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Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

Cincinnati, Ohio
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Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

I've read the previous posts on driving from Waikoloa to VNP and know there is some disagreement on driving North vs South. We will spend one day at VNP (Kilauea Iki trail, etc, but no night viewing of red lava) and want to pick the route that has the least amount of cliffs while driving. (Last year in Yellowstone, freaked on road north of the canyon, sharp turns, 1000 ft cliffs, and no guard rails!)

Thank for your help!

San Diego...
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1. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

You will not encounter anything like you did in Yellowstone so no worries.

Big Island, Hawaii
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2. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

I don't think there's really much disagreement, from Waikoloa pretty much everyone would advocate driving the north (Hamakua) route as it's shorter and vastly more scenic. No, there aren't really any cliffs and certainly nothing like Yellowstone.

Denver, Colorado
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3. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

North Hamakua route is way more scenic. Both routes have potential road hazards such as high bridges and road construction and mostly two lanes only but southern route thru South Point and north to Kona has lots of really winding turns and less room for diriving errors. Watch the speed limit signs heading into and out of Hilo as the local cops love to set up speed traps especially heading north out of Hilo. Remember to keep your speed below 55 mph on long open stretches of road on the Big Island.

The down side of Waikoloa to Volcano in a day is 6 hours plus driving (not including stops) and you don't have time to explore everything so pick and choose your side tirps wisely. If in a hurry at Volcano National Park just do the top half of the park as Chain of Craters Road will take an added 90 minutes roundtrip (not including stops).

If you really want to take your time and explore all of the south east sites plan on at least 2 nights lodging in Volcano or HIlo and add a 3rd night if wanting to do a scenic drive of lower Puna as well.

Island of Hawaii...
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4. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

No worries.

The only issue with Hamakua is road visibility can be next to none at night during a downpour. Try to drive back well before dark.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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5. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

Thank you all for your help! It sounds like there are no real nail biters on the trip either way, although the north route is more scenic and the south route less curvy but boring (and maybe worse traffic in Kailua-Kona). We'll watch the weather and be sure not to drive in the dark or heavy rain. Maybe if we are sure it is light and not raining, we'll go north there and south back. Thank you for the peace of mind you've provided!

Island of Hawaii...
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6. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

Re the weather--

Forecasts are not super accurate here, but I find NOAA is as good as it gets. Google NOAA Honolulu to find the site where you can input a town or zip code. There is also a point click map. Separate forecast for day and night is helpful.

On the east side, there are few days of the year when it won't say that some rain is likely. Heavy rain is the phrase that would make you reconsider coming east at all, because that means a real storm.

At least 50% of evenings you will get rain squalls on Hamakua coast. You can't watch for it. It can be bone dry and all of a sudden a fierce squall. I get surprised all the time despite living here for some years.

While there are dry nights when the road is decent, once you stay too late you no longer have the option to avoid rain if it happens, so I recommend just planning not to drive it at night.

The southern route is too long unless you're staying in Kona. Hamakua is best by morning, so you might want to drive the Saddle on return, but the problem with that is in the late afternoon you are driving into intense low sun on the way up the mountain. If it's not sunny, no problem. But try to get going before the sun hits that angle.

Big Island, Hawaii
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7. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

Actually the south route is pretty darn curvy in parts and it is boring, IMO. I would drive the Saddle coming back too as KK suggests. It's the fastest and easiest and has some unusual spectacular scenery.

Island of Hawaii...
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8. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

Yeah, I was thinking the same about the Hwy 11 curves ...

Here is the link to NOAA Hilo forecast. You might like to bookmark it.

forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php…

I would only take Hwy 11 back if both the Saddle and 19 are experiencing substantial weather ... which is not very likely, but does happen. Every road can have issues.

For example, a brushfire in Pahala just closed Hwy 11 intermittently for a couple days. I was wondering if any of our TA planners ran into that closure.

Sometimes there's a way to reroute the highway traffic, other times not. It depends on the location as some areas have through side roads and others do not have any alternative to the highway.

This is why I don't really encourage plans that are wrapped around a transit across island as the way to explore a certain district. Not only it is risky to hike and explore with all your luggage in a rental car, but you may not even be able to take the planned route that day.

Flexibility is good here.

Sign up for HPD road closure alerts by entering a Hawaii Island zip code at www.nixle.com

and you will get up to the minute emails alerting you of accidents, fires, flooding, rock falls, etc.. -- both of the closure and the reopening. It's very useful, and have your email incoming to a smart phone. You can also set up text alerts.

I don't want to make it sound like our roads are constantly in crisis, but there are only three routes and stuff does happen. Living here, I check the weather and the email before deciding which road to take. I mean, I have an intent to take a certain way, usually Hamakua because it's shorter for me, but sometimes the weather is simply too unpleasant.

The Saddle is almost always dry and sunny once you get up out of the Hilo clouds and drizzle, and it's quite exhilarating to be up there. I share Shea's like for the scenery.

You have to know though that there are no services on the Saddle. There is no commercial business at all, no food or water for that stretch. There is one restroom stop, at Mauna Kea State park area, and it's absolutely freezing with major wind chill, icy cold toilet seats, NO water for hand washing.

Speaking of which, it's a good idea to have a road kit like some paper towels, TP, a bottle of water, hand sanitizer, and always carry drinking water and some sort of flashlight in the car.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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9. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

We'll be sure to check the weather and traffic sites before leaving each direction. It sounds like the Saddle road isn't terrible (I was again worried about being high in the mountailns on cliffs...), either, if the weather and daylight are good. Thank you again for all the help!

Island of Hawaii...
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10. Re: Waikoloa to VNP, which way(North/South)has less cliffs

No cliffs on the Saddle.

One road that has drop offs is Kohala Mountain Road. Not cliffs per se. If you don't like that, you can drive it the Waimea to Hawi direction and not have any drops on your side of the road.