Set inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava tube is the most accessible lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii. Discovered in 1913 by newspaper publisher Lorrin Thurston, this dark recess is the result of subterranean lava which once flowed through this young section of earth. 400 years old and 600 feet long, the tube is now lit by electric lights to create an eerie glow for visitors who venture inside.
On the 15-minute walk down towards the cave the dense rainforest surroundings make it hard to believe that magma ever flowed through here at all. Nevertheless, as you make your way down a set of metal stairs, the entrance to the tube stares at you like a black abyss in the jungle. Although the ceiling can be a little low at points, the walk through the tube is completely safe and is a surreal contrast to the foliage outside. Roots of ohia trees can be seen on the ceiling, and ridges on the walls of the tube indicate where lava flowed and hardened at different speeds.
When you reach the end of the tube there is a small staircase which loops back towards your car, although those who brought a flashlight can venture into an unlit section of cavern that would be pitch black if you didn’t have a light. It’s a strange feeling to stand inside a tunnel which was carved by the Earth itself, especially in a part of the world where the geology is still so active.
If you only have a couple of hours to spend in the park then a 30-minute visit to the Thurston lava tube should be at the top of any itinerary. Although the ease of access means that it isn’t very “extreme”, it’s a sight which can be appreciated and enjoyed by even the most hardened of adventure seekers.