With no barramundi bagged in Karumba, after fishing the incoming tide for a couple of hours, it was time to move on. I consoled myself with the fact that no-one else had caught anything either. With half the day gone it was a rush to get to Mount Surprise close to Undara. Flocks of brolgas lined the road as we left Karumba.
Intrigued by a large chimney rising above the trees, we took a quick stop at the remains of the town of Chamberlain, close to Georgetown. The chimney is all that remains of a once prosperous gold producing town in the 19th century. The adjacent dam still flourishes though, so we had a break for some birding.
A brief stop then at Georgetown to visit the famous gem collection in the visitor centre was stifled by a grumpy lady. She gruffly stated that it was $8 each and she would be closing in 15 minutes so we’d have to come back tomorrow. We hoped she might have said we could look around for a few dollars but it wasn’t to be.
The longest lava flow from a single volcano on the Earth’s surface can be found at Undara Volcanic National Park, some 260km south-west of Cairns. Formed some 190,000 years ago, not very old in geological terms the lava flows took place over a period of 18 months and stretched up to 160km in some directions. Today there are 69 tubes that have been found and nine of these are accessible to the public. The tubes formed where there was an optimal gradient that allowed molten lava to follow the course of a creek bed slowly enough that the surface could cool and solidify whilst inside lava continued to flow through. Many of the ceilings of these tubes have collapsed in subsequent years but those that exist can be explored on guided tours.
On the bush walk to the tubes we followed the course of a collapsed tunnel, and saw how dry sclerophyll savannah became tropical vine thicket in the river bed. Bottle trees, some over 200 hundred years old emerged out of the thicket, standing proudly above the canopy, though being deciduous and with no leaves they appeared to be dead. Axe marks on one particularly old tree were testament to how aborigines used to climb them to collect the seeds which were then ground into a flour for cooking.
The highlight of our tour was the Wind Tunnel, approximately 200m long, with resident bent wing bat colony. Unfortunately, the tour guide had a deadline to meet and I didn’t have as long as I would have liked taking photographs.
It was mid-afternoon by the end of our tour so we had to find a camp quickly, resorting to a quaint little rest stop on the Archer river. The river was full of sooty grunty, then as the stars appeared in the cooling evening a creature that we guessed, from only a few glimpses, to be a bandicoot scurried feverishly through the long grass on the perimeter of the camp. Later that night a larger visitor rudely awoke me as it rummaged through a waste bag on the kitchen, a brushtail possum. Reluctant to leave he approached me first, peering into the tent then as I emerged it made a hasty retreat up the nearest tree.