As you walk along the trails at Carnarvon Gorge, it’s impossible not to be blown away by the sheer beauty all around you. Towering cliff faces, trickling creeks dotted with stepping stones, kangaroos grabbing a snack in the shade and awe-inspiring sites like Moss Garden, Amphitheatre and Wards Canyon await. There’s an abundance of wildlife, dramatic scenery and a sense of magic in the air. Whether you’re a grey nomad, avid adventurer or fun family, Carnarvon Gorge is a must-visit destination. It’s a uniquely Australian experience and a very special spot you won’t soon forget. To help you plan your own visit or simply inspire you to go, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Carnarvon Gorge.
But first, watch this…
How to get to Carnarvon Gorge
You’ll find Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland’s central highlands, 720km north-west of Brisbane, in an area known as the Sandstone Wilderness. To get there we drove from Yeppoon, an amazing beach town located along the Queensland coast. We took the drive very slowly, stopping many times along the way to photograph/film and rest and it took us a little over 6 hours. Given its remote location, you will definitely need a car to get to Carnarvon Gorge (unless you’re an eccentric billionaire with a private helicopter).
If you’re on a road trip adventure you can just drive to Carnarvon Gorge National Park from your last location. If you need to fly first, you’ve got quite a few options as there are many fantastic Queensland country towns in the area. Depending on how much time you’ve got and the type of adventure you’re planning you may like to spend a little time in one of these wonderful towns then slowly make your way to Carnarvon Gorge National Park. If you’re low on time, choosing a closer airport is your best bet.
You could fly into Emerald (3 1/2 hours drive), Roma (3 1/2 hours drive), Rockhampton (5 hours drive), Gladstone (5 1/2 hours), Bundaberg (7 hours) Longreach (7 1/2 hours drive), or Brisbane (9 hours). No matter what you decide, you’ll need a car and I recommend an SUV or 4WD as the drive is no joke and you’ll need a reliable vehicle that can handle bumps in the road.
I strongly recommend you have essential supplies in your car, like plenty of water, snacks, a way to call for help and a first-aid kit, just in case. I also strongly recommend you avoid driving at dusk and into the night, especially if you’re not experienced on Australian roads as there are kangaroos, cattle and a lot of wildlife that can be on the roads at these times.
Where to stay in Carnarvon Gorge
What’s great about Carnarvon Gorge is there’s accommodation for every budget and travel preference! Here’s a look at our experience and some details on luxe, less and tour options.
We stayed at Takarakka Bush Resort and absolutely loved it. Open all-year-round, ‘Taka,’ as it’s lovingly known, offers a range of accommodation from camping through to glamping. We stayed in one of the ‘Kookaburra Studios,’ which reminded me of a shipping container which has been totally tricked out and turned into a personal oasis. There are a small number of studios, secreted away from other Taka accommodations so there’s an exclusive, private feel and the studios are modern, fresh and very comfortable.
Our studio featured a very comfortable Queen bed, air-conditioning and a fan, a desk, mini-fridge private deck and ensuite bathroom. A few short steps from the entrance to the studio is the shared kitchen area, exclusive to studio guests only. Here, you’ll find dining tables and chairs and absolutely everything you could possibly need to cook a delicious dinner. There’s a BBQ, gas cooktop, pots and pans, knives, fridge, microwave and myriad of cooking implements.
We loved sitting on the private deck of our studio, enjoying snacks and drinks at sunset. Then, we’d wander over to the kitchen area to cook and eat dinner. Given the location of Carnarvon Gorge, you’ll need to bring your food with you so be sure to stock up before you drive out. If you do forget something, don’t worry, Taka has a great little shop at the reception that’s kitted out with everything from salt and pepper to veggies, breakfast cereals, snacks, ice creams and even booze!
