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Volcano House - The Inn on the Edge of the Caldera
by Thomas Schueneman


Beyond Devastation - Devastation Trail, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Pyramid shaped piles of black lava topped with a single white coral stone are like beacons to guide us on the trail. The vegetation that thrives in this environment is sparse. Small trees, randomly scattered, stand alone and silhouetted against the gray sky. Knee high patches of wheat colored grass, spring flowers, and miniature ferns manage to take hold in fissures and spaces between the smooth, black rock covering the land for miles around. Once we were out of sight of the trailhead, it seemed as if Jayne and I were the only two people on Earth. The openness was inspiring. The silence was golden.


Everybody loves a good volcano. The Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has been captivating people for hundreds of years. Mark Twain said of this place, “... and you hear the hissing of steam
in her boilers, the puffing from her escape pipes and the churning rush of the water abaft her wheels. The smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner."

It is the stark contrast between tropical forest and rocky moonscape, the billowing clouds of steam and sulfur, puffing and wheezing from beneath our feet, and the fire from within that spills out into the sea that compel sinners and non-sinners alike to stand in awe when visiting Kilauea. The great Hawaiian Goddess Pele reigns supreme from the depths of the volcano.

Volcanoes National Park is a great side trip destination when visiting the island. The best way to explore this area is to spend at least a couple of days. A stay at Volcano House, located on the northeast edge of the Kilauea Caldera, means no rushing back to Hilo or Kona. You can relax after a day of hiking and exploring, sit in the lounge sipping your favorite beverage and watch the sunset cast deep shadows in the crater walls.

The original Volcano House was built in 1846; a simple thatched shelter for visitors. Mark Twain saw the volcano, and wrote about it, in 1866, the same year that the first wooden structure was constructed. Expanded in 1877, this building survives today as the Volcanoes Art Center, a venue for local artists. A larger Victorian style Volcano House, built In the late 1800Õs was destroyed by fire in 1940. The current Volcano House dates from 1941, with additions made in the 1950Õs. Its forty-one rooms are simple and comfortable, with rare koa wood furniture and Hawaiian style quilts. There are four choices of room types. Non-crater view, crater view, deluxe crater view, and garden view. The garden view rooms are in a separate building from the main Volcano House, just a short walk down a tree-lined path. We questioned whether it was worth the extra expense to book a crater view room. Seeing the first light of dawn shine red and gold shafts of light on the crater walls was priceless. Watching the early morning sun play out over the caldera makes you want to get up and out to see the park first hand.

Volcano House maintains a rustic mountain lodge atmosphere. Here you can bring a good book down to the main room with its massive hearth and sit in front of the perpetual flame, quietly reading until dinnertime. These are the simple charms that help make for a pleasant stay. What is best about Volcano House is implicit in its name. Kilauea and Volcanoes National Park are what truly make Volcano House one of the most unique places to stay on the Big Island.

We returned back up the mountain after our afternoon hike to check back with the lodge and get our room keys. After a cocktail, we took an evening stroll. The flowers and trees were fresh from the rain, and the air was clear and cool. We couldn’t resist taking off down the Crater Rim trail about a half-mile where it meets the Sulfur Banks trail, which leads to a bank of sulfur and steam vents. The barren rock around these vents are a greenish yellow from the sulfur, in stark contrast to the green lushness of the surrounding forest. The trail to the Sulfur bank winds through tropical forest in spring bloom. Along the way, huge holes and cracks open up into the center of the Earth, with a constant whoosh of steam emanating from within. A reminder of the primordial force beneath our feet. The fading evening light envelops the forest in an ethereal hue.

By the time we had returned to Volcano House, it was dark. What a magnificent day we had! We still had a full day left to hike and explore, but now it was time for some dinner and a good nights rest at the little lodge on the edge of a Volcano.

IF YOU PLAN TO STAY AT VOLCANO HOUSE: Call or write for reservations: Volcano House, PO Box 53, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718, 808-967-7321, fax - 808-967-8429

Tom lives in San Francisco and works as a sound engineer, freelance writer, and entrepreneur. He enjoys traveling, nature, reading, photography, and music.


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