It’s school holidays and the state borders are closed because of Covid, so I’m looking for a holiday within Queensland.
My main motive for travel is to get my teenage sons off their screens. My youngest watches YouTube non-stop and the eldest is stretched on his bed scrolling Instagram memes.
As for my own screen addiction, I had seen Carnarvon Gorge, nine-and-a-half hour’s drive north-west of Brisbane, posted on Facebook by a high school friend. The national park with its sweep of canyons and creeks with steppingstones was intriguing.
I texted a friend who lives on a cattle station out west for Carnarvon tips. She sent links to hotel rooms in Roma and a fancy pub on the corner in town – Royal on 99. It had glass vaulted ceilings and beef on the menu, of course.
After loading up on groceries at Woolies in Roma, we made our way to the Takarakka Bush Resort campground, adjacent to the Carnarvon National Park. I had booked a stand-alone cabin, with a double bed, a bunk bed, a small bar fridge and a pedestal fan. The bathroom was in a water-tank like structure next to the main cabin, connected by timber decking.
I made a nacho dish I had found on Pinterest (more screen time) in the shared campground kitchen. That evening, the boys mocked my chattiness with fellow campers: So where are you guys from? When did you arrive? While insects zapped about us, we studied the free map from the campsite and decided to go all the way into the National Park to the Cathedral – an 18-kilometre round trip on foot.
“ Where is the path? Why is that reflector over there? Where is the riverbed marking? ”
We hadn’t packed a day pack, so instead filled my eldest son’s school bag with ham-and-cheese sandwiches, a can of Diet Coke each and three 1.5 litre bottles of mineral water. The trip began well enough. We stopped at the Art Gallery section and saw incredible Aboriginal art by the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Karingbal people. I had never seen art like that before in real life, only through books or tourism images online.
We came to a branching off section of the path, the final push to our end destination, the Cathedral. We asked ourselves, should we do it? My eldest son, who is sometimes the most reluctant, was like, yeah, let’s do it! So, we trekked to the Cathedral.
Again, it was a stunning part of the National Park. More ancient Aboriginal art, a rock shelter and there were park benches that I laid on and had a ten-minute nap while my sons explored the track further along to Boowinda Gorge. Then we embarked on our return.
Within the park, the river crossings are marked with numbers and there are reflectors nailed on trees guiding the way. We came to a rocky riverbed and could not find our way out. There was a reflector on a tree leading to a frazzled dead end of trees and vines. We couldn’t figure it out. What was going on?
It was 4pm and the sun was getting low in the canyon. My youngest son’s shoes were wet from the river crossings and he was padding about barefoot. We were low on water and snacks. My phone had run out of battery and didn’t work out there anyhow. We were a comedy sketch of what not to do. And we could not find the path.
We decided to walk back the way we had come; perhaps we’ll find a marking, maybe we’ve dived off at the wrong spot? What have we done? We stood next to a clear stream and plunged our wrists into the water to cool down and made a plan. Let’s try one more time, otherwise, let’s sleep at the Cathedral – on that bench, where I had napped. At least there’ll be shelter and we can walk out with any other hikers who might arrive the next morning.
We walked back to the riverbed. We explored any break in the bush. Where is the path? Why is that reflector over there? Where is the riverbed marking? My youngest son said, “I’m so tired, I can’t figure out my own survival.” We took turns calling out “help!” in the hope a park ranger might hear us.
And so, we headed back to the Cathedral. On the way back, I was like, let’s give it one more go! Let’s try to find our way out one more time. Third try on the stony river creek bed, my eldest spied a reflector nailed to a tree in the distance, across an overgrown tumble of grass and rocks. We couldn’t believe it. We had found the path. As soon as we saw the wooden river crossing marking, we hugged each other.
My youngest walked barefoot all the way back to the carpark. The boys grizzled at each other and complained. A surly kangaroo blocked the gravel track at one point, but I was just grateful we had found the markings and we were on our way back to the carpark.
Our car seemed like it was parked at the furthest point in the carpark. All the other day trippers had gone home. While driving back to the campsite we fantasised about the ginger beer we would buy from the camp store. Alas, the shop was closed by the time we got back to Takarakka. I was too tired to cook dinner. We ate snacks and the boys made themselves pot noodles. My phone said I had walked 24,000 steps – and that was before the battery had died.
That night, the rain thundered on our cabin. I was so grateful to be dry and propped up on pillows in a bed and not hungry in the National Park. I lay there scrolling on my phone. My sons were in the bunk next to me, earbuds in, sometimes letting out a soft giggle from a YouTube prank or an Instagram meme. Every so often they’d crawl across to me and show me a funny post or something I might like, and I’d laugh and then go back to my screen.
Back in Brisbane, I went online and detailed our experience at River Crossing Seven on the National Parks and Wildlife Service website. A woman from Carnarvon called the next day to take a note for the park rangers. A friend who works for the Queensland Ambulance Service, has an ambo friend at Injune, near Carnarvon, and joked we wouldn’t have been the first people to stay in the park overnight. We were now safely back in our suburban lives; screens and all.