CARNARVON GORGE WITH A DIFFERENCE
Think you’ve seen it all before? Well, we have news for you…
WORDS Gary Tischer | IMAGES Gary and Elodie Tischer
Yes, you’ve been to Carnarvon Gorge before and not much has changed over the past 20 years. But if you haven’t visited in the last couple of months, there has actually been a major change. The Gorge hasn’t collapsed or anything like that, but if you like a view, then you are in for a treat!
For those who have never been to Carnarvon Gorge, it is a great destination or a lovely place to stay a few days on your way north to escape the winter. Situated a few hours’ drive north of Roma, Carnarvon Gorge is like an oasis with towering cliffs, cool streams and rare ferns.
New kid on the block
There is already plenty of information out there on why Carnarvon Gorge is a great location. This article lets you in on what isn’t so readily known, information which can help make your next visit more enjoyable.
I have been visiting Carnarvon Gorge for the last 40 years, so I have seen my fair share of changes, but after about a dozen visits, I was wondering how I would be able to add some ‘zing’ into my relationship with the Gorge. I even did the Carnarvon Great Walk a few years ago, which took me to parts of Carnarvon I had never seen before.
Okay, I have teased you enough. That change I was talking about? It’s Sandstone Park. Google it and you will find their website with some info, but look around this article, watch the video and you will understand why Sandstone Park will change the way you look at the Gorge. Literally. And if you have a fur-baby (a dog, that is), they can also enjoy the view with you.
Located on a series of ridges to the east of the national park, Sandstone Park has huge clear areas you can pull up on, unhitch the van and wave your arms about without hitting a neighbouring camper. To top it off, the views are fantastic. Sunrise and sunset over the Gorge have never looked so good, especially when you can view it from bed!
Only having opened its gates in the last couple of months, Sandstone Park has been filling up with people eager to get a different view of the Gorge. At this stage, you have to be self-sufficient, as there is no potable water available and only portaloos for amenities. There is a dump point provided though, so that is handy.
This is only the first stage of development, so it is not suited to everyone just yet, but stay tuned as the next stage moves into gear.
Controversy … of course
We live in a world of controversy these days. The term ‘disrupter’ is used almost weekly in the media as Uber displaces taxis and mobile phones replace the landline. Times change and with this comes controversy.
When I first camped at Carnarvon Gorge, the only place to camp was in Carnarvon National Park at the head of the Gorge. It was Easter, it was crowded, the campground was dusty and the roos were pesky. It didn’t deter my enthusiasm, but I am glad it isn’t like that anymore. Camping at the Carnarvon National Park campground is now available only during school holidays and books out months in advance. It’s a great place to stay … if you only plan on using a tent and can manage to get a site, that is.
Surrounded by the national park at the entrance to the Gorge is Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge which offers cabin-style accommodation, has a bar and restaurant, and you can even check emails with some WiFi connectivity. If you have a van, you are unlikely to stay here but it’s worth checking out for the daily info talks at popular times of the year.
Takarakka Bush Resort has been providing van and camping sites for 14 years now. They also provide accommodation in cabins and safari tents. The facilities are great and will suit those travellers who enjoy the facilities of a larger caravan park. The downside is that during the most popular times, space is at a premium so the neighbour might be a bit closer than you would like.
This is where the ‘disrupter’ enters: Sandstone Park offers a different experience to that of all the other accommodation options available close to Carnarvon Gorge. The locals are talking about it and the rangers are concerned that more people may start to visit. If you listen to hushed conversations, not everyone is happy about the new kid on the block.
As a traveller, I think it’s great that we have more choice. Sandstone Park is not replicating any of the other accommodation or offering more of the same – instead, it’s adding an alternative. And from what I have seen, visitors are pretty happy about it.
Think you’ve seen it all? Think again
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have walked up and down the Gorge, visiting the many attractions along the way. This time I did something different and learned so much. Elodie and I took the ‘Off the Beaten Track’ guided walk with Simon from Australian Nature Guides. We visited a gorge where visitors are not normally allowed to explore. I was amazed to see new sights in an area I thought I knew.
Not only did I see new things, Simon was able to interpret what I was seeing with his knowledge and experience of guiding in the Gorge for 20 years.
On other trips, I have listened to Aboriginal Rangers explain the meaning of many of the stencils in the Art Gallery overhang. These days, park funds are tight and only interpretive signs are provided. It was great to learn and understand much more from Simon than possible on signage.
Simon was able to answer our questions and tell us things we would never have even thought to ask. I later spoke to another walker, not on our guided walk, who had listened in our discussion with Simon at the Art Gallery. They were impressed with what they could hear. The next day I saw Simon guiding a much shorter walk with some older nomads who were having a ball as they negotiated the walking track.
The top two things I learnt
Firstly, I know where to get a campsite with a view (and bring pooch along to enjoy it as well). And I don’t have to get out of bed to enjoy the sunrise over the Gorge.
Secondly, consider a guided walk. Don’t be like the guy on the Telstra ad telling the young kid the Wall of China was built to keep the rabbits out. You don’t want to answer the question, “How did the gorge form, dad?” with “Someone left the tap running”! Go with a guide like Simon and let him explain it (correctly) for you.