Beyond brilliant—an adventurers’ guide to Carnarvon Gorge
Nestled in Queensland’s sandstone wilderness, Carnarvon Gorge is on everyone’s bucket list, or should be!
The gorge, part of Carnarvon National Park, welcomes more than 65,000 visitors each year, all keen to experience a brilliant adventure amid scenic rocky landscapes, tranquil rock pools, challenging hiking trails and awe-inspiring Aboriginal heritage.
In fact, there’s so much on offer that it’s hard to know where to start. So we’ve compiled an ‘all you need to know’ adventurers’ guide for first-time visitors to the gorge to help you make the most of your visit!
While it’s a 720km drive from Brisbane—the park entrance is between Roma and Emerald—it is such a spectacular park that the drive through regional Queensland could also be something to tick off your bucket list! And, what’s a 9hr drive between family and friends?
Stay in the gorge
You can camp in the heart of the gorge, at the Carnarvon Gorge visitor area. Here, in the shade of gums and fan palms, you’ll be ideally situated for your Carnarvon Gorge adventure! We’ve provided all the mod cons—water on tap (needs treating), flushing toilets, wheelchair-accessible toilet, along with picnic tables and gas barbecues. You’ll find that Carnarvon campers are happy campers!
A hint from the Park Rangers: Make sure you allow enough time to really experience Carnarvon! Plan to stay for 3 days minimum, longer if you can afford the time (5 nights is the maximum stay allowed). You need to get in early to book your camp site—camping is available during the Easter, June–July, September–October Queensland school holidays. Or, you can stay just outside the park in commercial camping accommodation.
A great way to start your adventure is to chat to a Park Ranger in the national park visitor centre and check out the exciting displays. Here you'll find answers to all your questions about visiting the gorge and learn about its landscape, plants, animals and cultural history.
Experience Aboriginal culture
Carnarvon Creek along the Main Gorge track | Robert Ashdown © Queensland Government
Number one on most visitors’ must-do lists is experiencing Aboriginal culture. Carnarvon Gorge is of great significance to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners, and you’ll see and feel evidence of their strong culture and ongoing relationship with the landscape throughout the gorge.
For Aboriginal people, their cultural connection is with the entire landscape, while for most visitors, Aboriginal culture is most tangible at the awe-inspiring rock art sites.
Cathedral Cave | © Robert Ashdown
The best cultural experiences lie along the main gorge track from the visitor centre.
- Walk almost the length of the main gorge track and turn off to The Art Gallery (10.8km return walk). Here you’ll discover an impressive 62m-long sandstone wall covered with thousands of fragile engravings and ochre stencils—one of the best examples of stencil art in Australia! Look for boomerangs, hands, feet, stone axes, shields, nets and an assortment of animal tracks.
- Walk further along the gorge to Cathedral Cave (18.2km return) with its massive stone overhang leading through to a panorama of rock art. Some of the artwork is thousands of years old, while others were created here a mere 200 years ago. Spend a little time to reflect on the rich cultural life of those who gathered here for thousands of years.
The Traditional Owners describe the gorge as a ‘place of learning’, an area of great spirituality. You can’t help but be touched by this landscape—the land still ‘teaches’—and whether you’re visiting for the first time or the tenth, you’ll gain a new (or renewed) understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture and history.
Short walks and easy strolls
Nature trail | © Robert Ashdown
To truly immerse yourself in this landscape, you’ll want to spend some time adventuring on foot. Stroll along the shady banks of Carnarvon Creek or delve into side gorges to discover a cool tranquil world of lush ‘green-ness’. If you are a family with smaller people (and shorter legs), or simply prefer to amble rather than ramble too far, add these short walks to your ‘to do’ list.
- Explore the Nature trail (1.5km return from the Carnarvon Gorge visitor area) and spot wildlife from the creek bank. Look for turtles basking in the sun and platypus cruising the water’s surface (best at dawn and dusk). And there’s plenty of brilliant birdwatching to be had if you sit quietly and watch and wait…
- Cool off with a refreshing dip in Carnarvon Creek on the Rock Pool walk (600m return from the Rock Pool car park). You’ll wander among fig and casuarina trees and spot fish and turtles, and if you’re very quiet, platypus. This is a lovely place to sit and simply enjoy nature.
- Follow a creek into a narrow side gorge on the Mickey Creek Gorge walk (3km return from Mickey Creek car park). While the walk becomes an off-track adventure—you’ll squeeze, clamber and rock-hop your way into the narrow gorge—you’ll enjoy spotting swamp wallabies and admiring delicate orchids, lush ferns and brilliant-green mosses in the cool comfort of this picturesque gorge.
Longer walks and overnight hikes
Moss Garden | Paul Candlin © Queensland Government
The main gorge walking track winds for almost 10km along Carnarvon Creek, leading from the visitor centre to the tranquil waters of Big Bend, and offers many longer walking options to build into your gorge adventure.
If you’re feeling energetic, the short(ish) but steep Boolimba Bluff walk (6.4km return) takes you up out of the gorge for views above the cliff line. While your heartbeat slows down, after the exertion of 300m of steps and short ladders, you’ll gaze out to distant ranges at Boolimba Bluff, which towers 200m above Carnarvon Creek.
Discover a haven of rainforest, moss-covered rocks and soaring cliffs in the Moss Garden (7km return). At the end of the boardwalk, you’ll be entranced by a small waterfall cascading over the sandstone ledge, collecting in a clear pool, while elegant tree ferns create delicate shadows on the lush carpet of mosses, liverworts and ferns. Sit for a while to soak up the cool respite of this pretty side gorge.
The Amphitheatre | John Augusteyn © Queensland Government
- Discover splendid natural architecture, created over tens of thousands of years by running water in The Amphitheatre (8.6km return), a side branch off the main gorge track. Scale a tiered ladder and walk through a narrow crevice revealing a 60m chasm hidden deep inside the gorge. You’ll feel like you've just wandered into Tolkien's Middle-earth!
- When you explore Wards Canyon (9.2km return) you’ll feel as though you've stepped back in time. King ferns—‘green dinosaurs’ with links to ancient Gondwanan flora—mingle with slender tree ferns and other lush gorge vegetation.
- For experienced and well-prepared bushwalkers, the Carnarvon Great Walk is a 6–7 day (87km) circuit out of the gorge, through the Great Dividing Range and back again. You’ll immerse yourself in the remote bushland of the Central Queensland’s Sandstone Wilderness, camping among the breathtakingly beautiful sandstone cliffs, sweeping tablelands and shaded gorges.
Your sandstone wilderness adventure awaits!
Are you ready to experience Carnarvon? Find out more about Carnarvon National Park and get more details about camping in the gorge (and how to obtain your camping permits). Always check Park alerts before you set out, especially when travelling in remote areas such as Carnarvon.
Last updated: 13 August 2020