Lava Tubes in Australia – Undara Volcanic National Park Experience
Lava Tubes That Ain’t Hot!
I was asked to check out the Undara Experience in the Undara Volcanic National Park. as part of the Hooroo Secret Spots campaign. The tubes were a Top 40 shortlisted secret spot. This secret spot is home to a massive system of Lava Tubes, like the one shown below.
I have a love/hate association with volcanoes. I managed to witness Mount Etna erupting, walked alongside Mount Bromo in Indonesia, plus I’ve seen someone injured when they inserted their leg into a hot mud pool. I’ve seen some cool old lava flows in Samoa (including meeting the Crater Man) and Italy.
However, the Undara Volcanic National Park only contains extinct volcanoes, so the chance of me being vapourised by some hot molten lava was absolutely nil. Hence, it was quite easy to walk around and into the Lava Tubes without the fear of visiting a place with an extremely high chance of a fatal visit.
Anyway, the Undara Lava Tubes system is one of the longest in the world. Not many Australians know about it, let alone outside of this rather large island. For the rock doctors (geologists) out there, the lava tubes and caves were formed when rivers of lava confined to a valley crusted over and formed a roof. Since the lava was then insulated in its casing of solidified lava, the lava flow carried on for kilometres before draining out, leaving an empty tube of lava. Later on, weaker sections of the roof of the tubes later collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 50 caves have been found in the park. Some of the lava runs extended for over 160 kilometres, or around 100 miles.
At various points the tubes have collapsed and these can be seen from the air as dark depressions which are now heavily vegetated. The lava tubes can be as wide as 20 metres and as high as to 10 metres. The area is situated within the McBride volcanic province and contains over 160 extinct volcanoes, vents and cones. The word Undara is an aboriginal one in origin and means a long way.
However, you just can’t turn up to the tubes and walk into them on your own. Because there is the danger of rockfalls and other potential hazards, you need to take a licensed tour. Plus you might attract a rather large fine if you attempt to go in there yourself without telling anyone!
There are lots of holes around here at the surface where people can disappear! Your guide will come down with you with a big spotlight to make sure that you don’t become lost forever!
Also, some of the tubes can be dangerous at times for other reasons you may not think about. For example, the carbon dioxide levels in this cave below can often reach high levels because of decomposing vegetation and bat poo. This means you could potentially pass out and leave the planet if you don’t know what you’re doing. In this lava tube, the guide will continually use a cigarette lighter to monitor the carbon dioxide levels. As an example, he took me as far in as I could go and then promptly told me to go no further. While the air was still okay to sustain life, the carbon dioxide made me feel a bit light headed!
It is estimated that the volcanic event that formed the Undara Lava Tubes occurred over 190,000 years ago where an estimated 23 cubic kilometres (that’s heaps) of lava flowed at an astounding rate of 1000 cubic metres every second. To put things into perspective, a lava flow this large could fill Sydney Harbour in six days. It is thought that the lava flowed at a temperature of around 1200 °C. This could have potentially been the biggest barbeque opportunity in the world!
Lots of strange formations have occurred in the Lava Tubes since this massive eruption. The ingress of water has formed a number of patterns in the wall resembling Snoopy, and even E.T.!
In terms of going there, it’s around a 4 hour drive from Cairns in Far North Queensland, in Northern Australia. I’ve never seen anything quite like the Undara Lava Tubes anywhere else in my travels, and it’s worth making the trip to this isolated area in one of the most isolated continents of the world. Just be aware that it takes time to visit anything in Australia, so take this into account before making the trip here!
Undara Lava Tubes Video
Here is a short clip of the Undara Experience:
Hey, you can even crash in your own converted railway carriage that makes up part of the accommodation there!
So there you go. If you like this Secret Spot, vote for it by December 17 2012!