Let’s start with a bit of background, shall we? The Franklin River is a tributary of the Gordon River, and flows through the northern section of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park: a swathe of remote, mountainous forest and dark, tannin-stained rivers largely untouched by Europeans, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Largely untouched: like every other decent-sized river in Tasmania, the Gordon River is dammed, with the headwaters trapped in Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder, released on demand to generate hydro-electricity.
The Franklin is the last true wild river in Tasmania. Un-dammed, untapped, unspoilt. It almost wasn’t so. Three dams were proposed for the Franklin hydro scheme: Gordon below Franklin, Mount McCall and Irenabyss and construction was started at the first two sites. After a protracted battle over many years the Franklin was finally spared thanks to a 4 to 3 High Court ruling. The River was protected and the Australian Green Movement was born. After 7 days exploring the River: worth fighting for.
Day 1 saw us assemble in front of an old Hobart Hotel at 7:30 am, packed, half asleep and ready to go. We’d collected our river bags, wet suits and helmets the afternoon before to give us time to pack properly. Although I wasn’t planning on taking much with me, on packing my river bag it became apparent that my sleeping bag was enormous (it doesn’t compress) and since it was essential to bring I’d have to relinquish anything else that I judged (not entirely correctly) wasn’t absolutely necessary. Thus I found myself travelling very lightly indeed for the next 7 days! We boarded the mini bus and were on our way by 8 am, a disparate band of eight strangers with little to say to each other at this stage, plus our two guides (Brett and Jim). As we made the long drive from Hobart up to the Collingwood River our guides filled us in on the essential information for the trip ahead including that for the next week we would be crapping into plastic freezer bags that would be journeying down the River with us. Delightful!
We took the DSLR with us, safely stowed in a protective case for use at camp only. Espen also brought a little waterproof point and shoot that fit in our life jacket pockets and allowed us to take photos on the river, well, as least when we weren’t madly paddling! You can guess which camera saw the most use…
Three hours out of the city we reached our watery departure point: the Collingwood River – a tributary of the Franklin handily crossed by the Lyell Highway. The bus was unloaded and farewelled, lunch eaten, the rafts inflated and loaded up: we were good to go. As well as the two big yellow rafts, Brett had brought along two inflatable kayaks to lighten the raft loads in the shallow headwaters. When he asked for volunteers to take the kayaks I quickly put my hand up and spent the rest of the day noodling about in my bright orange craft, watching the others push and drag the heavy rafts over every obstacle (of which there were many, given the water level was rather low).
I thoroughly enjoyed having the kayak: a space of my own to enjoy the River in silence. Well, when I could get away from the annoyingly talkative 22-year-old boy who had the other kayak!
We paddled on through the shallow waters to the junction with the Franklin where we stopped for an afternoon tea of chocolate and, disturbingly, a My Little Pony cake, before heading down the Franklin proper for a couple of hours, pulling in late in the evening to the beach at Boulder Brace to make camp.
Camp consisted of staking claim to a section of beach, hanging your life jacket and helmet above and inflating your air mattress below. Exhausted, I was in bed by dark and asleep soon after. I woke a couple of times during the night due to mattress deflation, but even having to blown the damn thing up again wasn’t so bad as it gave me time to appreciate the most amazing sky full of stars. I’d never really slept under the stars before (unless you count a night on my friend’s property when we were teens, within 100 m of her house). It was beautiful, but damn cold! Sleeping bag rating to -5 degrees C my arse! It was about now that I regretted not finding a way to wedge my super-warm fleeces and extra-thick socks into my river bag. A new, warmer, compressible sleeping bag was also added to my mental shopping list.
Hello world. Welcome to The Shape Of Things To Come.