Kazumura Cave: The world’s longest lava tube in Hawaii

Kazumura Cave is a lava tube on the Island of Hawaii. This colossal geological feature was formed between four and six centuries ago, when a vent on the east side of Kilauea Caldera erupted, sending lava down the northeast flank of the volcano. It is located beneath the lush tropical paradise of Hawaii’s Big Island.  Kazumura Cave, part of the Kazumura Cave System, is the longest lava tube in the world. It has been surveyed and found out to be 40.7 miles (65.5 km) long and 3,614 feet (1,102 m) deep making it the longest and deepest lava tube in the world with a linear extent of 20.05 miles (32.23 km). The cave is located on the Island of Hawaii County, on the eastern slope of Kīlauea, Hawaii Island. Kīlauea is the most recently active volcano on the Big Island. The ʻAilāʻau lava flow that contains Kazumura Cave originated from the Kīlauea Iki Crater about 500 years ago. According to geological survey, it is estimated to be over 500 year old. This remarkable geological wonder is more than just an ordinary cave; it’s a labyrinth of mesmerizing subterranean passages that beckon adventure seekers, geology enthusiasts, and anyone captivated by the mysteries of the Earth’s depths.

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Overview of Kazumura Cave

The eruption of a vent on Kilauea Caldera’s east side is said to have created Kazumura Cave, which flowed lava down the volcano’s northeast face. These lava flows cooled from the outside in as they moved forward. As a result, the lava flow developed a hard crust that prevented it from cooling down too soon. At roughly 2165°F (1185°C), Hawaiian lavas erupt. As a result, the ground and air are colder than lava. The flow was eventually restricted to an oval or rounded conduit known as a lava tube as this protective crust grew over time. Lava can flow through lava tubes to expand them, making them more expansive and capable of supporting long-term activity. The surrounding rock can be eroded by the highly abrasive fluid known as lava. This erosion can create lava falls and canyons if the right conditions and amount of time are present. Gaps in the current bedrock may also become visible due to erosion. Sometimes the molten lava that is poured into these spaces subsequently cools down and forms lava straws or runs back into the tube. A skylight is a hole created in a lava tube’s roof that occurs during an eruption. Skylights let in chilly air while allowing heat to escape. Cold air entering a skylight can cool the flow’s surface whenever the lava level in the tube dips, resulting in the formation of a second crust. This results in what’s referred to as a tube in tube. Additionally, hot rock can be cracked by cold air, causing portions of the tube’s ceiling and walls to fall and causing failure.

Lava adhering to the ceiling can also sag and generate lavacicles—a structure that resembles a stalactite—when the lava level drops. The tube starts to cool and drain as the lava level continues to decline. After cooling to a consistency akin to putty, the remaining lava streaming over a fall starts to pile up on top of itself. This creates a dribbling spire, an asymmetrical column. The surface of the plunge pool at the foot of a fall produces a thick crust, which eventually sags as lava pours out from below. Without lava to support their weight, the final tubes in the tube start to collapse as well. A lava tube may need years to calm down enough to allow for the emergence of life. Since many cave animals rely on plants for sustenance, it’s possible that the cave isn’t completely populated until these plants have established themselves on the surface above.

The main tube’s domed passages display the traditional lava tube shape. The floor was the crust of a dried-up lava lake that had collapsed inward. When it drained, collapsed into a rounded lava lake. The lavafall in the distance is the source of the lava. The Cave is by far the most significant of the many lava tubes that erupted during that eruption. Kazumura is a national treasure that is practically unknown to everyone, being the longest continuously known lava tube in the world. Kazumura has been referred to be a master lava tube from a geological perspective. This cave contains almost every kind of characteristic often found in a lava tube. Thus, if you would like to see Kazumura Cave and are either here already or are considering a vacation to the large island, please contact to arrange a tour during office hours.

