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Nature, culture and history

Natural environment

Yellow-bellied gliders feeding on eucalypt sap, Carnarvon Gorge. Photo B. Sigley, NPSR.

Yellow-bellied gliders feeding on eucalypt sap, Carnarvon Gorge. Photo B. Sigley, NPSR.

Powerful owl in fan palm adjacent to Carnarvon Creek. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

Powerful owl in fan palm adjacent to Carnarvon Creek. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

Carnarvon Gorge lies within the spectacular and rugged ranges of Queensland's central highlands. Lined with vegetation and fed by the waters of numerous side gorges, Carnarvon Creek winds between towering sandstone cliffs. The gorge is a cool and moist oasis within the dry environment of central Queensland.

Recognised nationally for its outstanding natural and cultural values, Carnarvon Gorge protects unique and significant plants and animals—many of them relics of cooler, wetter times. Permanent springwater, cooler temperatures and low levels of direct sunlight provide the conditions that allow remnant rainforest to survive here in the dry central Queensland climate.

Carnarvon Creek always flows, even when it hasn't rained for months. Water falling as rain in the high country slowly percolates down through the porous sandstone, eventually meeting an impermeable (waterproof) band of rock known as shale. Unable to continue its journey downwards, the water moves sidewards along the sandstone and escapes through breaks, seeping out at places such as the Moss Garden and at other springs within the gorge.

The springs and creeks of the gorge support a mosaic of habitats, home to an enormous diversity of life. Whether you choose to walk the main track or simply relax at the park visitor area, you will have many opportunities to encounter and discover the gorge's plants and animals.

Mornings at the gorge are colourful as the sunlight meets the cliffs and a symphony of birdsong fills the air. Kangaroos and wallabies can be found around the picnic area and at night echidnas can be seen strolling about. The call of yellow-bellied gliders, owls and the bush stone curlew are often heard after dark.

Culture and history

The ochre stencils at Carnarvon are some of the finest examples of this type of Aboriginal imagery in Australia. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

The ochre stencils at Carnarvon are some of the finest examples of this type of Aboriginal imagery in Australia. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

Interpretive Ranger Fred Conway discussing Aboriginal culture with visitors at the Art Gallery. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

Interpretive Ranger Fred Conway discussing Aboriginal culture with visitors at the Art Gallery. Photo R. Ashdown, NPSR.

Steadily flowing water has carved this gorge out of ancient sandstone. The same water, still flowing from the rock, has drawn people to Carnarvon Gorge for many thousands of years. Aboriginal people have a long and continuing relationship with this dramatic landscape. While visitors to the park usually associate Aboriginal history with the park's rock art sites, the connection for Aboriginal people is with the entire landscape. The dreaming says that the rainbow serpent Mundagurra created Carnarvon Gorge as he travelled through the creek system, coming in and out of the water, and carving the sandstone as he travelled.

The fragile art on the gorge's sandstone walls reflects a rich culture. Ochre stencils of tools, weapons, ornaments and ceremonial objects provide an insight into the lives of the gorge's first people. The gorge is often described by today's Traditional Custodians as a place of learning - an area of great spirituality. This land still teaches, with many visitors to the park gaining a new understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture and history.

Rugged ranges and rough terrain made this area difficult for early European explorers. Ludwig Leichhardt led the first European group into the region in 1844, passing to the east of the gorge. Two years later Thomas Mitchell and his party passed to the west. It is thought that Mitchell named the ranges after the Caernarfon Ranges of Wales.

European setters followed soon after, with grazing runs established in the area in the 1860s. A mix of resourceful and colourful characters sought a life in this hard, remote area. High country to the south was named 'The Ranch', possibly by cattle duffers, while side-gorges were perfect for 'lying low'.

In 1932, a 26,300 ha section of the gorge was declared as national park, after lobbying by the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland, which had organised expeditions into the area. The many sections of Carnarvon National Park now cover 298,000 ha of the central highlands.

Last updated
26 April 2017