Exploring Kauai’s Wet and Dry Caves

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What exactly is a “wet cave?” It’s a cave on land that’s filled with water, formed by ocean waves pounding against the lava for thousands of years. Now what’s a “dry cave?” Basically, it’s formed the same way as a wet cave but doesn’t have underwater springs constantly “feeding” it, or filling it. The northern part of Kauai is known for its wet and dry caves. They’re amazing, and to think that at one point, the ocean had been right up to the current entrances – where tourists flock to daily – is even more remarkable.

Waikanaloa wet cave on Kauai is beautiful, but don’t jump in! Bacteria lurks in its waters.

Let’s starts with Waikanaloa, the easiest of the two wet caves to access because it’s right off of the road. Cold spring waters seep through the porous lava. However enticing the waters may appear, it’s best not to go in. A big sign is posted that warns visitors about the danger of leptospirosis, a bacteria often found in Hawaii’s freshwater. This is due to the absence of a brook or river that allows for constant water flow. Hawaiians believed that volcano goddess Pele created these for her lover until she abandoned them after it had been filled by water.

The second wet cave, located up the hill from Waikanaloa, may be difficult to find because there are no signs. At the back of the main cave, a tiny opening leads into a smaller “room” called the Blue Room. When the sunlight reflects off of the freshwater, it turns the surrounding walls blue. I hate to ruin it for you, but as neat as this sounds, this cave is also off-limits because of leptospirosis. Some have braved the very cold waters and returned with such fascinating descriptions. But I wouldn’t risk it.

Lastly, we explore Maniniholo Dry Cave, named after a chief fisherman of the menehune (little people) who dug this cave in search of a supernatural beast that stole their fish. The floor of the 100-meter deep cave is covered with dry sand brought in by a 1957 tsunami. It’s fairly safe to explore and doesn’t require special gear. Some people climb upwards toward a small passage that leads above the cave. I haven’t done this, so I’m not completely sure how safe this part is. If anything, it’s best just to explore the floor-level.


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