PERHAPS IT'S THE incredible silence of the place, or the narrow closeness of the gorge walls, or the splendid colours in the sandstone cliffs that make Cobbold so different and very special. In reality it is all of these and more that are today drawing visitors in increasing numbers to this natural wonder.
Hidden away in the Gulf savannah country of North Qld and virtually untouched until 1994, Cobbold Gorge may not be the biggest you’ll ever see, but wow, it has to be one of the most memorable!
Located on the huge, 1284 sq km Robin Hood Cattle Station approximately 45km south-west of the Gulf Country town of Forsayth, Cobbold Gorge is simply a gouge through the rugged sandstone escarpments that run through this region. It is fed by several local springs that keep the water at a constant level almost all year round.
The property here was settled by the Clarke family in the late 1800s. In the 1960s it changed hands when the Terry family, previously sheep farmers, took it over to run cattle. For the Terrys this has obviously proved a good move and today a healthy herd of around 10,000 red and grey Brahmans range across this fertile grazing country.
The Terrys, who were busy looking after cattle, had little interest in the sandstone escarpments, cliffs and narrow gorges in the largely inaccessible section of their property. However, this changed in 1991 when Simon Terry flew over the property and was impressed at what he saw from the air. He and his wife Gaye then carved out a rough track and paddled up Cobbold Gorge in an upturned cattle trough! They instantly knew they had something special, and by 1994, they had the first tourists coming in here to have a look.
Today the Terry family have a well-organised facility that makes a visit to Cobbold Gorge not only a very scenic and memorable experience, but one that can be enjoyed in a good deal of comfort despite the isolation and remoteness of the region.
Located just 3km from the gorge, the impressive Cobbold Village, in an open bush setting, provides well-appointed, comfortable, air-conditioned units and cabins. There is also a shady campground with powered and unpowered sites for caravans, motorhomes, campervans and tents. The amenities include toilets, hot showers, laundry and public telephone, fresh water on tap as well as barbecues and fireplaces (wood provided).
In addition there is a lovely swimming pool as well as a nearby swimming hole, a fully licensed bar and a restaurant. Snacks and refreshments are also available. A store stocks limited food supplies, souvenirs, films, disposable cameras, ice, milk and other basic necessities. There are also a couple of self-guided walk trails that set out from the campground.
Access to the gorge is by guided tour only and bookings are essential. There are a variety of different tour options each day including a Gorge Tour, Station Tour or self-drive tours to Agate Creek, the Quartz Blow and other places of interest around the property. Scenic helicopter flights and secluded bush camping options are also available. There are escarpment rim walks, including the opportunity to check out an old bushranger’s hideout and a grave of an early settler murdered back in 1871, and a cooling swim in the lovely swimming hole at the mouth of the gorge.
THE GORGE TOUR
The highlight of any visit here, however, is the three-hour boat cruise through the gorge itself (adults $65, children $33, family $195). Seated on long, thin, flat-bottom, punt-style boats powered by quiet electric motors, visitors are taken on a breathtaking cruise between the narrow, 30m-high sandstone cliffs. You glide silently through the gorge with colourful cliffs closing in on each side, until about 500m into the gorge, it is no more than about 2m wide – there are only inches on either side of the boat, barely enough to get through.
This is a truly awesome experience as you quietly float beneath the magnificent gorge walls, gouged, potholed and carved by the water that gushes through this narrow chasm during the wet season. Delicate ferns thrive along the waterline within the gorge, and native fish here include archerfish, sooty grunter, long Tom and perch.
The actual gorge is around 6km long, consisting of a series of waterholes and rock falls, but because of water levels it is only possible to navigate around 500m into the chasm. However, you get to see all the spectacular views that you enjoyed on your way in from the reverse direction going out, while the guide points out plenty of different things you may not have seen on the way in. The purpose-built cruise boats are fitted with an electric motor at either end, eliminating the almost impossible prospect of turning it around inside the gorge.
Another highlight of the boat tour is the real likelihood of spotting, at fairly close range, some freshwater crocodiles. These generally timid species are mostly seen in the warmer parts of the day sunning themselves on the banks of the gorge, on rocks or just quietly floating on the surface just a few metres from the boat – a great experience. It’s comforting to know if you fall into the water, these crocs are generally considered harmless to people. It is a very different story with saltwater crocodiles found in many other parts of northern Australia.
All too soon your gorge boat tour is over and many visitors wish they could do it all again. Perhaps they should try the afternoon tour if they’ve already seen it in the morning, when the light on the gorge walls gives quite a different effect.
As you travel in a coach-style 4WD vehicle to and from the gorge, your guide provides an informative commentary not only on the gorge but also the landscape, the plants, birds and other wildlife, the geology as well as early Aboriginal and cattle station history.
Cobbold Gorge is not just another gorge, but a boat cruise that will leave you wanting more!
Cobbold Gorge Village is 400km west of Cairns and Townsville and 45km south-west of Forsayth (south of Georgetown), on a well-maintained gravel road suitable for conventional vehicles and caravans driven with care. Call Cobbold Village for road conditions after rain. Because of limitations imposed by the wet season, the village is closed from October 31 to April 1.
For enquiries and accommodation and/or tour bookings, call 1800 669 922 or (07) 4062 5470, or visit www.cobboldgorge.com.au
There is an all-weather airstrip some 15km from Cobbold Village for those who wish to come by plane, but phone ahead for details. Savannahlander rail and coach tours from Cairns are also available – call (07) 4062 5386.
Source: Caravan World Oct 2009