Location - Carnarvon Gorge National Park, Central Queensland, Australia
Difficulty - grade 2-4, easy to moderate
Distance - 19 km return to Big Bend + side trips
Time - Allow 8 hours return to Big Bend + side trips
Our decision to go to Carnarvon Gorge was a fairly spontaneous one, as we hadn't found the time to plan our road trip before we left - we just had a rough idea where we wanted to go. There were so many things that still needed to be done on the ute, the apartment needed to be cleaned, things needed to be put away etc. Luen's parents had recommended Carnarvon Gorge to us, as they had only done it a few months earlier and really enjoyed it. So instead of heading down the coast we decided to take the road inland heading to Carnarvon Gorge.
How to get there
The drive from Townsville to Carnarvon Gorge is about 10 hours so we broke the distance up a little bit by staying at Staircase Range for the first night.
We originally wanted to do the whole drive in one day but woke up too late. Instead of setting an alarm for 5am we both just passed out the night before and did not start driving the next day before 8.30am. But Staircase Range made for a beautiful night camp with a great view over the valley and treated us to a spectacular night sky as well so we did not mind.
To get to Carnarvon Gorge, you follow the Dawson Highway passing the town of Rolleston or Miles (depending on the direction of travel). Make sure to always check your fuel tank as there are some long distances without gas stations. There does not seem to be much alongside the road and there are great distances of simply bushland. At Wyseby Rd, you turn off and drive the last 22 kms into the Carnarvon National Park.
Where to stay
During the Christmas school holidays the National Park drive in campground is not open, so we stayed at the Takarake Bush Resort. Two nights costed us AUD60 for the two of us for an unpowered site, AUD65 for a powered site. We didn't need a powered site as we have a 100ah AGM dual battery setup.
Takaraka is only a short drive from the visitor centre of the NP where most of the walks start. There is also the possibility to stay at Big Bend, however this is a walk-in campsite that can only be reached after a 9.7 km walk from the visitor centre.
We enjoyed our stay at Takaraka and the staff was very friendly giving us tips on how to make the most out of our time at Carnarvon Gorge. A lot of wildlife, kangaroos in the morning battling each other.
What to do
There is a whole lot of things to do at Carnarvon Gorge and almost all of them include hiking. Since we arrived too late on the first day to do the long walk considering the heat, we went for a few shorter ones.
The first one was to the Warrumbah Bluff. To get there you have to park at the parking spot for Mickeys Creek and follow the track. Once the track splits into two parts you follow the right one and keep going after it says "end of formed track". The gorge is beautiful especially on a hot day. On a winter's day, you might just need a jumper. The walls are covered with moss and you sometimes have to climb a little bit to cross the water. When we went, it was very hot outside so we spent at least an hour in the gorge enjoying the cool temperature.
Next we went to Mickey's Creek which was honestly not very spectacular compared to the other gorge.
Afterwards, we visited the Baloon Cave which shows some aboriginal art that is very interesting.
By that time, the temperature was well over 30 degrees Celsius and we had to cool down so that we decided to head to the rockpools next. The pools are only a short walk from the car park but the water was completely muddy due to the recent rain and did not look very inviting. Luen went in anyway and I was just about to go in when Luen got rammed and scratched by a platypus that probably didn't see him. Can't blame it in that murky water. It still put me off going swimming and so I sat in the shade trying to cool down.
But Luen pulled a real gentleman move on me and took the empty water bottle, dived to the deepest part of the creek for some cool water and came back and poured it over my steaming hot head. Apparently he's not scared of platypuses or turtles but he admitted that it gave him a little fright. I guess platypus and turtles are okay. I actually always liked them but I did not trust that rockpool.
After I cooled down a little bit, I started feeling better. The chocolate we still had in our car definitely helped and so did the refrigerator that kept it cool. I definitely think the best reason to have a fridge in the car is so that you can enjoy chocolate in Queensland Summer. Oh, and a cold beer.
