Author Topic: Trip report: vulcanospeleology in Australia  (Read 3589 times)

Offline harrym

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Trip report: vulcanospeleology in Australia
« on: October 11, 2010, 11:18:44 am »
Trip Report: Australia

XIVth International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology

Hosted by the International Union of Speleology (IUS) Commission on Volcanic Caves

I first saw the constellation of the Southern Cross in 1987 when I sailed around the world via the southern Pacific and Indian Oceans. Twenty-three years later I saw the Southern Cross again when I attended the International Union of Speleology (IUS) 14th International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology in Australia.

I've had the pleasure of attending two other vulcanospeleology symposia, the 10th in Iceland (2002) and the 13th on Jeju Island, South Korea (2008).

During the week leading up to the Australian symposium, the Victorian Speleological Association (VSA) hosted field trips to lava caves of southern Australia near Melbourne.

The symposium itself was held 2,000 miles further north in Undara Volcanic Park in the Outback of tropical Far North Queensland near Cairns.


The pre-symposium field excursions were conducted in the Western District Volcanic Province in Western Victoria (South Australia) for 4 days, from August 7 through August 10, 2010. We visited numerous volcanoes, open volcanic vents, lava fields and lava caves. The weather was typical for winter in South Australia, wet, cold and windy with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees F.

Árni descends into the 100-foot deep "Shaft," an open volcanic vent on the volcano Mount Eccles.

Lava formations at the bottom of the "Shaft."

Ian at the bottom of the "Shaft." He is standing on a plug in the throat of the volcanic vent. The walls of the vent are quite interesting.

Árni and Steve at the bottom of the "Shaft."

John Brush climbs the 100-foot cable ladder out of the "Shaft."

Exploring a 260,000-year-old lava tube. Gunnhildur climbs a cable ladder belayed by Kem Grimes. Árni steadies the ladder and Steve waits his turn.

Lunch break, out of the wind in a lava tube at Byaduk.

Árni climbs a lava falls.

Árni descends a cable ladder, belayed by Ken Grimes.

Gunnhildur in a room with welded blocks on the ceiling. Notice the gun-metal color "dipping" that shows a lava flow nearly filled the room to the ceiling.

THE SYMPOSIUM (Aug 12-17, 2010)

The symposium itself was held at the Undara Lodge in the McBride Volcanic Province from August 12 through August 17, 2010. The lodge is located in the Outback of Far North Queensland (Northeastern Australia).


The Undara Lodge was voted the most unique lodging in Australia. I stayed in a private room in a restored 1880s railway carriage. The lodge facilities and open-air restaurant are covered by a giant metal clamshell that provides both shelter and rain water recycling.

Undara Lodge during the day.

Lodging in the restored railway carriages.

My room in the restored railway carriages.

The desolate Outback from a hilltop near Undara Lodge.

Reception at Undara Lodge.

Martin Mills (UK)

You don't need an alarm clock in the Outback. Every morning at 6 o'clock the kookaburra birds start their chatter. When there are a lot of singing kookaburra it becomes impossible to sleep any further.

The Kookaburra, or Forest Kingfisher, photo by Noodle Snacks on Wikipedia.

Hear the Kookaburra!

Every morning we started our day out in the woods at Undara's "bushman's camp." They provided fresh coffee brewed over a campfire and an American-style cooked breakfast. In the evenings, if the weather was good, we ate out at the bushman's camp again. If the weather was inclement, we ate dinner under the clamshell in the open-air restaraunt.

Fresh coffee every morning straight from the campfire at the bushman's camp.

Bushman's camp.

Grilled steaks and grilled kangaroo at the bushman's camp.

Dinner at the bushman's camp.

Dining in the open air restaraunt at night.


During the symposium we toured the Australian bush including hot springs and the Copperfield Gorge. While bush-whacking through the tall grass of the Outback we were mindful of the fact that Australia has 6 of the world’s 10 most poisonous snakes! The weather was sunny and warm with daytime temperatures in the 80s and 90s.

