Undara Lava Tubes
Trip Start May 01, 2010
58Trip End Oct 03, 2010
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We drove back through Normanton before turning left onto the Savannah Way. After quite a while, we were surprised when the speed limit was reduced from 110kph to 60kph for Black Bull Railway Siding!
Then 50kms later, they found gold in the surrounding hills and stuck the town of Croydon there! There was a population of 8000 diggers in its heyday with 5000 goldmines in the area. The gold ran out at the end of WW1 and Croydon became little more than a ghost town. The 30 pubs closed down leaving only one which stands in the main street today. The towns population has been reduced to the 255 people who call it home today. These country folk have an interesting way of dealing with their discarded mining and farming implements and machinery - they put them on the side of the road or in some open space and called it a “museum”!
We refuelled at Croydon and then went to pay next door at “the oldest store in Australia” which led through to a free museum - oldest in Australia? Who knows? Anyway there we also bought some expensive Tableland vegies for dinner that night and doubled their months takings. At the toilets behind the shop, I went in through the “Heifer” door and Mike through the “Bull” door!
Along the roadside there were many yellow bushes and blooming wattle trees and the grasses were still quite green. This morning we woke to the first cloudy day we had had for quite a while but by midday the sun was shining again in a blue sky. We were pleased to see live wallabies jumping across the road at a respectable distance in front of our car after many kilometres of nothing but the occasional small roadkill. Quite a way further down the road, the sign just said “road narrows” and before we knew it, we were on this long 10 foot wide bridge. Thankfully the driver of the vehicle approaching from the other direction saw us on the bridge in time and stopped. We were crossing it before we had a chance to slow down let alone stop!
We sure are still in cattle country, lot of cows and their calves but these ones had more road sense and none came onto the road in front of us. If the T-bone steaks we had the night before are anything to go by, there is good meat on those cattle. A sign told us that it is “ecobeef”, whatever that means. We later heard they are only grass fed and given no grain which makes for better meat. Because they are ‘gently’ mustered, first with helicopters to get them out of the trees into the open, then Jackeroos and Jillaroos on horseback with kelpie dogs to bring them in they don‘t get stressed and end up in prime condition ready for market.
We had our picnic lunch at the Cumberland Chimney and Dam. The Cumberland Chimney stands as a lone relic from a crushing plant built by Cornish Miners. The attractive lagoon beside it is home to abundant birdlife and covered with beautiful water lilies.
The Savannah Way brought us to the Etheridge Shire, a total of 394 kms from Normanton to Mt Surprise. Intense volcanic activity has endowed this shire with many rare gifts of nature and Georgetown is the administrative centre. We didn’t stop at Georgetown, but were amused to see there was a grid at each end of town to keep the cattle from wandering in! This town is another one which owes its existence to gold that was found there in 1870, and was named after H. St George who was the Assistant Gold Commissioner at the time. Today, besides the attraction of the many historical buildings, people still go fossicking as they believe gold nuggets may yet be found just beneath the soil or in dry river beds.
From here to Mt Surprise again we had the nine foot tar roads every so often for many kilometres at a time. At one point during a stretch of full tar, the road was very windy and we went through a range of hills as we did before Mt Isa. These are the Newcastle Ranges with many granite outcrops and balancing rocks.
As we entered the small township of Mt Surprise on the side of the road was something we hadn’t seen before - a drive through free car and caravan wash to prevent the spread of weed seeds.
This was also helpful to remove the dirt and mud from underneath our car and van after having to go off the nine foot tar so often when vehicles came from the other direction, but Mike quickly washed the vehicles down after we pulled into the caravan park as the water is full of calcium and a bit muddy. The Bedrock Caravan Park is very pleasant and close to the township. As we booked in we couldn’t resist the freshly cooked pastries to have with our coffee as soon as we had set up. That was quickly done as it is a drive through site on level ground and soon our table and chairs were up and we were enjoying our after lunch coffee and dessert in the shade of an umbrella tree, surrounded by pointsettias and pretty white flowering shrubs full of butterflies.
The camp kitchen area and undercover dining area is large and has a “fabulous array of slab tables made from Red String, Forest Red Gum and Brown Salwood”. The Recreation area, swimming pool, dining area and ablutions are just magnificent with green lawns and garden in the pool and recreation areas. All that is missing is a bit of water on the grass on the caravan sites which had been left with very dry brittle grass. Guess we can’t have everything in life! The caravan park was built from nine acres of bush starting in 1997 by a young couple and their then small children.
Mt Surprise town has a population of 65 and sits on Mt Surprise cattle station of approximately 660 square miles. In a year they have up to 10,000 calves born on the station. The town is 440 meters above sea level and the hill is 500 metres above sea level. We stayed two nights at the Caravan Park so we would have a day to visit the Undara Volcanic National Park which also included the Lava Tubes situated 45 kms from the townsite.
The top of Kalkani Crater whose rim we walked around is 900m above sea level. The guide pointed out the hills in the area (163 of them) and explained that they are all extinct volcanoes. ‘Undara’ is an aboriginal word for ‘long way’. One of the lava flows extended 160 kms from the volcano making it the longest in the world. The tunnel formed by the flow is over 100 kms long and were formed by the waterways being filled with molten lava. The lava cooled fairly quickly on the surface where it was in contact with the air but under the surface it just kept on flowing. When the eruption stopped the molten lava eventually flowed onto the surrounding country side leaving these hollow tubelike conduits.
Ancient roof collapses have since created deep depressions in the tubes where unique ecosystems of rainforest plants and animals thrive. It was so interesting to hear how the lava tubes were formed whilst we walked in them and saw the location of the source. We climbed down into the ‘Wind Tunnel Complex’ consisting of three different sections of lava tubes.
On the way back, the guide told us that he once told some American tourists the cattle grid on the dirt road from the Lava Tubes was an expansion joint because of the high temperatures in the summer! Guess they didn’t believe him and had a good laugh as we did also!
The area is also a major centre for gem fossicking with topaz, agate, quartz, garnet, and many other stones having been found at the O’Brien’s Creek gem fields. It was interesting to visit the semi precious gem shop in town from where they conduct fossicking tours into the gem fields. The resident green tree frog there is very cute. Next door is the primary school with 1 full time teacher/headmaster and a part time teacher for 12 pupils. Through the Rudd government school scheme they have just acquired an $800,000 residence for the headmaster! The town also has a 102 year old police station with one resident constable. The old post office nearby is the oldest building in the Gulf built in 1871 and was once the main repeater station between the Cape and Cardwell back in the days of morse code communication. The Savannah Overlander train comes through town on Thursdays on its way to Forsaythe returning to Mt Surprise on Friday, staying overnight before departing on its return trip to Cairns on Saturday morning. So, the little railway station is also a place of interest and just a short walk along the railway track back to our caravan which is 27 metres from the railway line. There are always a flock of grey and pink galahs feeding on the ground between our caravan and the railway line in the morning. After the walk in the hot sun, the swim in the pool back at the caravan park was very refreshing followed by a lovely hot shower in the pleasant ablutions. So many caravan parks have either soap or paper towels by the basins, but this one has both and normal rolls of toilet paper not great big ones locked in huge metal dispensers! The ablution block is not locked with a key or code lock, as with other caravan parks, just a screen door with the warning to switch the lights off when leaving or mozzies go in, then the frogs go in to eat the mozzies and the snakes to eat the frogs. The next person going in might not feel comfortable sharing the shower with a snake. We still haven’t seen any goannas, big lizards let alone snakes since we are on this trip.