The Carnarvon National Park is located in the Queensland central highlands approximately 720km drive Northwest of Brisbane or 400km from Rockhampton. The main feature of the park is the 30km long Carnarvon Gorge with it’s impressively high colourful sandstone cliffs, diverse natural sites and the Carnarvon Creek running through it. The gorge also has a numerous sites of cultural significance to our first people including rock art and to do with women’s business, some of which are open to the public to visit via a series of walking tracks.
Maybe because we have traveled little out of the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast areas, Daryl and I had not heard of the Carnarvon Gorge or the Carnarvon National Park. It was internet searches on “what to do near me” as as we made our way along the Warrego Hwy that brought it to our attention. We are glad we made the time to visit the gorge and it’s sites as it is definitely a highlight of our Queensland adventures so far. We were also thrilled to find a pet friendly campground Sandstone Park with options for our border collie so that we could visit the national park; it made our time so much more enjoyable.
Where We Stayed
Cost: $23 per night per site
We chose to stay at the Sandstone Park because it is the only pet friendly campground near the national park. There is also the option of pet minding in kennels located on the campgrounds or leaving pets in or secured at your site. We left Chika tethered to our caravan with plenty of water and she was fine. The size of the sites are big enough to fit three caravans so she was well enough away from others and had plenty of space. Also being August it wasn’t too hot.
Few things to note about the Sandstone Park:
- All rig types (tents to buses) are welcome provided you’re self sufficient when it comes to power and water
- Booking is advisable and can be done online here: Sandstone Park website
- Sites are not designated so for more choice arrive around check in at 2pm but all are great so don’t worry if you are later
- The 360 views of the surrounding cliffs and escarpment are mesmerising
- Portaloos are provided and are the cleaninest we have ever experienced
- There is a dump point
- Rubbish bins are provided
- There are no powered sites
- There is no drinking water
- Grey water can go straight to the ground
What you cannot miss is the Welcome to Country and Cultural Yarn, with Milton Lawton a traditional custodian, held most days at 3.45pm (look out for the whiteboard on the road leading up to reception). Milton speaks with great pride and passion about his culture and his family history and generously shares his knowledge of the gorge and it’s significance to his people. We loved his talk and our only regret was we weren’t able to attend one before we walked the gorge because to have had the knowledge he shared would have added even more to our Carnarvon Gorge experience.
Our Visit to Carnarvon National Park
As New South Welshman we were surprised to learn there are no park fees for day visitors in Queensland. (There are fees for camping and 4WD permits but these were not applicable to us for this visit).
Our visit to the park was over three days with day two being our main day. Over the three days we walked 10 of the trails walking close to 20km. In total there are 15 (16 if you include the Warrumbah Creek Gorge walk not on the National Park’s map) varying from 600m to 87km return.
The Main Track, from which a number of the trails to the sites branch off, starts at the Visitor Centre (not to be confused with the Discovery Centre) and is 9 km (18km return). It is advised to plan which sites you wish to see then walk directly to the furthest before stopping to see each site on your return trip. This way as the day goes on and you get tired you are getting closer to the visitor centre and the park exit.
All the sites are of great wonder and natural beauty as well as having tremendous significance to the First People so give them the respect they deserve and make sure you give each site adequate time. Sit, ponder, just be and let them leave an impression on you.
More information can be found on the Carnarvon National Park website.
Arriving mid afternoon we made the decision to walk two of the shorter tracks at the entry of the park – Rock Pool and Baloon.
An easy 600m return walk took us, as the name suggests to a creek that has a big rock and rock pool which is the only designated swimming area in the park. There are picnic tables overlooking one side of the creek.
Also an easy walk, 500m return alongside a dry creek bed to what is a traditional Aboriginal meeting place. There was rock art to be seen.
After our walks which took us well under 2 hours we went back to camp where we chatted to others, had dinner and turned in early for a big day the next day.
Our day started a little after 8am at the visitors centre. (I’d recommend the 8am or earlier start as we found on our return journey we pretty much we able to enjoy each of the sites without other walkers). After picking up a map we set off along the main walking track. Following the advice previously noted, we walked the 5 km directly to the Art Gallery track reaching it a little after 9am. From there we meandered back and took in the sites of the – Art Gallery, Wards Canyon, Ampithetre, Moss Garden and the Natural Trail on our return journey. All tolled we walked approximately 15 km and did it comfortably in 5 hours.
Up until the Art Gallery this is a grade 3 track (then becomes a grade 4) with mostly flat well formed paths, some even steps and easy creek crossings using well placed stepping stones. While it is the track to get you to the other tracks which have the sites, it is worth stopping every so often to look around at the vegetation, the high cliffs and at the creek.
Also worth noting is there are signs along the Main Track, at the start of various tracks to the sites which provide information about the site track, the distance to the site and distance back to the visitor centre. Take note and use the information to judge your abilities and fitness levels. That said, with varying effort and time I would say all tracks could be managed by most people, still it is for you to decide for yourself.
Art Gallery lived up to it’s name with Aboriginal rock art well worth the hike. Daryl and I spent about 20 mins admiring the art and the site.
A steep ascent up some steps to a small waterfall, further steps up to a viewing platform and then along a boardwalk to a rainforest oasis hidden from the outside world. This was our favourite site of the day.
A large cavenous casam carved out of the rock by millennia of rain and wind. To enter the site there is a 10m series of metal ladders and as someone whos terrified of heights I held on tight while telling myself it would be worth it (and on the decent I took my time going down backwards). At the top of the ladders there is a narrow section to walk along before entring the Amphitheatre. And yes it was worth those damn ladders! The acoustics are fun so use your voice or noises to play around with it.
The Moss Gardens is another oasis of rainforest, this time formed by water seeping through the sandstone until it hits a layer of impenetrable shale forcing it sideways and out to where, over time a rock pool and small waterfall has formed and because the water never stops seeping through the sandstone mosses, and lush ferns have surrounded the rock pool.
When walking the trail to the Moss Garden that there is a noticable change in the topography about halfway (where there is a bench seat) from open bushland to rainforest.
We took the Nature Trail as an alternative back to the visitor centre carpark. The trail wanders through tall native grasses and along the Carnarvon Creek. A fairly flat walk with a few easy creek crossings while not as breathtaking as other trails of the day it was a pleasant way to finish up. Other walkers have seen platypus in the deeper pools along the track, sadly in the mid afternoon we did not; early morning or late afternoon gives you the best chance.
On our third and final day we walked the Mickey Creek and Warrumbah Creek Gorge tracks.
This is a fairly easy flat walk along side a creek ending at a small waterhole.
Warrumbah Creek Gorge
This track is not sign posted or named on the National Park’s map but it is a detour along the Mickey Creek trail at which point it is sign posted. This walk was a lot of fun and a challenge as only the first 100m is formed track then it is a matter of making your way along the creek to the gorge (there are arrows drawn on some rocks to help you to select your path). The gorge is at some parts only the width of your arms, with walls about 25m high. The walk through the gorge has it challenges, walk as far as you are comfortable. This was a favourite of ours in the entire park and if you are up to a grade 4/5 walk give it ago.
In short our visit to the Carnarvon Gorge was one to remember with its breath taking natural beauty it is a great place for a walk/hike but if you get a chance to learn about the cultural significance from an indigenous perspective it can be so much more. If you can make the time we thoroughly recommend you too make the effort and come and see it for yourself.