Rafting the Franklin River, Tasmania.

I was backpacking Tasmania in 2002 when I first heard about rafting the Franklin River. The idea of spending time in absolute wilderness really appealed to my sense of adventure.

See here for walking the Overland Track :- Trekking the Overland Track – Tasmania -Tues 15th – Sun 20th August 2017 – Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain – Mountains of Snow.

Initially I had booked on for the 10 day trip, which included an ascent of Frenchman’s Cap, but with the holiday fast approaching the numbers for the 10 day could not be confirmed, so I deferred to the 7 day, because accommodation in what is peak season in Tasmania was fast disappearing for the reminder of my two week holiday. Both trips start at the Collingwood River (a tributary of the Franklin) descending the Upper and Lower Franklin eventually finishing on the Gordon River 110kms later.

See here for the website address of the Rafting Company :- https://franklinriver.com/

I arrived in Hobart on a hot spring day after the long flight from the West (overnighting in Melbourne.) My arrival coincided with Hobart’s Christmas pageant. I decided with regards to accommodation in Hobart that I would find something on the day, big mistake, the city was booked up in what was now high season, and a good part of Saturday was spent dodging excited kids whilst hauling my heavy bags from hostel to hotel.

Finally, success at the YHA when I managed to score the family room, phew! I then had a few beers after what had been, a stressful start to the holiday. The day was by now very warm and the cold amber nectar really hit the spot. At 6pm I headed to the Astor Hotel for a short briefing on the trip ahead, and was allocated gear including a dry bag, groundsheet and inflatable mattress to sleep on.

Sunday 19th Nov – Day 1 – Travel Sickness and The Groover.

The following morning, I was picked up outside the hostel and we made our long and winding way West from Hobart over the Central Plateau to the starting point of the expedition, the Collingwood River. Unfortunately, I was extremely travel sick for the journey and had to keep my head facing forward missing the opportunity to engage with my fellow rafters. The journey was uneventful apart from a welcome coffee break at Hamilton and an Echidna crossing the road approaching the Collingwood River.

Once at the river, it was clear it was going to be a hands-on seven days for us guests as we unloaded the trailer and inflated and loaded the rafts. Lunch was prepared for us and afterwards we were given a safety briefing by Eric and Blake the guides for the trip. After we had been assigned rafts we set off down the shallow Collingwood River.

Eric Briefs on Safety at the Road Bridge over the Collingwood River.

One of the First Rapids Encountered on the Collingwood.

The flotilla consisted of four rafts. Two large rafts consisting of a guide and three clients, and two smaller rafts consisting of a guide and two clients. I was on a larger raft with Blake guiding, and a smashing couple from Brisbane Dan and Merrilyn for the first two days.

The weather was hot (for Tasmania,) in fact it was a record breaking week, with the hottest spell of weather ever recorded for the South of the State, and for the first five days of the trip the temperature was over 26C. This made for lovely warm nights camping in the forest, but conversely river levels were low and it wasn’t long before we were scrabbling over the first set of rapids, while Blake and the other guides skilfully manoeuvred the rafts over the obstacles.

Blake and Jodi Guiding the Rafts over Rapids.

The rapids were interspersed with slow still sections of the river and it was on one of these that Blake pointed out the beautiful call of a lyrebird echoing throughout the valley. Over the course of the afternoon we all got to know each other on our respective rafts as we travelled 14kms to Aesthesia Ravine that was to be our stop for the night.

Stuck on Rapids.

The Campsite was at Angel Rain Cavern, which was nestled into the cliffs of the massive Aesthesia Ravine, right next to the river. The kitchen area was on the banks of the river while the sleeping area was higher up under a giant overhang. I think many of us were a little taken aback by how basic the campsite was, and I know sleeping under an overhang made me slightly uneasy, but this was more than offset by the beauty of the location.

Another thing that was strange to us all was the groover. This was the term by which the toilet was known over the next six days, always located in the most remote part of the campsite. The door to the groover was a paddle across a path, paddle up, groover open for business, paddle down groover occupied. Simple so far.

