Everyone knows what a lava stream looks like: red, hot and flowing like a river. But what exactly is a lava tube?
Well, they’re created when the outer surface of the lava stream cools, forming a hard crust (or tube) along which the insulated lava runs. Once the lava’s gone, you’re left with a tube. Simple.
And where is the longest known lava tube system in the world? Right here, of course, in Undara Volcanic National Park (“undara” is an Aboriginal word meaning “long way”), some 275km southwest of Cairns. One of the lava tubes extends 160km from Undara.
Amazingly, you can walk down portions of these lava tubes, which have become natural havens to wildlife of many types. This is quite an experience.
The park is also home to the Lava Lodge, which offers stays in converted railway carriages from the old Sunshine Express that used to run from Brisbane to Cairns.
The entire area is an Outback destination worthy of a visit, with gorges, wildlife everywhere and marvellous vistas of the Gulf Savannah region of northern Australia.
Did you know?
When Undara exploded about 190,000 years ago, an estimated 233km3 of hot (1200°C) lava flowed from the volcano at a rate of 1000m3 per second. A lava flow that large could fill Sydney Harbour in six days.
How to get there
Qantas and Virgin Blue have regular flights to Cairns from most major cities in Australia.
Undara Volcanic National Park is 300km south-west of Cairns by road. There are also bus and train connections.
Best time to go
Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service website on Undara Volcanic National Park
Undara Experience website
** This is our original 100 Things to Do Before You Die. First published in 1996. There is an updated 100 Things To Do In Australia Before you die, published in 2011.