If you’re not quite ready for the warm weather to leave as fall creeps in, Undara Volcanic National Park in North Queensland is the perfect place to enjoy Australia’s springtime, avoid crowds, and see something others rarely see when they visit Australia.

Take a Walkabout through the Lava Tubes

One of the Undara tubes opens to the daylight.

When a guide leads you through the entrance of a lava tube, you notice a sudden shift from light to dark.
Photo by Matthew Kenwrick

The name Undara comes from the aboriginal word meaning “long way,” an appropriate name for the world’s longest lava flow. The Undara Lava Tubes are enormous molten tunnels that were formed after the eruption of a shield volcano in the Gulf Savanna region of Australia’s Outback. They can be explored only with skilled guides.

Getting to Undara is an adventure in itself. The lava tubes are located several hundred miles southeast of Cairns, and visitors have to take a bus ride on one of the windiest roads in Australia to get there. Miles of twisting and turning roads go through the Gulf Savannah from Cairns to Undara. But the somewhat stomach-turning drive is worth it.

The lava flow left a scenic valley, so hiking is a must. Bush-walking trails were engineered to show off the Outback’s beautiful shrubbery, birds, and wildflowers, as well as a breathtaking view of the volcano.

Joeys, Microbats, and Wallabies

During your visit to Undara, you will be in the uncontrolled Outback, where wildlife can roam right up to you. Wild kangaroos—gems of the Outback—can grow to almost seven feet tall and weigh nearly two hundred pounds, so make sure to observe them from a distance. Kangaroos (known by natives as “joeys”) are easy to find, but to see other wildlife, you’ll have to make more of a journey.

Each evening as the sun begins to set, Australian tour guides take groups up to the mouth of the lava tubes. After walking about 50 feet into a dark cave, everyone settles and gets their cameras ready. Then the guide counts down from three.

“We waited and heard wisps of wind fly past, but nothing touched us,” visitor Ashlee Stettler says. And then all at once 50 camera flashes went off. “The whole cave lit up,” she says, “and I could see millions of bats flying around us for a split second.” You may even get a glimpse of a cave snake snatching one of the microbats in its large mouth.

Some animals will come to you. As another visitor, Melissa Oakey, described, “I remember sitting outdoors eating dinner at the lodge’s restaurant and being able to watch kangaroos hop around while we ate. A little wallaby kept coming up near our table looking for food. Where else can you experience that?”

Camp Out or Stay In

You can choose from several unique places when you visit the Undara area. For those who want a rustic experience, permanent tents, dormitories, and campgrounds are available. For those who want cozier accommodations, there are restored railway carriages. That’s right, you can stay in a refurbished train, set right in the middle of the Outback.

Indulge in the Outback

Your Undara experience would not be complete without indulging in Australia’s food. “They had large platters of fruit after a tour where you could sample all of local fruit,” Stettler remembers. Australian fruit includes some familiar produce such as papaya, pineapple, and persimmon. But there are also more exotic fruits like lychee (a sweet, red, oval-shaped fruit), jaboticaba (a fruit similar to purple grapes), and mangosteen (a round fruit with dark purple skin that has a sweet-and-sour taste).

In addition to trying the fruit, you can wake up every morning to a campfire breakfast with Australian wildlife hanging out nearby. For lunch and dinner, the Undara lodge has a restaurant that provides the perfect menu to complete your Outback experience. Stettler remembers trying a kangaroo steak, and Oakey tried the kangaroo burger. There’s only one continent where that kind of meat is so readily available.

While Australia has many amazing things to offer, Undara offers experiences that you can’t find anywhere else, experiences that you must travel hundreds of miles to see. That is really what makes Undara an adventure.


Sarah Andrews