The Road Ahead Sampler : October 2014
QUEENSLAND'S LARGEST CLUB 39 OCT/NOV 2014 THE ROAD AHEAD A NATIONAL PARK is never far away in Queensland. But I was heading to one with a difference: the Undara Volcanic National Park. Once I'd threaded my way up the Macalister Range toward Kuranda on the Kennedy Highway, the views down towards the Atherton Tablelands were spectacular. Lush farmlands dotted with large termite hills, grazing country, avocado farms, bustling market towns -- all offered so many diversions along the way that it nearly seemed a shame to drive through with only a few scheduled stops. But my destination was further inland: I was going to explore the world's largest and best-preserved lava tube system. Heading past Mareeba, other cars soon became less frequent, with grey nomads dominating the road. Eventually a right turn and then an off-road track led me to the entrance of the Undara Experience. This is a family-run business that offers, as the name suggests, an entire experience: from guided tours into the lava tubes, to accommodation most notably in the form of restored railway carriages, food, hikes, even a pool surrounded by wallabies. Tours range from a romantic sunset wildlife walk, complete with cheese platter and chilled bubbly, to a number of lava tube experiences, all led by a knowledgeable ranger. It's best to get up early to see the pretty-faced wallabies that eagerly nibble the vegetation along the path to the bush breakfast. With coffee from a billy can, bread toasted over an open fire, and a rasher or two of bacon, it will set you up for the day ahead. Although today one of the most seismically stable places on earth, Australia has an extensive volcanic history that dates back some 10 million years. These underground lava tubes are a reminder of it. One of the most recent eruptions -- recent in volcanic terms, that is -- took place at Undara some 190,000 years ago. An estimated 233 cubic kilometres of hot lava flowed from the main crater at a rate of 1000 cubic metres per second. A lava flow of that magnitude could fill Sydney Harbour in six days. Eventually the lava flow stopped, and tunnels were left with ceilings sometimes up to 15 metres thick. A handful are accessible, and all are stunning. You can walk down into them, some are filled with water, all have bats, and all impress you with their magnitude and history. IMAGES: STEPHENSON LAVA TUBE (MURRAY VIEWS); RESTORED RAILWAY CARRIAGE ACCOMMODATION (CAPTURE PHOTOGRAPHY). QLD GREAT ESCAPE | TRAVEL ALONG THE WAY At the Jacques Coffee Plantation (232 Leotta Road via Gilmore Road, off Kennedy Highway, Mareeba, www.jacquescoffee.com.au) you can learn all about the region's beans and taste some of the product, too. For something stronger, the Mt Uncle Distillery (1819 Chewko Road, Walkamin, www.mtuncle.com) is North Queensland's first and only distillery and produces a range of 100 percent spirits and liqueurs and 50 types of teas. Outside Atherton is the attractive Lake Tinaroo which, as the locals tell those who ask, was named by John Atherton who in 1875 stumbled across a deposit of alluvial tin and, somewhat excited, exclaimed: "Tin! Hurroo!" The lake, estimated to be around two-thirds the size of Sydney Harbour, is popular with locals and visitors and offers opportunities to swim, watch the local birdlife, fish for the ever popular barramundi, and maybe even spot a shy platypus. Herberton Historic Village (6 Broadway, Herberton, www. herbertonhistoricvillage.com. au) is a reconstruction of the old Herberton mining village, with more than 50 historic buildings ranging from the Grocer's Store to the Suspension Bridge. The little Spy & Camera Museum (49 Grace Street, Herberton, www. spycameramuseum.com.au) has an amazing collection of cameras and gadgets, thoughtfully brought together to tell the complete story of photography. lava tubes lead to volcanic history A ONE-OF-A KIND NATIONAL PARK IN NORTH QUEENSLAND REVEALS ANCIENT GEOLOGICAL WONDERS. STORY ULRIKE LEMMIN-WOOLFREY RACQ CAN HELP: PLAN YOUR TRIP TO THIS REGION USING RACQ'S ONLINE TRIP PLANNER AT RACQ.COM.