With the school holidays upon us and Territorians exploring their backyard more than ever before, we've had a huge amount of enquiries regarding the condition of the road to Cobourg, specifically the stretch from the East Alligator River (Cahills Crossing) to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (Cobourg Peninsula). With our fishing camp (Cobourg Coastal Camp) located up this way we have staff travelling this road every week and therefore thought we'd give you an update as of the 10th of July 2020.
The drive from Cahills to the Ranger Station at Cobourg currently takes about 4-5 hours without stops. Knowing the road well and without a trailer is a bit quicker, just shy of 4 hours. When towing a trailer it can take anywhere from 5-6 hours as taking it easy is the key. Take a look at the video at the bottom to see what you are in for.
The first part of the journey is crossing the East Alligator River. A lot of people are put off travelling to Cobourg because they feel they don't have the knowledge or skills to cross this tidal river crossing safely. The reality is, it is very simple and in general the crossing runs at a height of approximately 20cm for the majority of the day. Download the 'WillyWeather' app and search for Cahills Crossing, it's here you'll find what times of the day your highs and lows are.
You are generally safe to cross the river (in a vehicle without a snorkel) anytime of the day except one and a half hours either side of the high tide. If you arrive at the crossing and the water level is too high, you can just pull the car up, have a bite to eat and watch the fishing and crocodile action, not the worst thing in the world! If you have a rod in the car and you're on the Kakadu side, have a flick for a barra. Just be mindful there are a lot of crocodiles in this area. I crossed the river last month at a high tide of 5.5m and the tidal water didn't even push over the crossing, in this case there was only half a foot of freshwater pushing down from upstream catchments. It generally the 6-8m tides that will push the water level to 80cm-1.2m high.
Once you have crossed the river you are then in Arnhem Land, this is access by permit only so make sure you have the appropriate permits. The 10km drive from Cahills to the turn off to Gunbalanya has some of the most spectacular views in the Top End. This part of the road is mildly corrugated with a few pot holes. From there you will travel about 20km to three ways. This is where you can travel straight ahead to Maningrida or turn left (north) to Cobourg. This 20km stretch of road has been graded although is fairly corrugated.
You will then travel around 120km north arriving at the half way point (Murganella Crossing). Travel time from the East Alligator River to Murganella is approximately 2-3hrs without stops. This strech of road has three picturesque creek crossing that are barely flowing and will hardly wet your tyres. This part of the road has also been graded although is fairly corrugated in sections so make sure you have appropriate gear for the vibration. Murganella crossing itself is a beautiful spot full of birds at this time of year and is also barley flowing.
From hear you have another 2-3hrs to the Ranger Station, boat ramp on Port Essington and public campground. This section takes you through some undulating country as you make your way into Garig Gunak Barlu Nation Park on the Cobourg Peninsula. This road is a bit slower as there are plenty of bends. Luckily the graders have just fixed many of the washouts and this stretch of road is basically corrugation free. Always keep an eye out for the red triangle signs that warn you of upcoming dangers. Inside the park (once you have crossed the cattle grid) there are a few washouts to keep an eye out for, these washouts are marked and have rather obvious tracks around them although still require attention to navigate. A couple of these are just over a crest, therefore taking the unwary driver by surprise.
All in all the road is in good shape for this time of year.
Always keep an eye out for wildlife especially around dawn to dusk, there are some large buffalo and banteng that have a habit of making a last second dash across the road so always keep this in mind.
If your not game to tow your boat but still want to get out on the water be sure to give Cobourg Fishing Safaris a call before you leave. They offer full day fishing charters as well as half day Victoria Settlement tours departing Black Point boat ramp which is approximately 10 minutes from the campground.