Project Hawaii Five-O: Lava Tube Capital of the World

Part of my “project” for Project Hawaii Five-O is traveling to Hawaii in my fifth decade.  I went there in my 20s a couple of times, but both were organized by someone else and involved swimming events that were required time for me while there.  So, I didn’t get to do a lot of the traditional touristy things while visiting.  This trip, I would love to be able to plan and fund some great excursions that capture the fascinating parts of the islands.  So, as I find things about the islands that seem interesting, I will share them here.  If you are a traveler who has frequented the islands, I would love to hear your favorite spots as well.  So, please share in the comments below.

For this installation, I’ll be focused on the Lava Tubes of Hawaii.  I saw National Geographic’s article, “Inside the Deep Caves Carved By Lava,” and immediately put these on my list of places to visit when I go to Hawaii.  My interest partially stems from the dramatic differences, but also similarities, between the caves near my hometown (Lake Shasta Caverns, for example) and these caves in Hawaii.  As the National Geographic article explains,

There are two ways to make a cave: fast and slow. Many of the world’s most iconic caves—Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla in New Mexico, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky—were carved out over millions of years, by the plodding drip and flow of acidic water through soluble limestone.  By contrast, lava caves, widely known as lava tubes, are formed in a geological instant—a year or two, sometimes weeks—by an eruption from the Earth’s crust.

Considering the history of places like the Lake Shasta Caverns and the quickness of these lava tubes is fascinating.  The article makes the case for limiting tourism in these extremely environmental and cultural spaces as well:

A lavacicle is a fragile thing, and it takes only one misplaced handhold to permanently disfigure a cave…

Many native Hawaiians consider lava tubes kapu, or sacred sites, because of their frequent use as ancient burial grounds. In Hawaiian tradition, bones contain a person’s mana, or spiritual energy, and aren’t to be unnecessarily disturbed.

So, as a responsible and caring visitor, I think I will stick to the National Park Service’s Crater Rim Drive Tour on the Big Island of Hawaii that offers a look at the Thurston Lava Tube or Nahuku rather than a more commercial venture.  The description on the National Park Service’s page reinforces the danger of tourist travel through these caves:

This lava tube was discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local newspaper publisher. At that time the roof of the tube was covered with lava stalactites, but those soon disappeared to souvenir collectors.