165. Undara Volcanic National Park

Our destination was the Undara Volcanic National Park and the Undara Lava Caves. The Atherton Tableland was once a very active volcanic area, and the Undara park protects one of the longest lava tube cave systems in the world, created about 190,000 years ago. A massive eruption caused lava to flow more than 90 km to the north and over 160 km to the north-west.  It is estimated that 23 cubic km of lava flowed from the volcano; enough to fill Sydney Harbour in six days.

Undara was a shield volcano producing copious amounts of lava but with unspectacular eruptions – “like boiling a saucepan over on a stove”. The lava flowed along a number of old dry watercourses; the outer crust cooled and insulated the inner lava flow which continued for some way – 160 km in fact, much further than it could have if outside the tubes. The Aboriginal word for Undara means ‘long way’.

The ‘Undara Experience’ is a well-organised commercial business, originally established by the Collins family who have lived in the area since 1862. They’ve won many awards for excellence including an Australian Tourism award for unique accommodation and a Queensland Environmental Tourism award. The accommodation ranges from ‘pioneer huts’ with all mod cons to turn of the century railway carriages with en suites (set along the original Cobb & Co coach road and blending nicely with the surrounding bushland) ….


….. to swag tents of various degrees of luxury.


There’s also a motorhome and caravan park of course, and room for ordinary tents. That’s us on the far left. A little wallaby visited us one evening, and there were plenty of cheeky magpies too. But no more apostle birds.



There is a bar and bistro and “bush breakfast” and “around the campfire” experiences on offer to the coach loads of tourists. Somehow we managed to avoid most of them.

Access to the National Park is by guided tour only, and as we had not booked beforehand we had to wait two days to join a 2 hour tour of the lava tubes. However, we were free to go on various bush walks and/or drive to the Kalkani Crater.

The Bluff Walk took us to the top of the Bluff from which there were extensive views of the wooded lava plains.

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After rather a scramble through the reddish rocks we reached level ground again and returned to camp on the Swamp Track through lightly wooded countryside, spotting a couple of wallabies on the way.



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The crater was something else. We drove 16 km then were faced with a 2.5 km walk on what we were told was a “well-graded track to the top and around the rim…”  It started off well but by the time the rim was reached it was definitely rather rough! Dave elected to go right round the rim and I went in the opposite direction and met him about two-thirds of his way around.




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Returning to the car park was much easier (!).

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The crater itself is so large that it was hard to make it out properly (spotting a group of walkers on the opposite side of the crater helped), but the various volcanoes on the horizon all around were very clear even on a rather foggy day.

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The lava tubes were indeed interesting. Luckily we had asked beforehand if they had a printout of the guide’s spiel, which they did, so I was able to follow everything. We are now far more enlightened about geology in general and that of the Undara region in particular. Far too much to repeat here in the blog- the guide’s notes are 8 pages long. We walked along boardwalks and up and down stairs with handrails. The tubes are very stable, there have been no rock falls since the Lodge started operating.

Just before the entrance to the caves we came upon this Queensland Bottle Tree, similar to the Boab trees of Western Australia. Bottle trees were an important food tree for the Aboriginal people who used to harvest the seed pods from the tops of the trees; the horizontal markings on the trunk are the remains of Aboriginal toe holds carved with a stone axe. Many other bottle trees in the Park are similarly marked.Undara Lava Tubes11IMG_2391

First The Archway. Many of the cornerstones that joined the roof have fallen out … about 190,000 years ago!  The colours are due to a high proportion of silica and iron, also calcium and manganese. Mineral leaching of the calcium gives the white colours.

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Then the Ewamein tube….

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Fish-bone ferns …Undara Lava Tubes17


Then Stephenson’s Tube, where we saw a couple of microbats (Eastern Horseshoe Bat) and long fig tree roots extending from the ceiling; they live on the moisture in the air. It was very dark and difficult to take good photos.


Next day we packed up quickly. A late check-out meant 50% of one night’s accommodation. It was sad to think we were leaving not only the Tableland but the Outback. From now on we will be heading down the coast.

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