After what could be described as a whirlwind loop across the central Queensland townships of Charters Towers, Winton, Longreach and Sapphire …our next major planned stay after the rainforests of FNQ was to explore the Carnarvon National Park, particularly some of the more popular walks within the Gorge.
Carnarvon Gorge is situated in the Carnarvon National Park in Queensland with the township(s) of Emerald to the north and Roma to the south, and is hugely popular with avid bushwalkers. The gorge is situated amongst the Australian Great Dividing Range and I liken the place to a smaller, sort of an upside down version of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Upside down? Carnarvon Gorge has many kilometres of tall sandstone cliff lines, as do the Blue Mountains. However, Carnarvon has the vast majority of its access, walks and major campgrounds situated within the valley floor below the cliff lines. The Blue Mountains access and major walks are mostly above the cliff lines and escarpments so when walking these two areas the perspectives are somewhat reversed.
We had pre-planned 4 days and 3 nights staying in the gorge and arrived mid-afternoon after coming from the township of Sapphire (more about Sapphire [and digging for Sapphires] in a soon to follow post), and we chose to stay at the Takarakka Bush Resort.
For those of who may not have been to the Takarakka before, don’t get caught up in the “resort” moniker. There are no swimming pools, no deck chairs or fancy drinks with umbrellas …it’s just the fancy name given to the largest campground within the national park boundary.
Whether towing a large off-road rig like ourselves or riding a motor bike and pitching a 2-man tent, the campground is well set up and caters well for every type of traveller/camper. For those towing a caravan, just beware, the final 20-odd kms of into the park is still steep and hilly unsealed roads and depending on time of year, there is 3 river crossings to negotiate.
The resort also suggest booking ahead and after a day there ourselves could clearly see why with a lot of people coming and going frequently. The campground was said to be quiet during our time there, however to us, compared to many other national parks we have visited on this trip around Australia, appeared busy …but not to the levels of Litchfield NP. In saying this, the quality of the campground sites, the amenities and proximity of the gorge itself is fantastic – it can get a little rowdy at night as we saw with some campers, but on the whole its very good for the amount of people that come through the park.
As we had been busy for the past several days travelling and digging for Sapphires in, where else, Sapphire …we used our first day to catch up on the usual chores and some schooling with the boys. In the late afternoon (in what the Takarraka term as happy hour), each day the resort puts on an hour long open walk-talk covering all the main walks of the gorge which we attended on our first evening and was time well spent and highly recommended. This talk can save you a lot of time and help everyone better plan the many route options to best cover the gorge with the least amount of effort – we all want that, right? That night we also had pre-booked the Takarakka cooked dinner at $20 ahead which was good value and we all sat down to a 3-course meal mainly consisting of different meat roasts, veggies and ice-cream with Apple crumble. Whats not to like here …
After a cool but good nights rest, we arrive at the gorge carpark entrance at 8am, 4kms from our campsite. Our days objective was to combine several individual short-walks we had originally planned in isolation, now into one larger walk at just under 15kms in total. Most of the walks are easy grade 3, with the odd bit of grade 4 here and there – although the grading is more on the easier side so don’t be put off. Our approach was to walk straight up the gorge valley with our first stop at the sacred Aboriginal site of the “Art Gallery”(Note: You can walk well beyond the Art Gallery to take in a longer 22km walk however we decided to make the Art Gallery our furthest point for fear of the boys running out of energy on the return leg by going further).
As you depart the carpark you immediately meander through lovely landscaped lawns set amongst Carnavon palms, Cabbage palms, spotted gums and many Whip-tail Wallaby’s grazing as we reach the first of 14 Carnarvon creek crossings for the day. The national park have arranged for most crossing points a series of stepping stones – large, heavy and flat enough that allow safe passage across the creek without getting your wet feet and a most are large enough to stop midway to take a photo up or down stream.
Along the way you wander throughout Acacia and Cypress pine forests and mixed Eucalypt and Serpentine woodlands along a well-defined and maintained walking track. There are good sign posts every few kilometres that inform you of where the walker is and how far to each different site from a specific point. It’s very well done.
