Carnarvon Gorge... Australia's Best Kept Secret
Have you seen Australia?
The Opera House, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Koalas, Kangaroos?
You ain't seen nothin' yet!
Carnarvon Gorge will blow you away.
Carnarvon Gorge is a part of the Carnarvon National Park which is within the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt, about 600 Kms northwest of Brisbane. The sandstone belt covers about 82,000 square kilometres made up of mountains, cliffs, caves, streams and gorges. It is also a place where Aboriginal history dating back at least 19,000 years is evident. There are many examples of Aboriginal rock art in the Carnarvon National Park.
This lens will describe the bushwalking, sightseeing and mind blowing adventures within the park. These places are usually accessible by two wheel drive vehicle and have places to camp nearby.
The national park is run by the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management. I will refer to them as DERM in this lens.
The nearest international airport is Brisbane and major domestic terminal is Emerald. From Brisbane by road take the A2 via Toowoomba to Roma (about 400kms) then north on the A7 around 250kms to Carnarvon Gorge. From Emerald it is about 250kms south via Rolleston.
To reach the Salvator Rosa section of the park (described later) you travel south from Emerald to Springsure (70kms) and west on the Tambo road to the Cungellela turn off which is about 150kms of mainly dirt road.
Other parts of the Carnarvon National Park are only recommended for four wheel drive vehicles.
Carnarvon Gorge Section
The gorge is the jewel in the Carnarvon National Park crown. Here you will find waterfalls, canyons, Aboriginal art, mountain streams and towering sandstone cliffs. Unfortunately DERM seem to have a policy of keeping humans out of their parks and do little to encourage campers. Here the camping area is only open on selected school holiday periods and for the rest of the year you will need to stay at one of the nearby private accommodation places. For campers this means Takarakka Bush Resort. The resort is well run but not my idea of bush camping. Besides being directed to small sites surrounded by noisy caravans and motor homes you will need to use your vehicle to drive to the start of the bushwalks. The budget campervans park on the side of the road just before the park or wait till dark and set up in the parking areas at the trail heads. An alternative is to park at the national park day area and carry your gear 10kms to the Big Bend camping area.
The main walking track starts at the national park ranger's station and ends at Big Bend. Most of the good bits described in the next chapter are off this track and are well signposted. Carry water, a first aid kit and all the usual walking gear with you. For photography a tripod is a must in the low light areas.
The cave is 500m from the car park. DERM's website indicates this is a cultural trail with signs along the way. I didn't see any except those at the cave itself. This is a good place to view Aboriginal rock art for those people who are not able to walk long distances.
The Rock Pool
An easy 300m walk to a bend in Carnarvon Creek with a deep water hole. This is the only place in the gorge where swimming is permitted. There are toilets and picnic tables here.
Mickey Creek Gorge
This was one of the highlights and an unexpected surprise for us. About 1km along the track there is a branch off to the right. Take this branch and continue past the sign indicating the end of the formed track. Soon you will come to an amazing crevice in the rock walls. You can walk, wade or stumble your way up here for quite a distance. It is a magical place to be.
Back at the branch off continue up the main creek again past the end of the track sign and another side gorge will appear on the right. In it is a small waterfall and deep rock pool.
Exploring Mickey Creek Gorge
This walk follows the creek on the bank opposite the picnic area. Again I expected some signs indicating flora etc. but there were none. Nor did we see any fauna. Give this one a miss.
A climb to the top of the bluff that offers sweeping views of the gorge. After a big day walking I declined the 963 steps and ladders on this track but will definitely do it next time.
The Moss Garden
The Moss Garden is 650m off the main walking track and apart from some stairs is easy to do. There is a very pretty waterfall here with a rock pool below. The sandstone walls constantly drip water that supports mosses, ferns and hanging plants. A boardwalk and seating is provided.
