The Central Queensland Highlands is a true hidden gem, jam-packed with epic hiking trails, natural swimming spots, and some of the state’s most unique landscapes.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures take place who have occupied and cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Exploring some of Queensland’s most unique landscapes
- The spring wildflowers
- The wildlife: emus, birds, goannas, and more
- Hiking through Carnarvon Gorge and its hidden treasures!
- One of the most pristine natural rock pools we’ve ever swum in
- Australia’s largest walk-in sapphire mine experience
- Jaw-dropping lakeside sunsets
Starting off in Brisbane, we drove a big loop of the Highlands, and then came back via the coastline. Definitely one for the books, and one we won’t be forgetting anytime soon!
Day 1 – Brisbane to Lake Nuga Nuga
Time driving: 8hr
Highlights: Arcadia Valley
After packing the car – roof racks carefully packed like tetris blocks – we hit the Warrego Highway early in the morning, ready to breathe that fresh country air.
The first day was a long drive, but we wanted to get to the Highlands without stopping overnight. Along the way, we passed through a heap of country towns.
Driving through Arcadia Valley for sunset was absolute magic after a long day of driving. The sheer cliff canyons glowing orange in the alpenglow. The brigalow trees scattered through the forests like silver snow.
Before long, we arrived at our campsite at Lake Nuga Nuga. There’s free camping all along this lake, however the dirt road to get there is 4WD only.
Luckily, we had one side of the lake to ourselves so we were happy to spend our first three nights here in the wilderness. Apart from the bugs – which did seem to desperately swarm every light turned on at night – Lake Nuga Nuga was beautiful.
Especially waking up to those milky waterfront sunsets from the tent.
Hot tip: If you’re going to camp at Lake Nuga Nuga, remember that this free campsite has no facilities or toilets, so you need to be fully self-sufficient. That means bringing a shovel so you can dig holes to do your business in and bury.
Read more: How To Poo in The Bush
Day 2 + 3 – Carnarvon Gorge / Lake Nuga Nuga
Distance: 125km each way
Time driving: 1hr 45min each way
Highlights: The Amphitheatre, rock pool, remote bush camping on a lake
After an early campsite breakfast, we hit the road for Carnarvon National Park. Being one of the main spots that inspired us to take this trip in the first place, we wanted to spend the whole day there.
Carnarvon Gorge really is a hiker’s oasis, with plenty of trails to enjoy. We took the main walking track from the visitor’s centre which split off onto various side trails leading to an array of special spots. We walked across the pristine Carnarvon Creek several times as we ventured further through the gorge.
We even spotted kangaroos having a drink from the creek. The route we took for the day was 10.8km return.
First stop along the hike was Moss Garden, a lovely walk ending at this small waterfall trickling from a lush moss-covered rock wall.
Second stop was my favourite – The Amphitheatre. Hidden inside the towering gorge walls, we walked through a narrow gap to find this 60m deep chamber. Which, on reflex, had me gaping at the wonder we’d just discovered.
Our last stop was the Art Gallery. This 62m long sandstone wall is covered in over 2000 ancient Aboriginal engravings, ochre stencils, and free-hand paintings, with stories accompanying the drawings. The Art Gallery is a sacred Aboriginal site, and it’s asked that visitors treat it with care.
After a sweaty walk back to the visitor centre, we couldn’t wait to rip the shoes off and take a refreshing dip in the nearby Rock Pools, which are just down the road from the centre.
Then it was time to drive back to Lake Nuga Nuga for another glorious camp meal.
Hot tip: Be careful driving around these remote areas at dawn and dusk, in fact, try to avoid it. Lots of wildlife like to come out at these times and are attracted to headlights.
Day 4 – Lake Nuga Nuga to Lake Maraboon
Time driving: 2hr 45min
Highlights: Emu spotting, Minerva Hills National Park
We were all pretty tired from hiking at Carnarvon Gorge, so we decided that a lay day on the lake was in order, consisting of stand-up paddleboarding and relaxing in the sunshine all day.
After three nights at Lake Nuga Nuga, we were ready for our next stay – Lake Maraboon. From one lake to the next, but before we arrived at the cabin we’d be staying at for the next two nights, a stop-off at Minerva Hills National Park was in order.
