Carnarvon National Park is a remote treasure in the heart of Queensland’s outback. It’s one of these places where you won’t find people who randomly stopped there. The nearest petrol station is, at least, one hour drive from the National Park and there is not much to do around or on your way to Carnarvon Gorge.
We had tried to visit this reputed National Park for almost two years with no luck. We needed a very long weekend to have enough time to drive there and fully visit and enjoy the park. So the four-day Easter break was perfect. Some friends did it in three days, but I’m not sure it is the best balance between the 9-hour drive from Brisbane and the time spent in the national park. We arrived at the park on Friday at noon and left on Monday morning.
Hiking is the primary activity in Carnarvon Gorge.
There are many different hikes with various levels of difficulty. All the ones we did were beautiful and not too hard. A real pleasure. If you only have one day to spend there, it will be full-on but, if you start early, you can manage to cover most of the hikes (approximately 30km). Most of the people we saw were families enjoying the Easter Break. Whether they were about two years old or around 80 years old, they all seemed to have a blast. So did we!
In this article, I will review our 50km hiking 10 trails of Carnarvon Gorge. The numbers correspond to the map at the end of the article.
Short walks from their own car parks
Balloon Cave (1)
If your time is limited, you can skip this walk. It is always great to visit Aboriginal rock-art galleries, but there are better ones in the park. My highlight was to spot an echidna close to the track. It was only the second time that I could see one in nature! They usually get afraid easily and try to hide in a bush, blending with the environment around them. We remained quiet, and the little fellow started to move again so we could observe it for a short while.
Mickey Creek Gorge (2)
3.5km return (depending on how deep you go in the gorge).
It was one of my favourite hikes in the park (yes, I will write this multiple times in the article – I really liked the hikes in Carnarvon Gorge!). Mickey Creek Gorge offers a short and a very rewarding exploration into narrow side gorges. At some point during the walk, you can touch both sides with your hands! As a bonus, even if there are several groups, you still get the feeling that you are by yourself as you cannot see people with the turns!
Rock Pool (3)
It’s the only designated swimming area in the park. It’s good if you want to have a dip, but not at all as impressive as the other sites in the national park. I’d recommend to skip it if you have a limited time in the area as many other hikes are more impressive. We went there in the morning to have breakfast, before the heat, to avoid the crowd and enjoy some peaceful time.
Responsible travel tip: Don’t use sunscreen before swimming in the gorge as it can pollute the water. The best sun protection is to wear long-sleeve shirts.
Walking tracks leaving from the Carnarvon Gorge visitor centre
It took us 3 hours to reach the Big Bend/Cathedral Cave/Boowinda Gorge area. Our idea was to go straight to the furthest point we wanted to visit and do the sidewalks on the way back.
If your time is limited and you want to do it all in one day, I would recommend skipping the furthest points and do all the shorter sidewalks on the main track to the Art Gallery + Mickey Creek Gorge. You will hike special and beautiful places and, from my point of view, these walks provide the best overview of the park.
But it’s always better when you have more time. We enjoyed having the time to stay at each point of interest longer to better appreciate the surroundings and have the luxury to wait to have it just for ourselves, in a calm and relaxed way.
For those who love hiking, going deep in the gorge is great fun with plenty of beautiful views and river crossings to enjoy!
You may even consider doing an overnight walk.
You can carry your camping equipment and spend the night at the Big Bend campsite. Once you’ve dropped your equipment at the campsite, you’ll have plenty of time to explore Boowinda Gorge and hike up to Battleship Spur. I like hiking light so we decided not to do an overnight hike.
Boowinda Gorge (4)
It is the furthest we went in one day. If you want to explore further, search information on the Great Walk, an 87km circuit you can cover in six or seven days.
Boowinda Gorge is spectacular and beautiful. If it weren’t that far down the main track, I would place it as my favourite of this kind before Mickey Creek Gorge. But it is not that easy to reach: you will need to allow 3 hours one way from the visitor centre to start exploring the gorge. Then the track is made of rocks that may challenge your balance and joints for kilometres. It was quite tiring for the knees!
Battleship Spur (5)
We went all the way down the gorge until we reached the track going up to Battleship Spur. We initially wanted to climb for a view of the Great Dividing Range plateau. The lookout can be reached after a steep 4km climb. Unfortunately, it rained a lot on that day – which is unusual outside of the summer months! – so it seemed way too challenging to reach it and go back the same day.
Only overnight hikers were doing it. Rocks were very slippery so it was rough to go up, and even worse to go down. I wasn’t confident I would be able to do it safely, and it would have been silly to take these risks with an already injured knee. So, after five minutes, we made the decision to turn back to the main track. We were disappointed not to reach the target we had in mind, but I am glad we picked a safe option! Anyway, to make us feel better, we imagined that because of the rain, the view wouldn’t have been as good as usual…
Big Bend (6)
Add approx 1km return from the start of Boowinda Gorge.
It is the furthest spot you can reach on the main track. You can also choose to camp there for an overnight hike experience. The sandstone wall with a natural pool at the bottom is impressive.
Cathedral Cave (7)
Near Big Bend and the start of Boowinda Gorge, Cathedral Cave is the third point of interest in the furthest area of the day walk. On top of being a wall decorated with fascinating Aboriginal stories, it is also a massive shelter that we were all happy to find during this rainy day to warm up a bit and have food.
