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‘We’re very excited’: Akatsuka Orchid Gardens hopes to see more visitors with reopening of park

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Geneva Sanger prepares an orchid for shipment to Everett, Wash., for a customer Wednesday at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Volcano.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Takeshi Akatsuka prunes the Black Orchid display Wednesday at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Volcano.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Nathan Sherwood talks with a customer from Illinois on Wednesday at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Volcano.

Like many Volcano businesses, the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens is looking forward to a return to normalcy after today’s reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The popular destination — which displays hundreds of orchids and other tropical flowers — suffered a downturn after the park closed in response to the Kilauea eruption. Manager Takeshi Akatsuka said the business lost about 50 percent of all foot traffic since the park closed in May due to increased seismic activity.

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“So we’re very excited to get that back up,” Akatsuka said.

Nathan Sherwood, retail and tour manager for the Gardens, said the days preceding the park’s reopening have seen an uptick in visitors to the Gardens themselves, from park staff to visitors no longer worried about the status of the volcano.

The Gardens have a distinct advantage over most Volcano businesses, however: Thanks to a partnership with tour company Polynesian Adventure Tours, the Gardens will serve as a staging area for the tour company’s buses.

Because of frequent tremors at the summit during the Kilauea eruption, roads within the park now have a weight limit of 15,000 pounds, significantly less than the weight of the 50-passenger buses Polynesian Adventure typically sends to the park, said Sherwood. Instead, passengers will transfer between the larger buses to smaller ones at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.

Sherwood said the buses — which will largely only arrive on days when a cruise ship has arrived at the island — were already regularly visiting the Gardens before the park’s closure, but said the new arrangement gives passengers more time to browse the orchids.

“We’re hoping to use that time to spread some Hawaii-ness,” Sherwood said.

Sherwood said the arrangement with Polynesian Adventure likely will continue until the park re-rates the roads for heavier vehicles.

Despite the prospect of greater traffic, Akatsuka said he was cautious about the Gardens fully returning to business as usual.

“We’re treading lightly,” Akatsuka said. “We’re very cautious about how quickly things will go back to normal.”

Akatsuka said he doesn’t expect the park to return to pre-closure visitor rates for at least several weeks, expecting the news of the park’s reopening to take some time to disseminate among overseas travelers. Because of this, Akatsuka said, the Gardens will not be returning to its former seven-days-a-week schedule and will remain closed on Sundays for the time being.

Akatsuki said the closure of the park not only forced him to reconsider how the Gardens are run, but also drew area businesses closer together to support each other.

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“We stick together because we’re more than just the national park,” Akatsuki said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com