A popular destination from Cairns, taking about 3 and 1/2 hours drive, from Mt Garnet to Undara Volcanic National Park is about an hour. Not realising this, we went on to set up at Mt Surprise, with the intention of returning for our booked afternoon tour. If you find yourself in a similar situation, go directly to Undara, as the Undara Experience Centre has a beautiful bistro, eating area, souvenir selection and waiting space where we could easily have spent the few hours before our tour and then gone on to Mt Surprise later. It would have saved the fuel, at any rate, even if we bought a drink or something. They also offer free tea and coffee, but it’s not of a standard that would have you going back for more.
The lava tubes were explored by one of the Collins family members, who used to take people there when they visited. Later, working with the Queensland government, a National Park was established on the Collins’ land and formal tours and trails have been set up, complete with information about how they formed. The Collins family run the Undara Experience, with whom we took a tour.
So, how did they form? About 200 000 years ago there was a huge volcanic eruption and the lava flow was so fast that, as it travelled along a river bed, the top cooled and formed a crust, while the lava underneath kept flowing on and out, until hollow tunnels were formed. They extend 90km in one direction and 160km in another, making them Australia’s longest lava tunnels and one of the longest in the world.
Over the years, a roof might collapse, forming arches or caves and allowing rare plants and creatures to flourish. Some plants are believed to be relatives of those from Gondwanaland.
Outside the caves, you can see birds and insects unique to the area, including the spider that weaves a net to catch falling prey. I can’t remember what they are called and can’t find the information, so if anyone knows, please send me a message.
We travelled far in to caves and learnt about what lives there and what drips from the ceiling. The formations and surfaces have asuch a fascinating variety of shape, colour and texture.
The Undara Experience has accommodation and there are many walking trails that you can do independently. We chose the only daytime tour available in Covid times, but there are usually several to choose from, including night treks.
If you are staying in Cairns, it’s about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive to Undara, so you might choose to stay there. Be sure to book before you go, as even in these restricted times, the tours filled quickly.
Definitely worth putting on your bucket list.
Safe travels. Take water, hat and insect repellant.