Art Gallery (8)
Add 700m return from the main track.
Of all the Aboriginal galleries we saw in Carnarvon Gorge, the Art Gallery is my favourite. The wall itself is beautiful, and it had many different drawings. To be honest, I didn’t find aboriginal art in Carnarvon quite as good as the galleries we saw in the Northern Territories (in Kakadu National Park, for example). But it was interesting to see the drawings were done using different techniques, and some were quite surprising. They had something original we had never seen on other walls. I won’t share further details about it on the blog so you get the surprise when you’re in front of it, it will be more fun!
Ward’s Canyon (9)
Add 600m return from the main track.
It’s a tiny side-gorge but nonetheless charming with its waterfall and ferns. Another one of my favourite spots in Carnarvon Gorge.
Add 1.2km return from the main track.
Don’t miss this one. I’m not sure why, but we missed it the first time. All the people we asked said they loved it and it was worth going back, so we decided to visit it in the early morning before going back home. It took us 1h45min return from the visitor area to do the 8.6km. And it was worth the effort. If I had to pick only one favourite place in Carnarvon Gorge, it would be the Amphitheatre. It is truly spectacular and unique. Moreover, we were lucky to have it just for ourselves: the noise of the nature resonating in the gigantic chamber was a delight.
Moss Garden (11)
Add 1.2km return from the main track. 7km return from the visitor area.
We kept Moss Garden for our second day as a stand-alone hike. It took us 1 hour to reach it from the visitor information centre. Then, I lost track of time. The beauty of the site with the walls covered by moss and the music of the water drips took me away. The small waterfall was charming, and the ferns all around create a very photogenic place. You may have guessed by now that it’s on my favourite list too.
Boolimba Bluff (12)
4.4km return from the visitor area; it took us 2 hours including a great break at the top.
Don’t be too impressed by the signs and the fitness warnings. Indeed, it is steep, but the steps are well defined. Really, the only challenge is to go up sometimes in the heat. But we saw kids and elderly people doing it. So if you can go up steps, plan to leave early when it’s fresh, take your time, someone with you to help in case you need it and plenty of water, it should be feasible! From a fit person point of view (with an injured knee), I hardly found it challenging – except for the parts that were in the sun as we did it at noon.
The view from the top is worth all the efforts.
A few people advised us to reach the top for sunrise. First, hiking by night allows avoiding the heat. Second, and most importantly, the colours of the sunrise hitting the cliffs give a very special touch to the scenery. Unfortunately, this timing was not working well in our planning, and we finally did it at noon!
Sunset at the Bandana Station (13)
We booked a Bandana Station visit for the sunset on Sunday night. They have been running the entertainment for three years now, and it was their first time of the season when we visited.
They have an incredible view over the sandstone escarpments, but that’s not the only reason why you would want to visit Bandana Station.
Bruce and his daughter Olivia have created a real show around it that starts way before sunset, at 3.30 pm. With the beautiful landscape in the background, they will tell you stories – and songs! – about the area and their farm job while you enjoy a refreshing beer or a glass of wine with a cheese platter. It is an excellent opportunity to learn a bit more about the outback. Olivia and her husband Nathan are very considerate hosts with a short talk with everyone but don’t expect an intimate experience. Although it is a bit pricey, I would still recommend it as a great, fun and original way of experiencing Carnarvon Gorge beyond the hikes. We had a great time at Bandana Station!
Where to stay at Carnarvon Gorge?
Carnarvon Gorge seems to be a very popular camping retreat for Queensland families during the Easter holidays. The camping areas were packed. You’d better plan your stay in advance if you want to visit the park during the peak season.
The cheap national park campsite had no availabilities for our dates so we camped at Takarakka – a bit expensive for what it is but a better option than spending hundreds of dollars for a cabin or a lodge.
They have cabins at Takarakka Bush Resort* and the Wilderness Lodge*. If you struggle to keep fresh food as we do without having a fridge, you can find a small selection of products to buy at the resort and a restaurant at the lodge.
I always like camping; it’s a way to feel closer to nature. Although there were a lot of people in the campsite, the wildlife was there too – especially at night and early in the morning. No need for an alarm, you’ll know when the first lights are coming thanks to the birds! Wallabies are all over the place, and I had the great surprise to meet for the first time a pademelon!
Is it worth travelling for so long to visit Carnarvon Gorge?
If you have time in Australia and love hiking, I think it is worth going all the way to Carnarvon Gorge for the untouched wilderness and the breathtaking views. It can even be an opportunity to see a different facet of Australia in the outback.
However, if your time in Australia is limited and/or if hiking isn’t your passion, I would recommend sticking to National Parks that are closer to the coast.
Will I go back to hike Carnarvon Gorge?
Probably not. I loved it, and I’m very glad we visited Carnarvon Gorge. However, it is so remote that I don’t think I will go back but I never say never!
Where is Carnarvon Gorge?
Carnarvon Gorge is in the central highlands of Queensland. It took us over 9 hours to drive the 700km from Brisbane. It’s a long drive as there is not much to see on the road. We broke the trip in half and stopped overnight in Chinchilla, in a nice free camp next to a creek.
The two closest airports are 3.5 hours away: Emerald (north – cheaper) and Roma (south). The flight would take approximately 1.5 hours. But keep in mind you will still need to hire a car and still spend 3.5 hours on the road.
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