Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Undara Volcanic National Park

This park consists a lava field remaining from a massive volcanic eruption which occurred 190,000 years ago. The area covered by the lava field from the main crater is more than 1000 square kilometres. The basalt that spread from the main crater looks much like the rays of lighter material seen spreading from meteorite impact craters on the moon. There are no other places in Australia with this type of landscape. The area is covered by scattered cinder cones and depressions resulting from collapsed portions of lava tubes. The system of lava tubes at Undara is believed to be the longest in the world. The caves formed by the lava tubes have a number of unusual volcanic features such as lava stalagmites and stalactites, ropey lava, high lava marks and drip lines. The longest-known Australian lava tube, the Bayliss, is 1.5 km long. There is also a formation that has yet to be explained. This is a structure called "The Wall" which leaves the opening of a lava tube system and extends for many kilometres on the surface. It is thought to be an undrained lava tube, but its actual origin is still being debated.

What's special?

On the western slopes of the McBride Plateau, open woodlands give way to the vast open spaces of the Savannah. Here in Undara Volcanic National Park, rich volcanic basalt soils, covered in an endless sea of seasonal grass, conceal the Undara lava tube. This geological tunnel of global significance snakes westward under a ribbon of remnant deciduous rainforest.

“Undara” is an Aboriginal word meaning “long way”. The park protects the longest lava tube cave system in the world. About 190,000 years ago, a large volcano erupted violently, spewing molten lava over the surrounding landscape. The lava flowed rapidly down a dry riverbed. The top outer layer cooled and formed a crust while the molten lava below drained outwards leaving behind a series of hollow tubes.

Surprisingly, semi-evergreen vine thicket grows in the moist, sheltered entrances to some of the lava caves. The roofs of some tubes collapsed creating ideal conditions for dry rainforest to grow and wildlife to shelter. Rock-wallabies, insectiverous bat colonies and owls roost here in the cool, birds shelter in the fruit-filled canopy and predators lurk in the tumbled basalt terrain to complete the food chain.

Exploring Undara Volcanic

Explore the “outback” on the Wet Tropics’ doorstep at Undara. Visitors can climb a volcano, walk into the high country wilderness or see inside a lava tube on guided tours.

Go birdwatching. More than 120 species of birds, including the endangered red goshawk, can be seen in the park.

Picnic at Kalkani. Toilets and sheltered picnic tables are provided. Walk around the crater.

Camping is not allowed in the park but you can stay next door at Undara Lodge 1800 990 992.

Book a tour of the lava tubes through one of the park’s commercial operators: Bedrock Village (07) 4062 3193, Cape Trib Connections (07) 4053 3833 or Undara Experience 1800 990 992.


Follow the graded climb to the self-guiding trail around the eggcup-shaped Kalkani crater. Allow one hour to walk around the entire rim. Wear sturdy shoes, a hat and sunscreen. Take drinking water.


Kalkani picnic area has wheelchair-accessible toilets and sheltered picnic tables.
The lodge also has wheelchair-accessible facilities.

Getting there

Undara Volcanic is 300km by road south-west of Cairns, 100km south-west of Mt Garnet and, 65km east of Mt Surprise. You can also travel by train and coach.  


Sources & Further reading

Journey Back Through Time
Experience Australia
Aboriginal Australia
National Parks
Photo Galleries
Site Map
                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading