Tag Archives: outback australia

Cobbold Gorge – a hidden treasure

 

The huts at Cobbold

The accommodation at Cobbold Gorge resort is basic, but quite acceptable. We stayed in a hut built of corrugated iron, with air conditioning and an en suite bathroom. As I said yesterday, the resort has a restaurant and bar. What more could you want? I woke early and hearing the sounds of pink and grey galahs, went out for a look. They were perched in a dead tree, catching the first rays of the rising sun, so they were in silhouette. But I noticed a second tree in a place where I could get the sun behind me.

After breakfast we went off to see the famous Cobbold gorge. The owner of the property, Simon Terry, found the gorge in the early nineties. You might find that hard to imagine, but if you look at the aerial photo, taken from the station’s helicopter, you’ll see it’s very narrow, therefore easily missable. Simon apparently showed the gorge to family and friends, and got the idea he could make the place into a tourist attraction. Tourists, after all, are not as susceptible to the rigours of climate and market conditions as cattle. So he and his family sold half their herd and developed the resort. It’s a credit to them all. A great little oasis in the scrub.

But even tourists can be affected by weather events. I mentioned last time the travellers in the Savannahlander who had to take a coach when the train could not return to Cairns due to flooding. Here at Cobbold the resort had to contend with a flooded river, which we had to cross to see the gorge. Normally at this time of year the river is a succession of water holes, and the crossing is simple. What to do? Like most property owners out here, the Terrys have a helicopter. The cattle station (its name is Robin Hood) covers 500 square miles, which isn’t big by local standards. Mt Surprise station is 660 square miles, and further west the properties are much larger. But you can spend a lot of time mustering on horseback on 500 square miles. Then there’s tank and fence maintenance and so on. A helicopter makes sense, and it earned its keep in preventing a whole lot of disappointment to a bunch of tourists. We were ferried 600 metres across the river in the chopper, in groups of three. Once twelve of us were on the other side our local guide took us to the creek running through the gorge and we boarded a narrow, shallow draft boat.

The gorge from the air. The boats are visible at the head of the creek, bottom left

Crossing the flooded Robertson River

The head of the gorge

It’s very, very narrow.

A couple of things stood out for me. We visited Geikie Gorge a while back, and noted the mud nests of tiny birds clinging to the overhanging rocks there. We also saw a lot of other bird life. But while Cobbold contains fish and fresh water crocodiles, we didn’t see any birds. The mud nests I noticed belonged to hornets. I would have expected, too, to have seen some evidence of the indigenous people here – rock art or similar. But there was nothing. Talking to Simon’s wife, Gaye, I learned that the local mob (tribe) were no longer around to answer any questions. They, and their language and culture, no longer existed. And that’s the sort of story nobody ever told me at school. Gaye did say, though, that in the past aboriginal stockmen working on the property wouldn’t go within 3 miles of Cobbold Gorge. Which says a lot in itself. This website will give you more information about the gorge.

It’s believed the gorge was formed after an earthquake cracked the rocks. The water in the creek found a new path to the river via the resulting split, and the rocks wore down over the millenia.

In the afternoon a couple of new-found friends and I went on a half hour helicopter ride to see Robin Hood from the air. The sandstone scarp where the gorge runs its course is very different to the rest, where the cattle feed. We also flew over an enormous dam. It’s an area rather like Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre with only one exit. In this arid country where water is a finite resource, Simon dammed the exit. Now they have a large, reliable water source to fill the tanks for their stock.

The river and the scarp of sandstone country

The dam from the air

After lunch we came across a couple taking their pets on tour with them. That’s not unusual in itself – except these pets were a pair of Eclectus parrots. The man explained the female was called Modo because of the hump on her back (as in Quasimodo). He’d bought her from a breeder who cautioned him before he entered the aviary, warning him she would attack. Instead, she settled right on his shoulder. It was a done deal. The love and trust between the man and the parrot was just stunning to see. The male was wearing a little coat because he had a skin infection. It was quite obvious he adored his Mum. They are even house-trained, telling their human when they needed to poo. The couple has a special harness in their vehicle with perches for the two birds. And the leashes are more for the bird’s protection, in case they’re spooked and fly away. (There are a lot of raptors out here.) The leash is elastic so they won’t be jerked to a halt.

