Go west my friend! Out of Brisbane to Carnarvon Gorge where the air is sweet. With wild swimming, clifftop sunsets, camping and night-hiking, Carnarvon National Park has enough activities on offer to make it more than worth hitting the road.
- Easy multi-day hike in an incredible national park
- Camping in the middle of the beautiful Carnarvon Gorge
- Sunset on Boolimba Bluff
- Secluded river swims
- Beach stop-off on the way home
Escape to Carnarvon Gorge
The Queensland Ekka Wednesday public holiday inspired us to escape the crowds and head west to Carnarvon Gorge for a much needed wilderness escape. We wanted to create our own long weekend, with a cheeky beach trip to split up the long drive home.
Carnarvon National Park is a spectacular area formed by old floodplains which have eroded over time, creating a river and carving out the sandstone. There is one main walk that runs through Carnarvon Gorge, with four side tracks leading off to amazing natural rock formations.
You can hit the full walk with the four side tracks in one day (nine hours return, approx 20-25km). Or you can split the walk into two days by hiking into the Big Bend campsite at the end.
We chose to do the latter and spend the night under the huge rock faces.
The walk is mostly flat and easy but you can choose to see amazing viewpoints from the top of the gorge at Boolimba Bluff at the beginning of the trail, or hike up to Battleship Spur at the end. Both are quite steep and require higher fitness levels.
Note: Hiking boots are not recommended for this park as the path can be very stoney or sandy at times – lighter footwear is ideal. Drones are also prohibited in the Carnarvon National Park.
We had every intention of rising at 5.00am and leaving Brisbane at 5:30am, but that didn’t quite go according to plan, due to a string of sneaky snooze button hits. After leaving Brisbane at 7:30am for the long drive, we pit stopped in Toowoomba for grocery shopping, with further breaks in Dalby, Roma and finally Injune for the final fuel stop before entering the park.
We arrived at Takarakka Bush Resort at 6:15pm and set up our tent for the night.
Sleeping in a little again (holiday mode) we eventually rose to the sounds of birdlife and packed our hiking bags to head into the park at around 10.30am. The beginning of the trail is a 10 minute drive from the Takarakka Bush Resort.
Skipping the first side trail up to Boolimba Bluff, we continued through the many river crossings (eighteen in total) and lush forest.
The second side-trail is the Moss Garden (1.2km return from the main track). Here, the temperature drops and the sandstone walls turn into a green haven next to a small waterfall. We reached the Moss Garden at 12:10pm and left our packs closer to the main track to avoid carrying them for longer.
Continuing on, the second side trail is the amphitheatre which was my favourite Carnarvon Gorge trail. 900m return from the main track, the amphitheatre is a huge 60m deep chamber gouged from the rock by running water. To access it, you climb a series of ladders through a small crack in the gorge wall and emerge into a hidden oasis of ferns, completely surrounded by towering rock.
The temperature within the amphitheatre drops considerably.
After a lunch by the stream, we powered through to the Big Bend camping area. We arrived at 4:30pm and this last stretch made it a total of 11km that day.
The Big Bend camping area has a picnic table and drop toilet amenities. There are ten camping spots available which must be booked online. We set up camp next to the embankment so we could sleep to the sound of the running stream, and refreshed our muscles in the icy water before settling in for the night.
Rising early this time (finally!) at 7am, we downed a quick breakfast, packed a day-pack and headed up Boowinda Gorge side trail towards Battleship Spur, leaving our tent to be disassembled on our return.
After walking for an hour through a stony gorge with curved overhanging faces, we reached a marked point where it’s possible to climb out of the gorge.
Hike to Battleship Spur
Here you can choose to continue to Battleship Spur which is a three hour return hike to the Big Bend camping area, and is said to have some of the best views of the park.
We decided to head up, but didn’t continue all the way to Battleship Spur due to time constraints – instead stopping just after the climb for a view and heading back down (2 hr return, approx 5km).
Returning to camp we packed our tent and started the trek back, leaving at 11am. With warm weather on our visit, the cool water was just too inviting.
We detoured slightly off track just after Cathedral Cave to an overhanging swimming hole and again refreshed our muscles in the icy water. We couldn’t resist a second dip at another swimming hole which we accessed via a worn pathway on the left just after the Art Gallery.
Ward’s Canyon and Return
Cool and refreshed, we continued to Wards Canyon (450m return from the main track). Here we found a shady canyon and waterfall filled with ferns and intricate rock formations, including the elusive King Fern. Skipping the Art Gallery side track, we powered back to the beginning of the trek, arriving at 3:30pm (14km total so far).
From here we returned to Takarakka to set up our tents in the daylight, had a quick snack and then drove back to the beginning of the track to climb Boolimba Bluff for sunset.
Sunset at Boolimba Bluff
Boolimba Bluff is a 6.4km, three hour return hike, but we somehow made it up the hill in only forty five minutes (with very sore legs), leaving Takarakka at 4:30pm. Up top we were the only ones around and we were treated to a cloudless, pastel sunset overlooking the white stone faces of the gorge.
Staying after sunset, we set up the tripod for some galaxy shots and watched the stars emerge. At 7:45pm we headed back to camp for a much needed dinner and sleep. This brought our total hiking tally to approximately 30km.
Rising early again, we packed the tent and car and left for the east coast (five and a half hours away) to split up our drive home and relax our weary legs. After arriving at Tannum Sands at 2:30pm the afternoon was spent lazing at the beach.
Home time! This was the morning we faced our fears and headed back to Brisbane (another five hours of driving), arriving in the early afternoon to conclude our mini escape.
- Minimum 4L of water each
- Food for 4 days
- Hiking Tent
- Sleeping bag
- Hiking clothing
- Light footwear
- Emergency first aid pack
How To Get There
Carnarvon National Park is located in the Central Highlands of Queensland, a 9-hour drive from Brisbane. The turnoff is halfway between Injune and Rolleston.
Although it is remote, road upgrades were completed in June 2017 and it is now accessible by 2WD. There is camping available at the nearby Takarakka Bush Resort or the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge. More camping also opens in the park closer to the visitors centre during school holidays.
Note: Injune and Rolleston are the last towns with fuel before entering the park. Ensure that you fill up your vehicle at these points. Rolleston is 65km inland from the Carnarvon turnoff, and Injune is 111km south-east.
- Wild swimming
This will be dependent on your choices. The main trail is relatively flat. The hike in and out plus side trails, Boowinda Gorge and Boolimba Bluff climb was approx 30km.