Rafts and reflections on Tasmania's Franklin River |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Rafters at Rock Island Bend |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Rafting on the Franklin River, Tasmania |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Travelling down the mighty Franklin River |  <i>Glenn Walker</i>
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The Franklin river...

Sustained wilderness

by friend of Tasmanian Expeditions, Chris Buykx

The Franklin River - there are not enough superlatives to describe this wild river in Western Tasmania (sometimes you need expletives too!). One could wax lyrical about its natural beauty, or recount great tales of challenge and adventure, not to mention the passion and courage of the battles to save it. Every aspect of it is extraordinary, extreme and interdependent.

Perhaps the best measure of the significance of the Franklin is its ability to change lives. Anyone who has experienced a trip down the river comes away with a new understanding of themselves, of the value of wilderness and of the awesome power of nature. The Franklin is unique in that all who venture down it are challenged with total immersion in wilderness, a complete severing of ties to the world outside.

Group of rafters on the Franklin River |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Beautiful landscapes on the Franklin River |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Guides rafting wilder waters on the Franklin River |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> The end of another day on the Franklin |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Rafting the Franklin River provide some exciting challenges |  <i>Carl Roe</i> Franklin River in the South West wilderness |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Paddling down the Franklin River, Tasmania |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> The south west wilderness of Tasmania |  <i>Glenn Walker</i> Rainbows and rafts |  <i>Glenn Walker</i>

After driving just over 200km west of Hobart, paddlers put in on the Collingwood River and after a short paddle reach the junction of the Franklin and face more than 120km of wild river, huge rapids, peaceful pools, ancient rainforests and deep gorges. When you're paddling on the Franklin, the rest of the world becomes irrelevant, the only things that matter are the immediate challenges of the river. These challenges are serious: once committed, whatever happens, whether flood or drought, the paddler must accept and deal with the consequences until eventually they paddle out on the still waters of the Lower Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour. The extreme remoteness means that there is little margin for error and giving up is never an option.

Despite these challenges, a full length descent of the Franklin is surprisingly accessible. From December to March each summer, some of Australia's most experienced river guides share the challenge of the Franklin with their teams of paddlers. In the world of commercial adventure travel, the Franklin is one of the few 'real' adventures left. Experienced and novice adventurers alike consider rafting the Franklin one of life's must-have experiences. It is not possible to just 'consume' a Franklin experience, every paddler must participate. Whether client or guide, everyone is in the same boat (excuse the pun).

For nine days, the paddlers and guides must navigate their two rafts through every challenge the River may throw up; from furious whitewater to arduous portages (a portage is when all the gear and rafts must been carried around an un-paddleable rapid). With sound judgment of each challenge, the guides pilot the rafts and their occupants in safety. There are times of sublime pleasure such as the thrill of paddling grade 3+ rapids in big water, and the quiet moments of contemplation when there is only the beauty of nature. However, there are also times when it can be pure hard work: lugging heavy barrels of food and equipment around a difficult portage, or feeling the first shocking chill of icy water as it makes its way inside your wetsuit. Being woken in the middle of the night by the roar of the rising river and realising in a few hours that you will again paddle on its tannin-stained foam and fury means every paddler must face both fear and exhilaration.

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