An oasis in the heart of Central Queensland, towering white sandstone cliffs form a breathtaking gorge carved by Carnarvon Creek over millions of years. With narrow gorges feeding off the main gorge containing splendid attractions, remnant rainforest and a significant cultural heritage Carnarvon Gorge is the jewel in the crown in this section of the sandstone belt.
Carnarvon fan palms and ancient cycads, ferns and gum trees line the sides of the gorge while grassy open forest tops the tablelands above. The road into Carnarvon National Park will leave you awestruck as rugged cliffs dominate the skyline.
TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
I awoke to rain falling on my rooftop tent — the predictions had eventuated. Breaking camp was quick, there wasn’t even time for coffee. The tracks out of Mount Moffatt were already wet and slippery, as was Westgrove Road. It was comforting to finally reach Injune, hot coffee and a freshly toasted sandwich as a reward.
Injune is also a good spot to fuel up, with prices reasonable for this little town. You will also have mobile reception so allow time to update family members, check-in on Facebook and check your emails.
Driving the Carnarvon Development Road north from Injune, I was amazed by the scenery around me. Macrozamia cycads and Carnarvon fan palms were dotted amongst the blue gum and silver-leaved ironbark and massive sandstone cliffs dominated the skyline.
The road into Carnarvon Gorge is bitumen all the way, different to my first visit here in 1975 when it was a dry, dusty and corrugated track — harsh on the EJ Holden’s suspension and the passengers within the cab. Seatbelts weren’t compulsory then so us kids were thrown around a bit.
Just after you cross Carnarvon Creek for the first time, there is a memorial for the Australian and American Army and Air Force personnel who were killed when their C47B Dakota aircraft crashed. The plane was flying from Darwin to Brisbane and hit a violent electrical storm on 16th November 1943 — the crash killed all 18 men onboard.
Checking into BIG4 Breeze Holiday Parks – Carnarvon Gorge (previously known as Takarakka Bush Resort) was a breeze — booking well in advance is a must as this place is packed out often, even more so during school holidays. The hot shower was refreshing after a few days of bush camping.
An information session was held outside reception where one of the resort staff described the ins and outs of the holiday park and provided good advice on how to spend one’s time at Carnarvon Gorge. She also showed us a sick baby sugar glider that was hiding in her bra as it was nursed back to health. You may be amused to learn that you can spot echidnas in the platypus section and possibly spy platypus in the echidna section of the resort. It was also emphasised to everyone to not feed any of the wildlife.
FOLLOWING UP ON A LEAD
It’s nice to be given a ‘good tip’ on a gorge that you might have missed out on if it weren’t for such great staff at the BIG4 park. Having received a map of the area when checking in, I was keen to tackle something that afternoon. Mickey Creek walk was the suggestion and then the good tip was to take the right-hand trail at the Y-junction.
This walking trail takes you up along Warrumbah Creek below the bluff and it’s a 3km return walk to where the formed track ends. From there you rock-hop and duck amongst the ferns but then the track closes in and for many, this is where you turn around and return to your vehicles. For the more adventurous and agile, you can continue up the gorge for what seems like an eternity.
This is a popular walk for families with kids of all ages and you’ll often hear the words “come on Grandma, it’s awesome up here!”. The track isn’t marked as such, but there is only one way in and it’s the same way out. Take a water bottle and a camera as it is a thirsty walk, take your time and have fun taking some wicked shots.
EXPLORING THE JEWELS
The next morning, I decided to challenge myself and walk the lower gorge, taking in the ‘Big Four’ consisting of Ward’s Canyon, the Art Gallery, Amphitheatre and Moss Gardens. Classified as a Stage 3 walk, allow at least four hours to cover the 15km return walk. The track is well marked with signs indicating each turn-off, distance to the site and how far you are from the Visitor Centre.
I followed the advice from the information session and departed the Carnarvon Visitor Centre car park by 8.00 am, heading to the furthest site (Ward’s Canyon) before making my way back via the other sites. This provides the best light for photos, and you will beat the crowds by an hour or two. I would also suggest that you head for the Art Gallery first, as you will beat the sun shining on the best art and capture the best photographs.
A spiritual place for the Bidjara and Karingbal people, the Art Gallery was used as a meeting place between different clans in the region and was also a significant trading point. It is also one of the best examples of stencil art in Australia. The engraved Rainbow Serpent tells the story of creation and birth whilst the freehand nets indicate this was a burial site. All remains have been removed without consent and the local tribes are working at getting them returned.
Ward’s Canyon was named after the Ward brothers who used to trap possums for their pelts in the canyon in the early 1900s. Now it is dominated by rare and ancient king ferns that flourish in the moist conditions alongside tall tree ferns. Access is via steps up a short steep climb, passing a small waterfall as you go.
Amphitheatre left me awestruck. A towering chamber with an acoustic resonance was hidden in the gorge with a set of steep steps needed to reach the crack in the rock and to access this spiritual place. The local Aboriginals used to use this chamber as a place for relaxation and reflection.
The Moss Garden has to be seen to be believed — a peaceful place where water constantly drips from the sandstone walls of the canyon onto beds of lush green mosses, ferns and liverworts. The trickle of water from the small waterfall adds to the serenity. It would be a rare privilege to be the only person in the garden and if it occurred you would reach a state of Zen very easily. It is also a popular lunch stop on the walk but please take all your rubbish with you when you leave.
I was exhausted as I walked across Carnarvon Creek for the final time and I enjoyed cooling down as I had a good look around the air-conditioned and informative Visitor Centre. The ice-cold beverage that quenched my thirst when I reached my vehicle was the perfect ending. As I spent that evening around the communal fire with fellow adventurers and reflected on the days walk, I decided that I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It has been nearly 50 years since my first visit to Carnarvon Gorge, but it won’t be that long again until I return.
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FAST FACTS: CARNARVON GORGE
From Roma drive 200km north along the Carnarvon Development Road to the signed turnoff. From Emerald drive 196km south via Springsure and Rolleston to the signed turnoff. From the turnoff drive 45km to the park.
Where to Stay:
Camping in the National Park Visitor Area is only available during the Easter, winter and spring Queensland school holidays. Bookings are essential and the Queensland Department of National Parks prefer this be done online. Fuel stoves are essential as open fires are not permitted and all rubbish must be taken with you.
BIG4 Breeze Holiday Parks Carnarvon Gorge: Previously Takarakka Bush Resort. Located 4km from the Carnarvon Visitor Centre with cabins, Taka tents, powered and unpowered sites, camp kitchens, camp oven pits, clean amenities, outdoor bar and communal fire pits (wood supplied). Bookings are essential.
Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge: Located 3km from the Carnarvon Visitor Centre with ensuite safari tents, swimming pool and licenced restaurant. Bookings are essential.
Best time to visit:
Winter temperatures can fall below zero while summer temps can soar above 30°C with storms a regular event. Sections of the park may be closed due to weather at any time. If it’s flooded, forget it.
Carnarvon Gorge turnoff: ///body.bypassing.healthy
BIG4 Breeze Holiday Parks Carnarvon Gorge: ///sharpen.risk.shareholders
Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge: ///undergone.dexterity.persuade
Carnarvon Gorge: ///smiles.bowtie.basic