An archaeological, historical, and cultural treasure, the Makauwahi Cave Reserve in southern Kaua‘i is the largest cavern in the Hawaiian Islands. A must see during your stay in our vacation rentals: This unique site features a series of limestone caverns, a beautiful self-guided nature walk, and an incredible collection of native plants that are cultivated by both traditional and novel, conservation-oriented means. Inside the cave, a paleolake that formed when the ceiling collapsed 7,000 years ago is a living museum of the island’s natural and geological history, serving as a time capsule that spans millennia.
Located on Kaua‘i’s southern coast, visitors can enjoy free guided Kauai tours and activities Wednesday through Sunday (10am to 2pm; donations welcome).
The North Cave
Divided in two by the ceiling collapse that formed the sinkhole, visitors enter the cave from the north. A small triangular entrance gives way to a cavernous expanse with vaulted ceilings, limestone stalactites pressing down on you like the fangs of a prehistoric beast, and a dazzling natural archway now lit by the sunlight that filters into the middle of the cave thanks to the looming sinkhole that eroded away from the ceiling centuries ago. The bedrock in which the cave was carved was formed when massive sand dunes were compressed into sandstone 400,000 years ago; the cave itself was then hollowed out by water action in the ensuing eons.
When the ceiling of the North Cave gave way some 7,000 years ago it formed a lake that collected – and preserved – a record of the island’s plant and animal life. Research on the sediment layers of the lake stretch back more than 10,000 years and contain perfectly preserved markers from floods, tsunamis, human settlement, and a myriad of now extinct species. The result is a near-perfect snapshot of the centuries as they passed on this island paradise. The presence of certain seeds and plants have shed light and changed the history books with regards to which plants the Polynesian voyagers brought with them.
Makauwahi Cave Reserve: A Truly Unique Experience!
Continuing deeper into the recesses of the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, the light quickly fades. Here the ceilings – illuminated by your trusty flashlight – reveal unique rock formations known as “draperies” and “popcorn,” a spectacular display of the powerful effects of water and time. The farthest reaches of the cave are off limits due to the confusing and narrow passageways, cultural respect for the native Hawaiians, and to protect the strange cave creatures that live here. While you will be hard pressed to see them – and, being blind, they certainly won’t see you –rare species of amphipods and isopods reside here in total darkness, along with their predator, the Kaua‘i blind cave wolf spider.