Let the Franklin flow, let the wild lands be,
the wilderness should be strong and free…
As a teenager I grew up singing this song. Now, after being given the chance to join a rafting trip down the iconic Franklin river, I’ve woken with the tune of this 80s protest song running through my head. Elias and Franzi, owner-operators of Franklin River Rafting offered Think Tasmania a spot on their 10-day Whitewater Rafting and Frenchmans Cap Wilderness Expedition and I was the fortunate soul chosen for the ride.
Franklin River Rafting: Frenchmans Cap Wilderness Tour
by Kerrie Dodson
Between them, Elias and Franzi have been guiding rafting expeditions down the Franklin River for more than 14 years. Their skills and knowledge of this river are possibly only surpassed by their absolute love for the place. After working for various rafting businesses both here and overseas they decided to form their own company, Franklin River Rafting. Using their extensive experience they were determined to provide the best tour possible, with safety and enjoyment being their number one priorities.
A pre-trip briefing at the Astor Hotel (an absolute gem in central Hobart, run by the charming and charismatic Tildy) provided the chance to meet Elias, Franzi and the other adventurers who were to be my travelling companions for the next ten days.
Having already been given a detailed packing checklist, this meeting was an opportunity to discuss minor details – such as where to buy neoprene socks (highly recommended), how to most efficiently pack our dry bags, and how much wine we could bring! I was also happy when Franzi reassured us that there would be plenty of that wonderful life-sustaining energy food, chocolate, along the way!
A Lowie but a Goodie
For this type of adventure holiday, conditions are largely determined by the weather. After an unusually dry Tasmanian summer, river levels were very low, and as Franzi put it, we were in for some ‘hard core paddling’. And not just paddling! On the first two days especially, there were many times when we all climbed off the rafts, into the shallow rocky riverbed and pulled (or ‘humped’ in official rafting terms) the rafts until they floated once more. “One, two, PULL” was a common call and got everyone working cohesively as a team. It’s easy to imagine why corporate groups might use trips such as this as a team bonding exercise. (Might have to suggest it back at my workplace!)
As the river deepened, there was less jumping out of the raft, but the importance of working together was still evident. Paddling in time, and responding quickly to the guide’s calls of “over left”, “over right”, “back paddle” and so on, often made the difference between successfully negotiating a tricky rapid or getting stuck on the rocks.
Frenchmans Cap: Tour Highlight
Our third day saw us trade in paddles and Dunlop volleys (the essential river footwear) for hiking boots and water bottles, as we began our assault on Frenchmans Cap. Certainly not an easy hike, but a reasonable level of fitness, positive outlook, plenty of water and some high sugar snacks (supplied by Franklin River Rafting) will help ensure you make it to the top.
Further on the vegetation becomes less dense and the track is marked with stone cairns.
As we climbed higher, every bend in the track provided another amazing view, and another photo opportunity. Tough little everlasting daisies, beautiful mosses and other hardy mountain plants provided a lovely contrast to the rugged white-quartz mountainside.
The final assault on the summit once again tested my endurance, but the views on peaking were almost overwhelming and definitely worth the effort. A 360-degree panoramic view of Tasmania’s South West Wilderness – from Macquarie Harbour and the ocean in the west to Cradle Mountain in the north – and not a hint of civilisation in sight (except for the five bars on Elias’ mobile phone that meant we had outside contact with the real world – if we wanted it. Footy scores anyone?!).
After a well-earned lunch at the top (carted up by the Franklin River Rafting team) it was time to make our way back to the campsite. Descending was easier on the cardio, but harder on the joints, and we ended up back at our camp in time for a swim and then dinner – quite worn out, but deservedly proud of our efforts.
It seems incongruous for this day to be a highlight of a rafting expedition. However if we were not travelling on the Franklin River with Franklin River Rafting a minimum two day hike (carrying all your own supplies) would be required to just reach Frenchmans Cap, before even beginning the climb. Not sure I’d be up for that!
The Great Ravine
From the heights of Frenchmans Cap it was onward to the next challenge – The Great Ravine – one of Tasmania’s deepest and narrowest gorges. In the early days of rafting the Franklin, this was the section that saw most adventurers come unstuck and unable to continue. Here we were required to portage around some Class VI rapids while treading carefully on wet, slippery rocks.
Aware of the many possible dangers both in and out of the water, Franklin River Rafting guides went to great lengths to ensure everyone was safe and felt comfortable at all times. Jobs were allocated according to abilities, and it was here I discovered my true talent for holding rafts once through the rapids, or providing ballast by sitting in the front of the raft while others pushed it into the water!
Amazing Food in the Tasmanian Wilderness
The food prepared by Franklin River Rafting’s number one chef, Elias, and his sous chef, Franzi, always took us pleasantly by surprise. Breakfast was varied and hearty, in preparation for a solid day’s paddling. Not sure if my favourite was frittata, pancakes or croissants and fruit salad!
While for the coffee lovers in the group, freshly percolated coffee (no Blend 43 here!) was always readily available. Lunches usually consisted of fresh salad sandwiches or wraps constructed at riverside stops along the way.
