Cobrabald - Macdonald River headwaters

Glen Morrison Rd to Aberbaldie Rd

Verified! Steep Creek Intermediate Advanced Wilderness Trip Rain Run! CLASS II CLASS III CLASS IV


Northern Tablelands. Walcha

Contributed by Michael Taylor


Class: II - III- IV

Season: September to March

Gradient: Only 100m over the trip but most of it is in 6 kms in the middle

Time: 5 hours

Length: 19km

Level: 1.8m at least at Woolbrook on the MacDonald River

Gauge: Woolbrook

Shuttle: 30-40 minutes each way via Aberbaldie Road

Character: Open gorge with pool drop rapids and sharp sedimentary bedrock geology

Suits: Intermediate to Advanced

This is a descent worth knowing about if you're in the area and there's some local heavy rain and you don't want a committing shuttle or epic adventure run. It's also a lot safer than running the 100m high Apsley Falls just over the range. It's a good day trip unless river levels are very high and stops are minimal but the Walcha pubs are close at hand after a long day of fun in the sun.

The Cobrabald River crosses the Thunderbolts Way about 15km South of Walcha in Southern New England. It is one of the many local rivers that get funneled into the Macdonald River gorge or Upper Namoi as some may know it.

About 4km downstream from where the river crosses Thunderbolts Way between Walcha and Gloucester you can get in a bit closer to the gorge section that is the highlight of this little river. The river level required is judged only on arrival. If the small rapid above the bridge looks easy to run without hitting rocks there should be sufficent water. It may be run at much higher levels as most rapids are easy to scout from the bank and portage if necessary. There are also a minimal number of trees causing potential sieves at higher levels.

ATTENTION: This is still a remote run and should be run with caution and proper river rescue skills at hand.

Once assessing that the river is flowing nicely and looks paddleable from the Glen Morrison road bridge it will be necessary to do the 45km round trip shuttle. You head south and using your map it's possible to get through to Aberbaldie Road via Niangla Rd. If uncertain of directions it's not much longer to head back towards Walcha along the Glen Morrison Rd and just before reaching town you will see Aberbaldie Road signposted to the left (West).

The river starts out gently winding it's way through grazing land for a couple of kms with some easy grade 2+ rapids until you arrive unsuspectingly at the first large 2-3m drop (grade 4). The drop is split by an island and has been run a few times using the river right where it's easy to scout and setup rescue and paparazzi. From here on the rapids gradually become more frequent as you descend down through the gorge.

The next significant rapid is a 20m long chute that might spank the unsuspecting punk thinking it's only an easy grade 3. The rapids continue to arrive and for experienced paddlers are mostly straight forward read-and-run drops. About 6km down the river you arrive at another large drop characterised by three options. Nasty slot on river left, chicken chute down the middle and nasty undercut drop on river right. It has been run a few times down the chicken chute in the middle but until someone sees a much larger volume of flow you'll be limited to the chicken chute or a portage if you like to save on plastic.

The last significant rapid before leaving the gorge is about 7.8km down the river and is identified by a pronounced weir stopper shadowed by a willow tree just before a 1m drop that pushes up on river right. The lead in before the weir stopper is rocky and undefined. The weir stopper is quite likely to catch intermediate paddlers off guard and it's wise to have someone waiting nearby to catch swimmers or boats before being swept over the small drop just beyond.

After this drop the rapids ease significantly and tend to be grade 2 gravel races or rock gardens. There is the odd tree in the stream not to be underestimated. One in particular ate a whole paddle requiring the owner to hike in after the water had receded to retrieve it from the bed of the river. The last 10kms is a bit slower but gives you time to reflect upon the sweet little gorge that the Cobrabald offers.

Putting In: Glen Morrison Road bridge off Thunderbolts Way South of Walcha

Taking Out: Aberbaldie Road bridge or TSR if you want to cut off the last km

Map: Yarrowitch 1:100000

Google Map:

Camping: Camping quite possible in the TSR or at Walcha or Apsley Falls National Park

Entry Date: 09 September 2015

Verified by: 1st Descent by Michael Taylor, Robbie Blair and Dave Clyne in 2008.


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