Carnarvon Gorge

Natural History

Cliffline, Carnarvon Gorge
Callistemon, Carnarvon Gorge.
Swamp Wallaby, Carnarvon Gorge
 

Formation of Carnarvon Gorge

Geological formations present within Carnarvon Gorge.

Carnarvon Gorge's landscape is a monument to the power of water and time. It has been over two hundred million years in the making.

 

  • The Moolayember Formation is the oldest sequence in the Gorge. Its watertight siltstones, mudstones and shales belong to the Bowen Basin.

  • The Precipice Sandstone forms Carnarvon Gorge's spectacular clifflines. It is the oldest layer in the Surat Basin, is highly porous, and forms one of the primary intake beds for the Great Artesian Basin.

  • The Hutton and Evergreen layers also belong to the Surat Basin and are porous.

  • Volcanic activity around 30 million years ago capped a large area with erosion resistant basalts, while uplift allowed systems of faults to develop in the sedimentary rocks.

  • Once all these layers were in place, the creation of the current landscape only required water and lots of time.

Carnarvon Creek first had to cut through the tough basalt cap. This was a slow process. However, once the sedimentary rocks beneath the basalt were exposed, the pace of erosion quickened.

 

  • Once the faultlines in the sedimentary rocks were exposed, water exploited their weakness, cutting downwards comparatively quickly.

  • The tough basalt cap is left behind as steep cliffs at the top of the ranges and tablelands.

  • Springs develop where porous layers encounter impermeable strata, perhaps as early as 20 million years ago.

  • Narrow, steep-sided gorges begin to form as the Precipice Sandstone is exposed and eroded.

  • Unusual microclimates develop where shelter and water availability are high - protecting plants and animals from climatic changes outside.

Erosion cuts down, exposing and following faultlines.
Harder layers slow vertical erosion, widening Carnarvon Gorge.

The Moolayember Formation beneath the Precipice Sandstone slowed the pace of vertical erosion, directing the force of water sideways and widening Carnarvon Gorge.

 

  • Later in the Gorge's life the climate outside became much drier, slowing the overall rate of erosion and increasing the importance of the sheltered, spring-fed areas within the Gorge's walls.

  • The story of the Gorge is written in stone. Keep a sharp eye on the ground as you walk the Gorge's tracks - many of the stones you encounter carry clear evidence of the part they played in the Gorge's big picture.

  • Booking on a guided walk with Australian Nature Guides will ensure you don't miss out on the Stories in the Stones.

 

Flora of Carnarvon Gorge

Carnarvon National Park lies within the southern Brigalow Belt Bioregion and Carnarvon Gorge's walking tracks allow access to a great range of the Park's Vegetation Types. The Main Track follows Carnarvon Creek, meandering through creek flats swathed in Blady Grass and studded with Carnarvon Fan Palms (Livistona nitida, pictured right).

 

Listed as rare under Queensland legislation, the Carnarvon Fan Palm is one of the Australia's tallest palms and are endemic to the Dawson Basin. They are iconic Carnarvon plants, lining the creek flats and waterways and lending an oasis-like atmosphere to the floor of the Gorge.

Carnarvon Fan Palm
Endemic to the Dawson River Basin, Carnarvon Fan Palms are an iconic Carnarvon plant.
King Fern, Carnarvon Gorge.
Backlit King Fern Frond, Ward's Canyon.

Trails into sites such as the Moss Gardens pass through tall open eucalypt forest before entering patches of remnant rainforest sheltering beneath towering cliffs. Rainforest once covered the entire region in our distant past, and Carnarvon Gorge's rainforest species owe their existence to the sheltered habitats it provides.

 

This is illustrated by species which occur within the Park in a disjunct population, such as the Sydney Blue Gum, Eucalyptus saligna, and the King Fern, Angiopteris evecta (left). 13 of these giant ferns survive in Ward's Canyon, in the only known occurrence of the species in the Brigalow Belt. Their nearest relatives grow next to Wangoolba Creek at Central Station on Fraser Island.

No mention of Carnarvon Gorge's vegetation is complete without a reference to the ancient cycads that lend a 'Jurassic Park' feel to the sandstone ridges and basalt tablelands. These slow growing plants produce toxic seeds that were an important food resource (once detoxified) to local Aboriginal groups.

 

Untreated, they contain dangerous quantities of cyanide - the last known fatality to cycad poisoning in the region was a ten year old boy. The cycads, strangely, have no common name and are simply known by their genus name, Macrozamia. They are endemic to Central Queensland in areas on, or close to, the ancient lava flows of the Buckland Volcanic

Callistemon Flower
Detail of a weeping bottlebrush flower.
Fairy Bells, Carnarvon Gorge.
Fairy Bell Orchid, Ward's Canyon.

Wildflowers can be seen at any time of the year. During winter, Native Hibiscus, Hibiscus heterophylla, put out their showy blooms above inconspicuous ground orchids such as the Nodding Greenhood, Pterostylis nutans. Some of Carnarvon Gorge's orchids are small and cryptic, but they seldom escape Simon's keen eyes and if you are walking with him you'll get to see them all, amongst many other types of plant.

 

Many of the Gorge's plants provided food and/or medicines for local indigenous groups and this knowledge is also incorporated into Australian Nature Guides' tours. The pharmacopeia provided by Carnarvon Gorge's plants helped people cope with everything from infant teething up to contraception.

