Our adventure to Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge uncovered a striking new world, vaguely familiar, but ultimately unlike any we had seen before.
In the shade of Carnarvon Gorge’s great sandstone walls, an incredible array of biodiversity has found an unlikely home in the Central Queensland Highlands.
Over the millennia rain has slowly filtered through the porous walls of the gorge filling the crystal clear Carnarvon Gorge Creek and its tributaries year-round.
This cool green oasis nurtures a spectacularly diverse collection of vegetation, not often seen together. In the gorge, the “bush” of Australia’s arid interior meets the lush jungle of the wet coastal tropics. A place where eucalypt woodlands are often interrupted by deep green patches of remnant rainforest. Where the eucalypt end, amongst impossibly tall palms, king ferns, and cycads recall an ancient history of a world before man. Atop the 600-meter sandstone walls of the gorge, more eucalypts crowd the cliff edge silently watching the peculiar scene playing out below.
Amidst this dramatic background, in the shade of the gorge and the dappled light of the canopy, native animals have found a worthy home. Remote and isolated, the natural world still rules the Carnarvon Gorge. Emus strut their stuff across the flat pastoral lands that border the Carnarvon Range. As you begin to wind your way into the hills of the Carnavon National Park wallabies stop to stare. Within the gorge, echidnas bustle through the undergrowth, skinks steal away as you approach, and snakes sun themselves on the banks of the creek. Goannas wait, patiently tasting the air with their flicking tongues and if you walk softly you may even spot a platypus before it disappears with a soft splash.
It is no wonder this gorge is a gathering place for the indigenous people that have visited this spiritual site for many thousands of years. Here they made the pilgrimage to share stories, learn, and carry out sacred ceremonies. The sandstone walls of the gorge still carry the record of these meetings in the rock art that has existed here for at least 3,650 years.
Today it is possible to make the same pilgrimage, to follow in the footsteps of the first people who visited this sacred place. To see largely what they would have seen. To observe a time locked away in the natural compound of the gorge.
Best of all, deep within the gorge on a tranquil shaded flat above a sandy beach, beneath a sheer cliff, you can camp. Falling asleep to the sounds of the echidnas shuffling through the undergrowth and waking here again to the bird song as the light creeps slowly back into the gorge. It is an experience that ranks as high as any other in Queensland or indeed around the world.
Imagine our surprise to arrive to this campsite on a Saturday afternoon in late October to find only one other camper taking advantage of this incredibly special opportunity. Camping in the Carnarvon Gorge is a once in a lifetime experience that nurtures the soul. It should be on every bucket list and on every Queensland road trip itinerary.
Our comprehensive Carnarvon Gorge blog post will round up the ins and outs of experiencing Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge and the other Carnarvon Gorge walks. From how to get there, how to to camp in Carnarvon Gorge, what to see, all the things to do in Carnarvon Gorge National Park and the surrounding area, tips for visiting, frequently asked questions, and more.
Where Is Carnarvon Gorge?
A thirty kilometer long, 600 meter deep, sandstone gorge, Carnarvon Gorge is the crowning jewel in the wide-ranging 302,000 hectare Carnarvon National Park.
No quite in the middle of no-where (as this is reserved for truly remote destinations when discussing Australia) Carnarvon Gorge is perhaps on the edge of no-where.
Carnarvon Gorge National Park can be found in Queensland’s Central Highlands region, 400 kilometers inland from the Coral Sea. The gorge lies halfway between the outback towns of Emerald in the north and Roma to the south.
Carnarvon Gorge is approximately 8 hours northwest of Brisbane, 4.5 hours south-west of Rockhampton, and 3 hours north of Roma.
How to Get to Carnarvon Gorge?
The journey to Carnarvon Gorge is a reminder of the sprawling expanse of Australia’s second-largest state. While its isolation and unspoiled wilderness certaily add to its appeal, its remote location makes getting here quite an undertaking.
