Hualalai Ranch Cave Expeditions 2004- 2005 Trip Report              ACC Home

The understanding of the size and significance of Hualalai Ranch Cave in Hawaii County is becoming more and more evident with each annual expedition. It appears that it is a world class cave in many respects and it merits protection and management appropriate to its importance as a significant cave.


Nevin Davis reported that the cave has 15.72 miles of mapped passage. Besides length and depth, it is significant geologically, aesthetically, and probably biologically and archeologically. The following preliminary summary of some of the esthetic assets will be of interest to those who appreciate the beauty of nature.


Hualalai Ranch Cave is a multi-level maze with many parallel flows. One can find all the usual lava formations found in other lava caves. It has an abundance of pukas, so one can enter the system at many different places and, in most all cases, get to one’s work area in the cave with less than a mile of caving from an entrance. While fountain grass, a non-native species, dominates the surface, and goats have destroyed most of the native plants, a few pukas have such steep walls that the goats have not eaten the plants in them.  In the deep passage discovered and mapped this year, many black lava cycles and some with a bluish tint, as well as a few yellow ones, were found. You can see pictures of the original mapping and exploration of this portion of the cave at by clicking on “Hawaii Cave Photos” on the blue index.


Fluff Ball Hall is exceptional for their secondary deposition. These areas of HRC are not awe-inspiring in the way that portions of Lechuguilla Cave can inspire with massive formations, but rather in an understated esthetic way that requires one to stop and get close. A person who is not paying attention to detail might go through Fluff Ball Hall and not think anything more about it than that it is a little whiter than most lava caves. There are hundreds of thousands of small cave formations that in some cases are packed so closely together that only the outermost formations are visible. From the photographer’s prospective, it may be too much of a good thing. A good subject that is distinct from the background will often make a stunning picture; however, in Fluff Ball Hall most unique and interesting formations are surrounded by, below, and on top of other unique and interesting subjects.  It is like trying to photograph a single bee in a swarm of bees. At least the formations are not moving, although some of the drops of water in the formations are. As one crawls and walks through Fluff Ball Hall, the walls appear white with some tan. The floor is also white in places and a close look reveals that the floor is covered with small pieces of secondary deposition that have fallen from the ceiling.  One of the best ways to see these miniature cave formations in Fluff Ball Hall is to view their pictures. You can do this at by clicking on “Hawaii Cave Photos” on the blue index. In many cases the picture is better than trying to see the original because the macro lens has enlarged the subject.


Hawaii County could be the most cave dense area in the world, if not in cave length, at least in the number of caves. It is not difficult to find caves, although they do seem to be in clusters, and there are places where there are no caves at all. Since the entire island was formed by flowing lava, I speculate that there are no caves with natural entrances in these cave free areas because the caves that were probably there have been blocked or filled with subsequent thin lava flows that were too small to form lava caves. We have seen many examples in which a subsequent lava flow went into an older cave and partially or completely blocked cave passages.


With all the caves to discover and map, the cave mapping takes priority. During the expedition, when a cave mapping team of three other people was available, I was free to do photography.  Photography is encouraged, as maps placed on websites will have links at interesting places to allow people to see a photo of the area. Sometime during the expedition there may have been only a two person mapping team and so I switched to reading instruments to provide the third person and left the photo equipment in the car. In these cases there were fewer photos taken. On a few occasions, a particular area of Hualalai Ranch Cave was clearly so significant that it became a logical imperative to stop and photograph it. In these cases, the three person mapping team continued mapping and I worked alone photographing the significant features. Fluff Ball Hall was one such place. This type of work is not for everyone in that it is very detail orientated. It requires care to avoid harm to the fragile formations. The photographer is likely to spend most of the time crawling, kneeling, or lying in uncomfortable positions.


The camera equipment I used during the 2004 and 2005 expeditions was the Canon Digital Rebel D300, 6 mega pixel with the two Canon 550EX Speedlite flashes. In 2005 the Canon Macro Twin-Lite MT-24EX flash was added for close-up work along with the Canon Macro EF 10mm lens.  This combination was very effective for the macro work in Fluff Ball Hall. This setup allowed me to work relatively fast, even without the assistance of a second person. The earlier HRC expeditions were done mostly with film or an earlier model digital camera that had significant limitations. The limitation of the present system is that it is somewhat bulky and heavy and requires a few minutes to unpack and switch lenses. Needless to say, an assistant or fellow photographer would be helpful.


HRC expeditions have a certain First World feel to them.  While we could camp out in the fountain grass/lava fields above the cave, all of the members have chosen to stay at motels, condominiums, or at the Sullivan Coffee Farm. Andrea and Mark Sullivan have been generous in providing a place for a few of the members to stay during the expedition. The location of a few of the cave entrances to HRC and caves such as Double Arches and Caving Goat are almost two miles walking through a combination of lava and fountain grass to the nearest road. These conditions provide an incentive to finish the cave work by 5:00 pm so that the walk over the lava can be done during daylight. After the cave work is done, we are back in town to the comforts of the Western world.  These include the convenience of discount and grocery stores, restaurants, and other amenities of the resort town of Kailua-Kona.


The local people I have met fall into two groups, native Hawaiians and people who have moved from other places in the US to Hawaii. Almost everyone has been friendly, and some people wanted to talk about the cave activities. When I explained the cave mapping and photography and how this information could be used to help protect the cave resources, I got two types of responses. The native Hawaiians always thanked me for doing this work. The mainlanders were impressed that we were doing this as volunteers and in a few cases told me the location of caves of which they knew.


For me, 5:00 pm cave work quitting time is time to start my other job as Marketing Director for Marks Products, which includes answering emails and talking with customers around the world about such topics as evaluating the cost effectiveness of borehole camera systems in their work application. Borders Book Store in Kona has a T-mobile hot spot connection that has really made a big difference in efficiency and convenience of using the Internet and email. Verizon Wireless covers Hawaii very well, so I am not out of reach with the Marks Products customers, except when I am in a cave.


Members of the HRC expedition in 2005 were Nevin and Judy Davis, John Rosenfeld, Kathy Haverly, Hans Rosenfeld, John Wilson, Bruce Dunlavy and Rob Pacheco. A typical team consists of leader John Rosenfeld recording the data and sketching, Nevin Davis using the survey instruments, Judy Davis setting stations and reading the tape, and John Wilson doing photography. In 2004 Pete Carter and Bill Liebman were part of the expedition as well as some of the 2005 participants.