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The Undara Lava Tubes

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Another ‘Learning Through Activity’ initiative for Primary School children from The Bucket’s Education Department.


Hello boys and girls.

Grandpa GOF here again, and today we are going to learn all about Australia’s awesome Undara Lava Tubes. When you finish reading this I’ll show you how to do an experiment at home to demonstrate how it all came about.

Handsome young man and his beautiful daughter in a lava tube

190,000 years ago in the Cainozoic Era, slightly before God was invented and well before Pythagoras discovered the lost hypotenuse, the small volcano Undara made a liar out of all the highly-paid Vulcanologists who had been pretending for years that they knew what was going to happen.

Undara suddenly spewed lava at the rate of 1000 cubic metres every second which is like, well you know, it’s like a really really awesome and cool amount of lava except that it was like really really hot, like 1200 degrees Celsius which is like enough to singe your grandma’s moustache at a really really long distance of like 5 miles or something.

In total 23 cubic kilometres of lava flowed out of the Undara volcano following one dry creek bed 90 km to the North, and another 160 km to the North-West.
As it flowed, the outer layers cooled and crusted over while the hot lava inside continued to flow out, leaving these really cool massive tunnels for us to explore today.

Practical experimentΒ  (wait till Mom and Dad go out first)

1. Clear the kitchen table. This will now represent the surface of the Earth around Undara.

2. Spread the best tablecloth you can find over the table. We will now call this tablecloth “granite” for the surface of the earth here was already covered with granite rock before the lava flow.

3. Find two of Mom’s best and strongest cups. Turn them upside down on the floor and place two table legs on top of them. See, now the earth and it’s granite layerΒ  have a slope towards the North.

3. Collect all the dry ingredients you can find in the pantry.
Flour, rice, sugar, pasta, salt, cocoa….it doesn’t matter…..just empty them all out onto the table, mix them up with some water then mould them into the shape of the countryside with a volcano near the top and a valley leading down towards the bottom.

4. Somewhere near the back of the kitchen cupboard you will find a large container of Treacle or Golden Syrup. If you can’t find it then honey or maple syrup will do. Tip all the contents of the container onto the top of the volcano. See how fast it flows down the valley? Now, if you quickly grind up some ice cubes in the food processor and sprinkle it all over the top of your lava you can actually make your own lava tubes.

5. If Mom or Dad are surprised at what they find when they get home, just tell them that it was all your very own idea and that you’ve just scientifically demonstrated the plasticity of flowing lava and the creation of lava tubes.

They will be so proud of what you have just done, although it may not be immediately apparent.

Now, here’s some other cool stuff you can see at Undara Lava Tubes.

Queensland bottle tree

Totally cute Antilopine wallaroos

Extremely attractive tour guide pointing out extensive savanna woodland

You can stay in 2-person or 4-person tents

Or refurbished old railway carriages

About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

26 responses »

  1. Great story and photos, GOF. I’m amazed the lava didn’t damage that walkway and railing. Is is true that there are places where you are not allowed to take photos?

    • They built things much better back in the olden days Mike…eg these lava resistant walkways. There was no mention in pamphlets or by the tour guide of any restrictions on photography…..quite the contrary he urged us to take pictures of everything. Inga and I took about 10 photos each….Mrs GOF took 1010. πŸ™‚
      Fabulous place to visit….we’re going back again soon to explore that volcano and to find out where all the lava ended up around Forsayth.

      • “There was no mention in pamphlets or by the tour guide of any restrictions on photography”

        That’s good news, and puts Undara back on my list of places to visit.

        As for Mrs. GOF’s photos, 1010 is a good effort, but I hope she will strive for better results next time.

        BTW, since I can’t comment on that other post of yours, I’ll say I’m looking forward to Globet’s first post when she gets back to Melbourne. πŸ™‚

  2. Wonderful — I want to walk through a lava tunnel. Oh, I’d love to come and visit you some day. Beam me over, GOF!

    • It was a fantastic experience Elyse…..I’m almost ashamed to admit that it took me 30 years to get around to visiting this place which is only 3 hours drive away.
      Don’t trust me with the “beaming” project….you’ll probably end up in Afghanistan.

  3. I want a wallaroo! Though I suspect anything that big would probably hard to keep in the backyard. We do have eucalyptus trees, however. πŸ˜‰

    • I’d never seen these Antilopine wallaroos before HG and there were dozens of them hopping around everywhere and whenever the bus came close to them they would stand to attention wait for us to pass. Absolutely delightful little critters.

  4. Thanks for that science lesson, GOF. I can now tick off the origin of the lava tubes from the ever expanding list of things I don’t know.

    Those railway carriages bring back fond memories of my childhood travelling down to the big smoke. Not so fond are the memories of coal grit in the eyes when looking out the windows.

    • You’re welcome Snowy. My world feels incomplete without you adding to my philosophical perspectives these days.

      There were lots of these old carriages scattered the place….perhaps a little incongruous in such a remote setting but I thought it was a nice touch….some had been converted into bistro and dining carriages, offices and information booths.
      It’s a credit to the owners of the property who operate the tours in a co-operative arrangement with the Environment Dept.

  5. I do that experiment all the time. I call it ‘making dinner’.

  6. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    And I’m sure the parents of all your younger readers will be very grateful for opening the eyes of their children to the wonders of Lava Tubes!

    • Thanks Lance…’s a wonder my own daughter remains relatively unscathed from all the “education” I gave her as she was growing up. πŸ™‚

  7. I’d have a hard time deciding between those tents or the railway cars. Who am I kidding? I’d take the rail cars in a heartbeat (I LOVE trains).

    • Having seen the tents I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in them next time. The train carriages are really comfortable but they are relatively expensive and only accommodate 2 people.

  8. I’d choose to stay in one of the railway carriages – I don’t “do” camping. Love the photo of Inga playing tour guide on the rock. I’ve not heard of Undara but I have walked through the Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii and agree with you that doing so is a very cool experience.

    • Yep, I don’t “do” camping anymore either Emjay…..I did enough in PNG to last a lifetime… I’ll go and look up the Thurston Lava Tube.

  9. What a fantastic place! I really want to visit there sometime. And I would love to stay in the tents!

  10. Love the lava lesson, GOF and the picture of you and Inga at Undara. Doesn’t volcanic ash make for really good crop soil as well? The railway carriages would be my choice.

    Hey, my cat’s feet are sticking to the floor.

    • Thanks Amelie….volcanic soils are normally very good but the area around Undara is dry and extremely rocky (maybe not enough rainfall to break down the rock into soil?)….it must be a nightmare to muster the cattle which is the main industry in that area.

      Gentle use of a shovel should scoop the cat and it’s feet off the floor. (No charge for this professional advice) πŸ™‚

  11. Oh and I love your new quote section too. Is that a WP feature? Or could I borrow it? I miss the quote section (on the header) on Vox.

    • I just made the Quote of the Day section by dragging the WordPress text widget into the sidebar and putting my own title on it. That’;s about the extent of my technical knowledge. πŸ™‚

  12. Inga must have had a comprehensive education under your stewardship.


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