We visited Copperfield Gorge via the Savannahlander train, since the dirt roads in the Outback are so rough and unpleasant. We boarded the train in the nearby town of Mount Surprise and spent the entire day rolling through the remote Outback to Copperfield Gorge and back.

Boarding the Savannahlander train.

Riding the train through the volcanic country of the Outback.

Savannahlander train.


The Copperfield Gorge was formed when a river cut through an old lava flow. Approximately 260,000 years ago a lava flow from Barker's Crater flowed 60 miles down the Einasleigh River valley. A tributary of the Einasleigh River, the Copperfield River, was dammed behind the lava flow. Eventually the Copperfield River flooded over the top of the Barker's flow and rejoined the Einasleigh River. The resulting waterfall over the Barker's flow kept eroding upstream through the Barker's lava, forming what is now known as the Copperfield Gorge. The surrounding hills are schist, but the underlying bedrock is a gneiss that can be seen in the river bed.

We disembarked from the train and hiked into the Copperfield Gorge. The temperature was in the mid 90s. Although the water looked refreshingly cool, that day I was not in the mood for wrestling with fresh-water crocodiles. After our hike through the Copperfield Gorge, we hiked past the old copper mine into the nearby town of Einasleigh (population 200) for some cold beers in the pub.

Disembarking the train to hike into the Copperfield Gorge.

Standing in the dry waterfall bed of the Copperfield Gorge. For scale, note the people across the gorge.

Copperfield Gorge.

Einasleigh Hotel & Pub.

Einasleigh Hotel & Pub. Hot as hell.

Mad Max lives! At the Einasleigh Hotel & Pub we found the road warrior Mad Max and his supercharged Cobra. Mad Max said that he gets his Cobra up to 130 km/hr on the dirt roads of the Outback.


During the symposium we visited numerous lava caves near Undara Crater with Savanna Guides and Undara National Park rangers.

Hiking through the Outback to the caves.

In Barkers Cave, the walls slumped when they were still hot, forming these welded breakdown piles. I've never seen anything quite like this before.

The well-defined gutters of Barkers Cave are quite impressive.

The vaulted ceiling of Barkers Cave.

The terminal lake in Barkers Cave.

Wind Tunnel.

Lava stalagmite in Wind Tunnel.

Wind Tunnel.

The walls are peeling.

The walls are peeling.




1st: USA (Washington), 1972
2nd: Italy (Sicily), 1975
3rd: USA (Oregon), 1982
4th: Italy (Sicily), 1983
5th: Japan, 1986
6th: USA (Hawai’i), 1991
7th: Spain (Canary Islands), 1994
8th: Kenya (Nairobi), 1998
9th: Italy (Sicily), 1999
10th: Iceland (Reykjavík), 2002
11th: Portugal (Azores), 2004
12th: Mexico (Tepoztlán) , 2006
13th: South Korea (Jeju Island), 2008


The next symposium is scheduled for March 2012 in Amman, Jordan. Please join us for another exciting international adventure!,10688.0.html
« Last Edit: October 11, 2010, 11:48:41 am by harrym »

Offline caving_fox

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Re: Trip report: vulcanospeleology in Australia
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2010, 01:58:16 pm »
Nice report!  :clap2:

Looks like a lot of fun - even if I'm not a lavaboy.
If the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.

Offline mmilner

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Re: Trip report: vulcanospeleology in Australia
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2010, 11:33:10 pm »
Fascinating, many thanx for the great photos and write up! Mel.
Norbert Casteret (Ten Years Under the Earth) and Pierre Chevalier (Subterranean Climbers) were my inspiration to start caving. (And I'm still doing it.) Secretary, Darfar Potholing Club, the Peak District.

Offline harrym

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Re: Trip report: vulcanospeleology in Australia
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2010, 11:03:48 pm »
I'm glad that you enjoyed the trip report. The symposium was a lot of fun.

Are you going to join us in Jordan?


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