U for Undara Lava Tubes

UI was always fascinated by the Undara Lava Tubes.  Way up in far north Queensland they seemed remote and inaccessible but in 2013 we explored the Eastern side of Australia with some friends and finally discovered what all the fuss was about. So what exactly is a lava tube? When a volcano erupts it spews forth lava which flows across the land. If that lava flows into a valley it becomes a river of molten rock. The lava flow (which is just red-hot basalt) cools and becomes solid on the outside while the inside is still molten and keeps flowing. The Undara Lava Tubes were created about 190,000 years ago when  23 cubic kilometres of lava flowed into a river bed and kept flowing for 160km, making it the world’s longest lava flow from a single volcano.

Australia Undara

The Undara Experience is the brainchild of Gerry Collins, whose family have grazed cattle here since 1862.  In 1987 Gerry believed the best way to protect the Lava Tubes located on his family property was to develop a managed, sustainable visitor experience.  A successful application was made to the government to turn the area into a National Park and to set up a lodge facility from which tours to the lava tubes could be undertaken.  Eleven decommissioned railway carriages were brought to the site and restored to provide eco-accommodation for visitors in 1990. Now, of course, there is a camping ground as well for those with their own accommodation.

Gerry’s son Bram Collins, is the Managing Director of the Undarra Experience.  He grew up with the lava tubes for an adventure playground and with the Ewamian children as his playmates.

This is an edited extract from my diary at the time.

20th June, 2013

After a late start at 9 o’clock we drove the 341 kilometres to Undara. We had plenty to keep us occupied straddling road kill and the fat black crows hovering above it. We identified wallabies, kangaroos, rabbits, cats, cows and even a deer. There were large mobs of wallabies and kangaroos on the side of the road. We had to slow to a halt as one hopped across in front if us. We also kept our ears glued to the UHF radio on Channel 40 as signs along the road warned us to listen for oncoming road trains and get off the road until they passed. Fortunately we didn’t see too many. Massive road trains with five trailers drive down the middle of the narrow roads and don’t stop for anyone. There are Call Point numbers every few kilometres where the truck drivers are supposed to state their position on the radio but we didn’t hear any.

road train
Five trailer road train

It was about 2 o’clock when we arrived at Undara. The first thing we did after check in was to book tours for tomorrow. I have booked a four hour tour which covers several lava tubes while our friends are going on a two hour tour. I can hear rain on the roof so hope it is fine tomorrow. Undara is supposed to have 300 fine days a year so let’s hope we get one of them

Tonight we walked down to the camp fire at 8 o’clock to listen to one of the Savannah Guides give a talk on his travels. He and his wife have been touring Australia for ten years, picking up work, mainly at Caravan Parks. He gave a  slide show presentation, showing us many of the places we plan to visit including Adel’s Grove, Lawn Hill and Edith Falls. He also showed a lot of Western Australia including the Horizontal Waterfalls and Bungle Bungles. Maybe next year?

21st June, 2013
Today dawned cloudy and cool but it was really a comfortable temperature. It reached about 22 degrees at the hottest part with a bit of sun peeping through thin cloud. Of course the fact we were going to be underground made the weather less important.

At 8 o’clock we all stood around waiting for our tour to begin. The two hour “strenuous” tour departed with our friends in a group of 19. Our group consisted of ourselves and two others, Wilma and Tom. We found they had just sailed the Whitsundays on a catamaran for a week with two friends.While we were comparing notes we were driven to a lookout where we observed all the extinct volcanoes in the area.

Our guide Chris

The first cave we visited had a Japanese name (Mogoshi) meaning pretty as the sun shining into it made it look very attractive.

A professional photo from the Tropical North Queensland article by Bruce Elder. https://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/articles/must-visit-undara-lava-tubes/

Next was the Dome Cave which was a little tricky to climb into but much more enclosed than the previous one.

Climbing into the Dome Cave

 The Wind Cave was our next port of call with passages leading in several directions.Version 3

All were formed when lava flowed through, the roof hardened and the cave emptied out. The two hour tour did the same caves as us so far but at this stage drove back to camp.

Version 2We visited the Settlers Camp, a reconstructed hut, where we had scones, jam and cream with tea or coffee. The final cave was the Road Cave, which was the first to be discovered when a now unused road was being built. The entrance has been modified to allow disabled people to enter. It has boardwalks and a travelator to bring people in wheelchairs to the cave level. It was quite a spectacular cave, with what looked like human art works on the walls. We could make out horses, mermaids, a man with a dog and many other shapes.

Version 3

These have all been made from the calcium deposits on the walls and were much more varied than in the other caves. Whether the four hour tour is that much better than the two hour I can’t say but either one is a must do. The best thing about our group was the small number of people which allowed us to get to know our guide Chris quite well. He spoke tonight around the camp fire so John and I went along as it was about birds and animals of the area. We came away still unsure of the difference between a crow and a raven but much more aware of the birds to look out for tomorrow. Chris also told us the difference between a wallaby and a kangaroo and I was surprised it was not size that matters! Wallabies tend to have markings on their face and have a different tail to a kangaroos. Then there are the potteroos. I can add one of those to our list of road kill we saw yesterday.

This afternoon I climbed a pile of rocks I have nicknamed Telstra Hill. I was able to upload the blog, make some phone calls and send some emails. John and I went on one of the local walks to the Bluff and circled back to the camp. We had to follow little blue markers but came across a couple who were retracing their steps as they were lost and worried they wouldn’t get back to base before dark. Anyway we kept going and arrived home in time to sign off the sheet designed to keep us all from being lost in the bush and never heard of again.


2 thoughts on “U for Undara Lava Tubes

  1. That is a massive tractor-trailer! I like the term “road train.”
    I couldn’t quite picture the lava tubes. Once the lava hardened, did they remain hollow, like tubes?
    Was that you, lowering yourself intrepidly into the cave?

    Liked by 1 person

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