We arrived at the “Art Gallery” a little after 9:30AM and were surprised to find ourselves the only ones there. We had it to ourselves for at least 20 minutes before the next party arrived. The ochre stencils at this Art Gallery site are some of the finest examples of this type of Aboriginal art in Australia with images depicting Boomerangs, Stone axes, Goannas, Human hands, Emu feet and numerous other symbols …as well as women’s fertility symbols carved into the sandstone leaving little doubt as to what these represent. The paintings are apparently ~4000 years old and some of the stencils are better preserved than others – presumably due to weather and other ageing variables.
After departing the Art Gallery, our next stop was “Wards Canyon” perhaps slightly less than 2 kms away. The mercury was slowly rising by this time and even though most of the days walk was in scattered shade, there are numerous parts that are exposed to the sun and the bottom of the Art Gallery is one such area. Respite is always on hand with the creek close by to wet a shirt or towel to cool down. On the way back across Carnarvon Creek to Wards Canyon we spot the first of 4 Echidnas we see for the day.
What lovely mammals these creatures are. In the image above, he/she didn’t seem too fussed by walkers and perhaps encounter them regularly. After a couple of photos and the boys carefully touching its pliable quills, we move on.
The trail turnoff to Wards is a 300M with a short steep rise up through spotted gums leading to a lower waterfall and then further up some 60 steps into the shaded Wards Canyon. This site is home to the world’s largest tree fern; the King Fern (Angiopteris evict). These impressive green ‘dinosaurs’ have strong links with the ancient flora of Gondwana origins and some stand here five metre tall, have no wooden tissues, and are actually self pressure-supported by large amounts of water carried within their massive fronds.
On the other side of Carnarvon creek (yes, another crossing) and just under 30mins walk from Wards Canyon is the impressive “Amphitheatre“. This section of the gorge is a little different from other we’d seen. Hidden inside the upper sandstone walls is a 60m deep enclosed chamber which has been and continues to be gouged from the rock by running flood waters. Resounding acoustics add to the awe-inspiring atmosphere within the Amphitheatre itself – unfortunately, no vocalists amongst us to experience the acoustics of the place. To access the Amphitheatre is by a series of well designed iron steps and ladders solidly anchored to the side of the sandstone walls – quite a sight and the boys loved this section of the walk.
We leave the Amphitheatre and head for the “Moss Garden” – one of the most popular walks in all of the gorge and our feature image of this post. (Most of the side walks in the gorge are in/out walks along the same trail with only a couple of the gorge rim walks can be walked in a loop). On the way back from Moss Garden and just before crossing the Carnarvon Creek (10th time of the day) the boys discover a wonderful female Katydid insect – perhaps the finest example of this insect I have seen in the wild. It’s times like these that I wished I had brought along a macro lens on this trip, or even a set of lens extension tubes, to be able to fill the frame better, focus much closer to obtain a higher level of detail in close. In this case, I used my trusty 50mm f2.0 Summicron lens at just on 3ft with a processed imaged cropped 110%, meaning less than half the original files detail.
We approach the Moss Garden and pass a few people walking out. With hind-insight, we should have picked up all the side walks on the way up to the Art Gallery then walked back to the carpark in one go. Doing it this way would have meant we would have less people at each stop which makes it easier and less time consuming for photo opportunities as some of these stops you may have a dozen or more people to contend with.
The Moss Garden is well set up by the park management with a sturdy hard-wood boardwalk leading you along some wonderful permanent moss gardens and to a gentle flowing waterfall with pool at the furtherest point. The Moss Garden easily survives all year round irrespective of drought as it is supported by permanent filtered water that constantly seeps through the layered walls of sandstone towering above. (I know of many areas like this in the Blue Mountains and no matter how many times you see them they are always beautiful and marvel at)
The panoramic feature image best illustrates this magic spot – click here to see a high resolution copy of the feature image on our Flickr photo site.
In all we spent about 45mins in the Moss Garden including lunch on a boardwalk bench overlooking the waterfall. On a side-note; It was interesting to observe how other people look and view various things in the wilderness these days. We couldn’t help but notice whilst at the Moss Garden numerous people that arrived there, take no notice of your presence or what you are doing and after spending a minute or so (sometimes even less), then leave as quickly as they arrived. I just don’t understand this approach and makes you wonder why they had bothered to make the effort to get there in the first place if they feel they don’t have the time (or propensity) to fully take in and appreciate the beauty of a place …I digress, but it still interesting don’t you think?.
