Hiking in Carnarvon Gorge
Carnarvon Gorge is listed as one of Queensland’s hidden jewels. I'd highly recommend a visit if you've got some extra time on your hands and would like the chance to explore somewhere a bit more remote. Hiking in Carnarvon is very peaceful and invites you to slow down a little and just enjoy. The rock art here was rather astounding, and the first example of native culture I’d seen so far in Australia. We spent 3 days and 2 nights hiking in Carnarvon Gorge, which was just enough time to explore.
We arrived at the park the day after school holidays ended. This meant we couldn’t camp at the visitors centre and the surrounding campgrounds were full. Luckily we were prepared to camp overnight in the canyon, at Big Bend camp site. This is typically the first stop for hikers doing the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk, around 10 kilometres (6 miles) in. It’s a long haul if you start late (we started hiking about 1pm) but fairly flat and very scenic, with large palms, birds flitting about, and reflections of the overhanging cliffs in the many stream crossings. We left all of the side canyons for the hike out.
Big Bend is a pretty little campground next to a trickling stream. There’s a picnic table and composting toilets. There was one other couple already set up here, some road trippers from Tasmania.
Although we didn’t see it until we’d already pitched our tent, there is a more private little tent spot off to the side with a great view of the cliffs.
Take note that the sun doesn’t really reach this part of the gorge and no fires are allowed, so if you’ll be coming in winter bring plenty of warm layers! There is also no mobile reception here, so come prepared.
The highlight of the trip for me was Boowinda Gorge, with the most perfect S Curve (photographic term) I’ve ever seen! Andrea did a trail run up to Battleship Spur and the second Great Walk campsite while Bobby and I spent hours just enjoying the canyon.
We spent the rest of the afternoon napping in the tent, which was much-needed after a hectic few weeks. The river provided the perfect white noise, and when we emerged we had plenty of camping friends! There were 3 older gentlemen escaping their wine-loving wives for a night, a group of younger guys doing the Great Walk, and some couples we didn’t get the chance to chat with. We were very entertained by the older gents attempting to prepare their dehydrated meals, but hit the tent not too long after dinner because it was coollllllldddddd.
Side Trails in Carnarvon Gorge
The next morning we took it easy, exploring many of the side trails we’d skipped on the way in. Our favorites were Cathedral Cave, the Art Gallery, and the Amphitheater.
Cathedral Cave was almost spiritual, as we had it all to ourselves. We walked slowly along the boardwalk, admiring how well-preserved this art is, protected under the cliff overhang.
The towering cliffs had paintings about 8 feet up the wall, with signs helping us decode the symbols. These are rock art stencils, created by putting an object against the wall and then blowing a mixture of water and ochre over it. Hands are very prevalent, followed by tools and weapons.
The Art Gallery was about a 10 minute walk up into the cliffs. A stunning collection of rock art, this section had more stencils and some engravings.
We almost skipped The Amphitheatre as we were quite tired and ready to put our heavy packs down for good, but I'm glad we stopped! This was an unexpected oasis, reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
Although Carnarvon Gorge was a long trek from the coast, I’m glad we finally ticked off a place we’d been hearing about for ages. There’s a lot to be explored in the area, if you have the time! There are actually 3 sections of Carnarvon National Park, and many other nearby parks, mostly accessible by 4WD.
But for now, back to the beach! Read about camping on the Keppel Islands, an underrated island getaway!
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Getting to Carnarvon Gorge
An 8 hour drive from Brisbane, this canyon is not easy to get to. Hiking here is only for the prepared, and those willing to put in a little extra effort. We traveled from Fraser Island, with a stop at a great free campsite in the tiny blip on the map that is Theodore.
Preparing for your hike
Honestly, I found the lack of information about this park a bit sad. We spoke with some other campers who also struggled as well. The visitor centre was closed when we arrived, so we hiked in without a camping permit or a decent map. We did see a ranger making repairs on the composting toilets at Big Bend, but go in prepared to fend for yourself.
Download the Sandstone Belt Guide here. This includes information about the different sections of Carnarvon National Park (Canarvon Gorge is 1 of 3), a map of the Gorge (not to scale), and some of the surrounding parks.
If you're doing the Great Walk, there is a topo map available to download. Be warned that the trail is closed from November through February, as it's just too darn hot! It was perfect during the day, but close to freezing at night during our visit in July.
There are 4 camping options within an hour of the canyon.
The Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre has camping only 6 weeks out of the year, during school holidays. We missed camping here by 1 day.
Sandstone Park is a spot with scenic views, only suitable for self-contained vehicles or very prepared tent campers.
Takarakka Bush Camp is a bit luxe, with small cottages, cabins, glamping tents, and camping.
The Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Camp was closed when we were here, probably due to COVID or a recent bush fire.
The Rolleston Caravan Park should be a stop only if you’re desperate for power, water, and a hot shower (which we were). It’s cheap but it's also right next to the road, so we woke up to trucks driving down the highway, barking dogs, and whining kids.