Posted by: Anna Webb | June 9, 2009

Lava Tubes and the Language of the Ocean


Kipuka from front lanai

Kipuka from front lanai


Living at the edge of a “kipuka”, the old growth jungle spared by lava flow, has been an interesting and beautiful experience. Constructed 15 years ago at the edge of the hardened 1955 flow,the house sits atop the property and the front yard drops down about 50 feet below the house to the road.

It’s idyllic, really, as the house sits at 200 feet elevation about half a mile from the ocean and overlooks the subdivision for a clean, clear view. The lushness of growth that surrounds the front of the house, including approximately 100 year old Ohia trees, is incredible. And, nestled into the lower yard somewhere is a small but prominent lava tube opening.

I suspect the lava tube continues out underneath the subdivision to the ocean. It’s an old lava tube preceding the 1955 flow because it lies within the kipuka area and a small opening would explain its ability to remain hidden by thick greenery. 

How do I know this if I can’t locate it? I know this because on evenings when the ocean waves thunder into the cliffs due to off-shore storms or high tides, I hear a sound emanate from my yard. First, the distant crash of a wave against the cliffs is heard. Then, within seconds, there is a short whistling howl similar to the wind on a stormy night only a bit higher pitched and much more defined. 

Yes, I admit exploration of every nook and cranny of this entire one acre has not taken place since it’s uneven with an a’a lava (the chunky “kine”) foundation from an older flow. There are areas so overgrown with jungle I dare not venture into them for fear of stepping into a puka (hole) and throwing my back out. Yet, somewhere within the thick under brush and vines lies a small lava tube opening.


Thick lush greenery

Thick lush greenery

My theory is that because it’s small, when the air is forced through from a wave hitting the opening at the other end just at the right trajectory, the result is an intriguing sound that is difficult to describe.

Once, I heard whale song come through it as well. It’s doubtful I could hear whale song 1/2 mile from the ocean given the whales are at an additional length offshore. I’ve heard whale song echo off the cliffs on the Red Road shoreline when driving and once when stopping to see them and am familiar with its unique resonance. 

There are numerous small lava tubes all over the Big Island which open out into the ocean. The next time you drive along the ocean and observe “squiggly lines” out in the water you can explain to your friends that these are fresh water “rivers”. I’m told that “back in the day” Hawaiians would get into their boats and collect this fresh water for use, especially in times of drought.


Monstera in yard

Monstera in yard

I’ve researched this phenomenon online to no avail. Surely others have heard it if living nearby a lava tube opening. I’ve found no other logical explanation for it. The Earth serves as a conduit delivering the language of the sea inland with a tone only understood in Nature. And, I’ve only heard it in the evening or at night after heavy wave action that can be heard at this distance but with little to no wind.

While I’d like to know and/or discover the actual cause and effect for this phenomenon, I also like to muse that the language of the ocean, translated by Earth, is audible from time to time at various unique locations around the Big Island. On a starry night while Pele’s fire glows in the distance, you can be sure I’ll be out on the lanai waiting in anticipation hear it again.


My front lanai with chair waiting...

My front lanai with chair waiting...

Lave tubes



  1. […] June 9, 2009The Day Before… June 6, 2009I'm In Middlebury… June 4, 2009 The Daily FlowLava Tubes and the Language of the Ocean June 10, 2009Update on Halema’uma’u Crater Glow June 8, 2009Halema’uma’u Crater Lava Glow […]

  2. Hey there,

    Is your place down in the Honolulu Landing/Kapoho/Kahuwai triangle?

    Intriguing land down there. I was going to do an archeological survey “back in the day” of the area adjacent to Kahuwai that was untouched since prehistory (55 acres +). Wonderful sites. I’d be cautious with the cave exploration as there is a chance they may contain burials!


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