A pair of visiting Eclectus parrots

Later in the day, Simon took us out for a look around the property in a 4X4 bus, explaining some of the facets of running a cattle station along the way. The beasts look great, knee deep in quality feed. There’s no doubt the folks out here care about their cattle. After all, that’s how they make a living. The silly knee-jerk cessation of the live cattle trade to Indonesia on the basis of a sensationalist TV report a few years ago, affected the bush severely. Many graziers were brought to their knees, some never recovered. As we drove, we noticed a cow carrying an injury, and passed that on to Simon. He said that cow had broken a leg early on in life, but out here it’s not uncommon for beasts not to be included in a muster, and she hadn’t been noticed for a year or so. By then the leg had healed, although she walked with a limp. But she was in good condition, showing no sign of pain, so they let her go. She’s had three calves since then.

We ended up at the dam we’d spotted from the air, had a belated afternoon cuppa, then headed back to the resort. We would be moving on early the next day.

 

19 – Going home

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Taken from a rest area off the road. Rest areas are fairly common in the outback, because of the distances. Councils provide rubbish bins and long-drop toilets for travellers. And often they’re in very pretty places.

Kununurra and Katherine are both large enough to arrive and look for a place to stay, but Tennant Creek is a bit different. It has a large indigenous population and a reputation for unrest. With that in mind, we tried to book online at a place we’d stayed at before, but the online booking services couldn’t finalise the transaction. So we rang the motel. It’s not the only place in town, but we liked the security aspect. When we arrived, the price for the room had gone from $150 a night online to $160. Usually when you book direct the room is cheaper because the motel doesn’t have to pay a booking fee (around $8). This happened several times in our travels. Pete pointed this out to the manager, an Englishman who hadn’t been there very long. But even when he discovered the motel was offering a room at $146 per night on one of the booking services (he didn’t believe us, so he checked), he was adamant. $160. He told us we didn’t HAVE to stay there. I don’t think he quite ‘got’ it. He’s managing a motel in the middle of Australia. The place certainly wasn’t full, and he wasn’t likely to get any more passing traffic. I also heard him turn away a last minute young couple wanting a ‘budget’ room. The thing is, an empty room doesn’t earn money. Also, the place has a bar and a restaurant, so it’s easier to eat in than brave the town. He could expect to get his ten bucks back.

We might have argued, but ten bucks wasn’t much in the scheme of things, so we shrugged and paid. Certainly the rooms had been extensively renovated since the last time we stayed there, but we won’t be in a hurry to go there again. We’d stopped for a very late lunch maybe a hundred clicks from Tennant Creek at Renner Springs – basically a tiny settlement with a pub, a bowser and a caravan park. That’ll be the go next time. It avoids the 25km detour, too.

As it happened, we had a dreadful night at Tennant Creek – not because of the motel, but because the cough I’d had since we left Perth flared up. Neither of us got much sleep. In the morning I suggested we should head for home, and visit the Atherton Tablelands another time. After all, it’s only about 1,500km from home.

So we changed our route plan, going home via Mt Isa, Longreach, Biloela.

But that’s not the end of the story. I almost managed to tick off a bucket list item – a photo of a wedge-tailed eagle.

Wedgies are the biggest eagles in Australia, and they’re quite common all over the mainland. I saw this one eating road kill and managed a few parting shots (as it were)

Undercarriage still down, taking off

Undercarriage still down, taking off

And he's off, getting out of the way

And he’s off, getting out of the way

img_7245That was nice – but on another piece of road, I noticed that unmistakable wedge-shaped tail in the sky – and the bird flew down towards us, then LANDED IN A TREE BESIDE THE ROAD which, of course, we zipped past.  My driver immediately slowed to a halt and turned around. I had my camera ready but (of course) the eagle had taken off, being harassed by a magpie. This shot was taken from the car, when he flew back a little closer, hotly pursued by his tormentor. Oh well. Maybe next year.

And I’ll finish off with a few more pictures of outback Oz.

There's a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here - they're more resistant to ticks. They're originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that's the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren't too many fences out here.

There’s a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here – they’re more resistant to ticks. They’re originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that’s the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren’t too many fences out here.

Typical Kimberley country - flat plains and flat hills

Typical Kimberley country – flat plains and flat hills

Termite hills. In places they're so common it feels like you're driving past a cemetery

Termite hills. In places they’re so common it feels like you’re driving past a cemetery

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Cue "Jaws" music

Cue “Jaws” music

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Well – that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the ride. When we finally rolled into our driveway, we’d done just shy of 14,000km in a calendar month. We left on 28th September and reached home on 28th October. We used 1,190 litres of diesel. Pete added up all our costs – fuel, accommodation, meals, and sundries. It cost us $232 per day for the two of us. Not bad, really.