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A must see when you travel to the Big Island of Hawaii is the Thurston Lava Tube in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Lava tubes are natural tunnels where lava flows underneath the ground, sometimes for many kilometers. After the eruption is over, you can be left with a long empty tunnel that seems almost man made.  It is truly one of mother nature’s most amazing formations.

A lava tube happens when low viscosity lava forms a continuous hard crust that gets thicker and thicker, while lava is flowing inside it. Eventually the lava forms a thick hard crust above, but low viscosity lava continues to flow inside. In fact, the thick sides act like insulation to keep the inner lava hot and molten. When the eruption finally ends, the lava flows out of the tube, emptying it out.

Lava tubes can be many meters wide, and typically run several meters below the surface. One tube on Mauna Loa starts at the eruption point and then flows about 50 km to the ocean. Inside the tube there can be various formations, like lava stalactites known as lavacicles (named after icicles). You can also get pillars that stretch from the top to the bottom of the lava tube.

Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube) is open every day to the public. Pua Po’o, another lava tube cave, is open to the public only through pre-arranged Ranger led tours every Wednesday.

Please call the Visitors Center for reservations at (808) 985-6000. Due to the sensitive and fragile nature of cave resources, all other caves within the Park are closed to the general public. 

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