November 28, 2020

Queensland's dramatic Carnarvon Gorge

(c) Tourism Queensland

The blockbuster scenery of Queensland's Carnarvon Gorge draws visitors from all over the country. Len and Phensri Rutledge find a serene undertone to the dramatic vistas.

My wife loves the Australian bush. The smell of the gum trees, the quietness, the feeling of solitude and the opportunity to be with nature appeals to her mind and soul. She likes nothing better than walking a track through the bush and experiencing the sights and sounds of Australia.

We have just been to Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland. My wife has decided that the 19.4-km-return main walking track through the gorge is the best bushwalk in Australia. That is a big call, but she could well be correct. It is spectacular.

Carnarvon Gorge National Park is remote from most cities. It is 740 km north-west of Brisbane and 450 km south-west of Rockhampton. This gives it a special attraction as you finally see towering white sandstone cliffs above the distant treeline after driving across endless dry plains.

After leaving the Carnarvon Development Road, a 40-km-long access road leads to the park. This road is bituminised but check road conditions as Carnarvon Creek rises rapidly after rain and this can cut the road. If it’s flooded, forget it! It’s the splendid isolation and the cool and moist oasis within the dry environment of central Queensland that helps create the atmosphere that makes this place so special.

Visitor area and start of walk
Visitor area and start of walk (Phensri Rutledge)

Visitor area

Start your Carnarvon Gorge adventure at the Visitor Centre, which is a few kilometres by unsealed road from the park entrance. Here you can talk to a Park Ranger for tips on enjoying your visit and collect an information sheet on the area. 

Nearby are flush toilets, electric barbecues and picnic tables. This is a good place to relax with a picnic in the grassy day-use area, shaded by towering eucalypts and slender fan palms while accompanied by eastern grey kangaroos, lazing in the shade. Large parking areas are available for day use and the area is open 24 hours.

At night, don a headlamp and spotlight in the trees for possums and gliders. You will also see echidnas strolling about. There are many bird species to be seen during the day and the call of yellow-bellied gliders, owls and the bush stone curlew are often heard after dark.

The park's creeks attract a wide variety of animals including more than 170 species of birds.

The main gorge walk

Main path creek crossing

This is a beautiful meandering trail that follows Carnarvon Creek for 9.7 km to Big Bend Campground. While this trek is very attractive on its own, it’s the numerous side-trips to specific attractions that make this walk so spectacular. I recommend leaving early in the morning and heading to the furthest place you want to walk to, then do the much shorter sidewalks on your way back.

The track follows Carnarvon Creek, crossing it several times, and it traverses interesting forest of eucalypts, casuarinas, cycads, palms and ferns. It is relatively flat for most of the way but there are many sets of small steps which can be a challenge on the way back when your legs are tired. It provides spectacular views of many sheer cliffs and headlands.

The Art Gallery

Aboriginal art in The Art Gallery

This is a 10.8 km return walk from the Visitor Area and was as far as we went. There are over 2000 stencils, engravings and freehand paintings along the 62m-long sandstone walls. It is one of the most impressive indigenous art sites you will ever see. A boardwalk, fencing and interpretive signage now keep hands away from the delicate sandstone and artworks.

The fragile art on the gorge walls reflects a rich culture. Ochre stencils of hands, tools, weapons, ornaments and ceremonial objects provide an insight into the lives of the gorge's first people who lived in this area for several thousand years.

Wards Canyon

A short steep climb through towering spotted gums leads past Lower Aijon Falls to the entrance of this beautiful side gorge.

Entering Ward’s Canyon is like stepping back in time. It is home to the world’s largest fern, the king fern, and is the only place in Central Queensland where these plants survive. At the end of the canyon is a shaded pool fed by Upper Aijon Falls.

The Amphitheatre

We discovered splendid natural architecture, created over tens of thousands of years by running water, in this side branch of the gorge. The 500m track leading here is steep in parts and very attractive but it doesn’t prepare you fully for what is to come.

Attractive forest Carnarvon Gorge

Prepare to be blown away after you climb the metal stairs and pass through the small opening before emerging into a 60m deep chamber, cut into the sandstone. This is a place for quiet contemplation—the towering stone walls and natural skylight create an awe-inspiring atmosphere. If you happen to be here alone, you will not want to leave.

The Moss Garden

Turn off the main track and climb into a sheltered side gorge, a haven of rainforest, moss-covered rocks and soaring cliffs. The Moss Garden will impress you with its serenity. There are shades of green everywhere, where water constantly drips from the sandstone above.

At the end of the boardwalk, a small waterfall cascades over the sandstone ledge. Elegant tree ferns shade a carpet of lush mosses, liverworts and ferns. Seating is provided, enabling you to sit back and relax, taking in this lush environment.


Camping in the Carnarvon Gorge visitor area is only available during the Easter, June-July and September-October Queensland school holidays. The Big Bend camping area, reached by a 19.4km return walk, is open all year. Camping permits are required and fees apply. The main camping area can be reached by conventional and 4WD vehicles and trailers. The road may be impassable for vehicles during wet weather as creeks may flood.

Alternate accommodation is available just outside the national park all year round at Takarakka Bush Resort where self-contained accommodation through to glamping, caravanning or camping is available. Seasonally accommodation is available at the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge which has 30 timber and canvas safari cabins, and at Sandstone Park which has camping and caravanning facilities.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

All material (c) Copyright unless noted otherwise.

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