An early morning was called for this morning as we had to have breakfast finished by quarter to seven so we could be transferred by bus the 48km back to Forsayth in time to catch the ‘Savannahlander’ which was to take us to Mt Surprise, and later, on the Cairns.
From Forsayth to Mt Surprise, a distance of 162km, the 20 pound rail had been laid as cheaply as possible. To this extent, the track even ran along a river bed as that route was much cheaper than constructing a cutting higher up the steep bank. As the train didn’t run during the wet, it didn’t matter that the line would be under water for a couple of months each year. Steel sleepers were again used, laid directly onto the ground without any ballast or formed track bed. It was a slow but very relaxing journey up and over the Newcastle Range.
Often we had to slow down to wait for cattle to cross the track but as we were only travelling at 20 – 40k/h, this didn’t really pose too much of a problem it just added to the quaintness of the whole experience. The ‘Savannahlander’ only runs once a week, taking two days each way.
All the distances on the ‘Savannahlander’ line are in kilometres as its track is physically joined to the main QR network. As the ‘Gulflander’ line is an isolated section of track, the distances are still in miles as this better represents the era during which the ‘Gulflander’ was the main means of travel through the Outback, a time before roads were built and long before Australia went metric.
Again, our lunch order was phoned ahead to the one and only place that could provide food in Einasleigh – the pub. I don’t think there is anywhere else for anything else in Einasleigh!
The train just slowed to a stop at the crossing with the main road and we all got off and walked the couple of hundred metres to the hotel. Here our lunches awaited us along with the odd liquid refreshment.
A bit further on from the pub is the rather Copperfield Gorge. Most of us took the opportunity to stretch our legs and walk the half kilometre or so for an inspection. It was worth the effort. The river has cut a deep and narrow cleft through the rock leaving interesting shapes, pools and colours in its wake.
After our lunch and exercise we reboarded the train for the run to Mt Surprise. The railway line of course crossed the river we had just taken a look at so the photographers amongst us we treated to a ‘Savannahlander’ exclusive. The train traversed the bridge, let us off, then it backed up to the other side. Once we were all in place the train made a slow crossing of the bridge. Many pictures were taken. Obviously it stopped for us to get back on, all happy little Vegemites.
We arrived at Mt Surprise at 2.30 and were transferred by bus to Undara Lava Tubes Village. We just had time to drop our bags in our converted old wooden railway carriages which were to be our overnight accommodation before a guided tour of the lave tube complex began.
190,000 years ago when volcanic activity was still shaping the Australian landscape, the Undara Lava Tubes were formed. The sloping topography of the area allowed the lava, which was oozing to the surface at between 1175 and 1220 degrees Celsius, to flow across 1550 square kilometres of land. The depressions caused by rivers aided this flow. The rate of flow was 1000 cubic metres/second, or enough to fill 1500 semi-trailer tankers
The tubes formed as the surface cooled but the flow beneath was great enough to keep flowing for up to 160km in a NW direction. Once the eruption ceased the insulated lava drained away, thereby creating the pipelines. Over time weaknesses formed and portions of the tubes collapsed. This is what gives access to the remaining system. Much has been filled with sediment and not all the tubes are accessible, however an impressive amount is open for 2 and a half hour guided walks.
On the short drive back to the camp we saw Pretty-faced and Grey Eastern macropods.