A Description of an extensive Cavern…

On the 26th, 1823 our party walked through the district in a south-east direction, to examine the ground, with a view to discover the most eligible place for digging a well. The whole face of the country marked decisively its volcanic origin; and in the course of their excursion they entered several hollows in the lava, formed by its having cooled and hardened on the surface, while, in a liquid state underneath, it had continued to flow towards the sea, leaving a crust in the shape of a tunnel, or arched vault, of varied thickness and extent. Before we returned, we also explored a celebrated cavern in the vicinity, called Raniakea. After entering it by a small aperture, we passed on in a direction nearly parallel with the surface; sometimes along a spacious arched way, not less than twenty-five feet high and twenty wide; at other times, by a passages narrow, that they could with difficulty press through, till they had proceeded about 1200 feet; here our progress was arrested by a pool of water, wide, deep, and as salt as that found in the hollows of the lava within a few yards of the sea. This latter circumstance, in a great degree, damped our hopes of finding fresh water by digging through the lava. More than thirty natives, most of them carrying torches, accompanied us in our descent; and on arriving at the water, simultaneously plunged in, extending their torches with one hand, and swimming about with the other. The partially illuminated heads of the natives, splashing about in this subterranean lake; the reflection of the torch-light on its agitated surface; the frowning sides and lofty arch of the black vault, hung with lava, that had cooled in every imaginable shape; the deep gloom of the cavern beyond the water; the hollow sound of their footsteps; and the varied reverberations of their voices, produced a singular effect; and it would have required but little aid from the fancy, to have imagined a resemblance between this scene and the fabled Stygian lake of the poets. The mouth of the cave is about half a mile from the sea, and the perpendicular depth to the water probably not less than fifty or sixty feet. The pool is occasionally visited by the natives, for the purpose of bathing, as its water is cool and refreshing. From its ebbing and flowing with the tide, it has probably a direct communication with the sea. (Ellis)

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(These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)


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