Let's not mince words. Undara National Park is amazing. (Okay, I did mince words. I minced an off-colour adjective right out of that sentence. Feel free to put it back in.)
To be honest, it doesn't look all that amazing as you drive in. You turn south off the Gulf road just before Mount Surprise and head through a cattle station for a few kilometres. Brahman steers watch from the tall grass, unperturbed by the traffic. (Such that it is.) Cow shit dots the bitumen. That must confuse the dung beetles.
Even when you get to the camp site, with its railway carriages and corrugated iron and inoffensive Olden Times feel, there's no indication of what awaits beyond the trees. You have to get your car-numbed arse up to the Bluff to check out the landscape.
What makes Undara amazing is its volcanic legacy.
Eastern Australia has a history of eruptions and flows and general igneous mayhem over the past few million years. Most of south western Victoria lies on basalts that oozed and flooded from volcanoes like Mount Napier and Tower Hill. Tourism on the Atherton Tablelands features the volcanic lakes Eacham and Barrine and the sinister-looking, water-filled diatreme of Mount Hypipamee, which is known, slightly unimaginatively, as The Crater. And there's a country's worth of pointy basalt configurations in between.
But none of them is as spectacular as Undara. Not in my book, anyway. As always, your mileage may vary. Undara has volcanoes. That whole area — the McBride Volcanic Province — is stuffed to the gunwales with more than 160 of them. But, yanno, that's not the big thing. What make this place worthy of State protection are the lava tubes.
The flow from Undara volcano, which erupted about 190,000 years ago, extends over 1550 km2. Part of the flow followed a watercourse, as lava, being liquid, is wont to do. But the surface cooled at a faster rate than the interior, forming a tube through which the lava continued to run. It finally stopped 160 km from the crater.
Collapses in the roof reveal the tube's track. They provide sheltered conditions that allow vine thicket species to grow, so they are marked on the surface as a Morse code of emerald on a sheet of pale green.
Another part of the flow appears above ground as The Wall, a 20 m tall, 35 km long ridge of basalt formed along another watercourse.
Visitors to Undara National Park can only view the lava tubes on guided tours. Having seen them before, I decided that I'd concentrate on some other features. I'll put up posts about those over the next couple of days.
But I did want to see the microbats. During the Wet, Barker's Cave acts as a major nursery for several species. It's also a larder for Children's pythons (Antaresia childreni) and night tigers or brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis), which hang from the cave walls and trees in the cave mouth and snatch bats from the air. Because I visited in the Dry, bat numbers were down but it was still a thrill to have them wheel and zoom around me. Also, one solitary, probably hypothermic night tiger made an appearance. I pointed the camera and clicked. Under those circumstances, you're happy for an image of any quality .