The trailhead at Carnarvon Gorge National Park, giving you access to all the great bushwalking you’ll want to do, is only a short 4km drive from Taka. During your stay, you’ll have the opportunity to meet wallabies, kangaroos, a huge range of birdlife, echidna and even a few cheeky platypus! Like I said, we loved our stay and whether you go with a studio, cottage, explorer cabin, safari tent or camping/caravaning site, I highly recommend Taka. We visited during the height of summer which, as I’ll go into a little better further on, isn’t exactly high season but the lovely staff told us that during high season they have fantastic dinners, music and games on the deck near the reception. Just perfect!
As I mentioned, you can camp or set up your caravan at Takarakka Bush Resort or get cosy in one of their safari tents. By far the cheapest option has to be camping Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area which should cost around $6.55 per adult, per night. You can check the camping fees here and, please note, you will need a camping permit. You can find more information on camping at the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area here.
If you decide to go camping at the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area, be sure to book as spots here really do fill up quickly. There are only 35 sites and the vast majority are tented sites, with a small number being suitable for off-road campervans or camper trailers. It’s easy to see why this spot is popular as there are good facilities, including coin-operated showers (BYO stash of $1 coins!), picnic tables, BBQs, toilets and fresh water facilities. Given it’s a National Park you will need to bring all your supplies with you and, importantly, take everything out too. This includes all your rubbish! Be sure to leave our beautiful country just as you found it (or better!).
Taka offers camping and other accommodation all year-round and you can also find camping options seasonally at the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge and Sandstone Park. It’s such a beautiful destination I just don’t think you can go wrong – no matter where you stay, you’ll be surrounded by Australia’s stunning bushland and some of our gorgeous animals too. Carnarvon Gorge is a very special place.
Things to do in Carnarvon Gorge
In my opinion, a visit to Carnarvon Gorge is all about getting outdoors and immersing yourself in the Australian bush. It’s a place Matt and I had both heard of and knew about but hadn’t ever thought to make the effort to visit. The second we arrived, we were both so grateful to be there and so glad to experience it. There’s just a little bit of Australian bush magic in the air and the best way to make the most of it is to delve into the gorge.
There’s a wide range of walking trails in Carnarvon Gorge and, right upfront, I would recommend you download this PDF ‘Sandstone Belt Guide,’ as it’s wonderfully detailed, containing a wealth of information on the different walking trails. I also recommend you consult the Queensland Government website about Carnarvon Gorge here for the latest version of the guide and essential additional information. This is also where you’ll find park alerts containing vital insight to any closures, maps and additional guides.
The vast majority of walking trails all start from the same spot at the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area. Essentially, you follow the one path through the gorge the whole way, veering off to follow shorter paths to the left or right, which will take you to different sites. The various trails range in distance and difficulty and there really is something for everyone.
For a short walk followed by a cooling swim, you might like to visit Rock Pool, a trail and destination well-suited to families or those keen to chill out. The 1km return stroll to Baloon Cave is also a great pick for families and will take you past Aboriginal rock art too.
Matt and I decided to hoof it out to Wards Canyon, a 9.2km return journey which wasn’t terribly challenging, just tiring. We did the big walk out to Wards first then, along the way back, ducked into Amphitheatre and Moss Garden. All up, I would estimate we walked about 15-17km. We packed our lunch and snacks, hit the trail just before 6 am and made sure to take plenty of time to rest and rehydrate. This is absolutely essential – you must take every safety precaution possible in the Australian bush and drinking plenty of water and resting are a big part of it.
In addition to exploring the various walking trails in the Gorge, we also made the most of the activities on offer at our accommodation. We made friends with wallabies and kangaroos, sat outdoors on our deck relishing the golden afternoon light as we sipped a cold beer, tried our best to spot shy echidna and platypus and toasted marshmallows on the fire.
Best time to visit
When planning your visit to Carnarvon Gorge, it’s important to be aware of Australia’s intense summer weather conditions and take these into consideration. The best time to visit is anywhere between April and September when you’ll find the temperatures much cooler and better suited to all those outdoor activities you’re going to want to do.
