I was pleasantly surprised on our recent trip to Hana, Maui to find an attraction that was worthy of the price of admission. For the many years I have lived on Maui, I just had the gut feeling that the Hana Lava Tube was a tourist trap, created and run for the sole purpose of parting fools on vacation with their money. I am glad to say that my gut instincts were way off.
The Hana lava tube or the Ka’ Eleku cavern is an unassuming roadside attraction that is found after mile marker 31 on the infamous road to Hana. I had looked briefly online to find out what they offered at the lava tube, and found the lure of the world’s only red ti botanical garden maze to be the deciding factor in whether we should stop on our way to Hana or drive past, as I have done for years. There are plenty of well maintained signs to point you in the right direction, unlike other attractions along the road to Hana, so finding the lava tube was not a problem. There was plenty of parking in their gravel lot, and the facilities also offered a covered picnic area, as well as port-o-potties if nature called.
The cost of the tour is $12 per adult, kids five and under are free. I think the pricing could be a little lower given the fact that it is a self-guided tour, but in the vendor’s defense, they have kept the signage pristine and free of vandalism (as you find with most self-guided sites), the picnic area is nice and covered, and it looks like they are in the process of adding a sidewalk to make the portable toilets wheelchair accessible.
After you check in, you are given a flashlight and pointed in the right direction to explore the grounds. As you leave the check in desk/souvenir shop, you have a choice that needs to be made right away. Do you go underground and investigate the lava tube, or do you test your wits in the red ti botanical garden maze?
We opted to try the maze out first.
The labyrinth is a good size, and was a unique addition to the lava tube experience. We took turns leading, until we came to a dead-end, then it was the other person’s turn to take over as the leader. It took a few minutes to traverse the puzzle, but I am glad to report that no one was left behind.
After we patted ourselves on the back for surviving the maze, we headed to the lava tube entrance, sweaty and ready for some cooler temperatures.
Descending into the darkness, the subterranean world greets you with cooler temperatures, moisture dripping from the ceiling, and informational placards after every few steps.
Here are some of the interesting facts you can learn as you walk along the quarter mile lava tube:
- The lava tube was a designated nuclear fallout shelter and can hold enough food and living space for fifteen people for the required six weeks needed after a nuclear disaster.
- Lava stalactites (the ones hanging from the ceiling) do not grow, like their calcite counterparts. They are formed when the flowing lava touches the ceiling and then the flow is reduced, leaving cooling lava to drip from the ceiling and harden.
- Lava stalagmites (the ones on the floor pointing upwards) are super rare on Maui. They form from cooling lava dripping from above and building up a pile of lava. Think of dripping sand onto the same spot on a beach and you get this crazy castle tower looking thing.
- There are three types of lava flows: ʻAʻā, which is jagged, sharp and sometimes loose, pāhoehoe, which is smooth and unbroken, and pillow lava, which is formed when lava emerges underwater.
- Temperature in the cave ranges from 66 to 72 degrees and remains at 70% humidity all the time.
- The temperature of flowing, white hot lava is 2140 degrees fahrenheit.
- The cave walls and ceiling are covered in a glittering gold chemolithotrophs, a rock-eating bacteria that lives in complete darkness.
The ground is uneven, but not too strenuous to hike. Obviously, since they give you a flashlight, you should point it at the ground while you walk. At any point, when the terrain became uneven or stairs were involved, railings have been installed to make it safer.
The lava tube was not crowded and although we passed about fifteen people during our time down below, we seemed to have it all to ourselves the majority of the time. I was trying to convince Emily that we should just stand at the end of the tube with our flashlights off and try to scare the heck out of people when they came to the end. Maybe next time.
Now that we’ve experienced this attraction first-hand, I would definitely recommend it to people who have done the road to Hana before, but are looking for something unique. Just a little bit further down the same road is the Kahanu Garden, one of only five National Tropical Botanical Gardens in the United States (three are on Kaua’i and one is in Florida). I’ll write a blog about that another time, but for now just know that you could spend a nice afternoon exploring areas of Hana, away from the throngs of tourists.