Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube)

Scroll to Continue

Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube)

What: Huge lava cave for exploration
Where: 1.5 miles (3k) past the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, south on Crater Rim Drive

Take a walk in the dark through Nahuku, known as the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old lava cave located at an altitude of 3,900 feet on Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Lava caves like this are formed when a river of lava gradually builds solid walls and a ceiling. When the lava flow stops and the last of it passes downhill, a cave is formed. These caves can be a few feet high and only yards long, or they can stretch for miles with high ceilings. There are several lava tubes you can visit around the island but Nahuku is the most easily accessible and is a fantastic example of a massive lava cave.

Lit by electric lights, Nahuku has a flat rock floor and a ceiling height of more than 20 feet in places. The 600-foot-long cave is a great introduction to lava tube geology. The solidified drips and waves of once-liquid lava rock clearly show the molten forces that created this cave. Your flashlight reveals beautiful shapes and colors of minerals leeching from the rock. After strolling the short, lighted section of Nahuku, there’s another segment past the steps leading back up the trail that’s completely dark with an uneven floor, so don’t venture there unless you are sure-footed and have a strong flashlight. But for the able-bodied adventurer, a walk of 50 yards or so into this part of the lava tube will give you an intense experience, especially if you turn off your flashlight. A tropical rainforest awaits at the far end of Nahuku.