The Franklin River is pristine natural wilderness, and there are a lot of people now using the Franklin so all solid human waste needs to be carried out on the rafts. Another very good reason for not “digging a hole” was the river was our source of drinking water! So how to get the waste from person to Strahan? The answer was freezer bags conveniently left for use in the groover. You poop into the freezer bag, deposit the freezer bag in a black bag hanging from a tree set up by the guides, wash and sanitise your hands at a washing station.

There are different ways of depositing into your freezer bag, kindly demonstrated by Blake on arrival at first camp. East West is where you sit into the bag to fill it, North South is where you place the bag between your legs to fill. I didn’t trust my co-ordination or balance to East West it so I opted for North South and hoped for the best!

Aesthesia Ravine – Rafts Moored at the First Campsite.

Angel Rain Cavern – View from the “Bedroom” down to Kitchen and River.

Once we had set up our “beds” the guides prepared dinner, and it was fabulous. In fact, one thing that could be said for the expedition was that we ate well every single meal with gourmet food prepared by the guides in what were basic conditions, and it was Thai green chicken curry on this the first night!

Afterwards a group introduction was attempted which wasn’t particularly successful. I think we could best be described as a “slow burning” group. That is many of us were reluctant to open up initially, but as the trip progressed we slowly relaxed. I can definitely say that by the end of the seven days I really enjoyed the company of every person in the group, and it was brilliant to have such a diverse group in ages and backgrounds with which to share the experience.

That night I fell asleep immediately after the days exertions and slept like a log.

Monday 20th November – Day 2 – Upturned Raft!

I woke on the second day to the sounds of waking rafters stirring around me. I made the decision to have a swim every morning in the Franklin because after my week on the Cape to Cape Track in 2015 swimming every day at the isolated beaches of the South West Capes was my most vivid memories of that walk. I wanted to make the same memories for my lifetime trip on the Franklin. The river was cold and fast flowing and woke me up instantly, but it felt incredible to swim and look up at the massive cliffs towering above me.

After I had dried off, we ate a hearty breakfast then packed up, loaded the rafts and set off. We were immediately into the first portage of the Franklin, “Log Jam” and soon afterwards there was a second at “Nasty Notch.”

Waiting for the Guides to Escort the Rafts through Rapids.

Dan and Merrilyn, my Rafting Buddies for the first 2 days.

Descension Gorge was the next Gorge we passed through leading to the Irenabyss, a deep peaceful quartzite chasm 150m long. Here we stopped paddling to enjoy the serene chasm with its swirls of white foam on top of the water, while sunlight danced on the walls reflected from the still waters. Breathtaking.

Descension Gorge.

Beautiful Irenabyss.

Irenabyss.

The ascent of Frenchman’s Cap can be undertaken from the end of Irenabyss, and there was another rafting group at the campsite who were climbing Frenchman’s that day. When I made the decision to switch from the 10 day trip to the 7 days trip one of my thoughts was “What are the chances of a beautiful sunny day in Western Tasmania for the ascent of the Frenchman’s anyway?” Well for the record the weather was as good as it could have been and the views from the top would have been superlative……Damn!

Lunch was in the shade on a sandy beach and many of the group took the opportunity to cool off on what was by now another hot day.

A cooling lunchtime dip.

Negotiating Rapids.

“Duck Chute” provided some unwanted excitement when one of the rafts flipped its occupants out and into the river, although all souls were quickly recovered by other rafts and the guides.

An Unexpected Dip!

An Unexpected Dip!

The last rapids of the day were “Rafters Race,” and the decision was made to camp at the base of the rapids. I got the impression that this was not the planned campsite for the night, and for me this was the worst campsite of the six. Although the sleeping area up in the woods was pleasant the kitchen area was cramped, and the only area to eat dinner and socialise was on jagged rocks right next to the river. Dinner however, was once again excellent, but the jagged rocks didn’t make for relaxation so as light failed we turned in for another night in the forest.

Bed on the Second Night.

Tuesday 21st November – Day 3 – Waterfalls and Yoga.

At dawns first light and I roused myself from my warm sleeping bag ready for another amazing swim in the refreshing and chilly waters of the Franklin, exiting in time for another brilliant breakfast. The group was by now starting to get into a routine and not long after breakfast we were back into the rafts eager for another day on the river.

