If tearing down a wild, rushing river, through breathtakingly beautiful wilderness isn’t your cup of tea, it’s probably best to stop reading now and go back to your TV Week – we’ll understand. Whitewater rafting isn’t for everyone; you need to be physically fit, ready for thrills and (very likely) spills.
Tasmania is one of Australia’s last true wildernesses and one of the world’s top whitewater destinations. The Franklin River, in particular, is a mecca for the sport and is arguably the country’s most celebrated wild river. When you consider that from the source to its junction with the Gordon River, it drops an impressive 1400 metres, the ‘why’ is pretty obvious!
“The Franklin runs through the middle of Tasmania’s World Heritage wilderness area and is one of the world’s last great wild rivers. It forges through the rugged southwest of the state, through deep gorges, quiet pools and magnificent temperate rainforest,” says World Expeditions’ Michele Eckersley (herself a Franklin River rafting aficionado).
“Most rafting expeditions start in the upper reaches of the Franklin River (where it is actually called the Collingwood River) and continue until it joins the Gordon River and reaches the west coast, near Strahan. It provides a true wilderness adventure – and is beautiful. There aren’t that many opportunities to be so completely immersed in nature left anywhere in the world!”
The trip usually takes between eight and 14 days and there are campsites distributed along the river’s banks. Many of these are fairly small with only enough room for two or three tents. You’re camping in the pristine wilderness so make sure to leave it as you found it. Guidelines on how to do this can be found at Parks Tasmania.
Between December and March, when the weather is relatively stable, is generally the best time of year to raft the Franklin. Still, southwest Tasmania is wild country, renowned for its crazy weather – so be prepared! If you plan on tackling the river privately, make sure you know what you’re doing.
“Because the water levels vary from day to day with rainfall, any descent of the Franklin is demanding. With rapid names such as Nasty Notch, Log Jam, Big Fall and The Cauldron, be clear that it is a true expedition that should only be attempted by experienced and well-prepared groups,” says Michele.
This isn’t an exaggeration, many people have died on the river due to inexperience and overconfidence. So if you’re not 100% you’ve got the necessary skills, go with one of the many organised tours available. Make no mistake though, even with a tour group, the Franklin is not for the faint-hearted.
“A sound level of fitness is essential. You’ll need to paddle in slow moving areas – and even more in rapids. And it’s not just the paddling – you need to help with portages (carrying the rafts and gear over land) in parts of the river that are unsafe to raft. All party members must have had previous bush and rafting experience.”
Negotiating the untamed waters of the Franklin is one of the world’s great adventures but if you’re not ready for this degree of extreme rafting, Tasmania has plenty of other options. South of Hobart, the Picton River offers a gentle ride through lush rainforest and the rolling hills of the Tasmanian countryside. Huon pines tower over the river’s edge and there are plenty of (easy to negotiate) rapids.
For families and first-timers, the upper reaches of the Derwent River north of Hobart offer gentle rapids and beautiful scenery down the tranquil Derwent Valley. In Tasmania’s north, the Mersey River cuts an impressive canyon 85 kilometres south of Devonport. Controlled water releases on the Mersey make it the most reliable whitewater course in the state with several heart-racing rapids for thrill seekers.
We’d like to thank World Expeditions for their help with this article. They were the first company to offer the Franklin River rafting experience commercially. They offer a range of rafting tours on the Franklin and other rivers all around the world.