Luen however decided it was not to be the end of the day yet, since we hadn't done ALL of the short walks. So that after a quick late lunch and 10 minute nap we headed off to make it to the top of Boolimba Bluff for sunset. The hike up is about 3.2 kms long and very steep and is supposed to be 1.5 hours one way. We wanted to make it before sunset so that we hurried up which took us only about 50 minutes. Then we waited another 45 minutes at the top for the sunset. We're still working on our timing I guess.
It was worth it though. The view from the top is breathtaking and the setting sun painted the sandstone in a bright orange colour. Plus we had the place all to ourselves. It was hard to leave but we had to make it back before we were left in complete darkness; which we almost managed. Luckily we brought lights.
Safe to say we were both completely buggered and glad to get back to the campsite to enjoy a shower and quick dinner before we went to sleep at nine. We set the alarm to 4.45am for the next day to start walking before the heat set in.
The big walk
The best spots of Carnarvon Gorge are along the main walking track which can be accessed from the visitor centre. The walk is a return track so that it is possible to decide to go back at any point or to only look at a few of the attractions. However, we decided to have a look at all of them and walk all the way up to Big Bend. This walk including all the little walks that lead to the attractions is 24 km return. 24 km might not sound much but with temperatures around 34 degrees Celsius and the blasting sun, I felt like I could not walk a single step further at the end of the hike. The walk is supposed to take 8 hours but took us 11 with a lot of stops for videos, pictures and resting our tired bodies.
The walk is probably a lot easier in winter but the gorge provides enough shade and cooler spots to make it endurable even in summer.
We started walking at 6am when it was still fairly cool and headed to the Moss Garden first. The Moss Garden is a beautiful spot with a little waterfall and lots of moss overgrowing the rocks. The water in the steam here was the cleanest of all the creeks after the rain the previous days.
Next we visited the Amphitheatre – a place with a very special atmosphere. The aboriginal people used to gather here for trials and after experiencing the place, it's easy to understand why.
We skipped the Art Gallery and Ward's Canyon to leave those places for the walk back in order to break it up. It was another 4.6 kms to get to Cathedral Cove which felt more like 10 to me. By that time, it was hot and parts of the walk weren't shaded. The trees were full of cicadas and very loud and to my disliking, Luen informed me that the refreshing sprinkle I could feel now and then was actually cicadas peeing on me. Great!
Cathedral Cove showed some beautiful aboriginal paintings and I really enjoyed reading about the meanings behind them and the purpose of the different spots on the information signs provided.
Next we explored Boowinda Gorge and spend considerable time sitting on rocks trying to cool down. If you keep following this gorge, you will arrive at the start of the Battleship Spur ascension. It's only a few more hundred metres past Boowinda Gorge to get to Big Bend and we would have reached the end of the walk.
Big Bend is a camping area that can be used by hikers. It is a good spot for lunch as it provides table and chairs but I am not sure it's worth the extra hike. After we rested for a little bit and ate something we started our hike back. We stopped for a long time at Ward's Canyon which was cool and refreshing with lush green vegetation.
Our last stop was the Art Gallery displaying more than 2000 Aboriginal paintings. Then it was another 5 kms back to the car before we were finished. I was beyond happy when I could see the Visitor Centre and all I wanted was a shower and a cold Coke. I am happy to report that I got both, once we got back to Takaraka. However, Luen had to go in to buy icecream and coke as I could not move anymore. We spent the night putting our sore feet up and cooking a simple meal before we both passed out with no alarm set for the next morning to get some well deserved sleep.
Luen's phone also stopped working that day only showing only a black screen with the backlight on. However, it was still friendly enough to wake us up at 5.20am with the alarm Luen had set a few days ago. But since it reacted to nothing we were not able to turn it off. So much for sleeping in...
We left Takaraka around 9am that morning to head to somewhere with internet to figure out where to go to next. On our way out we spotted some wild horses and emus – a perfect end to our time at Carnarvon Gorge.
The view is outstanding, but it pays to be prepared for this challenging 30km round trip. Start nice and early to ensure you return before dark, take plenty of food and water, pack clothing to suit all conditions, and remember to take your first aid kit and an emergency communication device. This is a remote walk, so you must submit a bushwalking advice form to the National Park Rangers prior to departure and it's best to notify a close friend or family member of your intentions as well.