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Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

Philadelphia...
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9 posts
6 reviews
1 helpful vote
Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

Hello,

We are visiting the big island in june- we get in on a tuesday morning and will be staying in Volcano, so probably fly into Hilo and do a helicopter tour that day.

On Wednesday we will be driving to Waikaloa- I have been reading about the northern route and looking into horseback riding in Waipio.

Is there something better going on the southern route? I don't want to miss anything! I guess if there is anything great down there we can drive from Waikaloa on another day.

Any help , suggestions, places to eat, things not to miss- any info is great!

Also- favorite restaurants in Hilo, Volcano, Waikaloa- or anywhere in between?

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,656 posts
4 reviews
25 helpful votes
1. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

The north is fine, but it might be too late to go horseback riding. Waipi'o Valley is really an activity that should be the big one of the day, not an on the way home deal.

The questions you are asking are the type you can answer by doing a little reading in the forum, and any guidebook has a list of the attractions on each route. You should definitely have a guide book.

There are just so many topics, countless topics, about driving north or south and what to do ... please take advantage of them ...

Online guidebook:

http://www.gohawaii.com/big-island/guidebook

some of your questions will surely be more personal, and happy to help, but the sights and restaurants are already written up in many places and organized for you.

Cafe Pesto is a nice restaurant in Hilo for lunch, or if you want a local diner type ambience, many people like Ken's. There are places to eat lunch on the way along the Scenic Route (What's Shakin), Honomu, Laupahoehoe, and Honoka'a, and Waimea.

Edited: 6:12 pm, May 11, 2011
Philadelphia...
Level Contributor
9 posts
6 reviews
1 helpful vote
2. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

There is a riding trip at 12:30, so I guess I figured if we leave early it would be a good activity. We do not have a full day in Waipio.

Just looking for a north or south opinion I guess if we have most of a day to make the drive. I know there are sites and activities on both.

Edited: 9:14 pm, May 11, 2011
South Pole
Level Contributor
41,656 posts
4 reviews
25 helpful votes
3. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

There's no right answer. It all depends on what appeals to you most.

As for length of drive, it's about 50/50 from Volcano, but from Hilo it is clearly shorter to go north.

Allow 1 1/2 hours to get to Waipi'o for drive time only, but most would want to do something en route. That is to get to the top of Waipi'o, assuming that they collect you there.

Edmonton, Canada
Level Contributor
39 posts
137 reviews
155 helpful votes
4. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

We recently drove both routes on our trip, and would say that it really depends on what your interests are as the two routes are very different.

North: through Waimea is an easy winding drive, and shorter time wise - ranching country, Waipio Valley highly recommended by many (we didn't have time), Akaka Falls great stop, Botanical Gardens north of Hilo, tidal pools at Kapoho, drive to Kalapana (these latter two are off the main route).

Hilo itself was a bit of a bust for us so we focused on things north of it, or in Kaphoho area, and then up to Volcano.

Southern route may look the same distance as the north route on the map, but easily takes twice as long - very winding mountain roads throughout much of the route south of Kona around the tip makes it slow going. Interesting towns along the way, Captain Cook is a destination for at least a 1/2 day on its own, south point where two of our group jumped off the cliffs into the ocean (note can't take a rental car down that road), and volcano is worth a 1/2 day stop at least as well.

I would suggest you get a good guidebook, check out the various options and stops along the way, and then make your choice. If you have the time, its well worth doing an entire circle island trip to get the full flavour of the island and spending at least one night on the east side (either at Kapoho or Volcano) to break it into manageable chunks (way too much for one day).

Canby, Oregon
Level Contributor
1,495 posts
81 reviews
26 helpful votes
5. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

I agree with Can Travel. Last year I looked at the map and we drove from Volcano to Kailua-Kona, in the rain, windy road. It wasn't much fun and couldn't see anything. This year we will go the northern route. Anybody been across Saddleback?

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,656 posts
4 reviews
25 helpful votes
6. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

The southern route is longer, but actually it is less likely to hit rain on it than the northern route. All three routes have winding sections, but the curves on the northern route are not as tight, with the exception of the three horseshoe gulches.

The Saddle Road (NOT called Saddleback) is straight in the middle but has lots of curves getting up to the 6000 foot Saddle and down again, also has a section of up and down with curves that resembles a roller coaster. It is subject to dense fog/clouds that is actually more difficult to drive through than rain. If you can see that the summit of Mauna Kea is clear enough to see the observatories, then there is probably no fog.

Hwy 19, the northern route, is actually the most gentle road engineering of the three, and absolutely gorgeous in the sunshine, with the green and the ocean. It is NOT fun at night when it rains, so try to avoid getting in that situation. It rains most evenings, and you really can't know whether it will by judging the weather. Sudden squalls blow in as the day cools. Just assume that it will rain after dark; I do. (I drive this road every time I go to town.)

Ontario, Canada
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1,026 posts
38 reviews
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7. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

Last year we drove round the island at least twice and drove the Saddle road once. The way I figure it is that if you have never been before then either route is a nice drive. When you go from Volcano to Kona by the southern road you drive by lots of old lava flows which can be interesting. There are also quite a few viewing spots marked off with parking where you can pull over and take photos.

On the southern route there is also a great bakery [sorry, can remember the name but it begins with P] along the route, before South Point anyway. Once you turn northwards the road does get windy but there are still views and its all different. We found a few roadside stands that were selling local fruit etc.

The Saddle road was an experience. We drove it early in the day, no fog at the lower levels but a fair bit higher up. We drove up to the Mauna Kea visitor centre but no farther than that. Our little Dodge Calibre struggled a bit with the inclines close to the centre but it was worth the drive. They have washrooms and a shop with some souvenirs plus some info to read about the observatories.

We also saw approx 6 Nene coming down and managed to get close enough for photos [and before people have a go, they were right beside the road so we didnt chase them etc.]

Taking the northern route from Hilo we went to the Botanical Gardens. But be advised that there is a very steep walk down from the main gate to where most of the plantings begin. I seem to remember that they had a small golf cart that they would use to ferry people up and down in if they had problems walking.

It was pricey to enter though, $15 I believe, so you really have to love plants and gardening to get the full measure of it. We enjoyed it anyway.

Akaka Falls was north of this. Not a bad spot for an hour or so but it was pretty crowded the day we went. From there we just kept driving north around the top of the island and back down to Captain Cook. We did over a 1000 miles in our 10 days on the Island but we do love to drive.

My wife went horseback riding with an outfit north of Waimea I believe. Can't remember the name off the top of my head but they were easy and pleasant to deal with and took care of her on the ride.

Like I said before though, if you have never visited like us, whichever road you drive on will be a new experience and you will still have fun.

Pete

Island of Hawaii...
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7,943 posts
24 reviews
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8. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

"If you can see that the summit of Mauna Kea is clear enough to see the observatories, then there is probably no fog."

KK just gave out the "local secret" to the world! :):):) It is correct. If you can see the summit of Mauna Kea and the observatories from before you reach the Waikoloa Junction than there will be no fog and rain up on the Saddle Road. If I see just a single cloud, I keep going North. (It took years to learn the lesson.) :):):)

PS. Check the paper for military convoys first! They could make your trip to Hilo an all day affair!

9. Re: Drive North or South route Kona-Hilo?

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