Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon Gorge

A lot of water, wind and 27 million years has carved out the dramatic monument of Carnarvon Gorge. Hundreds of metres below the tableland of its protective basalt cap, I’m in my element getting survival tips from local elder, Fred Conway.

Towering cliffs Carnarvon Gorge



I could feel the previous day’s 23 kilometre hike pull in my thighs as I bent down to pick one of the bright purple berries “Uncle Fred” pointed out. “That’s edible,” he said.  Or was it horrible? It would’ve been an easy mistake to make with the gorge’s orchestra of early morning birdsong in full drown-out mode.

Uncle Fred shows me sweet edible berries

Thankfully it was sweet, tasty and a privilege to try it. Had I been on my own I would be following the National Parks’ “take nothing, leave nothing” rule. Only Traditional Owners can offer me the gifts that grow in these protected areas.

Further up the trail, Fred introduced me to leaves I could use in a salad, a flower that secretes a honey tasting juice when tapped on my palm and a grass strong enough to use as twine if I needed to build an emergency shelter.

No bugs, no grubs no Bear Grylls eyeball-eating. Just practical advice from a humble sprit and an enchanting soul.


Fred explains the many uses of the Grass Tree

Fred explains the many uses of the Grass Tree

Yarning, Yearning and Learning

I met Fred the previous day outside the ranger station. The popular larger-than-life character, known for his casual off-the-cuff talks and endearing wit, was in high demand particularly by the little explorers.


Photo by Kerry Axton

I felt privileged Fred took some time out to yarn with me about his life and work at the gorge. His persona shifted between bright, sparky, serious and a quiet contemplation as he shared stories from his mission years.


Fred tells me about the past and his hopes for the future

Fred tells me about the past and his hopes for the future

In the mission, Fred and his people were forced to give up their traditional beliefs and they were punished for trying to keep their culture alive or for practising skills that had been invaluable to early Europeans.

“It’s important people understand what happened to our Indigenous people,” he said, “those who are capable of understanding and those who want to know.”

Although Fred’s struggles make his return to the gorge “to country” even more poignant, he isn’t the type of character who likes to dwell on sad times for too long. He loves to joke. He loves his work. This 71-year-old is looking forward and a serenity took over him as he explained that he came back to the gorge to share his knowledge about this special place of cultural significance with rangers and visitors like me.

“I’ll do this as much as I can, for as long as I can, and as long as I’m capable of walking,” he insisted.

Uncle Fred Jokes with me in Carnarvon Gorge

An Impromptu Tour

We were chatting about my general travels in Australia and the time I had to carry two days of water while cycling through the Flinders ranges, when Fred’s expression turned to surprise.

“There’s water all around us,” Fred explained.

“From the Creek and springs?” I asked.

Fred firmly shook his head from side to side. “My friend, you meet me on the trail tomorrow, I’ll show you where to get water.”


Learning from Uncle Fred

Learning from Uncle Fred

We met early the next morning so we could walk the trail and chat before my eight-hour drive back to Brisbane. The Ranger Station was still in sight when the first few curious walkers tagged on to our casual arrangement. More soon followed on and he was happy to oblige. Fred makes time for everyone in his ticktock-free world.

Unfortunately, time caught up with me before I could get my water tip. I apologised for leaving and thanked him for sharing his knowledge. Fred knelt down and dug the soil away from a clump of grass right beside the trail to reveal a plump white root.

“Before you go try this,” he said handing me a piece. I crunched on the small fibrous tuber and a surprising amount of slightly sweet watery juice ran down my throat.

“See. Water,” said Fred. “I told you, it’s everywhere.”

Fred shows me where the water is in Carnarvon Gorge

Why Go

A wealth of cultural and natural heritage lies within this special place of enchanting beauty which is home to an abundance of significant plant and animal species. Many are relics of bygone eras. You’ll see towering sandstone cliffs, vibrant side gorges, hidden mini-oasis carved by nature and some of the best preserved and oldest Aboriginal rock art in Queensland.

Aboriginal Stencil Art Carnarvon Gorge Cathedral cave

There’s roughly five kilometers of easy well-maintained trails suitable for families on the main walking track with clearly marked side treks. Beyond, the track becomes less-trodden and more overgrown. It forms the first part of  The Carnarvon Great Walk*, an 87 kilometre circuit, which has been mapped out with camp spots for the more intrepid.

Special Note: The Carnarvon Great Walk is closed at the hottest time of the year – from the start of November to the end of February – and the track may be closed at other times during fires or adverse weather conditions.

Rock hopping Carnarvon Gorge

Why it’s Special 

Traditional Owners have a long and on-going relationship with the gorge which is part of Carnarvon National Park. The scale of this bio-diverse area only becomes evident when you climb up the 900 or so steps to Boolimba Bluff and take in the view over the tablelands known as “the roof of Queensland”.

