Friday, 25 April 2014

Undara Lava Tubes and campground

200kms of dirt road stretched between us and the Undara Lava Tubes when we left Porcupine Gorge, and having done not an ounce of taping up to reduce the amount of bull dust finding its inevitable way into the campertrailer, wayward cattle dotting the beautiful bush scenery and the promise of few cars at best on the journey, I was apprehensive to say the least. 

The Braai Master teaches his craft at Undara.
But I am slowly realising that even though there are few in the way of human inhabitants in the Outback, almost everyone is exceedingly friendly and thanks to everyone (around 10 cars) we met on the road giving us a cheery wave, suddenly that feeling of isolation dissipated. We felt so much camaraderie with our fellow travellers that by the time we got to the Savannah Way (the main highway connecting Cairns and Darwin), Fiela in particular was miffed (he who becomes miffed quite often when he feels he is being ignored “So-and-so NEVER texts me”… please insert an eye roll here from me and almost all our friends) that people in this ‘populated’ part of Queensland had stopped returning his wave. Lucky us, the turn off to Undara was only a few kilometres down the highway before we turned back onto a dirt road and people who wave.

Descending into the gully where the tubes lay.

Anyway, the Undara Lava Tubes are a series of rock caves (tubes) which were formed over 40,000 years ago when a massive volcano (more like an abscess with different outlet points with lava oozing out than a spectacular explosion) gushed out lava for 30 years or so. The lava flowed into gullys and rivers, cooled on top forming the ‘roof’ while hot lava continued to flow through the tubes. When it stopped it was like a tap, the lava ran out and the tubes remained. You can only see the tubes by taking a tour with the Undara Experience which not only runs the tours but has a pretty cool eco-resort nearby the site. It seems that the family owning the resort had acquired the property in the 1800s, found the tubes and in some fabulous negotiations with the government, managed to gain the exclusive rights to the tourism aspect of this national park. Go monopolistic capitalism! 

Entrance to the first lava tube, The Archway.

Upon checking in I was told yet again that we were ‘just 5 days’ too early for the start of the ‘season’ which was annoying in that the girl doing the check in dithered around working out this that and the other (“It’s my first day back since last season”) but excellent in that only a few others were camping and we had the pick of the sites. The camping area is shady, every plot has a built in fire pit (yay!) and they also have lots of other accommodation options.

A lovely oasis after a hot day's walk.
 The pool was beautiful and the bar area was pretty amazing as well with a big open area and stage looking out over the bush (they do a blues and opera festival out here- not at the same time!). It was so good we ended up staying at the pub for dinner, talking to a couple from Cairns and watching as the kids played around throwing sticks into the massive communal fire pit. As with most Uys Adventures, the 'funny' point of the evening occurred when we got back to the camper and realised that the only evidence of the frozen chicken we’d left defrosting on the BBQ was the plastic bag it had been wrapped in. Woops.

Camp. Note half-clothed children.

The next morning (having located the leftover chicken, surrounded by satiated looking crows and currawongs and binning it) we went on our lava tube tour. Our guide was a bit of a Crocodile Dundee Wannabe with an attitude (having managed to get pretty much the entire tour group offside with some unsavoury comments about ex-wives amongst others) but incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the lava tubes and the bush in general. 

Looking out of the first tube.

The second tube where Croc Dundee was feeling so outrageously fit and athletic.

The caves are beautiful and boardwalked about 200 metres in, with tiny little bats flitting in and out. Aboriginals avoided the tubes like the plague because of ‘evil spirits’ which can possibly be explained due to the high concentration of carbon monoxide found in them. Tree roots (where the carbon monoxide from the air is expelled) hang down from the ceiling of the tubes and depending on the time of year can increase the carbon monoxide to a lethal level. We couldn’t actually go into one of the caves due to the high levels of carbon monoxide (most self ingratiating comment of the tour: “…We usually test it with a lighter but I can tell just by my breathing. You know, because I’m so fit.”). It was well worth the money, and despite Caesar’s apparent dislike of dark caves and Marguerite’s disturbing fascination with bats, we really enjoyed it. 

Seed pod on the crater walk.

You can see the rim of the crater in front. The pimple far left is another lava outlet.

 We spent the next day doing a few bush walks around the campsite and one around the rim of an extinct volcano, and one horror where we were attacked by mosquitoes so large they could f*#k chickens, ticks, took the long way mistakenly and Marguerite fell over grazing every limb she owns... and swimming in the pool and chasing wallabies, kangaroos and currawongs. We’d love to come back for the Undara Experience Blues Weekend and had a great time here in general. On our last morning, we trekked a few hundred metres away from the resort for the ‘Bush Breakfast’ complete with bacon stealing kookaburras.

Lava outlets (pimples) across the Undara horizon line.

Pretty-Faced Wallaby.

Fun in the pool.

Bird. (???)

The bush breakfast site. Beautiful amongst the gums.

Bush Breakfast sans kookaburras.

Eastern Grey Kangaroos.

Our bush adventure was to continue next in Karumba, the “Outback by the Sea”, so we bid farewell to Undara and hello to non-waving drivers as we made our way even further West…

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