For the aficionados of hiking in the heart of a sandstone gorge, surrounded by wildlife, The Carnarvon gorges are an oasis in the semi-arid heart of Central Queensland, and a great escape. Located about 593 kms north-west of Brisbane, those gorges are totally underrated. But in a minute, after driving through the dry landscape of central queensland, you’ll be caught in a glimpse by those fabulous sceneries !
First of all, you might have to be prepared. Take plenty of food, considering the 19.4 kms return walk you’ll do and the multiple side walks along the hike. If Rolleston is on the map, there’s only a little servo for your groceries. Get enough fuel as well and then make sure the official campground at the entrance of the National Park is actually open, which is usually during school holidays. Otherwise you should be self-sufficient to get there and walk the 10 kms to the Big Beng campground (with water because this campground doesn’t have any). This campground is a secluded little island in the heart of the gorge.
Make sure you have plenty of time and stay at least 3 nights to fully enjoy the beauty of the gorge. This park is so rich in water sources ; you’ll find there at least five river crossings but there’s only one spot where you’ll be able to swim as the water is protected and has kept some amazing species and fauna alive over millions of years.
The water here is a wealth of cultural and natural heritage that lies within this special place and you are about to discover a bit more about it. Exciting, especially when you think about those white sandstone cliffs forming spectacular steep-sided gorge with narrow and vibrantly lush side-gorges. Many animals and plant species are relics of a cooler and wetter time, it’s also a remnant rain forest that flourishes in the sheltered side-gorges years ago and the parks creeks look like a real fairy-tale scenery. Rock art of Aboriginal people marks the strong connections of the original owners of the land with the gorge as well and makes this park so unique and versatile. Admire and feel the spirit of freehand painting and rock engraving as much as the finest aboriginal rock imagery.
Road tripping to Central Queensland Gorge
On the way to the National Park stop at two different spots. One for a dive from the top of this round shaped amazing rock formation and favorite playground of families : the Rock Pool. It’s also where you’ll spot at least kangaroos and turtles. The second one is the Mickey Creek ; and the Baloon Cave, a ceremonial site older than 500 years.
With our Toyota Hiace 2000, we were really excited to go on an adventure to this gem. We had no trouble to get into the park, even if the end of the road is unsealed, it’s still quite flat and really easy to access. We booked in advance online into the Queensland National Parks website for two nights at the campground and one last night at the Big Bend Campground.
We arrived around 10 am and decided to go straight to cool off in that nice Rock Pool, as the temperature was already high. We had our coffee sorted out with our gas stove on the dirt soil of the parking spot before getting there. On the way we were mesmerized by the scenery of Kangaroos peacefully feeding their Joey in the pouch on the side of the creek while we jumped on the rock to cross it. After a few swim into that fresh mountain water, and despite the kids playing loudly we spotted more than 7 turtles, sun-bathing on the rocks. What a welcoming vibe !
From the Rock Pool, the option to get back to the campground through a 4 km track was also available but we needed to set up the Van for a few days and checked in at the entrance of the gorge. The peaceful campground is a perfect stay for those who enjoy wildlife. Kangaroos and wallabies have their « kitchen » in front of the shower along the green grass and you can meet up with some cute echidnas on your way to your tent, somehow they love to explore the area with this funny walk they own.
The Moss Garden
Next day, start your journey with some easy hike and get up early to put on your hiking shoes and hat and avoid the heat. We decide to go from the Visitor Area to the Moss Garden, one of the first side walk spot and comeback in the late morning so when we’ll go for the complete trail we won’t have to stop again.
At 10 am the heat felt pretty strong already so be prepared and get a lot of water bottles with you. Those little side tracks made definitely the gorge more attractive as we didn’t get bored with the views along the trail and it dived us into an interesting jungle scenery, we actually didn’t expect ! Moss Garden was an highlight but very crowded for a small spot so we actually spent more time exploring the area of the trail than the actual destination. After the return walk of 5 kms we prepared some food for the next morning and our bags for the longer trail, completing our journey into the gorge.
