Concealed behind a waterfall in Tahiti’s remote highlands, the hidden entrance to the volcano’s depths might have been imagined by HG Wells or Jules Verne. But here it is – finally within our reach.
We’re here to experience lava tubing, an extreme sport at which Tahiti excels. Put simply, it’s an exploration of the veins and arteries of a long-dead volcano, in this case, Fara’ura. Participants climb, crawl, slide and swim down these “tubes”, retracing the explosive passages created by fire and fury hundreds of years ago.
“My grandfather first brought me here 40 years ago, but it never loses its magic,” says our local guide Herve, as he ropes us up for our adventure.
The first lava tube is enormous – 20m high according to Herve – but the tunnels swiftly begin to constrict as he leads us deeper, in almost complete blackness, into Fara’ura’s embrace. Suddenly, Herve asks us to stop. In front of him is a natural rock slide pitching into the darkness.
One by one, we pluck up our courage and move into a seated position before propelling ourselves into nothingness and…. plop!
The cold water is expected, but not the sheer depth of the subterranean lake, nor the size of the cathedral-like grotto above it. Our head torches bounce off the rock ceiling, manic spotlights illuminating a magnificent cavern.
Something thick, muscular and slippery glides past my leg. “A mountain eel!” Herve squeals excitedly. There’s life in this dead mountain yet – and it’s currently circling us.
Despite Herve’s reassurances that mountain eels are harmless, the knowledge that they are “as thick as a man’s neck and nearly his height” has us all immediately reaching for the exit ropes.
As we make our way back towards the surface, it’s strange to contemplate these natural corridors being created from the very core of the Earth. Just traversing them is at once surreal and invigorating.
Where else you can explore what lies beneath
Blackwater Rafting, New Zealand
Whitewater rafting’s darker sibling involves floating serenely through natural cave systems on slow-moving underground rivers. One of the best places to experience this is New Zealand’s Paparoa National Park (below).
Perhaps best translated as “cave exploring”, spelunking is extremely popular in England, particularly in Somerset’s famous Cheddar Gorge (below). You’ll follow a guide into a system of caves, climbing and abseiling between them.
Geothermic Scuba, USA
At Homestead Crater in Utah, you can scuba-dive inside a geothermal spring (above). The crater is the only warm scuba-diving destination in continental America. With water temperatures hovering at about 35 deg C, you can leave your wetsuit at home.
SEE ALSO: What it’s like to live on the edge – camping on the side of a 400ft cliff
– TEXT BY JONATHAN THOMPSON
PHOTO: TAHITI TOURISME, CHEDDAR GORGE FACEBOOK, UNDERWORLD ADVENTURES FACEBOOK, HOMESTEAD RESORT FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.