Boolimba Bluff Carnarvon gorge

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) acknowledges the connection Aboriginal people have with this cultural heritage place, and asks that you treat the country through which you walk with respect and care. More info here

How to Get There

Carnarvon Gorge is 720 kilometres north-west of Brisbane in the Central Queensland Highlands – roughly an eight hour drive – passing through the country towns of Dalby, Chinchilla, Miles and Roma.

Carnarvon Gorge river crossing

Where to Stay

Takaru Bush Resort

Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge

Book a National Parks campsite here



Don’t Miss

A hike up to Boolimba Bluff 

Boolimba Bluff Sign

Photo by Kerry Axton

Hike the main track through the Gorge to Big Bend.

Carnarvon Gorge tracks


A Swim in the natural rock pool

Photo by Kerry Axton

Photo by Kerry Axton

Spot a Platypus or Rock Wallaby early morning

Photo by Kerry Axton

Photo by Kerry Axton

A yarn with Uncle Fred

Meeting Uncle Fred


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12 Responses to Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon Gorge

  1. Johanna at ZigaZag April 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    What an interesting excursion and how fascinating to be with someone like Fred, who knows so much about their surroundings. Amazing things that you learnt … and It just serves to let us know how much we have lost. Your pictures were heartwarming, especially the one with the three rapt little faces looking eagerly at Uncle Fred. I also enjoyed your Fact Box type tips – just in case I’m lucky enough to get there one day!
    Johanna at ZigaZag recently posted..12 Reasons you should travel around Western AustraliaMy Profile

    • Tracey April 23, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      Yes Jo they are proper little bush kids and wilderness wild rovers. I had to give them back to their rightful owners unfortunately. It’s so true what you say about the knowledge we’ve lost and as Fred points out, it’s different everywhere. Thankfully, there are people working hard all around Australia to keep it alive. If you make it over there one day, I’m sure Fred would love to walk the trail and yarn with you… and please say hi from me.
      Tracey recently posted..Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon GorgeMy Profile

  2. Graham J. Sharpe April 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Loved reading this and have marked it as a place i want to visit one day. I have friends in Australia and NZ and i think it’s about time i took a trip. Oh to be in Uncle Fred’s ticktock-free world…
    Graham J. Sharpe recently posted..Can you help?My Profile

    • Tracey April 24, 2013 at 12:14 am #

      Thanks Graham. Power to the bloggersphere. It’s just the tip of the monolith. Hope you stop by and say hello if you come to laid back Queensland.
      Tracey recently posted..Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon GorgeMy Profile

      • Graham J Sharpe April 24, 2013 at 12:30 am #

        So many of us spend too much time disconnected from nature and your blog is a great reminder of what we’re all missing! I’ve come back for another lush, green fix! If i make it to Queensland I’ll defo stop by and say hello:-)

  3. Anita Mac April 23, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    It sounds so fascinating. I regret not going further inland and exploring with the locals like you have, when I lived in Australia! The closest I came was a day hike in Barrington Tops, NSW, and I was enthralled as the guide explained the terrain, vegetation and history of the area. To learn about the Aboriginal culture would have made it more fascinating. Sounds like Uncle Fred is one very interesting character….love his passion for the land.
    Anita Mac recently posted..Monday Morning Series: Sunset over the Adriatic, CroatiaMy Profile

    • Tracey April 24, 2013 at 12:10 am #

      It’s not been so accessible in the past for visitors to learn or experience Aboriginal culture Anita. Recent programs from Tourism Australia and the IBA (Indigenous Businesses Australia) are slowly changing that in the tourism Industry by supporting businesses with a Tourism Australia accreditation. A list of Tourism Australia accredited businesses can be found here

      However there are many uncredited experiences which have no marketing or online profile but are just as fantastic, which we can talk about in the bloggersphere.
      Tracey recently posted..Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon GorgeMy Profile

  4. Matt April 28, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    The photo of the rock under the stars is so beautiful. Makes me really want to head out there with my camera.
    Matt recently posted..Macro photography in the Botanical GardensMy Profile

  5. Tracey April 29, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    HI Matt, the photo of Fred on the rock was taken by a friend, Tom Hearn, a professional like yourself. He has an exhibition in Brisbane soon. I promise you won’t disappointed if you head to Carnarvon Gorge with your camera. Especially with your passion for macro shots.
    Tracey recently posted..Deeper Travel: The Enchantment of Carnarvon GorgeMy Profile

  6. Sofia May 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Sounds like a unique experience, I love the part where he dug out the white root 🙂
    Sofia recently posted..Florence – Italian Perfection?My Profile

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