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The lush rainforest trail descended onto black, steaming rock — the surface of a once-molten lava lake that is now a solid crater floor, barren except for the mist that peaks through its cracks and vents and the occasional plant, leading a new generation of life. After the four-mile Kilauea Iki Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s popular trail through the 1959 eruption of the Kilauea Iki Crater, I walked through the Thurston Lava Tube before traipsing through the Mauna Ulu trail, which is essentially an interactive display of lava flows from 1969 to 1974. Earlier in the day, Ranger Shyla Ronia pointed out the park’s endemic flora and fauna during a guided hike to a panoramic view of the Halemaumau Crater, which I viewed from an even closer vantage point later at the Jagger Museum. There I learned about vulcanology through exhibits and in front of me, where a lake of boiling lava churned in the crater’s fuming pit, emitting steam that could be seen atop the caldera. During my time at the World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, I met savvy rangers, intrepid hikers and even the endangered and endemic nene birds. I didn’t want to leave but, unlike Pele, the spiritual force of the volcano, I’m only human, and I was getting hungry. A hearty meal and a place to rest my bones was what I found at the Kilauea Lodge, only a mile away in the artist’s village of Volcano, which boasts a restaurant, 12 on-property rooms and four off-property units.
The first thing I did after checking in was walk the few steps from my room to the property’s outdoor covered Jacuzzi. Here, I was able to best appreciate my surroundings — a continuation of the lush and verdant rainforest I encountered in the park, but with the steaming Jacuzzi replacing the steaming vents. The outdoor garden area is small, but peaceful, and provided a perfect backdrop for relaxing. Back at my room — the Ohia Room, located on the ground floor of the Hale Aloha building — everything was cozy. Books, ample space, heated towel warmers, a Norweigan-made Jotul fireplace and local art and wood throughout made me feel like I was in a lodge, though the windows gave away the tropical garden surrounding me. Some rooms cater to honeymooners and families, but nearly all cater to the hiker — they are more practical than luxurious, with a desk full of resources for visiting the surrounding area and even a personal water cooler in the bathroom. My room also included its own lanai — others include balconies — and access to the common room, where there is a DVD player and screen for volcano video viewing, a fireplace, games and a library.
There’s a reason why the Kilauea Lodge Restaurant is not just the favorite fancy dinner spot for the local clerk who served me at the Volcano Winery. Food here is treated with as much attention as anything else at the lodge. The head chef is Albert Jeyte, who has owned the property with his wife, Lorna, since 1986. He makes changes to his menu nightly, though fresh fish from the island is almost always an option. Mainly composed of classic European dishes with island touches, options include Meatloaf Revisted, Kuahiwi Ranch Natural Beef with fresh vegetables and herbs, and Lamb Provencal, a rack of lamb, baked with fresh herbs, seasoned bread crumbs and a papaya apple mint sauce garnish. Meals come with a freshly made soup or salad and benefit from a good wine pairing, made possible by an extensive international wine list. Many locals come here to eat or sit by the lodge’s fireplace — called the International Fireplace of Friendship, which is the best reminder of the property’s origin as a YMCA camp. In 1938, more than 400 people inaugurated the fireplace, which is embedded with stones and coins from all over the world. Guests have it the best, though — they also receive homemade breakfasts with their stay. One standout option is the Black Sand Beach — guava, taro and traditional flavors of Punaluu Portugese sweetbread French toast, served with fresh fruit, bacon and coffee.
The Kilauea Lodge is a no-brainer for those who want to enjoy a comprehensive visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Indeed, there’s little sweeter than topping off a homemade dessert with a short drive back to the park, where lava glows at night.
Rooms begin at $180 based on double occupancy, with an added 13.4 percent sales tax. Extra guests age 2 and older are a $20 supplement.