A road trip from any of the major regional centers surrounding the Carnarvon National Park will take no less than 3 hours. The closest hubs are Rockhampton – 4.5 hours and Roma – 3 hours.
If you are flying, Brisbane is the closest international and national airport. From here you can fly directly to Roma or Rockhampton. From either of these airports, renting a car to self-drive to Carnarvon Gorge is, in our opinion, the only way to enjoy the attractions of the gorge, the national park, and the surroundings at your leisure.
A popular road trip from Brisbane, drivers can travel west to Roma before turning north and driving to Carnarvon Gorge via the Great Inland Way. Alternatively, road trippers may opt to travel via the Pacific Coast Way, turning inland at Rockhampton and traveling west to Emerald before turning south to take the Great Inland Way down toward Carnarvon Gorge.
Camping at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
In our eyes hiking the gorge with a tent and pack to camp at Big Bend is the signature experience and one of the most special things to do in Carnarvon Gorge. The opportunity to walk its length, exploring the trove of treasures it conceals, and camping at the striking Big Bend camp, is the ultimate way to experience the gorge.
Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge Campsite
Camping at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge is administered by the QPWS and campsites must be booked in advance.
The campsite has ample space for the ten campers permitted. There are drop toilets and a picnic table. Aside from this, the campsite is a remote wilderness site, and campers must be fully self-sufficient. Plan to carry in everything you need and, importantly, carry it out again.
The campsite is right above the crystal clear Carnarvon Gorge Creek, so there is plenty of water. Feral pigs are active in the park and occasionally contaminate the water so bring water treatment.
To reach the Big Bend Campsite you simply follow the Main Gorge Track 10 km to the end. The trail is marked with orange markers leading the way in and yellow markers leading the way out. Don’t miss the second to last creek crossing after the Cathedral!
How Long Should I Spend at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge?
1 – 3 nights.
We spent just one night at Big Bend, walking the trail and it’s off shoots in a single day before arriving at camp and hiking out the next morning. Of course you could easily set up here for two or even three nights and explore the wonders of Carnarvon Gorge at a slower pace.
Packing List for Camping at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
A multi-day hike means that packing lightly and with the specific challenges of the walk in mind is essential. Here is what we packed for two people for 1 night and two days.
Camping Gear for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
Cooking Gear for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
- Trangia Stove with gas burner attachment and 275g butane canister
- Camping mugs
- Serated knife
- Travel size spice container
Safety and First Aid Gear for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
- Pain killer
- Insect reppellant with deet
- Water Purification Tablets or Water Filter
Other Gear for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
Clothes to Pack for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
- Light-weight uv long-sleeve hiking shirt
- Hiking pants or hiking shorts (depending on preference)
- 2 x Hiking Socks
- Long Thermal Underwear
- Rain Coat
- Hiking shoes
Food to Pack for Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
Because we were only camping overnight we didn’t have to worry too much about weight, but it is something to keep in mind as you plan your meals for camping at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge.
- Wraps with peanut butter
- Gnocchi (great because it cooks in 3 minutes, so much quicker than rice or pasta)
- A jar of pesto sauce
- A bottle (or bag) of wine (a nice treat when your pack weight allows)
- Oat Milk (or any milk of your choosing)
- Instant Coffee
- Trail mix (salted peanuts, sultanas and peanut M&Ms)
- Pringles (easy to pack and they don’t get crushed in your pack)
Things We Didn’t Take But Wish We Did
We didn’t take a microfibre towel but it would have been nice to have after a swim in the creek.
What to Do in Carnarvon Gorge Carnarvon National Park: A Living Natural Museum
Of course, the Big Bend multi-day hike is not the only reason to come to Carnarvon Gorge Carnarvon National Park. In fact, the majority of visitors choose to stay at the nearby accommodation and come into the park each day to walk the Main Gorge Track and its offshoots. Weather you camp at Big Bend or hike in each day, the wonders that await in the gorge are truly special.
