It is only 2.5 hours drive (~200 km) south-west of Atherton and what better excuse than having a birthday to go and explore the Undara Volcanic National Park?! As always where national parks are concerned, QPWS do an interesting summary of the natural features and history of the park which you can find here (https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/undara-volcanic/culture.html)
Suffice to say, the park is geologically fascinating with its’ giant lava tubes and caves being what it is renowned for. For good reason the only way you can actually see these impressive tubes is by guided tour with a Savannah Guide. But it’s a national park, not private property - so you might be asking why people can’t just go into the tubes on their own for free???
Well there’s really two main reasons. Firstly, let’s be blunt, you just can’t trust everyone to do the right thing – for example to not leave their litter around or deface the tubes with ‘Bazza was ere 2018’ etched into the rocks etc. Secondly, for safety reasons - some of the tubes are structurally unsound with risk of collapse and in certain weather conditions a number of tubes have carbon dioxide levels much higher than normal presenting a risk of asphyxiation in the stagnant air and relative high humidity (though some animals have adapted to those conditions!).
The best thing about having a guide is that there’s sooooo much interesting interpretive information that you just wouldn’t get if there wasn’t someone there to tell you all about it and answer all manner of questions that come their way. Our guides for the 3 tours we did were Denis, Denis and Denis! While we had the same guide each time, the tours each went to different lava tubes and Denis was always friendly and approachable, had a great sense of humour and was extraordinarily knowledgeable.
The Wildlife at Sunset tour showcased the terrific range of macropods (Pretty Face Wallaby, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Swamp Wallaby and Antilopine Walleroo); sunset with wine and cheese with a 360° view of the area; and then took us to view our first lava tube, home to a lot of Common Bent Wing Bats who were trying to avoid being dinner for the Brown Tree Snake (night tiger) that dangled down from the tree just at the entrance to the cave.
The Active tour saw us clambering up and down basalt boulders into the lava tubes as we marvelled at the geological wonders and enjoyed the geology lesson Denis gave. Bats whizzed past our ears with their incredible echolocation (sonar navigation) as we went deeper into the lava tubes.
On the Archway tour, with its’ easy boardwalks and staircases, we heard virtually the same environmental, geological and historical information as the Active tour, but we went into the biggest tubes we’d seen yet, one even still had a little water in it after the wet season rains – Denis told us that after Cyclone Yasi, guests swam in that tube and we found the footage he was talking about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJhjl1B_-sI.
Not only was Denis a great guide he was good entertainment around the night campfire back at the Undara Lodge singing, playing the guitar and reciting Aussie poetry – a very multi-talented man!
Other than the 3 tours, we packed in as much exploring as possible into the 2 ½ days we were there. We spent the rest of the time exploring the existing 30km of trails around the lodge by bike - which was at times really hike-a-bike rather than ride-a-bike. It proved challenging but rewarding as we reached high points and took in the beautiful remote savannah landscapes. On the Rosella Plains trail (which I wouldn’t recommend riding but we did give it a red hot go), we had to stop multiple times to pull out those annoying (clever) grass seeds that wind their way through the socks and irritate the skin – we definitely recommend gaiters!!! There was plenty of birdlife to see in the area including: Kookaburra, Blue Faced Honey Eaters, Rainbow Lorikeets, Tawny Frogmouth, Crows, Galah, Pied Currawong, Brush Turkeys etc.
For the two nights we glamped in the swag tent village, they were odd little tents with single beds (to our disappointment there were no doubles) but certainly comfortable enough and the camp kitchen was very handy, clean and useful. The railway carriage accommodation looked very appealing from the outside - the whole place had a well-appointed and looked after feel and the staff we met were lovely.
On our last day we did the short hike up to the Bluff for Sunrise, it was quite windy and a Black Kite put on a magnificent aerial display right above our heads as it played in the breeze – it was definitely enjoying itself while we were enjoying watching it! Then we ended our stay by doing the self-drive tour to Kalkani Crater where we had up close and personal experience with the Pretty Face Wallabies that live there and Pale Headed Rosellas… just delightful.
Words by Liliana Williamson (April 2018)