Friday, August 27, 2010

Undara & Kalkani Crater, Qld, Australia

2010 August: Visit Undara lava tubes and climb Kalkani Crater - Qld, Australia

After the Bartle Frere climb, , I drove to Undara to climb Kalkani Crater. And of course, when you are there, you just have to visit the lava tubes as well.

Undara is about 275 kilometres south west of Cairns. Including a short lunch, it is about 4 hours drive by car.

To get there from Cairns:
- Get onto Highway 1 and follow it all the way towards Mt Surprise (Highway 1 starts off as Kennedy Highway. It then changes its name to Gulf Developmental Road.)
- About 18 km from the start of the Gulf Developmental Road (or 38.5 km before you reach Mt Surprise), you'll see a big sign on the south side saying "Undara Experience".
- Turn into this road. 15 minutes later, you'll reach Undara Lodge.

The Undara landscape was drastically changed about 190,000 years ago when volcanic activities spewed enormous volumes of lava onto the surrounding countryside.

The topography, not too steep and not too flat, allowed lava to flow at a rate which was conducive to the formation of lava tubes. When the lava flowed along an existing depression, for example, a river course, the molten fluid gradually formed a tube tunnel with its top surface solidified into a hard crust by the surrounding cool air. The inside, being insulated, continued its steady advance downstream.

One of the lava flows extended 160 km, making it the longest lava flow from a single volcano on earth.

When eruption eventually stopped, the insulated lava drained out of the tunnel, leaving behind a long hollow tube. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

One of the tubes formed by the flow extended for approximately 100 km !

As time passes, erosion caused many parts of the encrusted roof to collapse, cutting the long tube into sections interspersed by moist fertile depressions where rainforest plants and animals thrive.

Openings from the collapsed roof allowed people access to the tubes. In 1990 the area was made a national park and the Undara lodge was built for visitors to stay over and to marvel at this unusual geological wonder.

(To enlarge the image, click on it.)
In the above satellite photo:
- The broken dark green curve through the lower part of the photo is a reminder of the remnant of the lava flow. It is shown up strikingly in dark green because the vegetation in the moist depression is completely different to the surrounding dry areas. I will be visiting some of the lava tubes which are located along this curve.

- The perfectly bowl shaped Kalkani Crater is at the bottom right hand corner. Its highest point is about 920 meters. I will be climbing to the top of this crater.

- Rangaranga Hill, a perfectly cone shaped volcano, 854 meters high, is at the top right hand corner.

- Undara Lodge, where I stayed overnight, is the smudge near the middle of the left edge.

- An airfield can be seen clearly near the top of the photo. If you don't wish to undertake the long road journey to Undara, you can be flown there by air.

I'll let the pics do the rest of the talking. To enlarge a photo, click on it.

1) Swag tent accommodation at Undara Lodge ... Seeing that I am alone by myself, I stayed in one of them for the night.

2) The tent is quite comfortable - 2 single beds inside, blankets are provided. As you can see from the photo, the tent floor is raised above the ground to prevent crawling insects from getting in.

3) But if you wish, you can stay in one of these restored 100-year old railway carriages for a unique style accommodation.

4) To visit the lava tubes, you must join a guided tour. On the day, there are only 3 of us, the female guide on the left, an European lady tourist on the right, and me.

5) A Bottle Tree, Brachychiton Australis ... This tree likes to grow on where the lava had flowed ... where they can get the required nutrients and minerals. In the photo, you can see the dark solidified lava rocks strewn around the base of the tree.

6) Entrance to one of the lava tubes

7) Inside a lava tube ... we can see small bats hanging from the ceiling and their droppings on the floor (not in this photo).

8) In another lava tube

9, 10) Here is another lava tube. Altogether, we visited 5 lava tubes in this half-day tour.

11) Time to head for Kalkani Crater ... There is no road sign to there. From Undara Lodge, drive towards Highway 1 (The Gulf Developmental Road). At the 9 km mark, you'll come to a sign pointing to Yaramulla. Turn into it. 7 km later, you'll reach the Kalkani Crater picnic area.

12) A breath-taking aerial view of Kalkani Volcano - pure magic scenery!!!

13) At the Kalkani Crater picnic area ... Right in front is the crater wall. From here, there is a trail climbing up to the crater rim. The trail then goes around the top of the rim in a full circle. All up it is 2.5 km, and takes about 2 hrs to complete at a leisurely pace.

14) This is the trail which leads to the top of the crater rim. The entire area is full of a type of volcanic rock called scoria. But the trail itself has been cleared of them, except for these 2 in the photo.

15) Scoria is a volcanic rock full of small holes. (Click on the following photo to enlarge it.) The holes were formed when gases that were dissolved in the magma came out of solution as it erupted, creating bubbles in the molten rock. Some of the bubbles were frozen in place as the rock cooled and solidified. Scoria may form as part of a lava flow, typically near its surface, or as ejected bombs.

16) View from the crater rim toward the north ... The hill in the distance is Rangaranga Hill, a perfectly cone shaped volcano.

17) View from the crater rim

18) Looking down into the crater ... You can sort of make out the crater wall circling around the crater. You are only allowed to walk on the rim. You are not allowed to descend into the crater. The National Park authorities don't want you to damage the unique fauna and flora inside its floor.

19) Zooming into the center of the crater

20, 21) Brachychiton Chillagoensis ... on the crater rim

22, 23) Here is an interesting plant on the crater rim. Does anyone know its name? (Seems to be a kind of Grevillea.)

24) On the way back to Cairns, you can see plenty of these bright red termite mounds along side the Kennedy Highway.

All up, it is a a pretty interesting trip which offers a unique experience in the Australian outback.

More information on the Undara lava tubes is in

PS: The Undara country is right in Bob Katter's heart land. For people who are not familiar with Australia, Bob Katter is a maverick Australian federal politician, a member of the House of Representatives for the electorate of Kennedy. He is almost a cult status figure in this area. Photographs of him are everywhere. Probably only North Korea has more photos of their dear leader on public display than in the Kennedy electorate.

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