This a photo tour of the drive on Saddle Road (Hwy 200) on the Big Island of Hawaii. It includes a side trip to the Mauna Kea visitor's center, which is 6 miles up above Saddle Road. The west side entrance is above Waikoloa Village, between Waimea and Kona on Hwy 190. The east side entrance is in Hilo at Komohana and Puainako Streets.
UPDATE November 2013:
The new section of Saddle Road, named after Senator Daniel Inoye, decreased our drive time to Hilo by 30 minutes. The new road is 3 wide lanes and completely bypasses all the rough portions and single lane bridges on the Kona side of the old Saddle Road. The entrance is at about mile-marker 14 on Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 190) to about mile-marker 42 on the existing Saddle Road. The new road has a 55 mph speed limit, wide shoulder, and ramps for trucks to slow down if needed.
To get to the road from South Kohala Resorts, take Waikoloa Road to Highway 190 and turn right to find the entrance. The entrance is on the Kona side of Highway 190.
Caution: There have been accidents from speeding cars missing the curves. We drove over to Hilo in the morning and the sun was directly in our eyes making it visibility difficult. Wear sun glasses.
UPDATE March 31, 2013:
Saddle Road is substantially better than last year on the Hilo side and worse on the Kona side this year. The west side (on the Kona/ Waikoloa side) was repaved last year but is bumpy and had pot holes from frequent use by convoys of tanks to the Pohakuloa Military Training Grounds at the top of Saddle Road. The pictures below have been updated to show the current state of the road.
Cautions: There are areas on the road with no cell service, though more phones have been placed along the highway. There are no gas stations or stores or manned places to get help; during bad weather or heavy cloud cover, visibility can be close to zero. There are wild pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys and birds that can be a hazard by running across the road - drive cautiously.
OLD SECTION OF KONA SIDE OF SADDLE ROAD
The pictures and commentary below are in order from the west side of Saddle Road (at the junction of Highway 190 and 200) to the east side of Saddle Road (at the junction of Komohana and Highway 200 in Hilo). At the end is a photo log of the drive up to the Mauna Kea Visitor's Center from the turnoff at the top of Saddle Road.
March 31, 2012: We arrived at the junction of Saddle Road (Hwy 200) and Highway 190 (the upper road from Kona at 7:15AM. From Kona it is about 45 to 50 minutes to this location and from the bottom of Waikoloa Rd (half way between Waikoloa Beach and Mauna Lani) it is about 25 minutes.
The first 15 minutes of Saddle Road from the west side going toward Hilo are bumpy. There are 4 single lane bridges where you have to yield to oncoming traffic. The bridges look like the picture below, where the double yellow line ends to designate a single lane.
Past the single lane bridges we had to slow down for wild turkeys crossing the road.
We reached the sign for Hamakua District at 7:35AM.
Then there is a Hunter check station.
Four more one lane bridges and then there is a sign stating you are in the
Pohakuloa Military Training Grounds. You can see buildings on the right side behind a barbwire fence.
After Mile 42 the road expands with a large berm on each side and speed limit goes to 55 mph.
THE NEW SECTION OF SADDLE ROAD ENTERS AT THIS POINT
We reached the gate of the Military Facility at 7:48AM. It was 54 degrees.
The Mauna Kea State Park is right past the gate on the left side toward Hilo. There is a bathroom there. Bring a coat, it can be really cold.
A few emergency telephone boxes have been added and a Nene Xing sign. The Mauna Kea Access road has a sign.
A huge green rock erupts from the ground on the right side, almost directly across from the Mauna Kea Access Road. You can stop there for a rest and there is a bathroom there. The temperature there was 49 degrees at 7:56AM.
Past the access road, there are huge lava fields and you can see the clouds over Hilo below. The road becomes three lanes and has been upgraded very nicely.
After mile 11, at 8:13AM the road narrows and becomes wiggly, the speed limit is 35mph. Though only 2 lanes, the road is newly paved and in better shape than last year. Houses above Hilo came in view at 8:27AM. Past mile 7 is the top of the Kaumana Road and there is good pavement all the way down to the end of the road. The speed limit is 40mph and you can see Hilo town and the bay below. We reached the intersection of Hwy 200 and Komohana at 8:27PM and the temperature was 72 degrees.
Note: If you want to get to the Afook Civic Auditorium or Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium from Saddle Road we usually take this route:
From Saddle Road, turn left onto Komohana Road. Go past Nowelo Street (where Imiloa Astronomy Center is located) and turn right on Mohouli Street. Take Mohouli Street all the way to Kilauea Avenue, where it ends, and turn right. From Kilauea Avenue, turn left at Kekuanaoa Street. To your right is Hilo Shopping Center (where Island Natural Foods is located) and to your left is the County Water Building. Turn left at Manono Street and the Civic Auditorium will be on your right past Love's Bakery. If you stay on Manono Street, it will intersect with the Bay Front (Highway 19). Manono Street becomes Banyon Drive on the other side of Hwy 19 (where Liliuokalani Gardens and Hilo hotels are located).
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Road from Mauna Kea Visitor's center to Saddle Road
The road from Saddle Road to the Visitors center is at the 28 mile marker where there is a road to the right and a Mauna Kea Access Road sign. The visitors center is 6 miles up a relatively steep road at 9000 feet. The visitor's center has a bathroom, displays and a gift store. The telescopes are located at 14,000 feet accessible from the Visitor's Center by a dirt road. These photos start at the Visitors Center on a day when winter weather on Mauna Kea had shut down traffic up to the telescopes.
There is housing for visiting scientists and workers next to the Visitors center
Visitors center parking lot
Bathroom in Visitors Center - uses filtered lights
A Road Barricade was set up this day due to ice and snow on Mauna Kea. The road up to the summit is rugged to drive over. Four wheel drives are recommended. At the top of the summit, the roads are fully paved.
Campground near Visitors Center
The road from Visitors Center down to Saddle Road was driven in the lowest gear going about 20mph (17% grade)
Near the intersection of Saddle Road and the road to the Mauna Kea Visitors center road there is an emergency telephone.
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