Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightThe National Park Service (NPS) awarded a 15-year concession contract for its Volcano House hotel late last month, selecting a partnership of Ortega National Parks and Aqua Hotels & Resorts to operate overnight accommodations, food and beverage and retail services at the iconic Big Island property.

Located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, at the rim of Kilauea caldera, the 32-room hotel closed in January 2010 following the departure of its previous operator. The NPS has since spent $4 million on a major seismic retrofit for the building and a new fire suppression system.

Hawaii Volcanoes Lodge Co., the partnership entity formed by Ortega National Parks and Aqua Hotels, will spend another $2.5 million to $3 million renovating the property’s public spaces, restaurant and guestrooms. According to Tanya Ortega de Chamberlain, director of community partnerships and culture for Santa Fe, N.M.-based Ortega National Parks, the Volcano House will be open during the upgrades, and work could begin as early as July.

“We’re doing a historic renovation, which means we won’t be doing anything intrusive,” she said, noting that her company is already working closely with Hawaii historians and photographs of the hotel taken in the 1940s. “The entire idea behind what we’re going to do is to bring it back to its golden days, [and] the native Hawaiian culture is going to be a huge part of what we are integrating.”

Ortega National Parks has been operating NPS concessions for 16 years and is currently managing sites within the Bandelier, White Sands, Muir Woods, Carlsbad Caverns and Death Valley parks.

Volcano House HotelThe Volcano House has been welcoming guests since the mid-1800s and hosted some big names in its past, including Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliuokalani and Mark Twain, who wrote: “The surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”

Although an official time frame is yet to be scheduled for renovations, Ortega de Chamberlain said she was hopeful the work could be completed by next spring and said some guestrooms might be available to visitors as early as this fall.

“We’re going to be writing the next chapter in the history of the Volcano House,” said Hawaii Volcanoes National Park superintendent Cindy Orlando. “It’s got a wonderful, storied and exciting past. … But this is about the future of the building and the future of the services of the Volcano House, so as exciting as all the early history is, we’re really excited about the future.”


Those with questions about the Volcano House renovation can call Ortega de Chamberlain at (949) 544-9016.

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