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RAFTING THE FRANKLIN RIVER 

As many other outdoors enthusiasts, I have a fairly long list of places to go and experience. For some years this included the Franklin River. I remember the news reports of the campaign to save the Franklin in the early 1980s and I guess it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. 

As part of my Grad. Dip in Outdoor Ed in the late 1980s, I was introduced to kayaking and have had many great experiences since, on the Murray backwaters, the sea, and white water in Victoria, NT and NSW. However, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I was not going to kayak the Franklin, so the choice was either not go, or join a commercial rafting trip. So, after a bit of research, I decided on ‘Water by Nature Tasmania’ and booked the trip, flights and accommodation. 

In January 2006 I flew to Hobart a couple of days early to have a look around (not having been there since a bush walking trip in the early 1970s) and even managed to spend some time in the outdoor gear shops talked kayaking and bought a tent!  We had our group briefing, and then headed off in the bus early the next morning, via a pub on the plateau (okay to have a slab of beer each – certainly not a light weight trip). Lunch at the Collingwood Bridge, pack the rafts and head off in weather calm, fine warm and sunny. We set up camp in time to dry out my gear on the rocks. I had been a bit casual about closing the dry bag and learned that things are definitely wetter in a raft. 

The next day started well but soon became interesting with our raft wrapped onto a rock and mostly under water. Our first effort at line-ing down a difficult section didn’t go too well, but fortunately we were all on the bank at the time. Most of the gear stayed on the raft, except for two drums that we caught and a small green bag that floated off, carrying Dan’s camera! After a quick downstream check, I went for a swim after this little green bag and thought this is what we talked about in the O.Ed. course – a situation where things could always get worse! Anyway I caught the bag and returned up stream by swimming eddies and climbing rocks, then turned the whole thing into a comedy routine by sliding three metres down a sloping rock cartoon like, back into the water again. It was impressive to see how the two guides rescued the raft with no fuss and then, after some comfort food chocolate, we carried on. Interestingly, at the end of the day, all of our gear was still dry. I had another swim that day when the raft flicked two of us out in the Irinibyss gorge  and this was only day two! 

From then on we had fantastic scenery, great rapids, strenuous portages, great campsites and meals etc, all contributing to a tremendous wilderness experience. I remember one evening trying to explain to one of the others that I felt like I was starting to see in ‘three dimensions’, that is the details of the trees and rocks, water and sky were somehow clearer – difficult to explain, but great to experience.  However, there was a bonus for me. The trip prior to ours had been cold, wet and rough; and the whole group had pulled out at the 7-day point, where four of our party were leaving and new people joining. Usually, this involves only a change of people, but the previous group had left two deflated rafts and gear. Trying to fit all of this into our two rafts would have been difficult, so our guide Brett offered me the chance to paddle a raft, giving us three rafts to share the gear among. Now that was an experience. No more, ‘What do we do now Ryan?’ to our trusted guide. It was my crew (all female by the way) saying ‘Which way now Dave?’ This tended to focus my attention on the river even more acutely than in the previous days and it was a great satisfaction to negotiate a rapid together; and at the end of each day it was a very genuine ‘thank you’ to the river for a safe days rafting. 

Of course it was sad but satisfying to arrive at the Gordon River and unpack one last time. Due to fine, calm weather we were able to arrange for the floatplane to fly us straight to Hobart (instead of Strahan, then bus), so we had great views of Mt Field and the highlands and then the Derwent River and Hobart. 

Next time to Tassie, I’ll take a kayak or two.