Welcome to the Undara lava tubes.

Come on down, it's a little dark, and quiet but you'll get used to it. Stay on the path and watch your step. If you should become disorientated you can press the back button.
A long time ago 30 K from here there was a volcano. We now call this volcano Undara. Undara was not a large volcano nor was it violent in comparison to its neighbors – but it produced a huge amount of lava. The lava flowed out seeking lower ground and covered a huge area to a depth of many metres. The lava solidified on the surface while the depths remained liquid and sometime flowing at high speed. Eventually Undara slowed and stopped. The solid crust remained but some of the molten rock flowed away leaving a glowing tubular void. It is unknown how many tubes there are or where. We only know about those which have shown themselves due to partial or total collapse – or by observing (or smelling) bats which have found small openings into them. The tubes are probably the best in the world because they have been protected from unsupervised visitors. For this reason and the danger of getting lost in the region or inside a tube (some are very dangerous) the public can not see the tubes without a guide. Our guide for a day tour was Val Speedie and an excellent guide she is.

Chris booked our accommodation and day tour as we drove from Carnarvon Gorge to Undara. After staying in a cold small tent and driving 1100K - a soft bed was a good thing. I am not a fan of resorts but was impressed with Lava lodge. We didn't want five star service just access to the tubes. We stayed in a "cabin" which was very basic, they were approx 3 Mtr cubes with two beds, power and a fan – no fridge. There was a nice outdoor communal BBQ area which we had to ourselves because only two or three of the twelve cabins were occupied. We arrived after closing time and the staff were very helpful in provided after-hours key pickup. There are a range of accommodation options from posh to camping. At a bit over $16 per head the cabin was good value.
This is the first place Val took us – a lookout to survey the terrain. The hills in the distance are extinct volcanoes – I don't remember if the Undara volcano is one of them. The country is rough, get lost and you will probably die of thirst – don't! Search and rescue costs $100,000 a day and doesn't always succeed.

The park was a cattle property and the owner (Stan Colins) had the sense to switch from cattle to tube tours and has done a good job of creating the operation – unlike some other resort owners in Queensland. The day tour was $93 and well worth it. Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea are provided. The tourists on our trip tended to be middle aged and older – with a few exceptions. No great fitness is needed but there are a few ladders to climb and rocks to scramble over. In the morning we had a mix of full and half day tourists so the bus was full – about 20 people. In the afternoon we only had seven or so.
Much of the tour had nothing to do with tubes, Val told us all sort of stuff about the land, plants animals, geology and history of the place. Some people call this "padding" but I learned a lot that day.
The collapsed tubes can be seen from a distance because the different vegetation in them. They shelter a dry rain-forest. Dry rain-forest strikes me as a rather dumb name. The tube contains this forest not because it rains there (imagine long rain clouds 10 meters wide just raining in the tubes) it is there because the plants are fire sensitive and the walls keep fire out. At this time of year the trees in the tubes have lost their leaves and stood out from the surrounding bush.

Here Chris is climbing down the ladder into our first tube while holding a standard issue torch – I brought my own which was somewhat more reliable. The first few tubes didn't require a torch but we needed them before returning to the bus. This small tube doubled as a classroom with Val showing some posters, maps and satellite images of the tube system. She also told us about a self-guided walk around a crater rim some 12K from the lodge. We did this the next day and its worth doing to get a better view of the surrounding country side.
Some of the tubes are "walk thru" some are dead ends and one was a 'tick' shape. This was a forked tube with a collapse in the right hand branch near the join and silted up just past the join – this is the "wind" tunnel. Wind is important because it prevents (pre-vents?) bad air from accumulating. The deep dead end tubes can have this problem and this limits which tubes can be entered and how deep you can go. The longest tube we entered was around 800 meters long but it was only safe to go 350 meter inside – it feels like much further though.

Aboriginal artifacts are rare, however this tube had a few. Visitors are expected to stay within defined walking tracks to preserve as much of the floor as possible. In some tubes the silt is deep and may contain objects of archeological value. The floor may continue to deepen over time with a tourist layer currently forming. Further archeologists may carefully note 2 lines of stones buried in this layer. Hopefully they won't find cigarette butts and chips packets.
The caretakers try to minimize interference and will (for example) leave dead animals in place. This cave contained a dead dingo which had died there a few years ago.
Every tube is different - different plan-forms, profiles and floor depths – also some are wet but most are dry. The wet ones have tree roots in them.

The walls are quite different to other caves I've visited. The white is calcite but walls are volcanic rock not limestone or sandstone. The calcite forms cave coral but no stalagmites or stalagtites. Instead of limestone formations there are distinct lava formations – sags and dribbles and lavaicles. There are domes and bowls formed by eddy currents in the lava.

The tube are not level, one would expect them to be (on average) descending or the lava would not have flowed. The floor is usually decomposed bat dropping and tends to be more level than the tube. So when a tube descends the ceiling eventually meets the floors as it has done here. Where the tube dips and rises again there may be enough gap to crawl through into the next section but this is for the experts. This is partly because the air after the restriction is likely to be foul and the explorers need breathing apparatus (it would be fun though).

Undara also caters for the less able-bodied visitors. This tube has wheel chair access including a solar powered lift for the chairs. The tube has no artificial lighting installed because introducing light will change the biology. The green in the photo is Algae which requires light to live, too much artificial light inside and you allow algae to grow where it doesn't belong. Another thing that doesn't belong is the cane toad, which is invading some of the tubes.

I found it hard to take in everything I was experiencing. I guess I imagined being in the tube like being inside a pipe - but it wasn't. There was much more to see and learn than I expected and it was hard to take it all in. I'd love to have this in my back yard so I could spend time alone in there. I'd also take some descent photos, taking happy snaps with a (cheap) handheld camera does not do it justice.

The lodge has a policy of not feeding the animals. They do provide water though and grow gardens and lawns. This attracts native animals such has these "pretty faced" wallabies. Wallabies were getting fairly boring after seeing so many from the car and bus but I had trouble rationing my film with these guys (pity I didn't have my digital camera then). This photo was taken just a few meters from our cabin window. Perhaps we should have stayed longer and explored some of some more of the sights outside the park. We've heard the bush poetry and other night time activities are good but we piked out.

Lunch was served at this replica slab hut. Apart from the screws holding it together it looked pretty authentic. Lunch was a self serve smorgasbord affair with billy tea and all that. At lunch you get to know the other visitors and bit better. Our group was mostly Ozzie with one kiwi couple and one guy from Finland. I think most were motor touring as we were.


Up one level
Eddie's Home Page