Dinner time, however, was when we were constantly blown away! Following pre-dinner nibbles and drinks, we were served up an amazing variety of meals – satay, risotto, pasta, pizza, Mexican, Indian curry and dahl, and even on one memorable night, steak with mushroom sauce and vegies. Desserts also abounded with cheesecake, tiramisu and chocolate ripple cake appearing seemingly from nowhere. At times we felt like we were on a foodies trip around Tasmania, rather than a wilderness rafting expedition with extremely limited cooking facilities! Bravo cooks!
Propsting Gorge – White Water Day
Day seven of the rafting expedition saw us journey through the stunning Propsting Gorge, one of the best stretches of raft-able whitewater on the Franklin. The ‘Go-Pro’ video camera, securely mounted on top of the raft, worked overtime today, recording footage as we powered through rapids and clung on down small drops.Despite the river level being low, there was still sufficient water running to get the heart level racing!
Lunch stop today was at Rock Island Bend, a beautiful spot along the river, made famous by a Peter Dombrovskis photograph during the ‘No Dams’ campaign.
We rounded out the day with Newland Cascade, a long stretch of white water that had us jumping to follow our guides’ instructions and brought a smile to everyone’s face.
Campsites: Forests, Riverside Beaches and Cliff Top Caves
Campsites along the way varied greatly. From the forest camps such as Irenabyss, to pebbly and sandy beaches, and even a night spent in cliff top caves above the Great Ravine, where glow worms lit up the walls.
As most days saw us arrive in camp by mid-afternoon, there was always plenty of time to help set up the kitchen, our own sleeping spaces and air out wet or damp items before relaxing in whatever way took your fancy.
Swimming, reading, chatting, playing cards, or simply sitting back and taking in the calm restfulness that is Tasmania’s wilderness, made this one of the most relaxing and revitalising holidays I have ever been on.
Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon World Heritage-listed wilderness is a place of incredible and unparalleled beauty and travelling through it on a rafting expedition is an amazing way to view this with ease. While paddling through the calmer sections of the river, your eyes are constantly drawn upward to the forest.
From the peaceful old-growth rainforest of the upper Franklin and the steep rugged cliffs of the Great Ravine, to the wider pebble strewn beaches and limestone cliffs of the lower Franklin, with tree ferns and pandanus palms reaching upward for the sun, there is something to delight in at every turn.
Tasmanian wildlife also abounds, with cockatoos, eagles and diving swallows and martins providing aerial displays, while at water level we were fortunate enough to sight platypus on at least three separate occasions.
Safety First with Elias and Franzi
One very important reason I am happy to recommend Franklin River Rafting was their scrupulous attention to the safety of all in our group. Hazards were always pointed out and where possible, avoided. Safety gear – helmets and lifejackets – were always required to be worn whether on the water or portaging over rocks. And while our guides leapt swiftly and nimbly from rock to rock, we were always encouraged to take our time, be sure of our footing, and when necessary “Get down on your backside and slide”.
I had a firsthand experience of our guides’ swift reaction speed when early on in the trip I slipped into seemingly safe water. Elias was beside me within seconds and had me hauled up and onto the rocks quickly, before indicating a point several metres downstream that “You don’t want to be in down there”.
Another example of how Franklin River Rafting puts safety first was highlighted one night when on dusk, while relaxing after setting up camp, we watched another tour group make their way past our campsite. In damp and finally dark conditions, they carried gear and rafts over wet and slippery rocks, eventually making their way to their campsite in total darkness. This was a situation we were never put in and our rafting crew went to bed happy that night, secure in the knowledge that we were travelling with Franklin River Rafting, a company who put our safety first above all other considerations.
Journey’s End: Stormbreaker into Strahan
The final day’s rafting saw us leave our now beloved Franklin and join the Gordon River, before drifting downstream to our last campsite at Sir John Falls. Here we were joined by another rafting group and later that evening, by skipper Trevor Norton and his 65ft yacht, ‘Stormbreaker’, which would transport us to Strahan the next day.
Day 10 saw us up before dawn, loading our gear and supplies onto ‘Stormbreaker’ in preparation for the six hour trip to Strahan. The initial few hours saw us cruise down a mist covered Gordon River, past places such as Warners Landing made famous during the 80s ‘No Dams’ blockade.
Eventually the mist lifted, and under clear blue skies we cruised up Macquarie Harbour, basking in the sunlight. For those up for one last challenge, there was also the opportunity to harness up and climb to the top of the mast (or to the halfway mark, which was as far as I got – the view was still spectacular!)
This rafting expedition has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. A huge thank you to Elias and Franzi of Franklin River Rafting, to Think Tasmania, and to my fellow adventurers for what was a memorable, highly recommendable and very special ten day holiday.
The 10-day Frenchmans Cap Wilderness and Whitewater Rafting Expedition departs from Hobart. For more details contact Elias and Franzi, visit the Franklin River Rafting website or phone 0422 642 190. You can also follow Franklin River Rafting on Facebook or Twitter.
Kerrie toured as a guest of Franklin River Rafting on behalf of Think Tasmania.