Hello and welcome to another edition of Travel Tips With (T)Lou. I’m your guide, Lou.
I hope you read the pack-list I sent out via email because there are a few essential items to get you started.
You will need:
- A healthy imagination
- The ability to locate Queensland on a map
- Dry socks
- A DVD of the 2005 hit film, Mr and Mrs Smith
Three and four are more my own preferences rather than ‘essential items’ but they make for a nice evening all the same.
I digress. If you’re aching to travel (when allowed, obviously) and you’ve started to plan your next Australia-based trip, the closest you’re going to get to an overseas experience is located in QLD.
More specifically, Undara, where the ancient lava tubes are located, just four hours from Cairns. Brace your knees for max amazement:
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You’re not going to find a scene like that by making a wrong turn on your way to the local cafe with the attractive barista who shut you down when you slipped them your number, are you?
The Undara Experience is situated in the Undara Volcanic National Park along the Savannah Way at Mount Surprise, and perfectly combines a rich history with natural wonders, native wildlife and, on top of that, some of the most unique digs you’ll ever slumber in.
So, here’s a bit of a rundown about what’s in store when you get there.
Get some shut-eye in a restored, old-timey train
The Undara Experience has an Advanced Eco Certification, which has made it possible for this particular adventure to be entirely nature-focused and sustainable.
With that in mind, they’ve also gone ahead and used old, rundown trains from way back when and turned them into the most adorable accommodation you ever laid eyes upon. Look at it. Look at it.
On top of the train carriages, there are also humble swag tents available, as well as pioneer huts and a safari shelter, which gets you as close to the wildlife as possible.
So whether you like to rest in comfort or go full bush, you’ll surely be able to sort it out between you and your travel partner(s).
Have your shirt blown off in a cave
You can hardly venture to lava tubes without actually seeing the lava tubes, that would be like going to the milkbar as a child and not swiping a handful of ghost drops.
(Side note: I never stole as a child but I did get accused of stealing once and my Mum stormed down to the milkbar and yelled at them, it was hella awkward for everyone involved.)
Anywho, one of the main reasons you’re here: the tubes. Tours start from 8am with the last heading out at 1pm and it will take you around two hours to complete the main Archway Explorer. You’ll be escorted through three sections of the lava tubes as your Savannah Guide points out various historical features and just cool stuff that you can pass along to your mates at your next game of lawn bowls, or whatever it is you get up to.
There’s also the option to visit the Wind Tunnel between April and September, which, despite the deceiving subheading, does not actually blow off your clothes. Rather, it’s the lava tubes in their most organic form.
Still, it’s a sight to see and you get to keep your clothes on.
Play peek-a-boo with the wildlife over a glass of vino
I don’t care if you’re staying in a five-star resort in Manhattan or you’re in the rural outback, every trip you take outside of a three-kilometre radius of your home deserves wine and a view. You’ve earnt it.
Gaze over the sweeping Savannah plains as the sun sets while you down some wine and load up on cheese, and try to keep track of how many animals you can spot during your cheese and wine sesh.
As the night gets…well…darker, as night tends to do, the nocturnal animals will start waking from their slumber, and that’s a whole different ballgame of animal-watching.
Learn about Undara’s long history
I’d be amiss if I didn’t point out that while the Collins family went to great lengths to turn Undara into a National Park and protect its ancient formations, they were indeed white settlers, which we can’t really gloss over no matter which way you cut it.
Acknowledging that this is a stain on our history, it is still impressive that this entire area has been protected against all of the odds, and since then, there are ongoing efforts to preserve the unique ecology while giving visitors the privilege of exploring it.
All of this is touched on when the tour guide takes you under their wing as you explore your surroundings, so keep an ear tuned in at all times.
Mosey up to the caves in style
Okay, so you can either drive yourself along sealed roads from Cairns, fly up to Undara in a helicopter or plane like you’re Macaulay Culkin in Richie Rich, or you can take this train through the scenic route.
While both have their perks, the train (affectionately named the Savannahlander) offers a journey through World Heritage-listed rainforests after picking you up in Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef, before making its way through Kuranda, the Gulf Savannah, Mt Surprise, Einasleigh and lastly Forsayth.
That’s like fifty day-trips rolled into one old-school train. If you have the time, I strongly suggest training it.
I feel like it’s worth noting that this is only scratching the surface, so if you like what you’ve seen so far and you’ve effectively used your imagination and dry socks, head here to check out the rest.Image: Undara Experience