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Past records

The first mention of Kazumura Cave dates back to 1966, when one of its entrances was declared a fallout shelter. Francis Howarth’s discovery of a new species of troglobitic moth, Schrankia howarthi, brought the cave to the attention of the caving world by the early 1970s. In 1981, a survey determining its length revealed that it is 7.27 miles (11.7 km) long, making it one of the longest lava tubes in the world. Prior to being combined into one, Upper Kazumura and Old Kazumura were two distinct caverns. Following their discovery of a minor passageway between the two caves and its enlargement to allow access, Kevin Allred and Mike Meyer linked the two caverns. When Paradise Park Cave was connected to Kazumura via a breakdown pile, other connections were established there afterwards. In order to maintain the passage’s stability, a culvert was eventually added. Not far away, Sexton Cave was found; its route ended where Kazumura’s began. Following considerable excavation in the dark lava rock, Kevin and Mike Shambaugh nearly made the connection between these two caves. Shambaugh dug for a while before connecting them. After that, Kevin and Carlene Allred measured the cumulative length of the caves, and found that they measured 29.32 miles (47.19 kilometres), making it the world’s longest lava tube. There was also a connection between smaller caverns around Old Kazumura, such as Hawaiian Acres #1, Doc Bellou caverns, and Fern’s. The 101 entrances on the Kazumura Cave Atlas are all located on private land. Landowners must be consulted before accessing any lava tubes on their property, according to current Hawaiian regulations. As of 2016, a minimum of one landowner offered paid adventure trips through his portion of the cave.

 

Features of Kazumura Cave

Lava Formations: As you venture deeper into Kazumura Cave, you’ll be greeted by an otherworldly landscape. Lava stalactites and stalagmites hang from the ceiling and rise from the floor, showcasing the cave’s age-old history.

Skylights: Natural skylights in the cave’s ceiling offer glimpses of the lush Hawaiian rainforest above, creating a stunning interplay of light and shadow within the cave.

Lava Falls: The cave features captivating lava falls, frozen in time, offering a glimpse into the molten rivers that once flowed within.

Underground Ecosystems: Kazumura Cave supports unique ecosystems, including blind shrimp and other specialized creatures. It’s an area of great scientific interest and is carefully preserved.

 

Safety and Precautions

While the idea of traversing the depths of the Earth is thrilling, it’s essential to remember that caving involves inherent risks. Visitors should take necessary precautions:

Guided Tours: Always opt for guided tours led by experienced cavers who are well-versed in cave safety protocols.

Appropriate Gear: Wear suitable clothing and footwear, as the cave floor can be uneven and slippery.

Stay Hydrated: Bring ample water, as the cave environment can be humid.

Respect the Environment: Help preserve this natural wonder by not touching or disturbing any formations and abiding by all cave conservation rules.

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Ecosystem of Kazumura Cave

The most defining characteristic of the Kazumura Cave ecosystem is the absence of light. Sunlight cannot penetrate the thick layer of solidified lava rock above the cave, creating a pitch-black environment. In the absence of photosynthesis, the primary source of energy for the ecosystem is organic matter that washes in from the surface or from organisms within the cave. Kazumura Cave is home to a variety of microbial life forms. Bacteria and fungi play crucial roles in decomposing organic material that enters the cave, such as dead plants, insects, and other organic debris. These microorganisms are adapted to survive in a dark, nutrient-poor environment and contribute to the cycling of nutrients within the cave. Kazumura Cave hosts a number of other Earthly creatures such as arthropod which includes a blind planthopper which feeds on the roots of native ʻōhiʻa trees (Oliarus polyphemus), a cave cricket (Caconemobius varius), a millipede, two species of Schrankia moths, an earwig, several species of spiders, and a unique cave-adapted water treader (Cavaticovelia), Predatory species, like centipedes. These arthropods likely use a network of interconnected cooling cracks in the surrounding pahoehoe lava as their primary habitat and sometimes disperse into the cave. Certain species of mosses and ferns can also be found.

For adventure seekers, exploring Kazumura Cave offers unparalleled excitement. Guided tours are available for visitors of all levels, from beginners to experienced cavers. You can witness the cave’s wonders, from the stunning natural formations to its subterranean streams and waterfalls. As you explore, your guide will share the cave’s history and geological significance, providing you with a deep appreciation for this natural wonder.

NB: Although Kazumura Cave is currently the longest cave in the world, it was not naturally this length. A small portion of its solid black rock were dug through to connect the separate caves together. This makes Kazumura, at least in terms of measured length, an artificial construction not entirely natural since the added manmade passage will not make it a cave, which supposed to be all natural.

Kazumura Cave is a testament to the Earth’s ever-evolving and dynamic nature. As the longest lava tube in the world, it offers a truly unique and captivating experience for those who venture into its depths. From its seductive lava formations to its fascinating ecosystems, it’s a destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. While enjoying the beauty of Kazumura Cave, always remember to respect the environment and prioritize safety. So, when planning your next adventure in Hawaii, consider delving into the heart of the Earth at Kazumura Cave for an unforgettable subterranean journey.

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