From our guest correspondent and co-rafer Tom Baker:
Three English, two Americans and an Australian are rafting down the river, one has forgotten their paddle……it sounds like the beginning of a joke but this is exactly how we started our week white water rafting down the Franklin River in Tasmania.
The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park has a rich and remarkable heritage. In addition to being home of the last remaining truly wild rivers of Australia, it contains many strong links to an Aboriginal heritage extending back thousands of years. It has been the scene of many desperate escape routes for inhabitants of Sarah Island Prison and has been the stage for the largest conservation battle in Australian history – on whether or not to dam the river, which thankfully was eventually rejected.
Much of the Rivers wild landscape has been shaped by ancient glaciers and is remote and rugged, with ancient Huon Pines now dotting along the bank that can grow to an age of over 3000 years.
We began our trip early Sunday morning as we packed our dry bags and headed out the door for our 7am pick up in Hobart, we boarded the coach and headed out on the long winding roads following the Derwent River, climbing into the Central Highlands, passing Lake St. Clair before descending to the Collingwood River, our starting point. Once we had inflated the raft we set about loading up the boats. Wet suits, life jackets and helmets on we boarded what would be home for the next week and set off. Josh, our tour guide, briefed us with a few tips and practice strokes and before we knew it we were off….or so we thought.
The Collingwood river bed is very rocky and when the river is low it becomes very difficult to avoid getting stuck. The first few hours on the river were mostly spent jumping in and out of the raft, smashing toes, ankles and shins on the rocks as we looked to find a clear route to travel down. One of our members lost a shoe and by the time we reached our lunch spot we were beginning to question whether 7 days to complete the trip would be long enough. Our lunch spot was a pebble beach where the Collingwood and Franklin meet, which meant that post lunch paddling became slightly easier as the river was higher and there were fewer obstacles to avoid. Our campsite for that evening was under an overhanging cliff face, where we would sleep in the open air. The climb to camp was steep and lugging large bags and barrels around made it seem even steeper, our guides prepared dinner whilst we found the flattest ground possible to set up our airbeds on. After being fed we settled down for the night as we had been warned that tomorrow would be a long day on the river, as we snuggled into our sleeping bags I turned to Sarah and said ‘this is weird, and no one else seems to find it weird’, I was reassured and told to get some sleep but our trip had only just begun.
Bird song woke us on day two as the trees came to life with the various birds calling out, some sounding like sinister laughter as though they knew what lay ahead downstream. The steep Franklin valley sides are highly populated with a variety of trees and it was difficult to pick out the species of birds due to the dense cover of branches. Water from the river was boiling for hot drinks as we tucked into cereal, taking on vital energy for the day ahead. We set off at 8am in order to gain as much lost time from the previous day back. This stretch of the river contained many obstacles and the rapids begun to quicken and we encountered many log jams from fallen trees that had been carried down the river which created sieves that made contains treacherous. We mastered the rapid known as Nasty Notch and headed into Descension Gorge before arriving at our second campsite.
Three innocent English tourists with high hopes!
Half a day in and still optimistic despite the bruised shins
Our faithful maidens
The clear, calm waters of one of the Franklin's pools. The tannins from the peaty soil and forest stains the water a light brown, but it is crystal clear, clean and tasted delicious
The first camp, under the stars and the shelter of a rocky overhang
Does this feel weird?
Just seeing you in leggings Tom is weird enough!
Chris could resist sneaking out for a few night shots
Day 2,, an early start and a long way to paddle
Chris and Josh, our faithful river Captain
Jim ad Mary complete the crew with Sarah and Tom at the bow
Our first log jam - tricky, sloppy and rather lethal
Climb over it, pull the raft over and then jump back in - easy!?
Michael and Jenny our rafting companions in the blue boat, all the way from Sydney
A lovely lunch spot on the second day
Clinging to each other for support already
A cosy second night's stop, this time under the luxury of tarpaulin
A better night sky too