The complete guide to Carnarvon Gorge National Park
If you thought all national parks looked the same, Carnarvon National Park bucks the trend.
This national park is an outback oasis punctuated by towering sandstone cliffs, prehistoric cycads and more than 2,000 indigenous artworks – to name a few of its best assets.
Throw in a biosphere home to 173 species of birds, 60 different mammals, 22 kinds of frogs and 90 types of reptiles, and you can see why some 70,000 people visit this 200 million-year-old landscape every year.
Carnarvon National Park is equal parts culturally and ecologically significant, and it’s yours to discover just 268km north of Roma.
To help you plan your trip to this oasis of the outback, here’s everything you need to know about Carnarvon National Park.
What’s so special about Carnarvon National Park
Central Queensland is well known for being arid, so an oasis in the middle of it? Well, that’s worth visiting.
The geography draws visitors to this national park, with its promise of white sandstone cliffs, a deep gorge (and a series of mini ones), along with green creeks that run through its landscape.
Combine this with cultural history that makes the 2000-year-old cycads look young, and you can see why it’s one of these must visit national parks in Queensland.
Inside this national park you can see rock art, engravings and free-hand paintings which serve a continuing reminder of Aboriginal people’s connection with this land.
Trials of Carnarvon National Park
Lace up your bushwalking boots. Carnarvon National Park is home to a Great Walk and half a dozen or so shorter trails to explore.
If you’re not planning to stay overnight, we’d recommend one of two-day walks:
The Big Day Out (19.4km return, 8 hours)
If you’ve got a day to spare, tackle The Big Day Out return trek that runs along the Main Gorge track to the base of the gorge to Big Bend.
This walk is a highlights reel of the big-ticket attractions like the lush green Moss Gardens, the soaring Amphitheatre and the Art Gallery.
If you don’t have time to walk the whole hog, you can easily return at any point following the route you walked in – or make one of these icons your turnaround mark:
- Moss Garden (7km return):A botanical show of elk horns, tree ferns and a lush carpet of moss
- The Amphitheatre (8.6km return):After a steep climb, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of incredible space inside an open-topped cavern
- The Art Gallery (10.8km return):Discover this cultural site which has more than 2,000 Indigenous engravings, ochre stencils and freehand paintings all along a 62-metre long wall of sandstone
For views of the gorge from the top down, take the three-hour return trip to Boolimba Bluff.
Expect nature’s version of a stair master, which is well worth the incline for the sheer panorama of the landscape and out over the opposing ridge.
Want more to explore?
Not one for walking? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of other ways to experience Carnarvon National Park.
Heli Central Tours: Capture the highlights in just 10 minutes from the comfort of a chopper. You’ll soar above the sandstone cliffs, with views over Twin Sisters, Three Sisters and Wool Pack, all while getting a geography lesson from the pilot.
Guide to the Galaxy: Every star tells a story, Takarakka Bush Resort, share most of them in their guided astronomy tour. A star-studded sky is the perk of staying next to a national park whose nearest town is 100km away.
Night Safari Tour with Australian Nature Guides: Sure the fauna is good in the day (more on that later), but it’s even better by night. In fact, over 80% of fauna in the park is nocturnal. Join Australian Nature Guides to spot gliders, owls and microbats on the walking tour that departs from the Visitor Information Centre.
Flora and fauna
Bring your copy of Birds of Australia, the opportunities for birdwatching are plentiful with over 173 species spotted in the park.
If camping overnight, a high-lumen torch becomes essential packing for playing spotlight with nocturnal natives like gliders, possums and curlews.
Where to stay
The real question is how do you prefer to sleep – camping or comfort?
Inside the national park there’s the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area or Big Bend camping area. Note that camping in the national park Visitor Area is seasonal and linked to the Queensland School Holiday calendar. The Big Bend camping area is open all year, but there’s just one catch. It can only be reached by a 19.4km return walk.
Slightly outside the park (5km), you’ve got the option of setting up in Sandstone Park (open seasonally). There’s no risk of seeing neighbours on this camp site which doubles as a cattle station with 41 unpowered sites spread over 50 acres.
If you like the idea of camping without any of the pack up or pack down, Wallaroo Outback Retreat, offer visitors the choice of eight glamping tents. You’ll find it on a 72,000-acre cattle station, an hour outside the main national park.
For a roof over your head
If you don’t like to be pegged as one type of traveller, book with Takarakka Bush Resort and Caravan Park who offer it all – powered and unpowered campsites, permanent tents with and without en-suites, cosy cabins, cottages, and smartly designed studios.
Even if camping, you’ll have access to amenities like bathrooms with sizzling hot showers and a store selling fuel, basic groceries, pre-wrapped sandwiches and souvenirs.
How to get there
You’ll find this national park between Roma and Emerald on the Queensland map, so you can tackle it from either the north or south.
If you’re coming from Brisbane, you’ll want at least six days to drive to and from Carnarvon National Park, via Roma. From the north, leaving from Mackay, it’s a similar time commitment, passing via Blackwater.
Anyone short on time can also take a commercial flight from Brisbane to Emerald or Roma, and then hire a car for the remainder of the drive to Carnarvon National Park.
Either way, the road is mostly sealed and suitable for conventional cars.
When to go
Even though Carnarvon National Park is open 24 hours a day, you’ll want to call ahead before you take off. Most accommodation options open seasonally.
The reason being, temperatures range widely and summer can see temperatures send the mercury well into the high 30s.
Winter tells a different story with temperatures dropping to the freezing point, making insulated sleeping bags a must-pack item.
When packing, be sure to pack insect repellent, good walking shoes, lots of fuel, and rubbish bags if you are camping in the national park.
And remember, leave only footprints in this (like any) national park.
*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.