If you visit during the summer months, you need to expect incredibly hot weather. Our visit to Carnarvon Gorge was part of a job we did for Capricorn Enterprise, filming some promotional videos about the region. As a result, our visit had to happen in early February and trust me when I tell you it was dangerously hot. On the day we drove into Carnarvon Gorge National Park the car thermometer showed the temperature at 45°C.
If you aren’t from a very hot climate or are unfamiliar with Australian weather conditions, I have to strongly advise against visiting during summer. We’re experienced with this type of weather, took every safety precaution possible and still found the heat scary at times. If you have no choice but to visit in summer, you’ll need to carry a lot of water with you when bushwalking in the Gorge. You’ll also need to wake up very early, I would recommend hitting the trail no later than 5am (pack a headlight/torch) and plan to get out of the Gorge no later than 10am. Wear a hat, rest often and drink lots of water.
Visit in the winter months and you may even find heavy frosts occurring with temperatures occasionally falling below freezing! Queensland’s storm season runs mostly from December through to March but, as any local will tell you, you just never know when a wild storm will come rolling through. Heavy rains can make many unsealed roads in the region impassable. I have to say, I love how raw and unrelenting Australia’s weather can be. It’s a testament to the traditional landowners who survived here for so long.
What to pack
When it comes to packing for your Carnarvon Gorge trip, what you take with you will depend largely on the time of year you visit. That said, there are a few essential you will definitely need:
- Refillable water bottle or camelback that can hold a large volume of water, especially if doing the long 19km return track
- SunSmart gear including a hat and sunscreen
- Swimmers, so you can go for a dip and cool off in spots like Rock Pool
- Comfortable and appropriate walking shoes or boots. Matt wore proper hiking boots and I wore waterproof trail sneakers, both were fine
- A backpack for your camera, water and lunch
- A few comfortable walking outfits appropriate for the time of year you’re visiting. We visited in summer, as mentioned, and wore very lightweight shorts and tops with sweat-wicking abilities
- A few outfits for relaxing back at your accommodation, appropriate for the time of year you’re visiting. In summer this is more likely to be shorts, t-shirts and summer dresses. In winter, it’s more likely to be jeans, jumpers, beanies and a very good coat.
- A waterproof coat or similar, for storm season visitors.
Top tips for visiting Carnarvon Gorge
- Time your visit to coincidence with some of the fantastic regional festivals and events held in the Capricorn and Sandstone Wilderness regions. You’ll find some wonderful events on the calendar and it’s a great way to experience part of what makes regional Queensland so very special.
- Deciding how long to stay will depend on how much time you have and your budget. Two or three full days would be sufficient for a quick visit while a week or so would be great too, especially for families with little ones.
- Mobile coverage can be limited and there wasn’t any wifi where we stayed so expect the opportunity to disconnect from the internet and reconnect with nature. You may like to bring that book you’ve been meaning to read!
- Don’t leave home without adequate storage for water (i.e. a camelback or water bottles), sunscreen, hat, insect repellent and a very good pair of walking shoes (shout-out to the UK guy we met who did the 19.4km return trip barefoot!)
- Stock up on food at a grocery store in one of the country towns you visit or depart from. You’ll need an esky/cooler and plenty of ice to keep your cold items fresh. be prepared to take out everything you bring in.
- Drive safely! This means observing speed limits, taking time to rest and refresh on long drives and keeping an eye out for bumps in the road and wildlife.
- Don’t underestimate Australian weather conditions. I’ve mentioned it a lot and it isn’t meant to scare you, I just worry about visitors from overseas who aren’t familiar with our unique and harsh weather conditions. It would be very easy to underestimate the heat and not have enough water or to underestimate storms and try to cross a flooded road. Please do your research, be prepared for any situation and be cautious. We want you to have a great time when you visit our beautiful country!
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