Negotiating Rapids Early Morning.

After finishing the rapids of “Rafters Race” we had some still water to paddle and a few easy rapids. We stopped at “Club Franklin” aka “The Beach” and during a sugar rush from Tim Tams and Kit Kat we organised ourselves for a team photo.

Group Photo at “The Beach.”

Lunch was at the Blush Rock Falls and a trail led up from the river to the cool base of the falls where many of the group took pictures.

Blush Rock Falls.

During the afternoon there were views back up river to the peak of Frenchman’s Cap, on what would have been another bloody amazing day on top of the mountain.

View of Frenchman’s Cap from the River.

The afternoon saw us enter the Franklins most impressive gorge the Great Ravine. The cliffs on either side of the river rose impossibly high leaving only a tiny sliver of sky above. “The Churn” was the first rapid of the ravine and required the guides to portage the rafts and gear while we waited on the large boulders that littered the gorge.

The Great Ravine.

Once the rafts were free of the rapids, some of the guys made the jump to recapture the wayward rafts and bring them to safely for the group, to continue the last peaceful few kilometres of the day to our campsite.

We set up camp at the side of a massive still pool in the Great Ravine and it was a lovely campsite, far superior to the previous two for its sense of space and amazing views. Once everyone had unpacked a number of the group spent the last hours of daylight on the massive boulders near the campsite where Jodi one of the guides held an impromptu yoga session.

Yoga Session.

Chilling on the Giant Boulders.

Camp in the Great Ravine.

Dusk in the Great Ravine.

Unfortunately, not everyone was having such a relaxing evening with two of the group suffering the effects of diarrhoea. Once darkness fell we ate superbly once again before retiring to our sleeping areas. This was the hottest night of the trip, maybe because of all the heat retained by the rocks around us during the day.

View from Bed in the Great Ravine.

Wednesday 22nd November – Day 4 – Rapids and more Rapids.

I woke early and had a wonderful still pool to swim, instead of the fast-flowing river of the past two mornings, which once again was a magnificent start to the day.

Immediately after setting off the following morning, the guides had to portage “The Coruscades,” another large rapid of the Great Ravine. Things didn’t go to plan and one of the rafts flipped stalling proceedings for an hour while the guides tried various manoeuvres to right the raft. This eventually required help from the group as the force of the water kept the raft upside down. My swim in the river with my wetsuit around my waist didn’t help a difficult situation and a I spent time in the naughty corner as a result.

Looking Downriver from Thunderush Rapids.

“Thunderush” was the next portage of the day that fortunately went smoother than “Coruscades,” then after lunch we portaged the most intimidating rapid of the trip “The Cauldron.” Even the group not involved in moving the rafts over the rapid had a steep climb up a goat track at the side of the river to meet the rafts at the other side.

Climbing the Goat Track past The Cauldron Rapids.

Portaging the rafts over “The Cauldron” involved the guides, Josh, Chris and myself unloading the rafts and storing the contents on top of a large flat rock which the river passed under. The rafts then had to be hauled over the rock onto another rock from which they could be repacked and lowered back into the river. Especially dangerous was the climb onto the rock at the beginning, and to fall into the river and end up under the rock here would have been curtains.

Tranquil Waters after the Intense Rapids of the Great Ravine.

Once back on the rafts we exited the Great Ravine to our camp for the night at Rafters Basin. We had only travelled 14kms on this day but it had been hard work and no doubt very stressful for the guides, so we called it a day early and set up camp early afternoon.

The Camp at Rafters Basin.

The campsite itself was lovely, and kitchen was set up on the pebbly beach next to the river while the sleeping area was in the rainforest behind the river. This was the most spacious camp to date and maybe my favourite of the six. It was another warm day and I enjoyed sitting at the river edge looking back up into the Great Ravine as the sun slowly set.

Late Afternoon after a Hectic Day, Reflecting on the Beauty of the Franklin.

When I did return to the camp Jodi and Matt were cooking Spag bol and a game of cards was underway. Eric kindly made me a gin and tonic and I drank it even though this was supposed to be an alcohol-free trip for me. Afterwards we sat around and talked before turning in later than usual.

