June 4 – 7, 2019
After a day to rest, sort out our belongings and reload the bus and trailer we were ready to start the trek to Cairns where we would go our separate way. Only one thing was stopping us. We had to swap the defective transportation bus with its broken air conditioner, faulty rear door and other problems with the bus used to transport our food and cooking gear. The swapping and cleaning was accomplished with few worries but when it came time to attach the trailer with the bikes and other gear we discovered that the trailer’s electrical plug did not match the outlet on the bus. There were some adapters in the bus but none that matched. No connection between bus and trailer meant no trailer lights and turn signals and most likely a traffic ticket, fines and other misfortunes if we tried to travel without it. I had a look at the collection of materials available and convinced Andy, our helpful and resourceful driver, to let me hack up one to get enough parts to rewire the connection. A bit of this and that plus a bit of knowledge about what wires went where and “let there be lights!”
Our first day on the road brought us to Undara Volcanic National Park and the Undara Experience where we camped for the night. Beautiful campground and facilities with some nice hiking trails that many of us took advantage of. Dinner was a bit pricey but the food quality was good. Andy invited me to watch the big sporting event of the season with him that evening on the big screen television in the camp’s outdoor dining area. The event is called State of Origin and it is a best of three games contest between Australian Rugby rivals New South Wales and Queensland. The players on either team have to have originated their rugby careers and play for one or the other rival states. It is a big deal. Not quite Superbowl but more like the Grey Cup. Andy explained the rules to me and provided a running commentary. It is an easy game to follow with just about non stop action through the two 40 minute halves. Its a good game. Andy’s favourite, New South Wales started strong and dominated only to be overtaken in the second half. Final score: Queensland 18, new South Wales 14. Better luck next time Andy.
The lave tubes tour was on our agenda before leaving the next day and worth spending the time to see. Unfortunately, this delayed our departure until after 12 noon and either required us to skip breakfast and wait until around 2:00 pm before getting to a to eat lunch or spending $26.00 on the only breakfast option offered by the Undara Experience. This was an all you can eat outdoor buffet served in an open circle with stumps to set your plate on and logs to sit on. The morning was chilly with gale force gusts of wind so there was some hope that the folks at the Undara Experience would have a warmer option available. Not so. For Just $26.00 you were served eggs, dried out sausage, under cooked bacon, toast you had to make yourself over an open fire, hard butter and a bit of fruit and cereal. By the time you assembled your plate and put together your meal and found a stump, everything was cold. My advice, if you go, bring your own breakfast of just starve until lunch.
The lave tubes are definitely worth the $60 tour fee. These ancient relics of the area’s volcanic past are spectacular and interesting. They form a micro climate in the savanna and host some flora and fauna not found elsewhere in the area. An interesting example is the Strangler Fig. This is a vine that is deposited in a tree top through its seeds in bird droppings. The vines attach themselves to the branches of the tree and live there without rooting to the ground. Slowly the vines grow downward until they touch the ground where they then root and thicken drawing nourishment away from the host tree. Eventually they strangle their host and form a self supporting structure surrounding the now dead tree on the interior forming what is know as a Curtain Tree.
The tubes themselves have an interesting history on their journey to becoming a tourist attraction. Once part of a Rosella Plains cattle station owned by the Collins family they were opened by fourth generation family member, Gerry Collins as a tourism attraction in 1987. In 2009 the government of Australia negotiated with the Collins family to create the Undara Volcanic National Park and allowed Gerry to operate The Undara Experience offering food, accommodations and tours of the lave tubes he once owned. The tubes are reputed to be the largest known to exist and extend for many kilometres. Only a small portion are visited on the tour but that portion is quite impressive. During the hot summer months a section of the tubes must be closed to visitors due to high carbon dioxide levels due to the decomposing bat dung and little air exchange within the tubes. However this environment is home to some specially adapted animal and plant species.
From Undara our journey quickly continued on across the table lands into the rain forest on the outskirts of Cairns. Reaching Cairns we said our goodbyes in spurts as one by one we dropped off riders at various locations as they made their connections for the last leg of their journey. Since I have the furthest to travel and the longest layover, I was among the last to say goodbye. It was an amazing journey and with great travelling companions. The grease that makes an epic bicycle tour run smoothly is the willingness of the riders to work together, play together and help each other along the way. Twice now I have been fortunate to travel with some great people. It was a pleasure to know and ride with such fine folks. Fond memories!