When the owners of the Undara Experience created their remote tourist park, they were determined not to disrupt the unique, natural surroundings in the process of building and sharing their dream. Stunning, old-world railway carriages were just the ‘ticket’ to provide comfort, style and shelter without unnecessarily disturbing nature’s distinct footprint. Nestled amongst the tall gums, the railway relics gracefully regained their former charm and romantic allure.
We arrived about midday at Undara Experience after a very scenic four hour drive from Cairns through the vibrant green hinterland of the Atherton tablelands and along the mulga lined Savannah Way. Located on the edge of the Undara Volcanic National Park, the park’s name is the Aboriginal word for ‘a long way’ and, ironically, the famous lava tubes are said to be the longest in the world.
Our accommodation for the evening at Undara Experience was in one of the nostalgic, well-restored railway carriages which retain their quaint, century-old features, plus a few modern additions, like the private ensuite bathroom.
The carriages, set a little way down from the main building, restaurant and bar, are surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees and scrubby bush which stationed us decidedly in a bygone, pioneering era . There are several other choices of accommodation, from small bush huts, glamping and camping and a caravan parking area. However, it’s the railway carriages that offer the most unique experience, combining old world charm and upper class rail travel luxury.
We pre-booked a two hour Archway Lava Tube Tour which left from the tour muster area at 1pm. After meeting our very knowledgeable guide Ian we piled onto a mini bus and drove a short distance down the red, dusty road, past several two metre high ant mounds, to the lava tubes.
We learnt that the Undara Tubes were created about 190,000 years ago when lava steadily flowed into a river bed and kept flowing for 160km.
Over the millennia, at the end of their life cycle, these ancient tubes have formed massive caves and grand archways. Ian pointed out that the lava tubes were not the result of a single lava flow but many during the active period.
At different times of the year some of the caves fill with water. However, when we visited in August, we were able to walk deep inside the lava tubes and watch sleepy micro-bats balancing silently but stealthily on the cave ceiling.
There are other tours offered at Undara Experience, including the Wildlife at Sunset Tour. You not only get to see a magnificent desert sunset while enjoying sparkling wine and cheese but also see how the Savannah landscape unlocks the night secrets of this ancient land.
At the end of such an active day it was time for a few drinks and a juicy, char-grilled steak in the main bar and open air restaurant.
After dinner we sat around a wood fire and relaxed with a magical, star-filled night sky to enthrall our imaginations.
We rose early the next morning to take a short, easy walk to the nearby bluff where we gazed in awe at the sun’s drowsy rise, bathing the bush and nearby Undara Volcano in its brilliant amber blush.
A few dozen photos later and it was time to make our way back along the track for a bush breakfast with the kookaburras.
Firstly we were offered freshly brewed billy tea or coffee and a demonstration of how to toast bread the old fashioned way, over the hot campfire.
We filled our metal ‘bushman’ plates with bacon and eggs, mindful that high in the nearby gum trees our every move was being monitored by the cheeky ‘kookas’ who would take good care of any unguarded food.
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel totally delighted with our outback adventure and overnight stay at Undara.
On the return to Cairns we still had one more ‘volcanic’ experience in store, a visit to the Innot Hot Springs Leisure Park.
For a mere $10 entry fee we spent several blissful hours soaking in natural, hot mineral pools which range from a rather too sweltering 43 degrees to a more pleasantly poached 38 degrees and finally the waterfall pool which delights at a perfectly tropical 34.
For a short Australian outback adventure that includes ancient lava tubes, magnificent sunsets, dramatic starry skies, spectacular sunrises, delightfully restored train carriages and a hearty bush breakfast with the kookaburras, then Undara Experience in far north central Queensland is a delightful excursion we can highly recommend.