19 Aug Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk Review
In June, two of my most adventurous girlfriends and I took on the 5-day and 6-night, Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk. This walk requires you to carry everything you need including food and shelter for the duration. This will turn some people off straight away, but for me, it was exciting. I had not done an overnight hike since I did Kokoda in Papua New Guinea over 10 years ago. Kokoda was more like a tour with tour guides and all my food/bedding prepared for me.
For our Carnarvon excursion, we all organised our previsions and packs. It made me think about what I NEED and what few luxuries I was going to afford you (and how heavy they were!). The training was another consideration. Those of you reading this have been to my workplace. I sit down most of the day in air-conditioned comfort. Sure, I play netball and swim and love to ride my bike. The fitness for these sports is very different from the fitness needed to walk for 7 hours+ a day, with 20kg on my back. I was nervous. I did not want to be the weakest link and let the girls down. I wanted to write this to share my experience and also to encourage any of you out there to take on a challenge and get out of your comfort zone.
Getting out there:
We drove west from the Sunshine Coast for around 9 hours, through Roma, and stayed a night in the little town of Injune, at Injune Motor Inn. This not only broke up the drive but allowed us one last warm shower and one last in a comfortable bed!
Warning, this is a small town and the pub is the only option if you want to eat out.
As in most country towns, the pub is understaffed. The very friendly publican told us the chef had recently walked out, but he offered to make us a pizza. This was probably not the best nutritional decision for any of us before our big walk but kind of him. We wanted to start the walk around 9 am, and after about an hour’s drive, we arrived. We arranged to drop our celebratory steaks (thanks to Cotton Tree Meats for cryo-vacced them for us!) and some other perishables in the camp kitchen fridges at the Wilderness Lodge.
We booked this glamping accommodation for two nights after our hike, for some rest and rejuvenation before our drive back to civilisation. The start of the walk was just down the road. After parking our car and doing the final weigh-in on our bags (19.8kg to be exact) we set off on our adventure.
Day 1: Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre to Big Bend – 9.7km + Side trails = 12.5km
- Moss Garden (460m return)
- The Amphitheatre (1.26km return includes a ladder)
- The Art Gallery (680m return)
- Wards Canyon (540m return includes quite a steep set of stairs)
- The Cathedral (just off the track)
Note: we did not do Boolimba Bluff (4.4km return) as we come back through this way on our last day.
This to me was the most exciting day, which is why this is the day trip most walkers do. In my opinion, doing all of this and the return walk would be a VERY big day. I was glad to get to the big bend and relax.
The Aboriginals have been gathering in this special gorge for thousands of years. The Art Gallery and The Cathedral have known burial sites and ceremonial sites of great importance. I was in awe of the rock painting, the visual storytelling, and the connection to the land these people had. I crave to know more about these sacred traditions and markings. Carnarvon Gorge seemingly pops up out of nowhere, like an oasis, from the endless Queensland plains.
Day 2: The Big Bend, through Boowinda Gorge to Battle Ship Spur and on to Gadd’s Walkers Camp= 14.8km
THE BIG DAY!
Boowinda Gorge is just stunning, but this was where I was most thankful I chose hiking boots over trail shoes. It is an old river bed with sand and lots of uneven rocks for around 1km.
The scramble out of the gorge was intense with a 19kg pack on your back. This was the most unsafe I felt during the whole walk. There had been some light rain overnight and everything was damp, soft, and moving underfoot.
You need your hands free for this climb and be careful to space yourselves out so you have plenty of time to move if there is loose rock.
My favourite lunch stop was an hour later and up another ladder.
The best view down the gorge was from the battleship spur. The camera does not do it justice. We truly are so small in the scheme of things!
Then we had a long slog to camp. We were tired, the grass was long and we were all in shorts, getting our legs slashed! With about 30 minutes to go, we all ran out of water which is not ideal. We got into Gadd’s Walkers Camp before sunset. It was the most gorgeous and quiet camp. We had it all to ourselves, and it had a toilet! “Where on earth is everyone?”, I thought. I truly felt like maybe we were the last people on earth.
The solitude was incredible. I also find it interesting how revived I was after a short break, boots off, and a splash of water on my face. Maybe it was the medicinal whisky?
Day 3: Gadd’s Walkers Camp to West Branch Camping Area= 15.8km
An Emu greeted us and kindly showed us the way along the track for the first hour or so of day 3. This was a lovely surprise.
The scrubby grasslands turned into bushland during our travels. Thank goodness this day was a shorter one as my legs were very heavy from the day before. I saw footprints in the mud from bush pigs and wild dogs. We could hear the dogs howling in the night. I am glad we did not come across any. West Branch is the only camping area that the public can drive into. You could theoretically have a non-hiking friend meet you here. There were contained fire areas so we took advantage of this to get a little bit of extra warmth.
Day 4: West Branch Camping Area to Consuelo Walkers Camp= 17.3km
Today we reached the highest point in the great walk 1000m above sea level, through the mahogany forest. This was an easy and short walking day.
We got set up quickly to take advantage of the sun to dry out our gear from the morning’s dew. Then we enjoyed some time relaxing doing our own thing, reading, doing crosswords, and napping. There was another hut and water pump at this site. The huts made a great place for me to hang my hammock (my luxury item). A very curious eastern grey kangaroo with a Joey hopped into camp.
I would be very careful not to leave food out, this mum seemed very clever. We got into our sleeping bags early before the sun had set and the temperature plummeted. It is amazing to be this remote and fall asleep listening to the sounds of nature. The only human sound we could occasionally hear was planes flying overhead. Otherwise, it would be easy to feel like we were the only people left on the planet.
Day 5: Consuelo Walkers Camp to Cabbage Tree Camp = 13.8km
The next morning when we woke the ice on the tent and frost on the ground confirmed how freezing it was! Needless to say, we were a little slow getting started. Luckily this was the easiest day’s walk by far. We noticed horse poo on the track. I wonder whether there are wild horses or whether the rangers ride through these trails. My feet had started to swell and I got a little blister on my big toe. So I was happy to get into camp early again and kick my boots off. Watching the sunset from my hammock with a warm cuppa soup and listening to the chorus of Kookaburra was divine.
We listened to 70’s music ate dinner and dreamed of our wine, cheese, and steak dinner the following night. A text message came through to let us know that Queensland had won the first state of origin game! I went to bed feeling very content.
Day: Cabbage Tree Camp to Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre via Boolimba Bluff= 15.3km
The final day! For the first time in the walk, we lost the track a few times due to the mess the bush pigs make when they dig up the ground. Thank goodness for the orange markers on the trees and our GPS. The scenery again on this day was spectacular coming across the top of the gorge. We were so surprised to see other humans we mistook them for Emus at first!
Boolimba Bluff was an epic view not to be missed on a trip to Carnarvon. I heard this is an excellent sunrise spot but we were coming through just after lunchtime. I for one was glad we were climbing down the steep track from Boolimba Bluff and not up! My knees were pretty wobbly by this time.
The motivation of a hot shower and a glass of wine was spurring me on. We were surprised to see mostly retired couples doing the day track, congratulating us on our efforts. I found this walk to be a bonding experience with the girls and also with nature. Being truly self-reliant for a few days and away from all distractions of everyday life was just so refreshing. I was lucky enough to get the first warm shower. It is nice to be able to reflect and be grateful for the little things we take for granted most days. A trip I will never forget. The only question is where should we go next year?