About 6 months ago, Kirsten and I came up with the grand idea of using the October Labour Day long weekend this year to travel further afield in Queensland than we have before, for a bit of a camping adventure somewhere involving a gorge.
Naturally, the spectacular and probably more well known Carnarvon Gorge, 720 km northwest of Brisbane, was top of the list. But with the weekend being the last in the September school holiday break, and also a long weekend, I left our camping permit bookings too late and we missed out this time around.
Fear not, however. Approximately 506 km northwest of Brisbane lies, as I found out, another of Queensland's natural treasures known as Cania Gorge, part of the Cania Gorge National Park.
As its name suggests, Cania Gorge is lined by towering 70m sandstone cliffs concealing ancient caves and crevices, all of which were carved out over some 200 million years by wind and water including "Three Moon Creek" - the waterway that winds its way through the length of the gorge today.
The continual and ongoing evolution of the gorge has contributed to the development of a unique range of vegetation types ranging from eucalypt woodland above the gorge and on the lower slopes, to "dry" rainforest which hugs the base of the cliff faces and runs off along numerous explorable gullies.
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For lovers of wildlife, while the gorge appears to be dramatically bone dry, especially at the moment, there is a wealth of bird life in residence with colourful lorikeets and rosellas, noisy miners, blue-faced honeyeaters, magpies, kookaburras, brush turkeys and currawongs joining legged creatures such as rainbow skinks, lace monitors and Herbert's rock wallabies, throughout.
Stand still in the right spot for long enough, and you're almost guaranteed to tick 4 or more of the above critter sitings without too much trouble.
Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat campsite
Since camping within the national park is prohibited, we opted to set up camp early Saturday afternoon within the Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat. Offering a number of ways to stay the night with their self-contained cabins and powered and unpowered sites, we made camp under a cluster of tall gum trees for a respectable $23 bucks a night.
For this, we had access to a nicely equipped camping kitchen, a clean toilet block with amazing showers (well I thought so anyway), a small shaded pool, campfire pits, and even a communal TV for catching "supposed" essential viewings like the NRL Grand Final (not an opinion I share... we didn't bother).
The campsite is ideally placed on the fringe of the national park with a well maintained, easy walking track linking hikers with a really nice selection of trails that lead to various points of interest throughout the gorge.
Over the two days we were in the park, we managed to cover and enjoy pretty much every trail, so I'll try to briefly cover each one below, so you can get a bit of an idea of what to expect if you head up that way.
👟 50m return (allow 20 minutes) from Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat.
Conveniently located a short 50-100m walk from the front of the Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat campsite, or about 1km from the picnic area, "Big Foot" is an impressive, naturally occurring (to the best of my knowledge) image of a four-toed foot set against the white sandstone of a cliff that rises up from the walking path.
A small viewing platform has been constructed a small distance above the path, not far from the foot itself, but we found the view from the actual walking path to be far more striking (see image further down the post).
Bloodwood Cave & Dragon Cave
👟 2.6km return (allow about 1 hour) from the Cania Gorge picnic area.
Continuing on from "Big Foot" for about 1km, we eventually crossed Cania Dam Road across to the main picnic area, from where we set off to view the first couple of known caves in the area.
First up, "Bloodwood Cave".
It's safe to say that "Bloodwood Cave's" name suggests something pretty impressive and almost dangerous. If you had the courage to get on your belly and slither your way in, this may very well prove to be the case. From the outside, however, let's just say we started off with the least impressive of Cania Gorge's collection of caves.
"Dragon Cave", on the other hand, is pretty impressive featuring a natural black mural of a dragon which Kirsten spotted pretty quickly against the far white sandstone wall.
With the sun inching ever closer to the top of the far gorge wall, we finished up at "Dragon Cave" and headed immediately to a gorge lookout we had read was just off the long 22km return "Castle Mountain" trail. We headed up a steepish 200m track to the lookout which did provide a decent elevated vantage point of the gorge in general, but didn't really impress all that much.
From the lookout, we turned around and headed back towards our camp, the lighting becoming more gorgeous with every step, which made snapping a few frames of some of the wildlife we encountered along the way, all the more rewarding.
The Next Day
Poking our heads out of the tent at around 7am on Sunday morning, we were met with the mystical sight of the rising sun's rays bursting through curtains of campfire smoke hanging in the air throughout the camp ground.
A quick bit of brekky, a refreshing shower and some discussion around the pending hiking plans, designed AROUND the hottest 10am-2pm period of the day, and we were off again making a bee-line for the picnic area and trail heads.
👟 3.2km return (allow about 2.5 hours) from the Cania Gorge picnic area.