A Game of Cards at Rafters Basin.

A Fabulous Meal cooked by Mattie and Jodi at Rafters Basin.

Thursday 23rd November – Day 5 – Elephants and Horses.

If day four was my least favourite day then day five was by far my favourite day. This was the only day I spent entirely in a small raft, and it is certainly easier going hauling these smaller rafts over rapids than the larger rafts packed with heavy gear.

Another reason for this day being delightful was the company in the raft. Josh, Jodi and Mattie really liked to laugh and joke and tell stories and what should have felt like a hard slog later in the day when we reached the slower waters of the Lower Franklin passed quickly in fits of laughter.

The river in the morning was fairly fast flowing as we passed through Propsting Gorge but the rapids of the morning were nothing compared to the major obstacles of the previous days. We passed through “Trojans Rapids” before our final major Portage on the Franklin, “Pigs Trough.”

Mattie Negotiating Trojans Rapids.

Eric and the North American Contingent watch Blake Negotiate Rapids.

Gear needed to be removed from the rafts, so we formed a human chain up the cliffs on the left-hand side of the river. Josh and myself then volunteered to help pull the rafts over the rapids while the guides lifted them over the rocks. It was hard work and I jarred my shoulder in the process through fortunately not badly. Though the portage itself went smoothly.

Once we had joined the group on the cliff traverse of the rapids, undoubtedly the most famous location of the entire Franklin River was before us. The incredibly beautiful Rock Island Bend was the defining symbol of the successful campaign to prevent the damming of the Franklin River. The photo by Peter Dombrovskis was used as a full-page advertisement in major Australian newspapers in the lead-up to the pivotal 1983 federal election with the caption “Could you vote for a party that could destroy this?” It was every bit as beautiful as I had expected it to be and I was disappointed that we didn’t have time to linger and soak up this historic site more.

The Historic Rock Island Bend.

Shortly after Rock Island Bend we came to “Newland’s Cascades” which were my favourite rapids on the Franklin because of their 300m length, they just seemed to go on and on and were lots of fun. Lunch that day was on another beach on the riverbank and boy was it hot, the sand actually burnt the feet and most of the group had a refreshing dip.

That afternoon we left the quartzite gorges of the Middle Franklin and entered the limestone country of the Lower Franklin. The river was noticeably slower in the lower reaches as it meandered along.

At several points during the afternoon there was a patch of bare cliff visible on one of the mountains, that contained an assortment of animals that could only be seen with a bit of imagination. The elephant I saw immediately then later in the afternoon under instruction from the guides I picked out the horse. The kangaroo however remained elusive and I never did find it.

The Infamous Animal Cliff with our Campground Flat Island in the Foreground.

I delighted in seeing my first ever swimming Tiger Snake that afternoon as disturbed by the rafts it passed in front of us swimming to the far bank. What a treat!

Camp that night was at Flat Island, another spacious and pebbly camping area peppered with small trees and shrubs that would be underwater in the wetter months. Once we had gone through the routine of finding a spot to sleep and setting our sleeping gear for the night we had a lovely evening sitting on the riverbank and soaking up the late afternoon warmth.

One of the rafts was overturned to make a bed / sitting area, which we used while discussing the possibility of rain that night. Josh was certain “She’ll be right” while I betted on some precipitation. The wager was a kit-kat and in the event Josh was right, despite the threatening thunderheads there was once again no rain. I was so convinced I put a tarp up during the night and was woken by dew dripping on me! Oh well.

Josh, Mattie and Jodi relax on the Impromptu Couch.

The Group Discussing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Friday 24th Nov – Day 6 – Platypus and Lost Worlds.

As I woke for my early morning swim there was sunlight on the cliffs but this was to be the last of the sunshine for the day as the weather turned overcast and even rained lightly later in the day.

Dawn Breaks at Flat Island.

Today was to be a day of Platypus, with one seen swimming near the camp as we set off, then a further two animals seen shortly afterwards. They didn’t seem concerned with our presence and continued to dive and surface as we passed quietly on the rafts.

