I have been to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park four times — most recently in June 2011. With Kilauea, one of the Big Island’s five volcanoes (and the only active one), disgorging steam, volcanic debris and flowing lava since 1983, the park’s topography has been different from one visit to another.
An additional difference last year from my previous visits over nearly two decades was that the Volcano House with its ringside view of the eruption was boarded up, and that had nothing to do with volcanic activity but rather with concessionaire issues. The details are too tedious to detail, but re-opening is on the near horizon — and that is good news worth sharing.
Since 1824, a lodging structure has perched on the edge of the Kīlauea caldera to shelter park visitors. The first real Volcano House was built in 1866, and that year, Mark Twain wrote that “the surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”
The great American writer presumably did not visit during an active cycle that would have eclipsed his wonderment at the hotel’s location, but in these says, seeing the red rambling landmark boarded up and neglected is simply sad. The current structure was built in 1941 and has been shuttered since 2009.
Thankfully, that’s going to change in the foreseeable future. A 15-year concession contract has been awarded to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Lodge Company, LLC to operate the Volcano House and other visitor services within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
The Hawaiʻi-based company, owned by Ortega National Parks, LLC, is a partnership between Honolulu-based Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Inc., and Ortega National Parks LLC, a company with 16 years of experience operating concessions within national parks in California and New Mexico, including Bandelier, White Sands, Muir Woods, Carlsbad Caverns, and Death Valley. The locally based Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Inc. manages 18 hotels and resorts on five islands in Hawaiʻi .
While the Volcano House was empty, the National Park Service invested more than $4 million in fire, safety and seismic upgrades and improvements to the hotel. As contractually required, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Lodge Company, LLC will complete additional renovations and room upgrades that are estimated to cost between $2.5 and $3.5 million.
In addition to Volcano House, the new concessionaire will operate Nāmakanipaio Campground, retail, food and other services in the park.
I look forward to my next visit, when the park’s landscape will again shift, when Kilauea will be putting on yet another wondrous natural show and when the Volcano House will be hosting guests again.