This is a must see attraction only a short walk from the main track. The entrance is a narrow slot in the cliff wall. You climb a series of ladders (see photo) to access the entrance. A short walk through the rock cleft soon opens into a massive open topped chamber. The walls are 60m high while the damp low light floor is carpeted with ferns, mosses and creepers. The eerie acoustics complete this almost unbelievable experience. Seating is provided to sit and ponder the forces that created this marvel.
Recently the track to the amphitheatre has been closed due to a lack of maintenance. Check with DERM before visiting as you would not want to miss this amazing part of the gorge.
Another short walk off the main track leads up some steps around a small but pretty waterfall into this fantastic canyon. A small multi-coloured stream runs through the canyon and the massive rock walls are covered in places with mosses and ferns. A flat walking track takes you up to some seating and a large area where you can view rare King Ferns. These amazing plants date back to the days of dinosaurs and are the largest ferns in the world. Ward's canyon is a lovely, cool place to spend some time on a hot day.
The Art Gallery
This site contains one of the best examples of Aboriginal stencil art in Australia. The gallery wall is 62m long and has over two thousand engravings.
To get to this place you leave the main track once again and walk a short distance to a narrow gap in the rocks that leads to the base of a massive sandstone wall. A boardwalk the length of the gallery make viewing easy and small placards explain the meanings of each artwork.
I imagine parents may find it a little difficult explaining to children the meaning of some of the engravings as parts of the wall are covered with hundreds of works depicting the human vulva.
The Cathedral Cave
This is another Aboriginal art site which I will be visiting soon when we return to this magical gorge.
The Carnarvon Great Walk
This is an 86km walk that begins with the track I have just described and continues out of the gorge and across the plateaus and valleys of the surrounding sandstone region.
The walk is a circuit returning to the gorge with campsites about 20kms apart. There are strict conditions to adhere to before setting out on this walk. The ranger station has maps and advice for the great walk as well as taking bookings for campsites.
For information and links to accomodation etc visit the DERM website
A compass is vital in the bush.
Carnarvan National Park - Salvator Rosa Section
At the far western end of the park is another walking/camping area accessible in dry weather by two wheel drive vehicle. The road is unsealed and parts may become impassable after rain. The Salvator Rosa section is on the Cungelella road off the Springsure to Tambo Rd. Look for the sign shown in the photo here. Bulldust is a very fine dust found in large deposits on outback roads. Our vehicle 'Willobago' ending up drifting sideways in a couple of bulldust patches along this road.
The camping area has toilets and no other facilities. There is a self registration point, permanent water in the river and evidence of camp fires.
DERM advise boiling all water before drinking. We enjoyed wonderful solar showers using the spring fed river water.
Walking At Salvator Rosa.
There is a four wheel drive track that takes in the highlights of this region. Recent flooding has destroyed the Nogoa River crossing and this has closed the track. This makes for easy walking conditions and no traffic.
There are many springs along the track and in fact springs around here put about ten million litres a day into the river. The highlight of the walk is Spyglass Peak, a sandstone and basalt hill with a distinctive hole through it (see photo). Amazing rock formations are a feature of Salvator Rosa.
Nuga Nuga National Park
Just south of Carnarvon Gorge is the turn off to Nuga Nuga National Park. This park is based around a large fresh water lake. It is home to an incredible number of bird species. At times the lake is covered with lilies making it a photographers dream.
The road in is fine for conventional vehicles when dry but soon becomes boggy in the wet. The Willobago made it through a few days after rain but got covered in mud in the process.
There is a self registration station but there were no registration papers when we visited, in fact the place appeared to have been largely neglected by park staff.
Of interest on the road in to the park (and I wish I had taken photos) is a massive workers camp being set up to begin a gas pipeline all the way to Gladstone on the coast. I found it surprising to find this type of development so close to some very environmentally sensitive national parks particularly as it appeared the water run off from some of these works probably goes into Lake Nuga Nuga.
There, the secret is out!
Check back again as I will be revisiting the gorge soon for more photos!