The Outback & fascinating Undara Lava Tubes
Len Rutledge goes ‘down the tube’
Slam, bang, bif, pow! I awake to unfamiliar sounds and cautiously pull up the blind. Oh, it’s just two kangaroos having a ‘friendly’ stand-up fight just outside my window. There’s nothing unusual about that at Undara.
I’m rapidly discovering that very few things are considered unusual at Undara. The wildlife, the vegetation, the lava tubes and the railway carriage accommodation would all be considered very different elsewhere but here they are part of the amazing Undara Experience (www.undara.com.au ).
I am in North Queensland revisiting one of the most fascinating Outback destinations easily accessible from the coastal cities. I first visited Undara with cattleman Gerry Collins back in the late 1980s when he had a dream to develop this unique area into a tourist attraction. At the time he was battling the Queensland Government for approvals and was trying to save his land from compulsory acquisition.
In the end he succeeded with his dream and Queensland has a unique top quality experience for both local and international visitors. It is a wonderful destination from either Townsville or Cairns.
It takes awhile to sort out the Undara Experience. The whole package consists of accommodation, meals and facilities, tours and activities. You can cherry-pick bits and pieces but you will find that more is always better because this experience is very special.
For accommodation, we choose the beautifully restored one hundred year old railway carriages. These are set along the original Cobb & Co. coach road and are shaded by tall trees and a canopy roof. The rooms contain a very comfortable double bed, old railway seats ceiling fans, and a bathroom.
The carriages are unique, comfortable and romantic. We love them. Other options are the permanent swag tents, some of which have their own kitchen, the caravan park and camp ground, and self-contained air-conditioned Pioneers Huts.
After settling in we go exploring. We find the free tea and coffee that is always available and then relax in the deck chairs by the lagoon pool. This is perfect after the drive from Townsville. After recharging, we go on a self-guided bush walk. There are nine tracks ranging from 1.5km to 12km return. We climb a nearby knoll and gaze over the plateau towards some of the 164 old volcanoes in the province. There is no sign of human occupation as far as we can see.
We enquire about tours and are told about the Wildlife at Sunset trip that departs each day at around 5.30pm. Naturally we go on it. We watch the sunset while enjoying sparkling wine and cheese and then are taken to the entrance of a lava tube at dusk to see pythons and tree snakes capturing a meal of micro bats as they emerge from the darkness in their thousands.
Dinner at night is at the Iron Pot Bistro. The a-la-carte menu has beef, Georgetown sausages, chicken, fish, and vegetarian noodle stir fry dishes. Meals are large, delicious and filling. We linger over several glasses of wine and then share a ‘chocolate volcano’ dessert. After dinner, we relax around the campfire, enjoy the brilliant starry sky then wander back through the Australian bush to our railway carriage ‘home’ for a good night’s sleep.
It’s morning. The kangaroos have woken me so I watch nature’s world through the window. There are wallabies, wallaroos, parrots, kookaburras, currawongs and magpies all happily going about the business of eating. I guess it is time for our breakfast.
We wander off into the bush along a well-defined track and soon come upon the Ringers Camp. The fire is burning, the billy tea is boiling and the freshly brewed coffee spreads its aroma throughout the camp.
Cereal, fruit, sausages, baked beans, eggs, sautéed vegetables, bacon and a variety of juices make for a great breakfast. We toast bread over the coals of the fire and spread it with honey and jam. Why do I eat so much more when in a setting like this?
It’s 8am and we gather for the Archway Explorer tour. There are ten of us in the minibus as we drive to a lava tube. Lava tubes are the result of volcanic lava flowing down depressions. Eventually the surface cooled and formed a crust but underneath the lava continued to flow.
The eruption eventually stopped and lava flowed out of the far end of the tubes, leaving tunnels beneath the land. Eventually holes appeared when the roof collapsed on the tubes and rainforest sprang up in these dark, moist hollows.
We enter one of these depressions and are surrounded by life. The dry savannah has given way to lush vegetation. Dozens of butterflies flit around our heads. We are in a different world. The huge entrance to a lava tube is straight ahead.
Entering the tube is a wonderful experience. We come face to face with 190,000 years of history. Timber walkways lead deep into the darkness. Our Savannah Guide gives us environmental, geological and historical information on the region.
We visit two other tubes. A long wet season has raised the water table and some tubes are part-filled with water. At one, we strip to our swimwear and bathe in the clear water. We’re told that this is a very rare experience, happening on average, once every twenty years!
While it is possible to experience the highlights of Undara by staying one night, a two-night stay is clearly better. This gives you time to take a second tour to a different section of the tubes, explore more of the walking trails and visit some of the other attractions in the area.
Words: Len Rutledge Pictures: Phensri and Len Rutledge
Feature supplied by: www.wtfm.media.com.au