Some 50km east of Mount Surprise is the Undara Lava Experience, a privately owned resort with access to the Undara lava tubes. I first heard of the place at a tourism event in Karumba a couple of years ago. I was chatting to Bram Collins who spoke enthusiastically of the place founded on the Rosella Plains Station property owned by his father Gerry Collins and three generations before him. Gerry applied to develop a tourist facility to showcase the lava tubes in 1987. Gerry and now Bram believe the best way to protect these ancient formations was to develop a sustainable visitor experience to lessen the environmental impact and highlight the unique ecology and geology of the cave system. Ever since that chat I've been keen to check it out
We came all the way from Karumba and were booked in on the signature lava experience tour in the morning as it was not accessible privately. Having checking in and admired the open central restaurant area we decided to take a walk through the ancient granites to Atkinson Lookout about 2km away.
It was one of several walks available on the Undara Experience property each with their own attractions. The Atkinson's Lookout path was dry but there was enough water nearby to attract this pale-headed rosella. Native to North East Australia they are found in open woodland and feed on seeds and fruit. As with other rosellas, the pale-headed rosella nests in hollows of large trees.
The Undara Volcanic National Park lies within the McBride volcanic province. There are 164 volcanoes, vents and cones within this area. Many millions of years before these volcanoes formed, the area was a shallow granite valley. Over the past 7-8 million years the granite valley has been filled with lava and ash flows.
Some controlled burning was taking place in the Undara National Park east of the Lava Experience property. Park managers are keen to bring back ancient Aboriginal firing practices applying planned fire at varying intensities, scales and times to create a mosaic of burnt and unburnt areas that change over time. It also reduces the fuel load to ensure there are less devastating fires that burn everything.
After completing the Atkinson's Lookout walk we continue our walk for another 5km along the Bluff Circuit where there were plenty more birds to be seen. This agile rosella was not going to allow simple matters of gravity from getting its favourite seed. A true favourite down under.
We return to the accommodation area where we more examples of Undara's signature style of eco-accommodation. In December 1989, Gerry Collins discovered eleven decommissioned 1900s Queensland Railway Carriages on a siding in Mareeba. He bought and restored the carriages and in May 1990, he placed them between the trees beside an old teamster's trail.
The centrepiece of the Undara Experience facility is the Fettler's Iron Pot Bistro. It has a huge arched roof looking out to the bushland and a roaring firepit as its impressive centrepiece to admire the great views. The food was good too.
In the morning we walked another 500m into the bush where the bush breakfast campfire was cooking. You can enjoy tea from the billy, decent coffee, bacon, eggs and beans with toast you cook yourself over the open fire. I start to see why the place has Experience in its name.
The kookaburra was nearby and on guard ready to laugh and swoop whenever we drop a bit of breakfast on the ground. The laughing kookaburra lives in eucalypt forests, open woodlands, or on the edges of plains in Eastern Australia. They need tree hollows to nest in and so need nest site availability to reproduce.
After breakfast we took the bus to the national park to begin the two hour archway explorer lava experience tour. Some 190,000 years ago Undara volcano erupted and molten lava flowed into nearby dry river beds. The external lava quickly cooled and hardened while the fierce flow snaked its way through underneath a thickening surface crust. The eruption stopped and the centres drained away, leaving only the hardened exterior; and long, dark, hollow tubes. The Undara crater spilled out 23 cubic kilometres of lava. One flow travelled north-west for 164kms, the longest single lava flow from one volcanic vent on Earth in modern geological time.
The first stop is into the signature Archway Cave. A stack of at least 5 lava flows are exposed in the walls of the collapsed tube. The Undara lava tube system is one of the longest in the world. It is also unusual in that it developed on a granitic basement.
The vine-thicket is a thought to be a remnant of a once, much more widespread, vegetation type in Gondwana 300 million years ago. The lava tube caves contain specialised ecosystems that are internationally significant. Four types of insectivorous bat (micro bats) roost in the caves and they provide food for snakes and birds, such as the nocturnal barking owl Ninox connivens.
As well as the Archway cave, we also go down into nearby Stephenson Cave. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science consider much of the park dangerous for unguided visitors because of a combination of concealed holes where lava tubes have collapsed, high carbon dioxide in some of the tubes and a confusing landscape. Vsits to the tubes is by guide only.
It was time to move back west towards Cobbold Gorge on completion of the tour but there was time to visit the Kalkani Crater on the way out back to Mt Surprise. Parking at the bottom of the crater, there is a 2.5km walk including a 600m climb to the rim walk around the crater.
Here visitors are allowed to walk without guides. From the top of the rim you can see south towards the original Undara volcano and the outcome other eruptions around the area from the last seven to eight million years.
The view below is from the rim looking into the crater. Unlike Undara which was a gentle oozing explosion which created the lava tubes Kalkani's eruption was explosive. The scoria cone was created between 190,000 and 400,000 years ago when magma moved up to the surface and dissolving gases expanded bursting through, producing fountains of red hot volcanic rock. As the rocks fell they built up in layers around the edge creating the cone.
The view north from Kalkani and yet another volcanic crater. Traditional owners the Ewamian ('your-amin') People say Undara means "a long way". It may be a long way from anywhere, but is worth the journey.