 

Fauna of Carnarvon Gorge

Due to the permanent artesian water, the comparatively good rainfall, and the wide range of habitats present, the Gorge has high biodiversity and strong populations of wildlife. Over 210 bird species have been recorded in Carnarvon National Park, 173 of which have been recorded within Carnarvon Gorge. Mud nest building Apostlebirds and White-winged Choughs (pictured right) are common around the accommodation centres, whereas less common birds such as Squatter Pigeons and Peregrine Falcons require a little more effort to locate.

 

A number of bird species reach their western distributional limit in the area, including some of the more frequently seen birds such as Australian King Parrots, White-browed scrubwrens, Lewin's Honeyeater, and Golden Whistlers

Australian Bustard, Carnarvon Gorge.
The Australian bustard, with its stately posture, is a common sight on the road leading into Carnarvon Gorge.
Glider, Carnarvon Gorge.
Yellow-bellied gliders are the focus of the Night Safari Tour.

Carnarvon National Park has at least 54 native mammal species, around twenty of which are bats. As with birds, some of the Parks' mammals are found no further west including four of the five species of glider that frequent Carnarvon Gorge. The Gorge's gliders are the focus of Australian Nature Guides' Nightlife Tours. Five of the country's six species occur here, and Australian Nature Guides' Nightlife Tours usually encounter the largest two - the Greater Glider and the Yellow-bellied Glider (pictured left).

 

Greater Gliders are folivores and occur in some density along Carnarvon's creek flats. They are the largest of Australia's gliders and are impressive to observe, reaching nose to tail lengths of over a metre. Yellow-bellied Gliders are smaller than Greater Gliders, but they make up for lack of size with charisma. Their varied diet, rich in carbohydrate, gives them the energy to get up to lots of mischief and they are the species most regularly seen gliding (pictured right) on Simon's Nightlife Tours.

Other species encountered on the Nightlife Tour include all the Gorge's macropods (Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Swamp Wallabies, Pretty-faced Wallabies and Rufous Bettongs), as well as possums, bats, owls, Bush Thick-knees, and the occasional Koala. It must be said, however, that Koalas are indeed a rare sighting. In the Southern Brigalow Belt they achieve the lowest population density within their range in Queensland at around one per 150 square kilometres.

Swamp Wallaby, Carnarvon Gorge.
Swamp wallabies are the most common macropod seen inside the Gorge.
Echidna, Carnarvon Gorge.
Echidnas are common in Carnarvon Gorge.

Carnarvon Creek holds healthy populations of Platypus and its adjacent flats suit Echidna. The lower reaches of the creek are the best places to try and see Platypus - from the Nature Trail to Takarakka. Platypus will tolerate moderate levels of noise from their environment, but will disappear in response to sudden movement. If you stay relatively still whilst watching them you can hold a normal conversation without frightening them.

 

One thing you do need to know about Carnarvon Gorge's Platypus is that they burrow far under the banks. This means we should think twice about approaching close to the creek to look for them as we are heavy enough to collapse the burrow of the animal we are trying to admire.

 

A good place to be aware of Echidna is Mickey Creek, whose cool, open environment allows them to forage more often. They are quite noisy creatures, and will give away their presence as they rustle through the leaf litter - providing you are moving quietly enough to hear them before they hear you.

The Park's reptile list is as long as your arm, but the nasty ones with no legs (snakes) are generally inactive during the peak winter visitation period. In Spring and Summer, sunny patches of forest beside the tracks will be alive with a wide variety of skinks, and at night the Gorge's magnificent geckoes will emerge.

Black-tailed Monitor, Carnarvon Gorge
The black-tailed monitor is the smallest of the Gorge's goannas.
Spangled Perch, Carnarvon Gorge.

Carnarvon Creek is teeming with life, but most of it will remain hidden during the day for fear of being eaten. Much of the creeklife is invertebrate as it plays host to the early stages of a broad range of insects. Turn over a rock in the creek and you are likely to see its underside literally crawling with life.

 

Several turtle species live in the creek, and they can grow to a considerable size. Look for them sunning themselves on boulders in the latter part of the day around the Rockpool. Fish life is also strong, including tiny hardyheads, rainbow fish and pugnacious Purple-spotted Gudgeons (pictured left) and the larger Spangled Perch, Golden Perch, Bony Bream and Long-finned Eels.

Migrating spangled perch struggle over the Rewan Crossing.

Despite the frequency of visitation to the Gorge, Carnarvon National Park as a whole remains little researched from a biological perspective. Local researchers believe that much awaits the gaze of science in the remote tablelands and gorges, and if we look after the Park properly then it should hopefully be there when we get around to searching the place properly. Having said that, it is pertinent to note that there appear to have been several species with major population reductions in the Park, including Brush Turkeys and Northern Quolls.

Explore the Gorge in detail using the Discovery Centre's equipment!

Carnarvon Gorge

Discovery Centre

Australian Nature Guides' has established the Gorge's first, and only, museum. Dedicated to all things Gorge-ous, Simon's hands-on approach comes to the fore yet again. Pop in and try your hand at some fascinating, interactive displays and activities.

Sunspots

Solar Observation

Meet the prodigal Sun.

If you'd like to get a taste of Australian Nature Guides' hands-on astronomy tours, pop into the Discovery Centre during the day and take advantage of our solar scope to look at the surface of the Sun in safety.

Geological Time-machine

Stories in the stones.

The rocks of Carnarvon Gorge tell a story spanning over two hundred million years. The Discovery Centre has a range of local rocks on display that can take you on a journey back through time. Come along and take a ride if you dare.

Carnarvon Gorge Discovery Centre

O'Brien's Rd.

Carnarvon National Park

Queensland 4702 Australia

p: (07) 4984 4652

m: 0408 741 292

© 2016 by Australian Nature Guides

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