There were three places I hadn't been to that I wanted to visit on my latest north Queensland driving adventure. I ticked off Adels Grove, then Undara Lava Experience and now we were finally arriving at the gate of the third one, Cobbold Gorge. Set in the Great Dividing Range, 90km south-east of Georgetown, it was another place I'd written about a lot in the last few years and was constantly up for Outback, Queensland and Australian tourism awards.
Ideally we would have done Cobbold Gorge after Adels and Karumba before heading to Undara but when we booked the trip back in pre-COVID times it was busy and only available after we finished at Undara. So after spending a night at Forsayth, we drove up a very bad gravel road 50km to the resort. Arriving early in the morning, we were too early to check in so hit the hills on one of their local bushwalks up to Russell's Lookout.
Above was the view from the lookout north back to Cobbold Gorge resort. The Gorge itself was out of shot to the east about a 10 minute drive away and not accessible on foot. The processes that created Cobbold Gorge started 1.7 billion years ago. Sand and mud sediment was deposited on the ocean floor, until layers built up 10km thick. Movement in the Earth's crust caused the sediments to compress, forming the Hampstead Sandstone. Endless wet seasons spilled torrents of water through the narrow fractures of sedimentary rock, creating deep gorges and permanent springs and seepages.
That we would discover later, for now we walked back to our boundary hut at the resort which was ready to check in. It was in a nice spot overlooking the restaurant area, infinity pool and dam.
After lunch and a quick dip in the pool, we were booked into the 1.30pm three hour tour as people cannot access the gorge independently. There was around 40 of us split into four groups, with two groups taking the boats down the gorge first while we did the bush walk first. Positions were reversed for the second half of the tour. As we set off our knowledgeable guide spotted a resting crocodile off to our right. We would get a better look at it later when we returned to the boats.
For now we were heading towards the mighty boulders of what our guide called "conglomerate country". Conglomerate is a clastic sedimentary rock that contains large rounded clasts, washed downstream in swift currents. Situated east of the Robertson River, the rocks are part of a sequence called the Etheridge Group and were deposited in a shallow sea as fine sand and mud. As the sediment was deposited, the Earth's crust beneath the sea-floor subsided, and eventually, a pile of sediment more than 10km thick accumulated. In places, flows of basalt lava were erupted onto the sea-floor, or were intruded into the sediments. The rocks were formed in the Precambrian era, when the only life forms in the sea were simple single-celled algae and bacteria.
Just like Undara Experience, Cobbold Gorge is private property. The traditional owners, the Ewamian People were dispossessed by white colonists in the 1800s and this area was settled as Robin Hood station (so named because it adjoined the Sherwood mining lease) by the Clark family. The Terry family bought the property in 1964.
The Cobbold Creek mouth with its permanent clean water, was always a popular watering hole for cattle but was isolated in the south-west of the property and narrow and hard to get to. Simon Terry and two friends first paddled up the creek in the 1990s and were amazed at what lay before them, the magnificent Cobbold Gorge. In 1994 Simon and wife Gaye first started a tourism venture with tours from Georgetown, then a camping area. They acquired accommodation units from the Sydney Olympics site and later the closed Kidston Gold Mine in 2002/03. They are still adding to the site, the latest attraction being this wonderful glass bridge opened this year.
Above is the view of the narrowest section of the gorge from the Glass Bridge. I was the first to arrive at the Bridge in our group and immediately rushed out to take photos before being admonished by the tour guide. A quick look down showed me why, as my dusty boots left prints on the glass. I had to quickly get off and put surgical slippers over my boots. The tour guide turned down my apologetic offer to wipe the dust off the bridge floor.
The view on either side of the bridge was magnificent despite my lack of social graces. I said the rocks are 1.7 billion years old but the processes that formed the Gorge are far more recent. Minor movements around 10,000 years ago contributed to the formation of the lower reaches of Cobbold Gorge. The gorge narrows to just two metres in places which indicates it is the youngest known gorge in Queensland today.
Above is the view looking back towards the glass bridge and a second connecting bridge. Cobbold Creek used join the Robertson River 1.5km upstream. Above the gorge it previously turned and flowed east to southeast through a relatively wide gorge. This gorge is now abandoned, and is a dry valley without any major stream. Instead, all the water from Cobbold Creek and its tributaries is funnelled through the very narrow slit in the sandstone now known as Cobbold Creek Gorge.
The exact reason why this happened is uncertain. One possible cause is "stream capture". On aerial photographs of the sandstone, there are numerous dark lines, fractures etched out by weathering with the larger ones forming deep gullies. The gorge may have been one such gully that over time and erosion the head of the gully retreated until it met Cobbold Creek. Because its mouth was at a lower point than the old mouth, the gully captured all the water flowing down Cobbold Creek and its tributaries. Whatever, it was time to explore the Gorge from creek level.
As we started off we finally got a close up of the freshwater croc basking by the side of the water. Our guide identified it as a female. These are freshwater crocodiles, called Johnstone River Crocodiles, Crocodylus johnstoni. They enjoy the gorge's permanent water supply and stock of native fish, birds, bats, reptiles and amphibians. They have have a slender snout and sharp teeth and the males can grow up to 1.5m long and on average, weigh about 70kg, with females slightly smaller.
It soon becomes obvious why Cobbold Gorge Tours uses a crocodile on their logo. Further on we spot a second croc, swimming across the creek before disappearing below the waterline. These freshies do not attack humans unless provoked and the stand up paddlers who also use the creek need not worry about becoming part of the menu.
We approach the glass bridge from below. The bridge is one of the reasons why the site has grown from 200 visitors annually in 1994 to over 10,000 today.
The gorge got very narrow in places and occasionally you had to watch out in case a protruding rock hits your noggin. The creek and gorge get their name from Frank Cobbold (1853-1935), an English-born pastoralist who managed many properties in his years in Australia including Robin Hood Station. Cobbold, I learned, is pronounced CO-bold and not COB-old as I thought.
As we saunter through the creek in our silent solar-powered boat, the shadows of late afternoon painted different colours onto the gorge walls.
This moss garden reminded me of a similar one I once saw in Carnarvon Gorge. Water from rainfall percolates down the joints into the sandstone until it meets an impervious layer like a shale bed. If the impervious layer is exposed in the side of a creek or gully, the water will seep out as a spring. Some springs can be seen along the walls of Cobbold Creek Gorge.
When our tour finished we returned to the lodge and went down to the dam. The water level was well down due to the lack of big rains in previous years. One egret had the dam to itself.
Afterwards we retired to the bar for dinner and drinks. I did pop down to the firepit to check out our guide from earlier now showing his fire-making skills. Sitting in front of a roasting fire was a pleasant way to bring the day to an end.