Dip down into dark, ego-dwarfing gorges, then wander high above it all on the awe-inspiring plateau known as the ‘Roof Of Queensland’. The Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk will take you to troughs of humility and peaks of elation as you camp and hike through its wilderness.
- Aboriginal cave art
- Gorgeous gorges
- Remote and ‘real’ bush hiking
- Beautiful plateaus
The Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk
A few months back, I set off with a motley crew of uni students to hit Carnarvon Gorge for a 90+ kilometre walk.
Carnarvon is really far from Brisbane. Like ten hours far. There’s a main, bookable camping site for the drive-ins, and plenty of accessible sights from there, including enormous gorges and Aboriginal cave paintings.
Aboriginal rangers, such as 2017 Queensland Great Fred Conway and his team of seasonal rangers, are available to explain the cultural significance of Carnarvon Gorge, which he says wouldn’t have been inhabited or hunted in by the local Bidjara and the Karingbal people, but instead was used a sacred birthing and burial place.
For those looking to stretch the legs, the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk will take you onto the Roof Of Queensland (so named as it is the highest elevation plateau in central Queensland) before getting stuck into the good ol’ bush camping for about a week.
The Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk is closed from the start of November to the end of February – to avoid the hottest part of the year.
Day 1 – Carnarvon Gorge camping area to Big Bend
Distance: Approaching 15km including the side trips (10km without)
Time: 6 hours
Day 1 will take you from the Carnarvon Gorge camping area to Big Bend. There’s a tonne of side trips on the way, which you’ll definitely want to see: Moss Gardens, Cathedral Caves, an Art Gallery of Aboriginal paintings, and more.
The walk crosses a lot of beautiful streams with great views of towering rock formations. Big Bend campsite is next to a creek nestled at the base of plateau. If you walk up the river a bit, there are spots deep enough to jump in and cool down. Pretty sweet, and probably the best day in terms of sights.
If you’re only able to do a shorter trip, this part of the walk will have you covered.
Day 2 – Big Bend to Gadd’s Walker’s Camp
Time: 7 hours
Rise and shine! Follow the gorges for a bit, they’ll make you feel tiny in the best way. Then comes a pretty hectic summit up Battleship Spur; 650m of elevation in 4km. Look for the piles of rocks on your way so you don’t miss the turnoff! Also, be careful of dislodging loose rocks – not only for yourself but for people below you.
You’ll be treated to great views at the top after your hard work. You’re now on the Roof Of Queensland! Enjoy the views and have an early lunch. It’s just another 10km of bush walking to your campsite, Gadd’s Walkers’ Camp.
Day 3 – Gadd’s Walker’s Camp to West Branch Walker’s Camp
Time: 6 hours
Day 3 isn’t as steep as yesterday’s walk up Battleship Spur, but it’s a consistent incline and may wear down your spirits. Songs and stories with your hiking buddies are the recommended remedy. This day is just under 16km, and is pretty straightforward.
During this middle part of the walk, keep your wits about you as often the path is just a faint trail in the grass. You’ll probably get to camp – West Branch Walker’s Camp – by early afternoon. Time to chill out and have yourselves a merry night!
Day 4 – West Branch Walker’s Camp to Consuelo Camping Zone
Time: 7-8 hours
Day 4 is on the heavier end of the kilometres; you’ll be doing 18km and it’s still uphill for the most part. I prefer to split my days into two chunks when I’m approaching 20km or more in a day, finding a nice spot for a lunch and a nap in between. Others prefer to power through and just get to camp and chill.
Whatever works for you, make sure you’re not hiking alone and keep hydrated! As you come to the end of the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk, you’ll gladly notice that the vegetation changes to a cooler, wetter type. The predominant trees here are Silvertop Stringybarks and Sydney Blue Gums.
Day 4 is also when you reach the tippy top of the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt. Take some time to appreciate your place in this vast and incredible country!
Day 5 – Consuelo Camping Zone to Cabbage Tree Camping Zone
Time: 4 hours
Day five takes you just under 14km to Cabbage Tree Camping Zone. This day might be worth doubling up with day 6, as it’s fairly monotonous bush.
At the campsite, I discovered that scorpions do indeed exist in Australia. The more you know, right?
Day 6 – Cabbage Tree Camping Zone to Civilisation
Time: 6 hours
After about 40km of sloggin’ through the bush, you’ll finally get some more views of the tablelands! Pretty sweet stuff throughout the final leg of the walk.
When you get back down and people ask if you just came from Big Bend, you can sneer at them like the superior, dirty hiker you are tell them you took the long way, 90km around.
After descending endless stairs using your new rock hard, steel-strength thighs, you’ll get back to the main camp. Enjoy the showers at the normal people’s camp and keep an eye out for echidnas, which we spotted close by.
There’s a swimming hole 5 minutes drive from the camp (or 20 minutes walk for the sadists amongst you who aren’t sick of walking yet) which is an absolute delight after so much walking.
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag
- Warm clothes (the nights can be chilly)
- Sun protective, breathable hiking clothes
- Ankle-supportive footwear
- Official map (or one with appropriate scale and topographic detail)
- First aid kit & training
- Food for six nights (spare, high-calorie food for extra days is a good idea)
- Water filtration device/purification tablets/UV light
See here for downloadable packing list for overnight hikes.
How To Get There
To get to the main campsite at the start of the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk it’s a ten hour journey 720km north-west of Brisbane to Queensland’s central highlands. Go past Roma towards Emerald until you get to the turn-off.
Be road smart and swap drivers regularly, or take extended breaks. There are plenty of roos on this road. We were unlucky enough to hit one and one of our cars had to turn back to Brisbane and organise a replacement car due to damage. This happened in the middle of the day with moderate traffic!
- Wild swimming
- Significant Aboriginal site
You need an advanced level of skill and fitness to tackle the Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk. You should have done a multi-day hike previously; probably several multis. You should know how to safely carry a fully loaded pack and be able to walk 10-20kms a day.
Although not technically difficult, this is a long-distance, strenuous trail in hot conditions and in a remote location. Assess your skill level conservatively.
Distance Covered / Time Taken
93km / 6 days