This was a day with relatively little driving. My first plans had us stopping last night in the Atherton area but Innot Hot Springs was too tempting so we came a bit further yesterday leaving an hour less driving today. We seem to have developed a routine that allows a relaxed morning start and still gets us on the road by 8:00 am. This morning that included time for Majella to get back in the hot pool for a while since Undara Experience, where we were booked for a 1:00 pm tour is just 115 km from Innot Hot Springs, an easy 90 minute drive.
Along the way we paused long enough at Forty Mile Scrub National Park to walk the 400 m circuit. The park is a remnant of dry rainforest or vine scrub named for its location 40 miles from somewhere. The countryside is dry at this time of year though it can be wet in season. The walking path meandered on dusty flat ground through the scrub with many of the trees having sparse foliage because of the season.
With that short delay we reached Undara Experience around 10:00 am. The accommodation and other facilities are sited just outside the national park. The core facilities are of a high standard with a large covered dining area adjacent to reception. Many of the buildings are converted railway carriages with additional custom spaces. Accommodation ranges from ensuite spaces in converted carriages, through fixed glamping tents, and powered sites, to unpowered sites. There is something to suit a range of tastes and budgets.
I had booked ahead and was able to register and pay but we needed to wait until 10:30 am before we could be sure our site had been vacated. We took that time to have coffee in the reception area, book for dinner and breakfast (seemed too good to miss), and ask about the evening tour which was booked out.
By the time we had finished coffee Majella had identified the walk that she thought might suit us while we waited for our tour. We moved the van to our allocated campsite and then headed off for the ‘Bush Walk’ which was rated as ‘1’ (easy) but was 5.8 km with an expected return time of 1.5 hours. The walk was well marked with pink tags on trees. It wound through what we identified as coarse granite and later discovered was massive granite, named for the larger than typical crystals that resulted from slow cooling of magma. It was a warm day and the cloud cover that had come and gone during our drive earlier had disappeared, leaving blue skies and only sparse shade. I began to regret not putting on a shirt with sleeves but eventually stopped to apply sunscreen.
Since Majella seemed confident in her choice of walk, I had not read the description in full and assumed that ‘return’ implied out and back. After 45 minutes we were looking for the end of the trail that did not appear. What did appear eventually was the road from the highway into the campsite. The trail crossed the road and then came to some signs to other trails. A look at the GPS track I had been recording on my phone for later location of photos confirmed that we had gone around a large part of a loop and the shortest way back to camp was via the other trail that we had met. A subsequent check of the notes revealed that was the intended way back to camp. Our walk had taken a little less than the suggested 90 minutes so we were back in the van before midday with time to eat lunch and rest before the tour.
Our tour began with a bus ride into the national park. On the way our guide, Wes, told some history of the business which was begun by, and remains with, a family of graziers who have been in the area for 150 years. They started the tourist enterprise during the 1990s recession when the cattle business was depressed. After some years of trying to persuade Joh’s Queensland Government to support the activity they finally succeeded when Wayne Goss became premier. A parcel of land containing the lava tubes was returned to the government for dedication as a national park in return for the government putting in the necessary infrastructure and maintenance while the family established the resort and tours.
Wes also described the geology of the Undara volcano which erupted about 190000 years ago with lava flowing along watercourses. Top layers cooled as solid basalt while lava stayed molten below, thus forming tubes as the lava flowed out. In one case the flow extended about 160 km from the volcano. The tubes have collapsed in places, allowing access and supporting pockets of dry rainforest in the hollows surrounded by savannah grasslands on the basalt soils above. The Undara lava tubes are large in comparison to those found elsewhere but not the longest because of the collapses that have left about 6 km of intact tubes in short sections.
The tour of the tubes began at the archway which is a short section of tube, open at both ends. All the tubes we visited are fitted with boardwalks and stairs where necessary so access was easy. We also visited the tubes either side of the archway. They are longer with bends and are closed at their far ends by collapses or deposits of silt. One of the caves supports a small colony of micro bats that we could see hanging from the ceiling. There were also cockroaches that consume the bat guano. Our two hour tour included descriptions of the geology with explanations of the particular qualities of vesicular basalt and its relationship to successive lava flows, and of the whitening of some parts of the rock by leached calcium. We were also fascinated by the hordes of butterflies enjoying the comparative cool of the sunken areas at the tube entrances.
Back at our van we had time to relax until dinner. It took some time for the air conditioning to bring the temperature down to a comfortable level but it got there before it was time for our pre-dinner cheese and crackers with white wine.
A little after 6:00 pm we wandered down to the main area for dinner. We had looked at the menu earlier and decided on the kangaroo loin fillets with salad. Majella added baked potato and cider. I had chips and red wine. Dining was in the large open deck area with a view to the bush. The cloudless sky made for a subdued sunset but we enjoyed the cool breeze and fading light.
Majella had noted that there was a campfire activity between 8:00 and 9:00 pm so we stayed around the dining area until it was time for that. We were first in the space a few minutes early. A few other guests arrived and then one of the staff appeared, pulled down a projection screen, and fired up a computer and projector with a David Attenborough documentary about mountains. We watched that for about 30 minutes but by then it was getting too cool for Majella who had worn a cardigan. I was even cooler with just a thin shirt. It was time to go back to the van, this time to get warm and sleep.