I’m not a hiker, let alone a trekker. But, I do like to work towards a goal. A purpose. A treat or talisman waiting for me when I’ve finished walking. Getting fitter. Window-shopping, or strolling the cobblestoned back streets of Paris, because Paris. I’ve been known to walk for hours in search of New York’s best martini or bargain boots in Rome. But, a pre-pandemic prize win sees me here in the wilds of Carnarvon Gorge in outback Queensland.
Eighteen months after winning my two nights at Carnarvon’s Takarakka Bush Resort, we’re finally on the road. Day 1 is Brisbane to Roma. After coffee in Toowoomba, where we quickly learn masks aren’t mandatory, the towns slowly thin as fields of lucerne alternate with native grass lining the Warrego Way.
Equipped with shiny new trekking poles and perhaps my first pair of sensible shoes, we’re off.
The big melon in Chinchilla is a must-see. Unlike many of Australia’s big things, it’s a genuine showstopper. Stopping for a quick pic of this giant pink wonder, we’re disappointed to find the annual Chinchilla Melon Festival has been postponed. No doubt, another Covid casualty.
The clouds thin, and the sky resembles a giant Chux – patterned in that familiar blue and white.
When in Roma
Our home for the night is Roma’s Best Western Bungil Creek. Luckily, I booked weeks ago. Every motel and hotel in town is fully booked. Outback Queensland is booming with travellers. It’s not only savvy grey nomads who are spending up big and boosting local economies. Road trippers from across the country are taking the time to see outback wonders in winter.
Dinner is excellent steak (this is Australia’s beef capital) at Royal on Ninety-Nine. Happy diners are ordering rounds as the State of Origin quietly screens in the background.
We join queues of hungry travellers at the appropriately named Bakearoma. And to settle the score once and for all – it’s jam first on the scone, alright?
Injune in July
The landscape doesn’t change much on the Carnarvon Highway as we hit our last petrol stop before the Gorge. Injune is sleepy on a Thursday morning. However, the visitor information centre is bustling, and we’re not the only ones exploring Injune in July.
Settler history is remembered through a series of rusted metal sculptures of local characters. Complete with a ticket office and waiting room, the original timber rail station sits proudly next to C17 Locomotive No 824.
Carnarvon – under-the-radar wilderness
No phone reception. No cars. Only cows to keep us company as we head into the Capricorn Region. Sandstone monoliths start to dot the horizon as cattle country has long replaced the brilliant green lucerne.
We make the turn-off to Takarakka, and the Gorge and a herd of bulls give us some serious side-eye as we blow the horn to clear the road.
Takarakka Bush Resort
As you head into Takarakka Bush Resort, the landscape looms large. Sandstone cliffs and towering trees shelter the sprawling campground and creek.
Despite border closures, you’d think everyone in Australia that can holiday is holidaying here. Every last campsite, Taka safari tent and air-conditioned studio have been booked for months.
Our Taka safari glamping tent is comfy and warm. Bless you, travel gods – there’s a water tank turned ensuite. The shower is hot, and the bed is warm and cosy. The minibar is now filled with essential supplies, including water, wine and carb-rich snacks.
We prepare ourselves for the long walk by taking a 3km return trip to Mickeys Creek. The grass collides with the swathes of sandstone as the afternoon sun lights up the palms and native ferns. As we venture deeper into the gorge, spectacular pink orchids make the walk more rewarding.
It’s Taka roast night, and Elvis the Caravan is the star attraction, and we line up in his shadow for roast Beef with plenty of seriously good veggies and gravy. And a choice of brownie slice or berry crumble for dessert.
The Gorge – the great awaits
Unlike NSW’s Blue Mountains or Tassie’s Cradle Mountain, Carnarvon Gorge is an under-appreciated wonder. Queensland is known worldwide for its incredible natural beauty, but the 200-million-year-old Carnarvon Gorge is the wonder that is often overlooked.
This 30km-long chasm was created when raging water was carved through the sandstone millennia ago. White cliffs capped with basalt rise 200m above Carnarvon Creek. The cliffs protect and preserve numerous ecosystems. This unique biosphere is home to 173 species of birds, 60 different mammals, 22 kinds of frogs, and 90 reptiles.
This is the fabled Outback but, not how you ever imagined it. Carnarvon Gorge is a semi-tropical oasis more than 400km from the coast and the only place where King ferns (the world’s largest ferns) are found.
We set out with backpacks filled with water bottles, lunch, sunscreen, band-aids and a whole lot of hope in our hearts.
I’m lulled into a false sense of security by our first creek crossing. The rocks are wide and flat, and my new purple trekking poles do a mighty job. Finally, we make it to the majestic Amphitheatre, where fixed metal stairs (aka a ladder) take you into the canyon. Inside is otherworldly. And silent, bar the occasional coo-ee. Make sure to take some time to contemplate Mother Nature’s awesomeness.
There is only one authorised swimming spot in the entire gorge. But, I go rogue. On the trek back, I take an unscheduled dip on one of the creek crossings. My in-built cushioning saved me from any serious bruising, breaks or sprains. My pack and phone kept mostly dry, but I, unfortunately, did not.
Shaken and stirred, and with dampened pride, I trudge on. Then catching my breath at the next creek crossing this pretty-faced wallaby, and I had a moment.
The Art Gallery
Public Service Announcement: The track to the Art Gallery is challenging if you’re not a rock-hopping adolescent or triathlete. There are both wet and dry creek beds, and it may involve some rock scrambling.
What awaits? A mighty 62m overhang covered with thousands of hand stencils and depictions of kangaroos and boomerangs.
This place is sacred to the Bidjara and Karingbal people. Many engravings and paintings of female and male genitalia indicate it may have been a place of initiation.
Was it 12 or 14kms in total? The guides differ. Let’s say it’s one helluva walk.
Being so far from any major population has kept Carnarvon Gorge pristine. It really is a really long way from anywhere. But, if you’re up for it, the Gorge’s raw beauty, isolation and wonder make it nothing short of awesome.
Abiding by the Boy Scout’s motto – Be Prepared. The Gorge really doesn’t take prisoners. Back at the camp kitchen, there were many stories of bloodied knees, elbows and damaged pride. But hey, you just don’t know until you try.
DISCLAIMER: ThisMagnificentLife were hosted by Takarakka Bush Resort and Capricorn Enterprise.