Carnarvon Gorge is remarkable for more than its beautiful scenery. Several attractions along the trek up the Main Gorge Track act as fascinating living records exhibiting the remarkable and ancient story of the earth, the plants, the animals, and the people of the Carnarvon Gorge. Each spot is accessed by individual short walking trails that splinter from the Main Gorge Track.
As you explore these offshoots from the Main Gorge Walk a range of experiences await. Climb a scenic lookout offering a birds-eye view of the dramatic landscape. Follow a creek bed to find rain perpetually falling from a sandstone wall. Scramble up beside a pretty waterfall to discover yet another deep ravine.
Cavernous rock formations reveal the story of the earth over the millennia. An art gallery and ceremonial section of the gorge wall is especially significant, telling the story of generations and generations of indigenous people who have been coming to this area for almost 20,000 years. The Main Gorge Track terminates at Big Bend. And it is here, you can choose to spend a night or more within the cavernous gorge.
Carnarvon Gorge Walking Trails
As you make your way up the Main Gorge Track, small trails breakaway, and along these Carnarvon Gorge walking trails, many wonders of the Carnarvon Gorge are hidden.
All in all, there are twelve different points of interest along or nearby the Carnarvon Gorge walking trails and plenty more walks and experiences nearby the gorge and spread over the national park. Walkers can attempt to tackle them in one or two days or over several returning each day to uncover something new.
The Carnarvon Gorge walking trails are all accessible from the visitor area and information center which also has parking, picnic tables, and untreated water. Two more walks in the Carnarvon Gorge section of the Carnarvon National Park are located before the visitor area.
- The Nature Trail
- Beginning at the information center, this 1.5-kilometer circuit offers a short and easy walk through some of the remarkable vegetation of this unique environment.
- Boolimba Bluff
- Beginning 1 kilometer up the Main Gorge Track, this moderately strenuous 4.2-kilometer return trail takes hikers up Boolimba Bluff offering views back out of the gorge from the vantage of its high walls.
- Moss Garden
- Beginning 2.8 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track, this 1.3-kilometer return trail takes walkers up to a perennial waterfall where ferns and moss are sustained by the millennia-old rain that exits the sandstone walls above.
- The Ampithearter
- Beginning 3.7 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track, the 1.2-kilometer return trail leads walkers through a narrow crevice in the gorge wall, which gives way to a giant gaping chamber carved out by water over thousands and thousands of years.
- The Art Gallery
- Beginning 5.1 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track, the short 600-meter return trail offers an incredible opportunity to witness the striking carved and painted rock art of the indigenous people that have been coming here for many thousands of years.
- Wards Canyon
- Beginning 5.9 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track, the short 540-meter return trail climbs up beside a waterfall and into the cool and shady fern-lined canyon.
- Cathedral Cave
- Found 9.1 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track, a great overhanging section of sandstone wall has provided a sacred space where Aboriginal people have gathered here for thousands of years.
- Boowinda Gorge
- Beginning 9.2 kilometers up the Main Gorge Track the Boowinda Gorge splits off from the Carnarvon Gorge taking walkers between an impossibly narrow section of the gorge. You can follow the gorge to its natural conclusion or turn back after the first 1 kilometer which is the most spectacular. It is also possible to climb out of the gorge up to Battleship Spur along an ungraded, trail, marked by an orange marker about 1 kilometer into the gorge. This is the route those undertaking the Carnarvon Great Walk will follow.
- Mickey Creek
- This 3-kilometer return trail takes walkers deep into yet another narrow gorge. This one hides more ferns and moss beneath its cool shaded walls. The trail can be accessed from the Mickey Creek trail car park, 2 kilometers before the information center.
- Rock Pool Walk
- This trail starts from the Rock Pool Car park about 1 kilometer before the visitor center. The short 600m trail takes you to the only designated swimming area in Carnarvon Gorge. It’s the perfect place to cool off after a hard days hiking.
Beyond the Carnarvon Gorge section, Carnarvon National Park has many more trails and experiences to track down if you are here for a longer time.
