One of the most popular attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii has reopened after being closed for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nahuku, known by many as the Thurston Lava Tube, is once again open to visitors in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The walk-through lava tube and rainforest trail had been closed since last March.
There is a big change with the reopening, however, as the tube is now only visible by a one-way trail. The half-mile loop trail runs counter-clockwise through the native rainforest, into the tube, and back out to the rainforest.
“We are excited to again share the incredible experience of walking through native rainforest into a lava tube that was formed during a Kilauea eruption more than 500 years ago,” Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Superintendent Rhonda Loh said in a statement. “The one-way flow reduces social distancing conflicts in the cave and on the trail, and we are relying on visitors and our community to recreate responsibly.”
Nahuku is open 24 hours a day and is lit from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visitors are advised to bring a flashlight or headlamp during evening hours.
The tube was actually closed for nearly two years following the 2018 eruption and summit collapse of Kilauea. It had just reopened last February before the pandemic arrived and once again forced its closure just a month later.
During the eruption, large rocks were dislodged in the ceiling and new cracks appeared. After scientists determined Nahuku could be reopened, two crack monitors were installed and a low-hanging rock was marked off to prevent head injuries.
There still are risks to visiting the tube. Park officials said rockfall, low ceilings, standing water, tripping hazards, and low light can all lead to trouble.
Nahuku is one of many such tubes on the Big Island. They are created by rivers of molten lava during an eruption. When a lava tube is active, lava travels along its floor at temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees. When the lava stops flowing at the end of an eruption, it leaves behind an empty cave.
Nahuku became famous in 1913 thanks to the efforts of Honolulu publisher Lorrin Thurston, who was a strong advocate for establishing a national park in the region.
In addition to the tube, Nahuku is a popular spot for birdwatchers who can find all types of species in the rainforest surrounding the cave.
Although the tube is open 24 hours a day, restrooms near it are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A vault toilet is available at all times in the Kilauea Iki parking lot about a half-mile away.