Undara Volcanic National Park

Disabled Toilets Picnic area Ranger Walking
Barker’s Cave, Undara Volcanic National Park, Reg Morrison / Auscape International

Introduction

Undara Volcanic National Park, established in 1990, protects one of inland Queensland’s most fascinating attractions, the longest lava tube cave system in Australia. This geological miracle lies beneath the grasslands of the vast savannah country, its presence betrayed by green ribbons of remnant rainforest that snake their way across the plains.

Discovered around 1891, the tube tunnels are accessible through holes where sections of the roof have collapsed. However, the only way to visit the park and view the geological marvel lying beneath its rich volcanic basalt soils is by guided tour, which also provides an insight into the flora and fauna of the area.

Fact file

Access

From Cairns via Kennedy Hwy then Gulf Developmental Rd; from Cairns to Mt Surprise via Savannahlander, a heritage train that overnights at Chillagoe (www.savannahlander.com.au)

Best season

Autumn, winter and spring

Location

1836 km north-west of Brisbane; 300 km south-west of Cairns; 55 km east of Mt Surprise

Park information

NPRSR 13 7468

Size

61 500 ha

Visitor information

Ravenshoe (07) 4097 7700

Featured Activities in the National Park

  • Tour the lava tubes, the only way to enter the caves

    Follow the self-guiding trail around the Kalkani Crater

    Take a guided wildlife walk at sunset

See Also

A look at the past

The active shield volcano at Kalkani probably existed for millions of years before its massive eruption about 190 000 years ago, producing lava flows that stretched 90 kilometres to the north and over 160 kilometres to the north-west. The flows drained towards the sea through ancient dry riverbeds; one travelling for 164 kilometres is considered to be the world’s longest single lava flow from one volcano. The top outer layer of the lava cooled and hardened to form a crust, yet the fiery magma below continued to flow below the surface, eventually draining out to leave enormous basalt tubes. Over time, weaker sections of the tube ceilings have collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 50 caves have been discovered. 

Graziers established large cattle properties in the region during the 1860s, including Carpentaria Downs station in 1863, to the south of the park. Recommended for conservation as early as the 1940s, it was not until 1990 that Undara gained its national park status.

Aboriginal culture

The Ewamian people lived in this region of the Gulf, around the headwaters of the Lynd River (just north of the park) and the Copperfield River (to the park’s south-west). When Ludwig Leichhardt crossed the Great Dividing Range in 1844 he met an Ewamian family and described some of their food items, such as bread, fleshy roots and yams. The Ewamian engaged in trade with other Indigenous groups – shells, for instance, were traded with people to the west.

The establishment of large cattle properties, followed by the gold discoveries in the 1870s along the Palmer River, brought disease and dispossession to the people living in the vast reaches of the Gulf. The word ‘undara’ comes from an Indigenous word meaning ‘long way’.

Natural features

Around three hours drive from Cairns, on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, where huge rivers start their journey through the savannah country to the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Wet Tropics give way to savannah grasslands and open forests.

At Undara Volcanic National Park the basalt terrain belies the hidden world that exists beneath the ground. The lava tubes are huge, with a maximum width of 21.2 metres and heights of up to 10 metres. In the 164-kilometre Bayliss Lava Tube, the humidity is around 90 per cent. Above ground is the Kalkani Crater, the remains of the ancient volcano, which is 340 metres across and 48 metres deep.

Native plants

Undara’s vegetation is savannah grassland and open woodlands of ironbark, white-barked gum and cabbage gum. The depressions and hollows, where the cave roofs have collapsed, have miraculously formed microclimates where subtropical vegetation grows – from the ground these verdant patches form ribbons of green across the basalt plains.

The cool conditions in the hollows are ideal for cool deciduous rainforest; in some openings, such as Archway Cave, fig trees and rainforest plant species such as semi-evergreen vine thicket flourish, providing a habitat for animal and insect species that have adapted to life underground.

Wildlife

Eastern grey kangaroos, common wallaroos and brushtail possums are just some of the animals you may encounter at Undara. The common wallaroo (also known as the euro) prefers to live in rugged hilly terrain, while the kangaroos inhabit and graze the flat grasslands of the park. The cool caverns provide shelter for rock-wallabies and roosting owls, and a habitat for five species of bats, including the insectivorous large-eared horseshoe-bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis), an endangered species with a very limited range. Other cave-dwelling creatures – more than 40 species live inside the lava tubes, many providing feed for the bats – include millipedes, moths and snails, and one cave boasts the most diverse collection of spiders and insects of any cave in the north of the state.

Birdlife is surprisingly varied, with red-tailed black-cockatoos and the endangered red goshawk among the 120 species that find refuge in the rainforest and open woodlands. The red goshawk nests in the fork of gum trees on the margins of the rainforest.

Introduction

Visitors to the national park can take in the sights and enjoy a picnic; there are wheelchair-accessible toilets and picnic tables at Kalkani picnic area.

Bushwalking

Kalkani Crater Rim walk (2.5 km return, 1½ hours), as its name might suggest, is a walking track that leads around the rim of the crater. Take a picnic lunch; the picnic tables are sheltered to protect visitors from the harsh outback sun. Near the Undara Experience tourist centre are marked tracks through the bush; the centre also offers guided wildlife walks at sunset.

Touring

As access to the national park and seeing the lava tubes is by guided tour only, make sure you make your bookings before you arrive. NPRSR offers no tours, so tours can be only organised through one of two commercial operators: Undara Experience (07) 4097 1900 www.undara.com.au or Bedrock Village (07) 4062 3193, www.bedrockvillage.com.au.

Campsites

See Also

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