Carnarvon Gorge Map
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service have a basic carnarvon gorge walks map available online.
You can also see a more detailed map with track notes outside the visitor center.
Other Things to Do in Carnarvon National Park
The Carnarvon Gorge makes up just a small part of the enormous Carnarvon National Park. There is enough here to keep you busy for weeks. We have rounded up some of the signature experiences on offer in the National Park and the surrounding area.
Carnarvon Great Walk
Connecting at each end of the Carnarvon Gorge the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk is one of the top things to do in Carnarvon Gorge National Park. This 6/7 day, hike, however, is not for the faint of heart. The bush track tackles some of the most remote parts of Carnarvon as you circumnavigate the national park over 87 kilometers.
Mt Moffat Section of Carnarvon National Park
Explore and camp in the Mt Moffat Section of Carnarvon National Park via kilometers of walking trails and 4WD tracks.
Salvator Rosa Section of Carnarvon National Park
The Salvator Rosa section of the Canarvon National Park offers yet another set of adventures via camp sites, walking trails and four-wheel drive tracks traversing this naturally stunning area.
Take a Helicopter Ride Above the Gorge
What to See Near Carnarvon National Park
Located just up the road from Carnarvon Gorge is the small country town of Springsure. Any inland road trip to Carnarvon Gorge should include a stop off in this lovely town. The tiny town which sits in the shadow of the beautiful Minerva Hills (a spur running off the Carnarvon ranges) has it’s own fascinating history and is a worthy stop on any itinerary in the area.
Nuga Nuga National Park
Nuga Nuga National Park surrounds Lake Nuga Nuga, the region’s largest body of water and is home to a variety of water birds. This remote national park has no walking trails or facilities, but if you are fully self-sufficient you can camp on the shore of the lake.
Expedition National Park
Expedition National Park is another area offering short to medium bushwalking trails, and bush camping opportunities. The Expedition National Park is mostly covered by eucalypt forest and is home to the scenic Robinson Gorge.
When to Visit Carnarvon Gorge?
Carnarvon Gorge is open year-round, however, for bush walking, the best time to visit Carnarvon Gorge is in the cooler months between April and September when the temperatures are lower and the chance of rain, stroms and flooding less likely.
Be aware of school holiday times as Carnarvon Gorge is particularly busy during these times.
Where to Stay in Carnarvon Gorge?
Free Camping Carnarvon Gorge
There is no free camping close to Carnarvon Gorge but it is possible to stay for a night at the rest stop as you approach the Carnarvon Gorge. This campsite is little more than a pull-off on the road but can allow you to make an early start on the Carnarvon Gorge walking trails if you are on a road trip to see the gorge.
Other free campsites further away can be found at the rest area in Rolleston, the Staircase Range picnic area, and Lion’s Park outside of Springsure.
Carnarvon Gorge Camping
Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge
One of the best ways to experience Carnarvon Gorge is to camp at Big Bend under the stars. This hike in campsite features drop toilets and a picnic table. Space is limited to only ten sites. Bookings can be made on the QPWS website and should be booked in advance.
Carnarvon Gorge Camping Area
The Carnarvon Gorge National Park operates the Carnarvon Gorge camping area during Easter as well as the Queensland school holidays between June-July and September-October. The Carnarvon Gorge camping area is primarily suitable for tents with a few sites accessible for off-road campervans or camper trailers. The camping area is not suitable for caravans or large motorhomes.
The Carnarvon Gorge camping area offers non-flushable toilets, picnic tables and electric barbeques. Make sure to book in advance as the 35 spots fill up fast!
Carnarvon Gorge Caravan Parks
Takarakka Bush Resort & Caravan Park
Takarakka Bush Resort & Caravan Park is located just five minutes from the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor and Information Center and is open year round. This resort offers a range of accommodation from studios to cabins to tent camping and caravan powered and unpowered options.
