Thursday, 25 October 2012

Secrets of the Bobo River - Wild Cattle Creek State Forest

It feels like there are many secrets in the natural world.

One of those secrets is the Bobo River. Not its location - it is easily found up the mountain road to Ulong, straight ahead at the bend, onto the dirt road toward Cascade, then stop at the third bridge. But, the Bobo has secrets. Or rather, people who know the Bobo keep secrets for it.

The Bobo River has its headwaters on the northern flank of Mt Wondurrigah, in Bindarri National Park, west of Coffs Harbour. It runs north-west through cattle farms and across the Eastern Dorrigo Plateau, past the old timber milling town of Brooklana, before disappearing into Wild Cattle Creek State Forest where it becomes narrow and inaccessible: banked by lush rainforest and carving its way through a bedrock of hard argillite, a fine-grained sedimentary rock laid down over 320 million years ago - mud and ooze and clay transformed into a rock similar to shale but with less planes of weakness. 

To show me some of the secrets on this little river, Caz had planned an overnight adventure - a packrafting trip (of the low budget kind). Secrets can be hard to wheedle out of a landscape but they need not be expensive. A quick visit to the discount department store and we had two $29.99 vinyl blow-up boats to pass as pack rafts. We crammed them into the bottom of our overnight packs with an extra set of clothes, tarpaulin (no tent), sleeping bags, food, camera gear and everything triple bagged to protect against a possible dunking in the river.


With a mean annual rainfall of 2116mm in its catchment, the Bobo is a chunky river in its lower reaches. The creek bed narrows and surging water is forced down chutes and channels and over steep waterfalls and drops. Although the Bobo travels through a state forest, and a heavily logged one at that, the river itself is left well alone. There are long quiet pools, hoop pines towering above on the steep hillsides and stands of rare Antarctic Beech in the rainforest gullies. Antarctic Beech is more commonly restricted to high altitudes of 800m to 1500m, and this is one of the few spots in the world where it grows so low, at just 400-500m above sea level. 

To access the river, we park on the Timmsvale Road and follow an indistinct ridgeline, aiming for the junction of the Bobo River and Mobong Creek. Feeder gullies push us further south than anticipated and so we follow our noses, emerging upstream of the junction onto some warm rocks. The river is brown with run-off from recent summer storms. We haven't checked the weekend forecast but summer is summer and adventure is adventure. We will take what we get, whatever that will be.  

After inflating the 'pack rafts' and launching ourselves into the flow, we are soon back out on the bank. The first major portage comes at the junction with Mobong Creek. Here, the river funnels into a slotty crevasse and drops into a narrow channel. The scenery is more dramatic with the hidden ruggedness of the river revealing itself. The hard bed-rock angles across the flow. We rock-hop then paddle, slide the boats downstream and ride the white water where possible. I try to copy Caz’s every move as he paddles ahead. And yet, I always end up sliding sideways into the small rapids. I marvel at the ease with which he manoeuveres onto the right line. I have to admit this is also my second vinyl boat, one already sadly sent to the dump following a pack raft adventure in the Mann River Wilderness. On this trip down the Bobo my boat lasts until after lunch. when I puncture the floor. Fortunately, with the main outer chambers intact I paddle on, just riding a little lower in the water.

Mid-afternoon, the real secret at the heart of this trip, reveals itself. Caz had been anticipating it an hour before we get there. Having not been down this river for more than 10 years he tells me his memory is sketchy but, apparently we won't miss this next rapid. There will be noise enough to warn us and it will be a compulsory portage. 

When we do arrive, conversation is difficult over the roaring noise of the waterfall as it crashes a sheer 20m into a narrow gap. The portage here, with a delicately inflated boat, looks tricky. I will have to negotiate a high rocky ledge to the right of the waterfall. The ledge plunges directly to the river and is covered with low-lying scrub and tough, scrappy trees. We plan to camp below the falls and then bush bash out to the road in the morning, so technically my Explorer 200 has done its job. The floor is riddled with holes and one long split. But it is still floating.

What the hell, I think. I really don't want to carry it around that exposed ledge. We might not be able to paddle this big drop but perhaps the Explorer can. I wait for Caz to climb around and down to the water and be at the ready. Then, over it goes. I throw the empty Explorer 200 off the cliff and into the defile. It survives, of course. Quality stuff. 

The paddling might be done, but the adventure isn't.  As we play in our boats and explore the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall, the afternoon sky becomes crowded with billowing dark clouds. When the sun suddenly disappears and everything goes grey, we look up. Then the first crack of thunder rumbles. We haven't even looked for a decent place to string the tarp and set up camp, now the pressure is on.  

We select a small rough looking bank of pebbles, not far off water level. It will be a two-tiered affair with one person lying on the gravel and the other on a rocky ledge above. A bit of tricky tarp tying, one well-placed small tree and some driftwood wedged between a gap in the rocks, and our shelter is anchored. We lay out the ground tarp, throw our bags under and then dive in after them as thunder cracks so closely it echoes off the walls of the waterfall. A frontal wind whips sudden rain under one end of the tarp and the pair of us hunker down inside our bivvy bags.  The rain that follows is torrential. Constant booms of thunder, followed by brilliant blinding lightening, have us yahooing to each other as we lie there waiting out the action.

An hour later, we gingerly emerge from under the tarp, only to find the landscape revealing yet another secret beauty. Awash with drifts of mist, and the trees bright green with moisture, the valley around us looks exotically beautiful. The rocks are slick with fresh colour. As the night draws in, red-eyed tree frogs set up a chorus from their perches on spindly callistemon saplings. Another storm races through in the middle of the night, with brighter lightening but less rain.

By morning there is still more to reveal. We bush-bash up a pretty rainforest gully that will lead us to Timmsvale Road. Caz spots a southern angle headed dragon, well camouflaged but right in our path.
For what is State Forest, this patch of rainforest proves remarkably pristine and stunningly pretty. Further along our route we spy the brilliant turquoise flash of a Noisy Pitta: there are two of them, quite large, standing in a stony creek bed. 

A bit further on and we hit the road. The weekend adventure is over and the secret wonders of the Bobo have revealed themselves. The real secret is, however, that there are no secrets in nature - just places and things we haven’t yet been out and discovered. 

Check these web pages out for more on the Bobo River and surrounds: -

Paddle Australia guide to the Bobo River here.

Australian online whitewater magazine.

More adventures to be had.

Opening of the Bobo River Bridge, 1914, here.

Australian natural resources atlas – Bobo River unimpaired stream flow site report here.

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