The Five-0 Dream comes true, Part 6: getting to Mauna Kea

(YES this is a super late post. WHOOO. My Hawaii trip actually happened in June 2016! If you missed my previous posts, I talked about presenting my research at the International Coral Reef Symposium, exploring Diamond Head, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, exploring the Bishop Museum and eating my way around Honolulu, and exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.)

We woke up slightly early so we could hike down to the the Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake before we left for Mauna Kea but it turned out to be a drizzly, windy, AND foggy morning so that plan was canceled real quick.

Nope, no hiking to be done in the Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake.

We did manage to take a few photos of the endangered nene (pronounced “nay-nay”, YES like the song and YES my friends made a ton of corny jokes )  that was hanging out in front of Volcano House.

After that, we went back to Holoholo In to pack our bags and head to Mauna Kea via the long way AKA a scenic drive along the coast. We wanted to get to Mauna Kea just before sunset so the long way, with the postcard-perfect views and casual driving, was perfect.

First stop: Boiling Pots waterfall. Boiling Pots is one of the waterfalls along the Wailuku River – Rainbow Falls is another but we didn’t stop there because we couldn’t find a place to park. It gets its name from how it looks after a good rain – the river rises and the water in the pools get rougher, making it look like it’s boiling. Fun fact: “Wailuku” means “river of destruction”. Signs around the area warn that the river can be dangerous and flash floods do happen, so stay behind the railing.

Yup, definitely looks like it could be dangerous under the right conditions.

Second stop: Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Many of Hawaii’s monarchs called Waipi’o Valley home, including King Kamehameha I, hence its other name “Valley of the Kings”. The valley is surrounded by cliffs up to 600 meters high and is also home to Hi’ilawe Falls. Hi’ilawe Falls drops 400 meters down into the valley, making it the highest waterfall in the state. Unfortunately, you can only see it when inside the valley or from the air, not from the lookout point.

This was my absolute favorite pit stop. My god, the valley is GORGEOUS. There are some picnic tables where you can just set up and look at the fantastic view while chewing on a sandwich. There was a house next door to the lookout that had a lawn chair out facing the same view. Gawd, I was so jealous.

TIP: you can go down into the valley via 4-wheel drive vehicle, horseback, or hiking, However, while the road is paved, it has a 25% gradient on average (even higher in some places), so prepare for a lot of pain on your way out. Just how much pain? This cycling page has a very nice explanation. For reference, the road up to the observatories on Mauna Kea has a 17% average gradient.

The long road up: Saddle Road. After Waipi’o, we backtracked then turned inward onto Saddle Road to finally head towards Mauna Kea. The Saddle Road (AKA Daniel K. Inouye Highway) is a 73.6 km road that cuts through the middle of the Big Island and the raised slopes (the saddle) between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, making it the fastest route between Hilo and Kailua-Kona.

The road was smooth and easy driving, with views of lava desert all around. Fun fact: your ears will pop while driving because the road reaches a maximum elevation of 2,021 meters.

No water in sight but still a great view.

Safety concerns: While the road itself is in great condition, sudden fog is a problem, with visibility going down to zero in a few minutes. There are also no gas stations, convenience stores, or accommodations along the road, so stock up on gas and food before you leave. Don’t do what we did (more info in the next blog post).

Incoming fog
Yep, zero visibility right there. Be careful when driving!

Up next: the glory of Mauna Kea!

Driving route: Volcano Village – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Volcano Village – Hilo (just to drop our bags at the hostel) – Boiling Pots – Waipi’o Lookout – Mauna Kea – Hilo
Total distance: 290 km

Say it now!