HAWAII — Saddle Road

This road is so named because it runs along a saddle-shaped valley between Mauna Kea to the north and Mauna Loa to the south. The road is narrow and winding and very steep in parts. There are no lights so its advisable not to drive here after dark and fog is frequent. Most hire car companies don’t allow renters to use this road because of the dangers attached to driving here so check before you come.

The sights found here are:
Onizuka Visitor Information Station
Summit Observatories
Mauna Loa

Onizuka Visitor Information Station
The Onizuka Visitor Information Station is named after a Big Island native who was one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger space shuttle disaster. It is a very interesting place to visit with its telescopes and informative staff. It is also a must if you plan to climb the summit of Mauna Kea as it offers a place to acclimatise yourself for a time before attempting the climb. It has several activities on offer including nightly stargazing sessions from 6 to 10 and on weekends they offer escorted summit tours, heading up the mountain in a caravan but you need to have your own 4WD. These tours are free and you don’t need a reservation but you must arrive by 1pm.
For information about the Onizuka Visitor Information Station visit the website at: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis

Mauna Kea

Summit Observatories
Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in Hawaii and on its summit you will find 13 astronomical observatories which are considered to have the world’s finest collection of telescopes. The mountain is home to many native plants and animals which you will hopefully sight on your journey to the summit. There are no facilities at the summit of Mauna Kea and only 4WDs are recommended beyond the Onizuka Visitor Information Station. You can visit the summit during the daytime but headlights aren’t allowed between sunset and sunrise because of interference with the observatories. You can also hike up to the summit but it is an ordeal and you will need to be fit to make the attempt. The hike to the summit will take around 5 hours and it is best if you start early and the weather will need to be good. The summit looks a bit like a lunar landscape and with the presence of the observatories it seems very alien. The views from here are quite amazing and you will be rewarded for your effort of getting here. If you don’t want to drive yourself or hike up to the summit you could take one of the tours that are available and contact information for these companies is found on the Onizuka Visitor Information Station website.
For information about the observatories visit the following website at: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko
For information about the Onizuka Visitor Information Station visit the website at: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis

Traveller's Tip

You will need to wear or bring warm clothing including hats and gloves whilst visiting the summit and the observatories as temperatures can drop to below freezing. It is best to check the weather and road conditions before you travel to here. It can snow on Mauna Kea in Winter and then it is a great place to ski and snowboard.
Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano and is one of its most active, having erupted 33 times since its first eruption in 1843. It covers an enormous area and stretches from the mountain to the sea. You can hike to the summit but it will take you several days and the going is very tough. You can drive up the northern flank in an ordinary car but the road is narrow and winding. You park just below the weather station and from here you can see the summit and observatory domes of Mount Kea. You can take a tour of the weather station but you will need to make a reservation. Information about the weather station can be found on the website below. There is also a hike that you can do from here which is only for the fittest as it is very steep and difficult. There are many tours that you can take around Mauna Loa including Kula Kai Caverns which feature miles of ancient lava tubes, or caves, formed by the underground flow of molten lava to the sea. Guides take visitors on a lighted trail leading to an enormous cavern illuminated by spotlights. On the slopes of Mauna Loa you will find macadamia nut factories and coffee farms.
For information about the weather station visit the website at: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/mlo/index.html

Traveller's Tip

The height of this mountain can cause altitude sickness and anyone with respiratory problems or other serious health problems should think before visiting Mauna Loa.