Carnarvon Gorge trail guide

By Gary Tischer 5 May 2015
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Like an oasis, Queensland’s Carnarvon Gorge provides welcome relief from the arid landscape that surrounds it

CABBAGE PALMS STRETCH skyward, tall white cliffs reflect the sunlight while platypus swim quietly in the pools below.

A multitude of birds make their presence felt as they revel among the large spotted gums and subtropical flora. Ancient cycads and spreading ferns give a timeless feel to an area that has seen habitation by humans for thousands of years.

The walk up the floor of the gorge is one of the classic day walks as you visit many natural and indigenous features. The shallow Carnarvon Creek is easily crossed many times in the shade of the whispering she oaks as you make your way up to Big Bend.

The return trip is more than 20km if all the side trips are taken. The track, which starts from the national park’s information centre, is well marked and with gentle gradient, and makes for a very enjoyable day.

Apart from the main walk, there are numerous other shorter walks. Mickey Creek Gorge is a short but worthwhile walk as one of the side gorges narrows down to 1m wide with 20m high moss-covered walls.

At the entrance to the gorge is Boolimba Bluff which provides panoramic views to the distant cliffs in the southeast as well as back up the gorge with its high sandstone cliff lines and soaring ridges above leading to the basalt-capped tablelands.

The Bluff, 200m above the gorge floor, is worth climbing before dawn to see the cliffs come to life with the first rays of sunlight.

Fact file:

Distance:  20km

Time: 5-7 hours

Start/finish: The national park’s information centre

Nearest town: Injune

Terrain: Good track following the Carnarvon Creek on the floor of the gorge

Best season: April to September

Maps: Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service trail guide.

Accommodation: Camping is available in the national park camping area only during Queensland school holidays. There are also lodges and a commercial camping area 4 km from the gorge entrance year round.

Food/drink: A small shop is in the commercial camping area, otherwise take everything you need.

Getting there: Carnarvon Gorge is a nine-hour drive west of Brisbane, through Roma and Injune. Access from the north can be gained via Springsure and Rolleston.

More info:

The walk

1. Start/finish The Moss Gardens have a small overhanging waterfall creating a cool, moist environment supporting the many ferns and mosses that form a serene spot, perfect for stopping a while. Look for the long tendril-like roots that take water from the creek skywards to fig trees perched on the sunny ridge top above. With all the delicate mosses, boardwalks have been created to protect this fragile environment.

2. The Amphitheatre is a spectacular chasm accessed through a narrow crevice which is perched 10 m up the wall of a side gorge. A steel staircase gives access to this more recently discovered feature of the area. It has taken water many thousands of years to carve out this deep abyss amongst the sandstone cliffs. Bring your voice to test the resounding acoustics.

3. A little further upstream, Ward’s Canyon is a cool and beautiful place that is home to the rare king fern – the largest fern in the world. In the early 1900s, Tom and Ernie Ward used the canyon as a photographic darkroom, as they developed their images of the gorge in the cool waters of the creek.

4. Aboriginal people used the gorge as a meeting place and many reminders of that can be seen today. The Art Gallery is a 62 m long sandstone wall that is adorned with more than 2000 engravings, ochre stencils and freehand paintings. During school holidays, Aboriginal guides give visitors a wonderful insight into what life was like for the Aboriginal people who frequented this area before European settlement.

5. Cathedral Cave, a very large sandstone overhang, is a further 4 km up stream and was used by the Aboriginal people for shelter, feasting and painting. High up on the wall are the stencilled silhouettes of ancient spade and lil-lil clubs, the only remaining evidence that these weapons existed. Even in school holiday times it remains uncrowded and a place where the atmosphere can be absorbed with thoughts of its original inhabitants.

6.The entrance to Boowinda Creek is a narrow, winding gorge only a few metres across in places, where only reflected light reaches the lower walls as it snakes its way upstream.  The rocky, winding gorge is well worth the walk and necessary if you plan a visit to Battleship Spur, as the steep access track begins from within the Boowinda Gorge. A little further up Carnarvon Creek from Boowinda, is Big Bend, where overnight camping is permitted and a pool large enough for swimming can be found.