Just 4km from Springsure, these spectacular jagged peaks overshadow grassland, open forests, and hidden dry rainforest. There are a few lookouts and walking tracks in the area to choose from. For us, it was a perfect opportunity to whip out the drone!
After our stop-off, it was time to get to our lakeside cabin. We hadn’t showered in three days, so it was quite nice to freshen up in that regard. The comfy cabin overlooked the vast Lake Maraboon, Queensland’s second-largest lake, popular for jet skiing, fishing, swimming, and more. So if you love water activities, this is the spot for you.
Day 5 – Lake Maraboon to Gemfields
Distance: 70km each way
Driving distance: 1hr each way
Highlights: Australia’s largest underground walk-in sapphire mine experience
Apart from how good it was to sleep on an actual bed again after three days of camping, we woke up ready to explore the gemfields.
Just under an hour west of Emerald is a gem mining town, popular for mining sapphires and zircons. We paid Miners Heritage Walk-In Mine a visit, which is Australia’s largest underground walk-in sapphire mine experience. It was super interesting to learn all the area’s fossicking history, and how they dig for the gems.
We ended the day back at Lake Maraboon for another epic sunset from the lookout and early night.
Day 6 – Lake Maraboon to Blackdown Tableland National Park
Time driving: 2hr 30min
Highlights: Mook Mook lookout, cooking up a storm on the fire
Driving up the winding road to Blackdown Tableland was a true treat. From the bottom of the range visible through the trees to the granite boulders scattered through the forest.
A quick heads up: most of the dirt roads in Blackdown are corrugated so be prepared for a bumpy ride throughout the national park.
Upon reaching the first car park on top of the range, there’s the Yaddamen Dhina lookout which gives a gorgeous view over the valley. We also spotted some vibrant wildflowers along this short trail that only takes 10 minutes to walk to the lookout and back.
We set up camp in the national park at Munall Campground, about 10 minutes down the dirt road. It only costs around $6 per person per night for a site, but bookings are essential, and there are a few trails within walking distance from the campground.
After setting up camp, we walked the Goon Goon Dhina track first, which is a 2.5km loop trail and mostly flat the whole way. We heard pobblebonk frogs chiming in from the nearby swamps and got to see some amazing rock face displays of artwork from the traditional Ghungalu people.
Seeking a sunset view, we caught the last of the daylight at Mook Mook lookout, which is an easy 1.2km trail also within walking distance from the campgrounds. Here we were blessed with alpenglow spraying across the cliff faces.
Since this was our fourth night camping on the trip, we were just getting better and better with the campsite cook-ups. That night, it was chorizo and veggie skewers grilled over the fire. Yum!
Read more: How to Cook Fire Pit Five Spice Wraps
Day 7 + 8 – Blackdown Tableland / Agnes Water
Time driving: 4hr 45min
Highlights: Rainbow Falls rock pool, Workmans Beach, Paperbark Walk
After breakfast, we were keen to check out the main attraction in Blackdown: Rainbow Falls, the Instagram-famous rock pools. Sometimes when you see something online, it isn’t as great in person. But Rainbow Falls was just as incredible as they are in the photos!
Two deep rock pools along a 30 minute trail from Rainbow Falls car park. One pool cascading into the other below. The water was crystal-clear and just the right temperature to jump and soak in the freshwater.
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
Blackdown Tablelands was a great way to end our time in the Central Queensland Highlands.
Day 9 – Agnes Water to Brisbane
Time driving: 5hr 30min
Highlights: Our own beds!
After leaving the national park, we drove back east-bound to the coast, staying in Agnes Water for two days for some relaxation and beachside therapy to rejuvenate before the drive back down to Brisbane.
- 4WD (only if you plan on going to Lake Nuga Nuga)
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Camping gear
- Plenty of water
- Blow up boats and stand up paddleboards
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
A mix of sealed and dirt roads. A GPS will get you safely to all locations, however, if heading to Lake Nuga Nuga, this should only be attempted in a 4WD.
Distance / Time Spent Driving / Days
2367km / 29 hr / 9 Days
Drone photos courtesy of Bernadine O’Neill