After a nap and some backpack to pack up, we headed to our second trail of the day and one of the hardest : the Boolimba bluff walk – which is definitely not an easy one ! More than 900 steps and a couple of ladders after, we have done the 3,2 kms one way in an hour and half and right on time for the golden hour!
The lookout offers an amazing view at a glance, all over the gorge and a relaxing scenery. We stayed there, amazed by the view for about an hour before heading back in complete darkness. It’s the only track whom will get you on top of the gorge and can offer this unreal view over the sandstone cliffs.
The Main Walking track
There exists another full trail which goes on over the top of the gorge and not inside, but you need to be a real hiking expert as it’s a 87 kms walk with several spots to camp on the way. You would need to be self sufficient.
However, we started the main walk and our journey and filled up at least 4 litres of water, required for this return walk. Our plan was to do the walk taking as much time as we needed to enjoy the amazing spots on the way. This amazing walk just surprised us more and more after getting to the Amphitheater which is a surprising rock formation before the Art Gallery. The track started to be a bit more difficult as we were getting deeper into the gorge which makes the challenge even more enjoyable. We particularly loved the mesmerizing stop in Wards Canyon, which allowed us to cool off our sore feet for a while with fresh water and chill under the royal ferns shadows.
Step by step, we felt like in a movie, the scenery could be from Lost World or Jurassic Park and we were ready to meet up with some Tyrannosaurus Rex at the corner ! Sand, rocks, creek to cross and secluded spot to relax along the way made the walk such a special adventure even better than the destination itself.
It’s only when arriving at the Cathedral Cave than you feel the walk coming to an end. The sun is less shining as we get into the shadows of the cliff. We finally attend the Big Bend Campground to set up our tent for the night. Our last proper activity of the day was to cool off into the really fresh emerald water of the gorge. Nothing better than this feeling of loneliness into the wild…
Our only friend was our own voice and the Echo rebonding onto the sandstone cliff. Dinner was not sufficient enough but still ok for one night. No campfire allowed in that protected and particular fauna, so as soon as it got dark we fell asleep with an half-full belly.
The next morning obviously we woke up at sunrise, in the fresh temperature, taking advantage of it we decide to pack up and leave to get a good breakfast at home (our van Billy of course !). We passed through some amazing chant of bat flying over palm trees and eucalyptus and then even spotted a feral cat chasing his morning tea. Those early hours offered us the opportunity to be alone on the track, it felt like our efforts were rewarded.
The 10 kms return didn’t feel as easy as the one way but at least we took advantage of the cooler temperature. We arrived after 3 hours to our Van, ready to eat whatever we could find. It was the end of our busy journey in Carnarvon Gorge, still surrounded by Kangaroos probably wondering why we were so excited to comeback in our car. Last but not least we got our last dip into the Rock Pool ! I was lucky enough to enjoy it for myself before a storm decided to strike… pretty hard ! The wet season is definitely coming soon but if you’re heading north, don’t miss out the opportunity of a real wild escape that offers you the real taste of adventure.
How to get there ?
From the road the view is stunning and allows excellent shots, if you come from Rolleston fill up a tank of water, make sure you have plenty of fuel and food. The road was sealed in 2017, so it was a real relief for us to get on that road as it’s totally manageable for a 2WD.
Where to stay ?
Check the Queensland National Parks website and School Holidays to book at the main campground which provides also showers and bring a dollar coin to get hot water. Book the Big Bend campground if you have your own tent.
What to bring ?
- Good hiking shoes for those 900 steps
- Do not be worried about getting wet as you are crossing the creek several times you’ll end up in the water if you try to avoid it too much
- A tent
- Tupperware for your food, as the birds are really stubborn and love to steal
- For the fresh mornings a jumper
- At least 4 litres of water if you stay one night at Big Bend
- Swim wear
Location: Carnarvon Gorge