Carnarvon Gorge: Part 1 (Sandstone Belt road trip)

Prior to moving to Queensland, and indeed prior to delving into our 4WD trip book, I’d never even heard of Carnarvon Gorge (let alone any of the other parks we explored). So imagine my surprise when we got there and I encountered lots of interstate, and what’s more, international visitors who knew all about it! Though to be fair, most Queenslanders I’ve asked about Carnarvon Gorge have never heard about it either.

We explored Carnarvon Gorge as part of our Sandstone Belt road trip where we jam-packed four different national parks into a mere 8 days. The national park is about 720 km west of Brisbane so it’s a fair trek out and you should at least plan 2-3 days there to experience all that Carnarvon has to offer.

Read more: Queensland is really big (Sandstone Belt road trip overview)

Following our extremely brief stopover near Robinson Gorge at Expedition National Park, we got on our way to Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park. Our two days there were choc-a-bloc so here’s Part 1 of our Carnarvon Gorge adventure.

CARNARVON GORGE – PART 1

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I’m still trying to work out what the pictogram means… no side tap dancing??

We followed the route outlined in the 4WD Queensland Atlas but somewhat in reverse order, which worked surprisingly well. Leaving Expedition National Park and travelling to Carnarvon Gorge via Rolleston and then Rewan Road meant a much more scenic drive than we would otherwise have had on the highway (check out the map to see where we went).

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Rolling through farming and grazing country along Rewan Road

Camping at Takarakka

The Carnarvon Gorge section around the information area has plenty of camping space available. However, in true Queensland fashion, you can only camp there during school holidays (excluding summer since it gets too hot) and who wants to do that?!

Beyond camping in the national park during school holidays, there’s only one other option for campers if you want to stay close by: Takarakka Bush Resort.

So, we plonked ourselves down for a night at Takarakka Bush Resort, and a bush resort it is! Other places may be mere caravan parks but with prices such as $38 p/n for an unpowered site, you may rightly have different expectations.

The facilities are fine, pretty clean and all.

But the best thing about Takarakka surely has to be that they serve roast dinners on alternating nights. You might wonder who would queue up for a $25 roast dinner in the middle of nowhere but the grey nomads (i.e. retirees in their caravans) were lining up a mile long (well, ok, not quite but the queue was impressively long!).

If you didn’t register your interest early, you certainly missed out. It’s clearly famous because people not only flocked to it like it was for free but they talked about it as if it was the greatest meal ever (and perhaps it was; I can’t say, we didn’t try 🙂 ).

They also do nightly information talks on Carnarvon Gorge and its many walks, and offer guided walks a few times a week. Oh, and free wifi. Slow but free… aw, finally you can get back in touch with civilisation after all that nature… 😉

And… platypuses (yes, that’s the plural, I looked it up!) in the creek that runs alongside Takarakka. It’s a good thing I have a patient husband because I would never ever have seen any of them if it wasn’t for his patience and insistence to wait just a little bit longer. 🙂 No photos as evidence (it was almost pitch black dark) but at least I know I have now seen real live platypuses in real life. 😀 Yay.

Hiking Carnarvon Gorge

Next morning, we set off for our overnight hiking trip into Carnarvon Gorge, staying at the Big Bend camp site, some 9.7 km into the gorge. The walk into the gorge is relatively flat except for a few moderately steepish sections at the start, and, of course, some of the side trips.

In a nutshell… the gorge is spectacular!

Map of Carnarvon Gorge. Image credit: Queensland Government

The plan was to do all the side trips on our way into the gorge, which meant getting to Big Bend by late afternoon. We managed but had to race a bit in the end. And all because we seem to have a habit of getting to a campsite just before dust and setting up in a hurry before it’s utterly dark. 🙂

Because Carnarvon Creek sneaks its way into the gorge, there are lots of creek crossings and you’ll have to hop from rock to rock. I didn’t count them all but it was probably ten, fifteen at least. Walking poles will help if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet.

