Makauwahi Cave

Useful Information

Location: Makauwahi Cave Reserve, 1571-4 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 9675.
In the Māhāʻulepū Valley close to Māhāʻulepū Beach.
(21.888353, -159.418960)
Open: All year daily 10-16.
Fee: free.
Per adult a USD 10 tax-deductible donation is suggested.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: David A. Burney, William K. Pila Kikuchi (2006): A Millennium of Human Activity at Makauwahi Cave, Māhāʻulepū, Kaua'i, Human Ecology (C 2006). DOI pdf
David A Burney, Lida Pigott Burney (2007): Paleoecology and "inter-situ" restoration on Kaua'i, Hawai'i, Front Ecol Environ 2007; 5(9): 483-490. DOI
Address: Makauwahi Cave, Makauwahi Cave Reserve, 1571-4 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 9675, Tel: +1-808-631-3409. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1992 fossil site discovered by David Burney, Lida Pigott Burney, Helen F. James and Storrs L. Olson.
2000 traditional name of the cave rediscovered by archaeologist William Pila Kikuchi.
2004 property leased by the Burneys.


Makauwahi Cave (Smoke Eye) is the largest limestone cave found in Hawai'i, which is really exceptional as the Hawai'ian islands are composed of volcanic rocks and do not have much limestone. The large cave system formed in eolianite limestone, which means limestone sand from limestone reefs accumulated by wind and then lithified. You could say its a petrified Pleistocene dune field. The cave and other karst features were then formed by karstification. A huge doline was formed, which became watertigh, probably by insoluble residuals like clay minerals. The hollow filled with sweet water and became a lake. The sediments in this lake record 10,000 years of Hawai'ian history and are called the richest fossil site in the Hawaiian Islands, perhaps in the entire Pacific Island region.

Remains of about 40 species of birds have been found here, and nearly half of them are extinct today. Other finds include pollen, seeds, diatoms, cultural artifacts, bird bones, and fish bones.

The cave was discovered by two couples, David Burney and Lida Pigott Burney, and Helen F. James and Storrs L. Olson. Together with their children they looked for fossil sites in 1992. What they discovered was exceptional. The Burneys excavated the site and published their findings. In 2004, they acquired a lease on the 17 ha property where the cave is on, a former sugar cane farm, and created Makauwahi Cave Reserve. They try to create a habitat which is as similar to the environment they found documented in the lake as possible. Native plants and animals of Hawai'i are encouraged, other discouraged. The cave and the reserve may be visited on sundays.