Crisp air and cozy ambiance make the Kilauea Lodge a great “winter” getaway

When you arrive at Kilauea Lodge on the Big Island, you’re greeted by the local welcoming committee: the ‘apapane and ‘i’iwi native birds who call from nearby ‘ohia trees in this wooded space just a mile from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

It’s not more than a 35-minute scenic drive from the Hilo Airport – an easy jaunt that takes you through a rain forest, a few sleepy towns and a myriad of native flora on the way to Volcano Village.

As each small town fades in the distance, the temperature becomes increasingly cooler until the destination is in sight and your senses are invigorated by the crisp air and a light covering of fog.

What remains after the mist lifts, however, is a raw energy, a sense of renewal through nature and a haven that promises comfort and belonging.

This is what drew Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant owners Albert and Lorna Jeyte to purchase the 10-acre retreat in 1986. The property was originally built in 1938 for the YMCA as a campground.

The Jeytes transformed the existing structures into an inn with 12 rooms, including a historic caretaker’s cottage with a small living room, bedroom and fireplace where guests also are welcome to stay. There also are two nearby, off-property cottages available for family rentals.

Each separate unit at Kilauea Lodge is cozy and charming, offering such amenities as in-room fireplaces, stained-glass windows and towel warmers heated by circulating hot water that runs through the building. Rooms are spacious and offer both garden and forest views, original art and koa woodwork.

Lorna has tried to think of every guest’s needs, such as koa foot massagers or the opportunity to bring in a massage therapist to do an in-room massage.

The aptly named “Honeymoon Room” has a wood-burning fireplace, balcony, a double shower and a romantic four-poster king-size bed.

Equally romantic is the Asian-themed “Kimura Room,” which Lorna says guests often request on their anniversary. Natural light filters through a large skylight in the bathroom’s 15-foot ceiling and two rocking chairs set in front of the fireplace offer a bird’s-eye view of a family of Hawaiian hawks (‘io) that live in a tree just outside.

Depending on occupancy, room rates range from $170 to $225 ($153 to $202 kama’aina) for one of the inn rooms or $200 to $300 ($180 to $270 kama’aina) for one of the off-property cottages.

Wanting to return to a more old-fashioned way of life, the owners have omitted any in-room phones, televisions and Internet connection.

Instead, guests spend time unwinding in the outdoor hot tub, playing board games in the common room, roaming the flourishing garden or dining in the restaurant. Many guests also choose to marry in the lodge’s gazebo, situated on the well-manicured front lawn of the property.

Kilauea Lodge has won several awards over the years, including being rated one of the best “Green Hotels” by EnvironmentallyFriendlyHotels.com, Best 2008 Bed & Breakfast by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and garnering Honolulu magazine’s Hale Aina Award. The Lodge’s restaurant also has received much acclaim as the 2006 Best Restaurant by Bicycle Adventures, and the restaurant’s pastry chef won two awards at the 2008 Kona Chocolate Festival.

Kilauea Lodge has been a welcome respite for such celebrities as Ted Turner, Robert Redford, Lily Tomlin, Danny DeVito and a number of rock singers over the years. Lorna says they also get many guests who make Kilauea Lodge a twice-a-year vacation spot.

Part of what draws them back again and again is the multitude of activities right outside the front door – from sightseeing tours of the lava flow to viewing Halema’uma’u at night to daytime hikes. There are also ample opportunities for a round of golf, tastings at the Volcano Winery or shopping at the Volcano Art Center.

At night, dinner at the lodge is always first-rate. The restaurant has open beam ceilings, hardwood floors, koa tables and a cozy fireplace with a unique history. The “International Fireplace of Friendship” was built in 1938 featuring plaques, artifacts and coins contributed from all over the world. A poi pounder, Indian tomahawk and dinosaur vertebrae are molded into the fireplace.

Aside from the outstanding ambiance, however, the food, prepared by Chef Albert Jeyte is a whole world in itself. Chef Albert, previously an Emmy Award-winning makeup artist, worked for years on the Magnum P.I. TV series.

Some of his specialties are for more adventurous diners, such as Hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit), medallions of venison, ostrich served Schnitzel-style, and leg of antelope filet prepared in a red wine sauce.

The dining room is open daily for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. and for breakfast from 7:30 to 10 a.m. They also serve Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During my stay, I opted for the popular duck l’orange while my husband braved the ostrich filet battered and breaded, served in a lemon caper sauce. Both were outstanding – fresh, flavorful and generously portioned. So were the two freshly made soups Chef Albert is known for: Alsation (pureed vegetable, bacon and white pepper) and potagé St. Germain (pureed sweet pea and curry) – perfect on this nippy night. The soup was accompanied by the chef’s homemade bread, which we used to wipe our soup bowls clean.

By the end of our meal, the fire was roaring and we capped things off with Andy Busek’s Punaluu sweet bread pudding and a lilikoi Bavarian crème pie.

Everything at Kilauea Lodge lends itself to the incredible natural scenery and the rustic, intimate feel of the inn. The Jeytes work day and night to keep the inn feeling like the kind of place you want to come back to again and again – a place where you feel like family.

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