Nāhaku – Thurston Lava Tube


About Nāhaku – Thurston Lava Tube

Yes, it may sound scary. But, no it is not. A trek through the Thurston Lava Tube is cool and easy. Nāhaku is the Hawaiian name for this discovered treasure located east of the Kilauea Caldera. Coming here gives you the best opportunity to take a trip back into a volcano’s past. You will get to experience the Thurston Lava Tube during Discover Hawaii Tours’ One-Day Hawaii Volcano Eco-Adventure Tour from Oahu. Here’s how it goes. Less than a mile after you’ve been impressed by the Kilauea Iki Overlook, your expert tour guide will mention Thurston Lava Tube on the bus. Then, someone old enough will probably crack a joke about Thurston Howell III, the eccentric millionaire from the TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.” But for you, this real-life scene takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii during your exciting visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As you go, you’ll also learn about the real-life celebrity named Thurston who stumbled upon this amazing find.



You control your own flow through the Thurston Lava Tube. For scheduling purposes though, your safe to plan about 30 minutes for the experience. You shouldn’t have to worry about getting lost. The layout is designed to bring you right back to the same parking lot where you begin. If you only have few hours of time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the quick and easy rewards of this stop put it onto most people’s list of things to see.

First, you’ll enjoy a walk through a tropical rain forest. No hiking shoes are necessary. The paved, winding trail (which is steep in some places) takes you through a pit crater filled with nature’s beauty, including a variety of tropical trees, lush Hapu’u ferns, and red ohi’a blossoms.

The quieter you are and the more focused you are on listening, the more you’ll be able to get out of the rain forest part of the journey. This is because you can be serenaded with live concerts performed by the active singing birds of the rain forest, often starring the red ʻApapane.

After a few minutes, the trail will soon invite you to the opening of the extinct Thurston Lava Tube. If you react similar to the way most visitors do (young and old alike), you’ll find it an awe inspiring experience. You might even feel it’s eerie. One thing is for sure, you can’t help but try to imagine how amazing it must have been several hundred years ago when a river of hot red lava rushed through the earth in this very location creating such a lava tube.

In the present moment, you realize you can relax now because it is safe and tranquil. Most people speak in low voices inside the Thurston Lava Tube. Roots from the ground above, as well as drops of water come through the roof over you. It’s open enough so most visitors don’t feel claustrophobic. It’s also wide enough for those in your group to walk side by side. And as you make your way through the tube, there is pretty good lighting for the most part.



Hundreds of years ago, a flow of fast-moving lava rushed through the earth creating the Thurston Lava Tube. When the interior lava flow diminished, the outer layers of the lava tube began to cool and harden. What was left in its wake was a new underground tunnel formed by the lava flow.

This natural phenomenon went unnoticed until 1913. That’s when it was discovered by lawyer, politician, and prominent newspaper publisher, Lorrin Andrews Thurston. It is said Thurston, the grandson of two of the first Christian missionaries to arrive in Hawaii, came upon his lava tube discovery after a young girl with him fell through the ground there.

At that time, lava stalactites covered the roof of the hidden tube. However, it didn’t take long before all of these were scooped up by souvenir collectors.

Your expert Discover Hawaii Tour Guide can tell you the whole story about Mr. Thurston, from the politician who played a key role in the creation of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the hot controversy surrounding the naming of this now popular destination.


Facts & Trivia

  • Island: Big Island of Hawaii
  • Duration: Give yourself about a 30 minute time slot if you can.
  • Insider Tip: Once in the Thurston Lava Tube, be sure to watch for puddles. Some of them can be big. Even more important from a safety standpoint, look out for the low ceiling in certain spots, especially if you’re carrying a small child on your shoulders.
  • Fun Fact: You’ll likely enjoy more room and better photos of you and your travel companions if you take them from the inside looking out, rather than from the outside looking into the Thurston Lava Tube.
  • What to Expect: A great chance to see and imagine the power of lava flowing through the earth. Expect great photo opportunities, too.