On the way out of the Moss Garden site, we came across more walkers coming in and by this time the boys were ahead of us and out of sight. At one point, we came to a narrow crest over a ridge-line only wide enough for one person to safely pass at a time. We decide to pull off the trail early where we waited for the oncoming walkers to pass and I happen to look down at our feet and at first glance thought I was looking at a snake no less than 6 inches away from Celia’s right foot. After nudging Celia and taking a second look, 95% confirms it was not a snake but a Burton’s Legless Lizard. This snake-like reptile is quite common throughout most of Australia and comes in all types of different colours and patterns and usually similar in size. This is the first legless lizard we’ve spotted on the trip with the nearest type of reptile previously being a blind snake we saw in Katherine NT, on a night walk we did with the boys. On this occasion, the boys had gotten too far ahead of us and missed seeing this cool looking guy with Celia and I enjoying the minute or so we had observing him.
From this point, you criss-cross the creek two more times and we pause to observe some type of fluted bright yellow flower and also talk to other walkers along the way. One such couple we overtook along the trail in the final 4 or 5kms back to the car park mentioned; they had been eagerly on the look out all day for an Echidna as they had never seen one in the wild. We mention we had seen two earlier in the day much to their disappointment.
As luck would have it though, no more than 5 minutes further down the trail Aidan spots another Echidna just off the walking track furiously digging at the base of a fallen decaying log for ants. I gently pick it it up to show the people we just spoken with only minutes before and for them seeing that Echidna and gently touching its quills made their day. They took several quick shots of it and then we carefully put it back where we found it and very casually went straight back to digging just as we found him.
After losing count how many times we crossed Carnarvon Creek, Lochie says 16 times, we soon reach the carpark at 3:30pm – 7.5hrs in total. On the short drive back to our campground we see yet another Echidna just after a the creek crossing into the campground, the 4th for the day.
That evening, Celia made a delightful chicken and lychee laksa which went down very well with a couple of nice cold beers – the boys also having a treat with a ginger beer – all a wonderful way to cap off a great days walk and exploration.
The day started with a nice little sunrise. Celia and the boys were still asleep with the mercury indicating a brisk 7 deg outside the van with the common everyday startup of the orchestrated sounds of many singing Currawongs echoing across the valley.
We had previously planned to do the Boolimba Bluff walk today – a 950-odd stepped steep walk up to the top of the Carnarvon Gorge escarpment however my other family members after the previous days effort were not as keen. So we decided to have a quieter day and opted to do some of the smaller walks around the back of the campground, observe the resident Platypus pool in the hope of seeing one, take a walk up to the local lookout to the west of the campground, and do some good ol’ exploration along the banks of the Carnarvon creek that stood no more than 100M behind our campsite.
For the 3rd day in succession, we were a little disappointed we did not see any of the numerous known platypus that live in the campgrounds Platypus pool. We would have liked the boys to see one in the wild …and on the following day (our departure day) ended in the same manner as the previous 3 …no Platypuses for us.
In our exploration along the banks of Carnarvon creek, we did find the odd spotted frog, numerous Dragon and Damsel flies, Wallaby’s everywhere and one lovely grey Heron doing some fish’n. Herons are notoriously timid birds when humans are around and easily take flight. And unless you have a large focal-length lens to shoot with, like 300mm+, its near on impossible to fill the frame with a decent shot of these birds because you simply cannot get close to them. However with this guy, he’s probably a little more used to human presence than most and I used the cover of numerous whip-tail Wallabies foraging in tall grass to inch closer to him – when the Wallabies moved in the dry grass, I did also, so as not to spook the Heron, and in the end got as close as 6o-65M from him to rattle off a few shots – one of them above.
In summary, it’s easy to see why Carnarvon Gorge is so popular with campers, bush-walkers and naturalists alike. It is a national park that caters very well to all types of visitors and many of the walks (the main reason why people flock here) can even be done in the summer months due to the large shaded forrest canopies you walk beneath. The gorge has permanent water all year round – regardless of a bad drought (as we experienced) which perfectly sustains the rich and diverse species of Fauna & Flora, many of which is native to the gorge.
Even though we prefer more of the isolated places, less of the crowds, and a road less travelled …we still thoroughly enjoyed our stay. And the boys, well …they too loved all the exploring on offer and the prospect of finding all the various bugs, mammals and reptiles to be to be found here and they thought the walking was not too bad. Well take that any day!
Geoff & Celia