Outback Volcanic Landscape
Experience | bushwalking | hiking | nature | volcano | Far North | Queensland

Outback Volcanic Landscape

The Worlds Longest Lava Flow

by Susie Baber  |  4 August 2022

Only 3.5 hours from Cairns via the Atherton Tablelands is something everyone should have on their bucket list. Coming down off the tablelands the forest gives way to savannah plains, here you will find Undara Volcanic National Park. Concealed under rich volcanic basalt soils, covered in a sea of grasses are the Undara Lava Tubes. Part of the World’s longest lava flow from a single volcano in modern geological time, with vegetation that traces back to Gondwana.


Undara National Park does not offer any camping. The closest option just outside the park is ‘The Undara Experience’ where everything from camping and glamping, to a stay in a railway carriage is on offer. The resort also includes an open-air restaurant and bar, a pool, communal campfires, bush walking and bike tracks and a small shop. Fuel is also available.

Undara Experience was established by the Collins family in 1990. The family were the first white settlers in the area in the 1860s and still graze cattle in the area six generations later.

In 2021 the resort was sold to The G’Day Group, whose portfolio also includes El Questro and the Rottnest Island glamping experience in Western Australia, as well as Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory.


There are three walks you can do unaccompanied. Starting from Undara Experience you can head up the Atkinsons lookout trail which is 3.8km return, or keep going from the lookout and do the 12km Rosella Plains Lookout trail loop. Just a short drive away is a 2.5km loop which climbs to the saddle of the Kalkani Crater and around the eggcup-shaped rim.

Of course, the highlight of this stop is the lava tubes themselves. Access to the tubes is by guided tour only and you would be well advised to book before you come as they do book out. The tours are not cheap, but they are worth it. Two cave tours are offered, both 2 hours and one slightly more strenuous than the other, take your pick. The tours are run by Savannah Guides, local experts in the conservation of this region who are committed to passing on their knowledge to others, along with the interpretation and effective management of the natural and cultural assets of northern Australia.

Lava Tubes

Undara was once an active shield volcano, then about 190,000 years ago there was a massive eruption and over 23 cubic kilometres of lava flowed through valleys and dry riverbeds down the side of the Great Divide. Enough lava to fill Sydney Harbour in just 6 days. The outer layer of the lava cooled and formed a solid crust, while the molten lava below continued to flow, leaving behind a series of hollow tubes.

Over time weaker sections of the roof of the tubes have collapsed to form caves and depressions. Where these caves have allowed sunlight to penetrate the tubes, lava caves have formed creating ideal conditions for dry rainforest to grow and wildlife to shelter.

Our Experience

We camped for two nights at Undara, giving us a full day plus a bit to explore. The camping areas are lovely flat dirt and gravel sites separated by screens of native shrubs to help hide your neighbours from view. There is no phone signal but free wifi is available in the bar and restaurant. Generous amenity blocks and laundry facilities are close by.

Arriving mid-afternoon we set up camp and did the lookout walk before heading to the bar for a cold drink and some free wifi. While dinner was cooking I took advantage of the laundry facilities and did a load of washing for $4. Pegged out under the awning it doesn’t take long to dry in the heat of northern Qld. Travelling in the outback has made me appreciate camping areas with laundry facilities, everything including us is covered in red dust. Setting up the camper trailer has become a bit of a contortionist act as we avoid touching anything we don’t absolutely have to.

In the morning we head down to the bar few minutes before our allotted tour time to check messages and emails on the free wifi. Once the tour group is assembled, we are bused out to begin our walk. Driving across the savannah grasslands you can soon see the contrasting pockets of green vegetation that mark the openings in the lava tubes. Boardwalks take us down through the cool of the rainforest into the mouth of Stephenson Cave.

Below ground you can see up close the amazing rock formations created by the cooling lava. Tree roots criss-cross the cave floor and dangle from the roof above seeking out water. During the wet season these caves are flooded by the monsoonal rains. Deeper in the tunnel bats can be seen (and smelt) hanging from the tunnel ceiling. It is not a strenuous walk with regular stops to hear about the history and geology of the formations. There are several stairs to get down into the cave but there are railings, and it is not at all challenging.

I am very keen to do the Kalkari Crater walk but it is much too hot in the middle of the day, so after the tour we head back to camp and opt for a swim in the pool to cool off. Later in the afternoon when the sting has gone out of the sun, we drive to Kalkari. The first 600m of the walk is uphill but once you are at the top of the volcano the rest of the walk undulates gently around the rim offering views in every direction. The crater of the volcano is full of trees and scrub and we see several wallabies eyeing us warily. Looking outwards there are volcanic domes in every direction and a birds eye view of ribbons of emerald-green vine-thicket, contrasting with the surrounding dry savanna woodland, marking out the courses of the lava tubes.

Exploring Undarra was a great experience. The cost of the camping and tour was one of the more expensive items in our FNQ budget, but it was worth it. Highly recommend to anyone.

Share this story