Croydon

Distances in outback Queensland are long but we like to keep daily driving time to no more than four or so hours. That allows time for breaks and diversions for the unexpected. It requires planning overnight stops to suit. Croydon fitted our need for an achievable destination after a full morning at Cobbold Gorge balanced with a comfortable distance tomorrow knowing that the next day would necessarily be longer again.

Through winter months the Cobbold Gorge tours run for 3 hours from 10:00 am. From November to March they don’t run at all because it is too hot or wet. In October they run from 8:00 am to avoid the worst of the heat.

We were showered, breakfasted, and ready in time to use the connectivity near reception to check overnight messages before the tour. On time names were called to form 3 groups, each of about 18, split among 3 guides. We climbed aboard high clearance 4WD buses for the 10 minute drive to the gorge.

At the gorge one group went directly to the boats and one headed off on the walking track. While our group waited for the second group to go far enough ahead to provide a buffer on the trail, our guide, Graham, explained some of the history of the area and told us about some of the vegetation we would see. 

Once the group ahead of us had moved far enough along the trail we set off across the creek on the pontoon against which the boats for the cruise were moored. Our walk took us in short stages a little way down the creek that flows out of the gorge, up the bank onto the sandstone aggregate country from which the gorge and other features have been carved, a little way upstream across the top of the sandstone to the glass bottomed bridge across the gorge that opened this year, and down the other side of the gorge back to the pontoon.

The climbs were steep in places and the footing was occasionally rough but the worst parts had walkways to provide firm footing and something to hold. The day was warm (36ºC when we were able to get a temperature later) and it was stiflingly hot across the top of the sun baked rock with no shade. We were glad of the occasional shaded gap between rocks on the high part and the scattered trees on the lower parts. Occasionally we were lucky to get a whiff of breeze.

We stopped frequently as we walked for Graham to point out features of the environment, especially the vegetation. Many of the plants had food or other uses for indigenous people and he was able to describe many of those along with stories of early settlers and cattle farming. At one point there were chairs set out in a shaded area where we sat for a few minutes as Graham talked about several of the plants and other features round about.

The cruise up the gorge and back was the highlight of the tour. The boats are designed for the task – flat bottomed tinnies with bench seats along either side and a seat for the guide/driver and electrically powered outboard at each end. That avoids having to turn the boats at the narrow far end of the gorge – the driver simply raises the motor at one end, moves to the seat at the other end, lowers the other motor and returns down the gorge. The boat batteries are charged by a set of solar panels on the bank above the pontoon. Electric motors minimise the risk of environmental pollution by oils and improve the experience by being nearly silent in operation.

Cobbold Gorge is the youngest known gorge in Queensland. It formed about 19000 years ago when a seismic event stopped water flowing across the top end of the gorge from reaching the nearby Robertson River. Instead the water flowed through an existing crevice in the sandstone aggregate, gradually widening the opening over millennia to form the gorge as it flowed to enter the Robertson River at a different point. The walls of the gorge are marked by the erosion that has taken place but support a variety of ferns and mosses in places and are populated by wasps and spiders that hang webs to catch insects. The water depth is up to 20 m in places and does not vary much except in flood. Water percolating through the sandstone could be seen dripping down in places. The lower end of the gorge where we boarded the boats is several metres wide but there are places further up where the boat scraped either side as it went through.

Our cruise up and down the gorge took about 45 minutes. Mostly it was in the shade of the gorge wall and pleasantly cool. In the wider sections we were in sun and it was hot with no escape. There was much to see and think about with the informative commentary for Graham.

The tour took just on 3 hours as advertised and we were back at base around 11:00 am. We took time for a lunch of ham and egg sandwiches with coffee, using the eggs Majella had boiled this morning. By 11:30 am we were on our way out of the park and back up the road we had travelled yesterday from Forsayth.

Majella drove us out. There was no way to avoid the shaking and noise from the corrugated gravel for the first 40+ km. We discovered much later that the drawer that came apart yesterday had done so again requiring another fix and that one of the glasses in a top cupboard had broken. If that’s all that was damaged we were lucky.

At Forsayth we found sealed road heading for Georgetown but it had a few stretches of gravel with corrugations but none so bad as those into Cobbold Gorge. We paused at Georgetown to fill up with diesel – a wise choice since we found later it was 30c/l cheaper there than in Croydon – and  enjoy a cold drink of ginger beer.

The road from Georgetown to Croydon was sealed all the way but there were a few narrow sections of older sealed road interspersed among the new full width road sections. It’s a mystery why governments will leave such short sections of neglected road among otherwise good road. We stopped once to see the chimney at Cumberland, an old now vanished mining settlement but drove by Littleton National Park because there was no obvious sign to any entry.

By 3:00 pm we were in Croydon. Intrigued by the signs advertising Belmore Dam, we drove out there for a look and stopped at the lookout for a view over town on the way back. On a drive around town we found the information centre where we spent 30 minutes to read some of the displays and watch a video presentation about the history of Croydon. It was a very active gold mining area in the late 1800s but the gold was mostly gone by the end of that century. The town was initially in favour of a separate state for North Queensland but provision of a rail link swayed them and they became very strong supporters of federation, voting 95% in favour. The town is now much smaller than the 3000 population it had in its heyday but, inspired by Undara and Cobbold Gorge among others, it is hoping for a tourist boost.

The caravan park was not crowded and we had our choice of spot in the shade of some mango trees. We waited until around 4:30 pm to wander out around town to pick up some groceries and look at the old buildings in the heritage precinct. It had not cooled at all by that time and we were pleased to get back to the air conditioning in the van where we relaxed until it was time to barbecue our pork chops for dinner.