The second small raft was by now deflated and the remaining two large rafts had been lashed together to form the “Megatron.” Experience had taught the guides that this was the most efficient way of covering ground on the slow moving Lower Franklin, but nevertheless it was a day of hard graft with Blake and Eric setting a cracking pace and the rest of us slowly catching up.

Although it was a day of full on rowing the day was punctuated by some fabulous stops, the first of which was Kutikina Cave (Fraser Cave) a three-chambered cave 170m long which is the southern-most known habitation of people anywhere on earth during the last ice age (14,000 – 21,000 years ago.)

Kutikina Cave.

The last of the Franklins Rapids were on this day and came in the form of “Double Fall “and “Big Fall.” We had to exit the rafts while the guides passed the rafts over the falls, all went well with the small exception of a flipped raft that was quickly righted.

Blake Attempts to Right a Flipped Raft.

Penghana Cave was our next stop and behind it was an amazing crevice filled with every shade of green from the many mosses, litchens and ferns that had made their home there. It was named “The Lost World,” and I could see why and wouldn’t have been surprised to see Indiana Jones pass me by in there!

“The Lost World,” behind Penghana Cave.

It wasn’t far from this point to the junction of the Franklin with the Gordon River, a momentous occasion on the trip. Here we had two surprises, the first of which was a beautiful Azure Kingfisher perched on a branch at the confluence of the rivers, the second came in the form of a bottle of champagne that Eric cracked to toast reaching the end of the Franklin.

Champagne at the Confluence of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers.

It was a pleasant surprise that the Gordon River flowed faster than the Lower Franklin, nevertheless we still had 90 minutes of hard paddling before we reached our final destination Sir John Falls. The camp was the site of the protesters camp during the “Save the Franklin” campaign. Beautiful St John Falls emptied into a pool not far from the river and a pathway lead to an old hut. I was not the only one to check it out only to find the open forest more appealing.

St John’s Falls.

A large Tiger Snake was resident of a hole outside of the hut but it quickly disappeared if disturbed. We deflated the last of the rafts on the jetty and then relaxed awaiting the arrival of the yacht “Stormbreaker,” that was to take us down the Gordon to Strahan the following morning.

Relaxing Awaiting the Arrival of Stormbreaker.

Stormbreaker Arrives.

After our final dinner we talked for a while but everyone was tired after the days hard exertions. During the night we were woken by a heavy downpour and the guides scrambled to erect a tarp over the main sleeping area although Merrilyn, Dan, Josh and I remained relatively sheltered under the thick canopy that overhung the beach we were sleeping on.

Saturday 25th November – Day 7 – Mists and Civilisation.

In the morning we quickly packed and I forwent my last swim of the trip as we had a deadline to meet with the ships departure, although the considerable temperature drop of the water in the Gordon may have influenced the decision!

See the second part of this Tasmanian trip :- Tasmanian Wildlife – Southeastern Tasmania.

Misty morning Gordon River from St John Falls Camp.

Civilisation awaited us aboard the yacht in the form of newspapers, and breakfast and later lunch was served as we sailed downriver. It was raining as we set off but as it cleared we were left with a beautiful mist that hung over the rainforest, absolutely breathtaking. Even better the yacht had a rigging that we could climb to a crow’s nest at the top of the mast. Here gliding silently above the rainforest was magical and a highlight.

Misty Morning Gordon River.

Misty Morning Gordon River.

Riding Amongst the Clouds aboard Stormbreaker.

We docked at Strahan where not much was doing six hours later. Then came the six hour return trip to Hobart, completely traversing Tasmania in the process. The group very kindly let me ride up front on account of the horrible travel sickness I experienced on the previous minibus ride.

Frenchman’s Cap was once again clearly visible as we left the West Coast, and on the descent to Hobart it was clear from the overcast humid conditions that thunderstorms were on the way. Back at Hobart I said goodbye to the various members of the group, because even though a night out had been organised, I was unable to attend because of a flight to Melaleuca the following morning, that had been moved earlier on account of the inclement weather. #QuollingAround

2 thoughts on “Rafting the Franklin River, Tasmania.

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