Takarakka Bush Resort & Caravan Park also offers a Bush Bar which opens at 4:00 pm each day from mid-March to September, outdoor cooking facilities, camp fires, a general store, guided tours and more!
Prices start at $30 per night two people in an unpowered campsite, safari tent accommodation starting at $105 per night for two, and cabin accommodation starting at $175 per night.
Sandstone Park Carnarvon Gorge
Sandstone Park Carnarvon Gorge offers unpowered accommodation for tents, caravans, motorhomes, and camper trailers. As the only pet friendly location in Carnarvon Gorge, this is the perfect place for those traveling with their trusty sidekicks.
Facilities include toilets, potable water, dump points and pet kennels. There are no showers available at Sandstone Park. Sandstone Park costs $28 per night and includes up to 8 guests. The park is only open between April and September of each year.
Carnarvon Gorge Facts and Frequently Asked Questions
Is Carnarvon Gorge Worth Visiting?
There is no denying that the distances and logistics of visiting the gorge make it too difficult for a quick weekend trip. Setting some time aside to make the trip out to discover this truly spectacular natural world is a must for any Queenslander or for any visitor touring the Sunshine State.
Are There Crocodiles in Carnarvon Gorge?
Crocodiles in Queensland are found along the beaches and estuaries of North Queensland or in freshwater environments of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.
While you won’t find crocodiles you will find a host of other animals and wildlife during your time at Carnarvon Gorge. From emus to pythons to wallabies, expect to share the Carnarvon Gorge walking trails and your campsite with the many animals that call the Carnarvon Gorge home.
Is Carnarvon Gorge Pet Friendly?
Unfortunately, you cannot visit Carnarvon Gorge with dogs or other pets. As with all of Queensland’s national parks pets are not permitted. For those traveling with a pet, we recommend staying at Sandstone Park the only accommodation near Carnarvon Gorge that is pet friendly.
Can You Swim at Carnarvon Gorge?
Swimming is permitted at the Rock Pools located just before the Carnarvon Gorge visitor’s center. If you camp at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge and want to take a swim, be careful of snakes cooling off in the water as well!
Can You Camp at Carnarvon Gorge?
There are a variety of opportunities to camp in and around Carnarvon Gorge. Our personal favorite was camping at Big Bend Carnarvon Gorge.
Can You Fish at Carnarvon Gorge?
Fishing is not allowed in the Carnarvon Gorge or the Carnarvon National Park.
Can You Drive to Carnarvon Gorge?
And you should. Self-driving is the best way to get to the gorge and explore the nearby area at your own leisure.
How Was Carnarvon Gorge Formed?
The slow but unrelenting force of erosion has slowly carved this gorge out of the earth’s surface over many millions of years.
How Old Is Carnarvon Gorge?
The gorge wasn’t made in a day. In fact, it has taken over 200 million years for water to carve out this incredible geographical formation.
How Long Is Carnarvon Gorge?
The gorge is thirty kilometers long and 600 meters deep. You can walk the length or enjoy the attractions near the gorge’s entrance.
How Far is Carnarvon Gorge From Brisbane?
720km / 8hrs
Carnarvon Gorge is 720 kilometers north-west of Brisbane and takes just over eight hours to drive. A Brisbane to Carnarvon Gorge road trip makes for a great get-away either along Queensland’s coast or by driving west to Roma and taking the Great Inland Way north to the gorge.
How Many Days Do I Need to See Carnarvon Gorge?
2 days – 1 week.
The experiences available in Carnarvon Gorge can be seen over one active weekend. However, you could easily spend a week or even more discovering the attractions of the gorge and its surroundings at a slower pace.
How Long Have People Been Coming to Carnarvon Gorge?
Areas of the Carnarvon National Park have evidence of human occupation dating back around 19,500 years. Within the gorge, areas of gathering adorned with rock art are thought to have been in use for 3,650 years.
Hopefully we have covered everything you need to know for your own Carnarvon Gorge adventure, but, if you have any questions please let us know in the comments below.
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