I'd read good things about this particular trail and the reward at the end of it - a large eroded semi-cave where flowing water has eaten into the base of a sandstone cliff forming a fern littered oasis.
On the journey to "The Overhang" we passed a couple of other notable features including "Dripping Rock", where cool water oozes through the sandstone creating what seems to be a somewhat out of place wet wall of moss and ferns.
Additionally, there's a couple of small caves you pass that feature gnarly, twisted sculptures of yellow ochre that positively glow in the morning sun. A pretty sweet warm-up act for "The Overhang".
King Orchid Crevice & Two Storey Cave
👟 1.3km circuit (allow about 45 minutes) from the Cania Gorge picnic area.
With the day rapidly heating its way to a dry 34 degrees, we squeezed in one more trail before lunch and an afternoon kip.
The "King Orchid Crevice" & "Two Storey Cave" circuit takes you hard up against the foot of sheer sandstone cliffs, initially leading you to a dramatic opening in the cliff wall known as the "King Orchid Crevice" for its resident selection of... yup, you guessed it, king orchids, and also silver elkhorns.
After having already visited "Dragons Cave" the day before, and "The Overhang" earlier that morning, the "Two Storey Cave" was a bit of a step backwards in terms of size and grandeur, but it still gave reason for us to poke around inside just the same.
While we saw no evidence of the claim, the top section of this cave is reportedly home to a small colony of insectivorous bats.
Fern Tree Pool & Giant's Chair
👟 5.6km circuit (allow about 3 hours) from the Cania Gorge picnic area.
Refreshed after a good early afternoon rest, despite the heat, we rounded off our weekend of Cania Gorge hiking with the longer "Fern Tree Pool" & "Giant's Chair" circuit. The trail head is located at a small car park about 900m south of the picnic area. It's advised that hikers conduct the trail in an anti-clockwise direction, starting at this trail entry point, in order to avoid a steep incline at the start of the opposite end.
I know I've used the term "oasis" to describe the existence of water and moisture in other parts of the otherwise super dry gorge, but the often photographed "Fern Tree Pool" is surely worthy of this description.
After criss-crossing the dry bed of "Doctors Gully" for a distance, you arrive at the permanent pool of beautiful, but stagnant and undrinkable water, flanked by what seems like it could almost have been professionally landscaped selections of lush ferns and other small shrubs.
Given how beautiful the setting is, it really is a shame that the water is as lacking in quality as it is. I could just picture myself having a great time swimming in that hole... but it just wasn't to be.
Instead, we continued climbing for another 2.2km up an escarpment, then along a fire trail to the "Giant's Chair" lookout. Again, this vantage point proved to be nice, but not breathtaking as I thought it could/should be.
A quick descent back down to the car park and we were able to retire back to the camp ground, hang up our boots and enjoy a relaxing, balmy evening of dinner and a good bottle of red. Bliss.
Although we didn't actually dip toes in the water ourselves, it's worth mentioning that a 15 minute drive from the Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat delivers you at the shoreline of the 7.2 square km Cania Dam.
A popular spot for recreational fishing for golden perch, silver perch, australian bass and prized saratoga, the dam is also a good option for families who want to hang out by the water on a hot day and let the kids splash around in a safe environment.
In summing up, I think Kirsten and I would both agree that we had a fantastic weekend away with a great spot to camp and some nice trails to explore.
While we covered pretty much all that was on offer in the national park from a hiking perspective, we feel it would be a great spot to go back to with other family members, young and old, and also to see during the wetter months (if they exist out here), "Three Moon Creek", "Fern Tree Pool" and areas like "Doctors Gully" with flowing waters. They have the potential to be pretty spectacular.
All trails we set off on were more than accessible to those with limited, even non-existent hiking experience, and provide enough highlights to keep everyone entertained and rewarded for their efforts.
📌 Cania Gorge National Park Info:
- 506km (5hrs 55mins) from Brisbane, QLD [ map/directions ]
- 204km (3hrs 3mins) from Bundaberg, QLD [ map/directions ]
- The national park is accessible by sealed roads pretty much the entire way from Brisbane, so no particular vehicle type is required.
- Especially in the spring/summer months, when hitting the trails, adequate drinking water is ESSENTIAL. Consider how much you think you'd drink given the approximate trail times provided, then DOUBLE IT! It's hot and dry up there!
- For more information, visit the QLD Department of National Parks website.
Links & Credits
- All images // Rob Masefield
- Carnarvon Gorge // wikipedia.org
- Cania Gorge National Park parks.des.qld.gov.au
- Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat caniagorgeretreat.com.au