Once upon a time, years and years ago, Sharon and I decided that when got married we would honeymoon in Hawaii. We were going to take a cruise around all of the Hawaiian islands and had even booked and arranged all the plans for the trip, including flights. Then the unimaginable happened on the morning of September 11, 2001. We watched the horrific events happen on TV on the very morning we were set to finalize the details of our wedding with our Disney wedding planner.
During the aftermath of the attacks, with a decreased amount of travel, the cruise line went bankrupt and stopped all operations. We already had set plans to visit Hawaii with our flights so we decided to make the best of it and planned a whole new trip with about 2 months of notice. We focused on two islands, Maui (where we were landing from our flight) and Hawaii (the Big Island).
Kilauea volcano on the Big Island erupted from 1983 until it finally stopped in 2018. Sharon loves volcanoes, so spending some time near Volcanoes National Park seemed to be the best plan. With the limited internet available in 2001, I found 2 nights at a bed and breakfast in the nearby Volcano Village, HI and we hoped for the best.
Volcano, Hawaii is located about 3 miles from the entrance to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The elevation and location in relation to the volcano mean that the area is in, for all intents and purposes, a rainforest. In fact, Volcano, HI averages a whopping 107 inches of rainfall per year, which is more than three times the U.S. national average. However, what drew us to the area was its proximity to the volcano.
NOTE: While there were large areas of Hawaii destroyed by the lava flow from the eruption of Kilauea in 2018, Volcano Village is on the other side of the mountain and at a higher elevation so they didn’t suffer any damage.
The first time we visited, I had no idea what to expect. The area didn’t feel like a volcano. Staying here was much like staying in the jungle. I have to give huge thanks to the Hawaii Revealed guidebooks (and now website) for helping us find a really nice B&B for our honeymoon.
We loved Hawaii and decided we’d go back to when celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. We had the luxury of time to plan that trip and while we liked the place we stayed for our honeymoon trip, there’s always room for an upgrade.
I was convinced that we’d want to head back to Volcano. It’s one of the most untouristy tourist towns you could imagine. There’s no huge stores, no malls, no Starbucks (Note from Sharon: I don’t know why he seems to think the lack of that last one is a good thing). This isn’t a town where you can redeem a free night at a hotel with points; it’s a town of people who live right above the rim of an active volcano in the middle of a rainforest who love where they live and want to share it with others. I searched around and found what looked like the perfect place for us:
A chain hotel this is not. It only has 6 rooms spread throughout the property, connected by a series of walkways.
We booked the Hale Manaluna room, which was very spacious, with windows on all sides that looked out to the surrounding rainforest.
The room was also connected to the main library of the complex. This meant that we had the library to ourselves at night and could sit, light a fire in the fireplace and relax (Note from Sharon: What Joe, the Eagle Scout who hadn’t made a campfire in 25 years, neglected to mention was that he was OBSESSED with that fireplace. He’s pointing at it in this picture because he FINALLY got it to light after a good half hour or more of trying. I have pictures of THAT process, somewhere…)
Being able to hang out in the library also meant that I got a chance to make friends with Gino, the resident cat. I learned after the first night that Gino was a huge fan of getting belly rubs.
Every once in a while, I can still catch a glimpse of Gino on their Facebook page.
Besides staying in an amazing room in the middle of inspiring surroundings, the town of Volcano is just an amazing place. There are only a few local places to eat and we tried them all during our last trip. To live and work in this area, you really must love what you do. We ate at these locations on our first trip and almost all of the locations were still there when we returned 10 years later.
Here are some of the places we’ve tried (some of them twice):
This is easily considered the fine dining location in Volcano. For us, it will be forever known as the place where Sharon tried ostrich meat for the first (and probably the last) time (Note from Sharon: PROBABLY the last? OMG, it was AWFUL! Never again!). For most visitors, the focal point of the restaurant is the fireplace.
Kilauea Lodge International Fireplace of Friendship
In October 1938, four hundred people from around the Territory of Hawaii gathered at Camp Hale O Aloha in Volcano Village for the dedication of a unique fireplace. The International Fireplace of Friendship with its stones and coins from all over the world was the inspiration of Harold Lucas, the Y.M.C.A. camp director in charge of construction at Camp Hale O Aloha. Lucas’ dream was to create a hearth of world brotherhood using stones from 32 countries around the world.
For something not requiring advance reservations, there are casual choices as well:
This little restaurant managed to outlive many of the other restaurants with a similar, but apparently different enough, name. Sharon wanted to visit because the t-shirt she had bought there 10 years earlier was now a junk shirt and she needed a new, good one. Mission accomplished. The food is OK. They have live music.
If you prefer your food a with a little more spice, they’ve got you covered:
The Thai Thai Bistro has been serving up Thai food in Volcano long before it was considered a trend. The owners were known to return to Thailand in order to replenish their stores of authentic Thai spices. Sharon and I are no experts on Thai food but it was the only restaurant in town we hadn’t tried during our honeymoon, so we went during our tenth-anniversary trip. We both were very happy with our meals and the service was wonderful. They also still had their Christmas lights up in February. 😉
What’s the takeaway from this? Sharon and I are both fans of spending time at places we want to visit. If that means we spend three nights in Volcano, HI and try every restaurant in town, so be it. We’ve stayed in a bed and breakfast in a room that was adjacent to the lobby/kitchen area. We spent the morning sipping coffee and talking to the people who run the place. In the evening after a day of hiking, we sat in front of a fire (that I made) (Note from Sharon: Yes, dear. Sigh.) and warmed our feet while the house cat wandered around and eventually decided we were worthy of giving him some belly rubs.
While most guests to Volcano National Park will stay in nearby Hilo (30 miles) or more often in the popular resorts of the Kailua-Kona area (100 miles) away, Sharon and I prefer to stay closer to the action of Kilauea in the quaint town of Volcano, HI. We’re approaching our 20th anniversary and I’m looking forward to the spirit of Aloha that resonates through the area, where all guests are treated as ‘ohana.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary