaches around Hilo, and has done so since he was 19. His actions helped make Richardson’s what it is today, and he urges the youth in Hilo to actively participate in preserving Hawaii's beaches, just as he did.

Cartoonized map of Hilo showing Richardson's Beach Park from UH Hilo.

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