Road making as practiced in Hawaiʻi in the middle of the 19th-century was a very superficial operation, in most places consisting of little more than clearing a right of way, doing a little rough grading and supplying bridges of a sort where they could not be dispensed with. (Kuykendall)
The absence of roads in some places and the bad condition of those that did exist were common causes of complaints which found expression in the newspapers. But in spite of the complaints, it is clear that in the 1860s the kingdom had more roads and on the whole better ones than it had twenty or even ten years earlier. (Kuykendall)
At its May 23, 1849 meeting, the Privy Council of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi (a private committee of the King’s closest advisors to give confidential advice on affairs of state) sought to “facilitate communication between Kailua, the seat of the local government, and Hilo, the principal port.”
They resolved “that GP Judd and Kinimaka proceed to Kailua, Hawaiʻi, to explore a route from that place to Hilo direct, and make a road, if practicable, by employing the prisoners on that island and if necessary taking the prisoners from this island (Oʻahu) to assist; the government to bear all expenses”. (Privy Council Minutes, Punawaiola)
(In 1828, Dr Gerrit Parmele Judd came with the Third Company of missionaries to Hawaiʻi. A medical missionary, Judd had originally come to the islands to serve as the missionary physician; by 1842, he left the mission and served in the Hawaiian government.)
(He first served as “translator and recorder,” then member of the “treasury board,” then secretary of state for foreign affairs, minister of the interior and minister of finance (the latter he held until 1853, when by resignation, he terminated his service with the government.))
In planning the road, the words of the Privy Council’s resolution were taken literally, and the route selected ran to the high saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on a practically straight line between the terminal points.
What became known as the “Judd Road” (or “Judd Trail”) was constructed between 1849 and 1859; construction began at the government road in Kailua (what is now known as Aliʻi Drive) and traversed through a general corridor between Hualālai and Mauna Loa. (Remnants of perimeter walls can still be seen at Aliʻi Drive.)
“This was the road that Dr. Judd … would have built from Kona in a straight line across the island of Hawaii. It was meant, of course, as a road for horsemen and pack animals. In the generation of Dr. Judd it was a great work, and the manner of its building showed that he meant it to be a monument to him for all time.” (Ford, Mid-Pacific, 1912)
When the road had been built about 12-miles from Kailua into the saddle between Hualālai and Mauna Loa, the project was abandoned – a pāhoehoe lava flow from the 11,000 foot-level of Mauna Loa crossed its path.
Though incomplete (it never reached its final destination in Hilo,) people did use the Judd Road to get into Kona’s mauka countryside.
“Up the long slope of Hualālai we ascended to Kaʻalapuali, following the old Judd trail through fields of green cane, through grass lands, through primeval forests, over fallen monarchs, finally out on that semi-arid upland which lies between Hualālai and Mauna Loa. Here we turned up the slope of Hualālai, climbing through a forest cover of ʻōhiʻa lehua and sandalwood carpeted with golden-eyed daisies – another picture of Hawaii, never to be forgotten.”
“And then the summit with its eight or more great craters and that strange, so-called bottomless pit, Hualālai, after which the mountain is named, and the battle of the Kona and trade wind clouds over the labyrinthean volcanic pits, gray-white spectres of vapor—all these linger in retrospection as we cast our mind’s eye back to that experience of one year ago.”
“Here on this weird summit, where the sun played hide and seek with the tumultuous clouds, the ʻiʻiwi, ʻelepaio, and ʻamakihi birds flitted and twittered from puʻu kiawe to mamani. Down the long southeast slope, beneath the white vapors, beautifully symmetrical cones arose from slopes, tree-clad and mottled by shifting clouds and sun.”
“Farther up the Judd trail, we came to that unique “Plain of Numbering”, where King ʻUmi built his heiau over four centuries ago and called his people together from all the Island of Hawaii. There is a romantic glamor hanging around those heaps of rocks which numbered the people who gathered at Ahua ʻUmi that will remain as a fond memory throughout eternity.” (Thrum, 1924)
(ʻUmi took a census at about 1500; for this census, each inhabitant of the Island of Hawaiʻi was instructed to come to a place called the “Plain of Numbering” to put a rock on the pile representing his own district. The result, still visible today, was a three-dimensional graphic portrayal of population size and distribution. (Schmitt))
“It is a wonderful setting up there on that arid plateau with Hualālai to the left and Mauna Loa rising majestically and deceptively to the right, with lofty Mauna Kea, snow-patched and beckoning from the distance before us. There is something sublimely massive, rugged, uplifting about that arid, wild region of the “plain of numbering-‘ hidden away from the ordinary walks of men, off to the right and near the end of the old Judd trail.” (Thrum, 1924)
This road was not the only attempt of linking East and West Hawaiʻi. About 100-years after the Privy Council’s resolution to connect East with West, the US military completed the link by building a vehicular access route to its Pōhakuloa Training Area during World War II.
Like earlier roads in Hawaiʻi it was not originally designed to State highway standards. Surfacing and nominal repairs over the subsequent decades left a roadway that island rental car companies banned its customers from use.
Today, route 200, known locally as Saddle Road, traverses the width of the Island of Hawaiʻi, from downtown Hilo to its junction with Hawaii Route 190 near Waimea. It “represent(s) both literally and symbolically … the physical bridging together of East and West Hawaii and the bridging of the bonds between people.” (SCR 43, 2013)
Saddle Road is the shortest and most direct route across the island of Hawai‘i, linking the historical main population centers of the island in East Hawai‘i with the growing West side, where the economy is anchored by tourism.
With realignment of portions and reconstruction starting in 2004, in 2013, the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (DOT) opened the last improved segment and renamed the 41-mile upgraded length of Hawaiʻi Saddle Road the Daniel K Inouye Highway (the renaming occurred on Inouye’s birthday, September 7 (Inouye died December 17, 2012.))