focusing on Carnarvon Gorge, Qld Carnarvon Gorge, Qld As chairman of Tourism Australia and a former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer has clocked up more travel miles than most people have had hot dinners. In the sixth of his exclusive columns for AT, Fischer traces the meandering path of Carnarvon Gorge in the Carnarvon National Park in central Queensland.
Carnarvon Gorge, Qld
As chairman of Tourism Australia and a former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer has clocked up more travel miles than most people have had hot dinners. In the sixth of his exclusive columns for AT, Fischer traces the meandering path of Carnarvon Gorge in the Carnarvon National Park in central Queensland.
There are many reasons for adding Carnarvon Gorge to my list of Secret Spots – and, hopefully, to your checklist of places to see. Some visit because of its geological significance, others for its ready access to such a high concentration of puzzling Indigenous cultural relics in such a small area. Many more simply because its walks are delightful, it’s incredibly rich in natural flora and fauna, and there’s a peacefulness to the place that surpasses most others. For me, it’s one of those areas I like to get to every couple of years for peace of mind and soul.
Lying roughly 600 kms northwest of Brisbane, the gorge cuts through thick wilderness for some 35 kms – at times to a depth of 600 metres – in the heart of the 3000km² Carnarvon National Park, and is a mixture of easy walks, challenging climbs, tranquil pools, steep rock faces, campsites and low-impact tourist facilities. Entering on the eastern edge of the park along the Carnarvon Highway and using the Park Headquarters as a reference point, you’ll familiarise yourself first with the main walking track, before tackling the various sidetracks, smaller gorges and steeper spurs. In all there are around 20 points at which the walking trails cross over (and through) Carnarvon Creek, which, over the millennia, is responsible for the gorge’s creation.
The revamped Moss Gardens, one of the smaller sidetrack walks inside Violet Gorge, is only a short distance from the main track, and is an absolute cut above the average, with a delicacy and a diversity that leaves you in awe. While utterly natural, the place still manages to give off the appearance of a tidy, formal garden, with dense ferns, mosses and liverworts covering the vertical walls – there’s even a small waterfall acting as a centrepiece. Non-intrusive boardwalks and viewing platforms provide a superb means of experiencing everything this fragile micro-habitat has to offer, without impacting the environment at all – an excellent and important aspect of the area if it’s to be conserved for future generations of inquisitive visitors.
There are crystal-clear waters of around ankle depth flowing the entire length of the gorge at most times throughout the year, with the optimum periods to visit being between April and October, when it’s neither too hot nor too chilly for the various walks – some of which require reasonable athleticism.
The clarity of the water is particularly odd and impressive, when you consider that these were the very waters that carved the gorge from the soft sandstone over millions of years. A warning, though: hikers should carry their own water with them, since the creek water, when untreated, is undrinkable. There are also several areas within the gorge that provide perfect opportunities for spotting platypi, with your chances greatly increased the nearer you are to either dawn or dusk.
Both the Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave house stunning examples of Indigenous rock art dating back tens of thousands of years; the gorge was last lived in by an Aboriginal population as recently as the 1870s, yet the significance and meaning of much of the works here remain a mystery. Hundreds of small and large handprints adorn the walls, as well as stencils and engravings of boomerangs, axes, leaves and curious cross-hatchings in ochre and ash.
For the sturdier walkers and climbers, the views from Boolimba Bluff and right up on top of Battleship Spur (a favourite from my younger days – it’s what could be described generously as an “energetic” climb), especially on the night of a full moon rising, are uplifting. Boolimba Bluff is just over three kilometres from the main camping area – but is some 200m above the gorge floor and is reached with the aid of stone steps, steel ladders and your own mettle. “Fit people” are encouraged via signs to continue at this point; others are encouraged to reconsider.
Carnarvon Gorge’s main problem as I see it is that there is next to zero profile for the region beyond Queensland – it really is one of Australia’s best-kept tourism secrets – and yet it’s just an easy two-day drive from Sydney (two and
a half from Melbourne and just one from Brisbane), and it features a range of facilities from lodge accommodation through to some excellent camping grounds.
When I returned from a very hectic and dangerous week observing the Independents’ ballot in East Timor in 1999, I took my family to Carnarvon Gorge for a few days to unwind. More recently, I made a quick visit for a fast walk up the main spine of the gorge to soak up its beauty. It’s a place that can be equally enjoyed over a leisurely week of intimate exploration, or in short bursts
to clear the head and be struck all over again by its magnificence. I urge you to take the time to trace its wandering path.
DETAILS: Carnarvon Gorge
WHERE: Carnarvon National Park is 593 kms northwest of Brisbane – about a nine-hour drive – and the gorge itself, on the eastern edge, is the most accessible and popular portion of the park.
BEST TIME TO GO: April to October, although zero-degree nights aren’t uncommon in winter, and neither are 40-degree days in summer.
NOTE: The superb Amphitheatre walk, 4.1 kms from the main camping ground, is currently closed due to rock falls. Call (07) 4984 4505 for updated info.