Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day Three: Lava Tubes and Road Trains

Note from PWW: This is Day Three of the Capricorn Coast Road Trip. Click on these links to read about Day 1 and 2. The intro is found here.

"Thirty minutes," I replied when Mrs. PWW asked me how much time we had before we needed to be at the meeting place for our tour of the lava tubes. So in the span of half an hour, we had to cook breakfast, eat, clean up, break camp, and pack the car up to "check out" of our camp site. "Plenty of time" she said. If we moved with military precision, I thought, it was possible. Unfortunately, my comrade lacked even the civilian precision to open tinned food (she wasn't vegetarian at that point), and ended up breaking the key to open the relatively overpriced can of corned beef we bought from a small store in Mount Garnet. Luckily, I was able to MacGyver it open with a Swiss Army Knife, but not after a lot of grunting and incoherent mumbles.

After 32 minutes, we were almost ready, and definitely late for the tour. I uncharacteristically threw our things haphazardly inside the car, and managed to find a parking space about a hundred metres away from the meeting point. With Mrs. PWW having went ahead to apologise for our tardiness and tell everyone there was still one person coming (me) I ran to the crowd huddled in front of the office, completely embarrassed and slightly annoyed, as I'm the kind of person who arrives five minutes early. Not today. As I arrived, someone asked for my excuse note, which I didn't find funny given the state my head was in.

So that was how Day Three started. With a lot of stress that could've easily been avoided by waking up early as planned.


Fortunately, we weren't too far away from the incredible Undara Lava Tubes, which easily took my thoughts away from the morning's false start.

These lava tubes were formed about 190,000 years ago when a major volcano erupted and its lava flowed down a dry river bed. The top layer cooled down and formed a crust, while the magma beneath continued to flow farther away from the volcano. As the eruption slowed and stopped, the lava drained out of the tubes and left a series of long, hollow tunnels. That explains its formation, in a plagiarised nutshell.

Image via source

In a previous post, I mentioned that the word Undara means "a long way" in Aboriginal language. This not only refers to the fact that Undara Experience is practically in the middle of nowhere, but also effectively describes one of the lava flows which extends over 160 kilometres (over 100 miles), making it one of the longest lava flows from a single volcano in modern geological time. Several sections of this tube are accessible, and we went to quite a few of them during the tour. Being in the middle of a lava tube and imagining what occurred in that spot hundreds of thousands of years ago is a fascinating exercise which can be taken to extremes. Our guide, who is very good at his job, described taking "a bunch of complete freaks and weirdos" around during a global lava tube conference of some sort. These lava tube experts took a lot of equipment around with them to study what to us may seem like nothing but a hole in the earth, painstakingly figuring out what caused a certain pattern on the tube wall. He described them as being organised "to the point of keeping all blue pens on the right shirt pocket, and all black pens on the left."

Our first stop: Gawking at the lava tubes


We could have avoided the morning's hullabaloo by paying a measly $10 for a late checkout as I previously recommended, but I must admit, it was good to have everything packed and ready to go when we finished the tour. After fixing our bill (wherein we were entitled to a locals discount as we were technically, still Cairns locals), we were on the road again. I punched in the directions for our next destination on our GPS, drove, and was mildly surprised when I heard Karen (that's the name of the voice emanating from our GPS device) told me to "continue 350 kilometres" down the road we were on. It's not something I hear her say often.

But we couldn't go all the way, though, as we needed to fill ourselves up, as well as the loyal steed. It took us a while before seeing signs for a service station ahead. We pulled up, and I balked at the price of unleaded petrol: 167.9 cents per litre, the most expensive petrol I've ever paid for since moving here. I did not have the luxury of choice, as this was the last fuel stop for the next 256 kilometres. Luckily, greasy food was relatively affordable, and I was munching on a fish burger soon afterwards, and just stopped short of stocking up on junk food.

Fill her up! Expensive stuff, this petrol.


Just before leaving Undara, I browsed through government paraphernalia, a brochure on safe outback driving, and read about certain precautions people are advised to take before going on a road trip such as having an ample supply of drinking water (check) and other tips to remember while on a trip in the outback. I didn't really think much about the information since I wasn't planning on driving through sand dunes and unsealed roads, but as luck would have it, I just caught a few bullets on driving etiquette concerning road trains.

Having lived in the Philippines for majority of my life, I haven't seen a road train until I moved to Australia, and had no idea whatsoever of how to behave as a driver when sharing the road with them. I soon found out that there was practically just one rule to follow: Get the f**k out of their way.

Australia has the largest and heaviest road-legal vehicles in the world, and because I don't have a particular interest in efficiently moving freight, I didn't know there were combinations for these things. Check this out:
The big boys' version of "My truck is bigger than yours." Image from Wikipedia

During the road trip, I think we mostly saw As, Bs, and Cs, and the longest we saw was a G. Fortunately, I didn't find myself behind a truck with a K configuration because if we had, we'd probably still be on the road today because there is no way I'm overtaking that one.

Portions of the Great Inland Way were damaged, reducing a double lane highway to a single lane, so quite a number of times, we had to pull over and wait until the kings of the road passed us safely.



Our stop for the evening was the historic town of Charters Towers, a town founded in the 1870s after the accidental discovery of gold. Once dubbed "The World" due to its cosmopolitan nature, Charters Towers still has that old world charm as the magnificent buildings of the era have been beautifully preserved. In fact, the hotel where we stayed was one of them. 

Our home for the night

The Royal Private Hotel is a 19th century beauty which had been through rough times before the current owner turned the place around. In the 18 months that it has been operating under its current management, it has won a number of awards, and a good reputation among travellers who have passed through its doors. The building is decorated with antiques that create an atmosphere of elegance and old grandeur, but at the same time, feels quirky and homely. I particularly enjoyed the spacious veranda that looked onto the main street, which was where we enjoyed our takeaway pizza before retiring to our room to sleep on a proper bed. The plan was to get some sleep, and explore Charters Towers in the morning. Of course, we all know that plans always work out the way you want them to.

For Day Four, click here.


victoria said...

How fun!
Get some field trips in before the marathon! This month, right?

Leland Pasion said...

Ats! Yes! The marathon is in less than two weeks!

Excited, scared, inspired, I am all of that and more. Hehe.

I miss you guys a lot!