Saddle Road, also known as Hawaii Route 200, received its nickname for being the “saddle” in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. The road winds through the foothills of Hawaii Island at elevations of up to 6,600 feet. It’s pretty impressive!
About halfway across, though, right about at the place where Hawaii Route 200 becomes the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, you can turn instead onto what is known as the Old Saddle Road. That will lead into countryside that, by appearance, could be any spot in the mid-west, with cattle grazing in green pastures. We were headed for Waimea, a town that could have come straight out of a cowboy western, where we had dinner reservations.
It was the road that made me laugh out loud, though. Old Saddle Road appears to have been put down over the existing terrain without so much as smoothing out a bump first. I tried and tried to get a photograph of its crazy trajectory, but all the twists and turns made it impossible. The road goes up and down while crazily zig-zagging over the land. It often banks, just by chance, it seems, in the opposite direction of what would make sense for the direction of the curve. The Only in Hawaii website has this to say:
The road is notoriously dangerous, and was featured by Conde Nast Traveler as being one of the “10 Scariest Highways For White-Knuckle Road Trips.” While it has undergone extensive renovations, it’s still one of Hawaii’s most mysterious roads.
Combine vision-obscuring fog, rough roads, narrow lanes, marginally maintained pavement and several one-lane bridges and you’ve got the old Saddle Road. The highway was once considered to be so dangerous that some rental car companies would forbid their customers to drive on the road.
The road is void of any gas stations, stores, or anywhere manned to get help. It is advised to make sure you have the number of an island tow company before you begin your journey. But be careful – there are portions of the road with no cell service.
My son-in-law is a good driver, and I was never frightened, but travelling down the Old Saddle Road was an experience I won’t forget!