About 190,000 years ago, when Australia was a lot different to what it is now, there was an eruption. Not a violent, ‘Dante’s Peak’ eruption. The ground grumbled, dark smoke and steam billowed from a crack in the rocky terrain, and molten rock from below the earth’s crust oozed from the fissure. When Undara erupted, it left its mark on the land and today, we can get a glimpse into the tremendous enormity of volcanos.
Located along the Savannah Way, Undara Experience is a remarkable opportunity to explore Australia’s natural geological wonders and experience true hospitality in a brilliant outback environment.
The Collins family were the first white settlers in the area and have owned the property since 1862. It wasn’t until 1987 when fourth generation member Gerry Collins submitted an application to showcase the lava tubes while still maintaining sustainability and environmental consciousness. In partnership with the regional and state governments, Undara Volcanic National Park was gazetted and tours of the caves were to be provided via the Collins family lodge.
The birth of the Undara Experience followed in 1990 when the Collins family acquired the old railway carriages. They were used during the early 1900s and once they were decommissioned, the Queensland Government was planning to scrap them. When Gerry caught wind of this news, he negotiated a deal and took them of the government’s hands, refurbished them, and set them amongst the trees. They now have a new life, providing a unique style of accommodation and an eccentric atmosphere to the bar and bistro.
The Lava Tubes
Undara means “long way” in the local Aboriginal dialect, referring to the distance that the lava flowed from Undara volcano 190,000 years ago, and today, 164 craters can be found in the national park. The only way to see the lava tubes is by guided tour, and we were stoked to go on the Archway Explorer tour with 20 other lucky explorers. We learnt a lot about the geology of the surrounding area, from the pink granite boulders that are 350-400 million years old, to the vesicular basalt that has bubbles in it caused by gases from the last volcanic eruption, about 190,000 years ago.
We descended into a valley that was green and lush compared to the savannah scrub above, and strolled along boardwalks until we got to our first set of lava tubes. These valleys were created by sections of the lava tubes that had collapsed and are now vegetated with semi-evergreen vine thicket.
The lava tubes are a result of the eruption of the Undara volcano. It was a shield volcano about 340m wide, and the eruption was a non-violent event, more like a pot on the stove boiling over. The lava flowed out of the volcano along water courses at about 900m per hour – the outsides of the lava cooled while the centre stayed fluid and kept flowing. The lava tubes extend about 160km from the volcano, making the lava tubes at Undara the longest flow from a single volcano in the world.
So far, 69 tubes have been found in Undara Volcanic National Park. Tours allow the public access to eight of them, as the others are not safe for humans due to their extremely high levels of CO2. The Archway Explorer tour was so interesting that before we knew it, time was up and we were back on the bus and heading back to the resort. Other tours include the Active Explorer, Volcano Valley and Wildlife at Sunset, which gives guests the opportunity to see the wildlife that visits the tubes at dusk.
Accommodation varies from fully air-conditioned Pioneer Huts, restored Railway Carriages, Swag Tents and Safari Shelters, or you can bring your own tent or caravan and set up in one of the powered or unpowered sites. Facilities include a guest laundry at $2 per load, fuel and Wi-Fi access. Wallabies and kangaroos wander around the park, some with joeys hanging out of their pouches.
Activities around the resort include meals at the Fettlers Iron Pot Bistro (watch out for the thieving kookaburras), a nightcap of their delicious Undara Lava Tawny at the Saloon Car, self-guided walks that explore the surrounding bush, or a lazy afternoon by the pool. In the evenings from 8pm, there are also various campfire activities. We sat and listened to readings from great Aussie poets, like Banjo Patterson while treating ourselves to their delicious signature chocolate volcano dessert.
One of our favourite activities was the Bush Breakfast. We had just returned from a sunrise hike around Kalkani Crater and our tummies were grumbling. A path through the bush brought us to a clearing with the most wonderful smells. There were two campfires – one for bush tea and coffee, the other for toasting your own bread. There were also sausages, eggs and bacon on the BBQ, with beans and vegie ratatouille on the side. A table was set up with all the breakfast staples – juice, milk, soy, four kinds of cereal, butter and vegemite, and a wide variety of fruit – with tin cups and plates and log stumps for tables. We feasted, and did not need to eat again until dinnertime.
Undara Experience is located 40km east of Mount Surprise, and the road in is fully sealed, so it’s easily accessible by car and caravan. We cannot express how impressive the Undara Experience is. We could have easily spent a week going on the tours and guided walks, playing pool in the Saloon Car or just relaxing by the pool.
To have your own Undara Experience, book now by calling 1800 990 992. For more information, visit their website at undara.com.au.
Please be aware of wildlife on the way into Undara. The road in is nicknamed Kangaroo Alley, and we actually clipped the backside of a kangaroo on the way back from Kalkani. We’re happy to say that it continued to bounce away but would have copped a nasty bruise on its backside.