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Rock hopping along one of the side tracks

I managed to not get wet on the way to Big Bend but didn’t juggle my balance quite so well on the way back. Thank goodness it was a nice, warm day and my feet were boiling in my hiking boots.

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One of the many crossing of Carnarvon Creek. Clear and cold but not icy, like in Victoria or Tassie. 🙂

There are some six tracks off to the sides that take you to special places. They’re all worth checking out, each one offers something different.

First side track… Moss Garden. An icy pool, an intimate, tranquil waterfall, dripping moss and lots of ferns.

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Ferns along the way to Moss Garden

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The icy pool. A challenge to photograph and really doesn’t do it justice… very bright with lots of shadows. Oh well. 🙂

Next up… The Amphitheatre, a 60 m deep chamber inside the walls of the gorge. Eerie atmosphere and amazing acoustics! We heard a couple sing in harmony in there, it sent shivers down my spine it was so glorious. This is a special place.

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Entrance to the Amphitheatre. The chamber is just through the rock crevice.

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The narrow gorge track into the Amphitheatre

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Inside the Amphitheatre (my photo so does not do this space justice) 🙁

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Looking out onto the track to the Amphitheatre, about to climb down those ladders

From there, we only had to trace our steps back to the main gorge walk, pick up our packs and head some 300 m north to the start of the walk to Ward’s Canyon. It’s a beautiful side-gorge where I fell in love with the ochre-reddish water of the little creek running through it.

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The red creek bed at Ward’s Canyon

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King Ferns – apparently “green dinosaurs” – at Ward’s Canyon

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A little furry friend we met on the way. I never knew rock wallabies like fir trees but he was munching away happily…

From Ward’s Canyon, we had some 800 m to walk to get to the next side track. This was one of the sites I’d been looking forward to: Aboriginal rock art at the Art Gallery (Bidjara and Karingbal People). There are some 2,000 engravings, stencils and free-hand paintings along a 62 m sandstone wall. Impressive.

Read more: Incredible Aboriginal rock art in Queensland (if you’re keen to see more photos)
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Ochre coloured rock paintings of boomerangs, nets, hands…

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Stencilled rock art, including a snake (on the right side towards the bottom) and signs of fertility

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The rock wall of the Art Gallery

Most people make it as far as the Art Gallery in a day as it’s some 5.4 km from the start of the walk. We, however, had another 4 kms on our hands before we got to the last side track for the day, and from there to the Big Bend camping area.

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Off to Cathedral Cave

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More sandstone cliffs along the way. I couldn’t stop taking photos. 🙂

Cathedral Cave is another stunning Aboriginal rock art site. It’s a massive overhang that allows you to contemplate the art in a panoramic sense. Once you’ve made it this far, you don’t meet that many people anymore. Or maybe that was because it was getting pretty late by then and most people had already come and gone hours ago.

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Aboriginal rock art at Cathedral Cave

From Cathedral Cave it was but a stone’s throw to Big Bend and I was certainly ready for it! My tummy had been unhappy with me all day and it was great to set down the pack. Mind you, mine didn’t weigh a thing compared to the husband’s but I was grateful nonetheless to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea.

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Almost at Big Bend

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Big Bend at dusk

Read more: Carnarvon Gorge Part 2
More information

For details on what to expect at Carnarvon Gorge, walking trails, how to get there, etc., check out Queensland National Park Carnarvon Gorge.

Keen to explore Carnarvon Gorge at some point? Pin it for later!

Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland's Outback is a spectacular sandstone gorge and is an amazing hiking destination. It's perfect for an easy overnight hike or a couple of days trekking in and out, exploring the many trails and sights in this part of Carnarvon National Park. From ferns, subtropical palms, creeks and gorges to Indigenous rock art, Carnarvon Gorge seems to have it all. One of the best places we've visited in Queensland! Find out more - Part 1. | 🌐 Queensland & Beyond.

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