Collingwood Bridge to Angel Cavern (7 km - 30m fall)

Setting up the kitchen in Aesthesia Ravine

Well, we are finally on the Franklin River, deep in the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness. I am leaning against a rock on the edge of the river, as its tannin-stained water tinkles peacefully by. On the opposite bank, a pale quartzite cliff reaches steeply to its tree-crowned rim. On this side, the cliffs behind me also rise steeply, forming a long rock overhang about 20m above the river. Fringed by beech, laurel and sassafras trees, this is our home for the night - Angel Cavern - and our sleeping mats are scattered on the small patches of level ground beneath our rock umbrella. What a superb place to spend our first night in the rugged, yet lush, green world of Franklin River country.

As mentioned earlier, the day had begun with a 7.15am pick-up at our hotels in Hobart and a four hour drive by mini-bus to the bridge over the Collingwood River. It was here that we started our adventure and, after unloading all our gear from the bus, Elias and Franzi inflated the rafts and showed us the techniques for loading them - barrels, dry-bags, boxes and bins forming a compact and tightly bound bundle.

Campsite in Angel Rain Cavern

Elias checked the water level at the bridge - it was 0.8m - which was good news. At this level, it promised to be a relatively easy run down the shallow course of the Collingwood River. Then it was on to the water, four paddlers seated on the two inflated rolls in front of the load and one guide seated behind at the rear of the raft. Now was the time for the on-water briefing (with practice) in the techniques that would be needed to get a loaded raft and five people safely down the quiet reaches, gravel races, cascades and churning rapids of the Franklin. Then it was time to head off.

The setting of the Collingwood was superb. The sun sparkled on the water, with green forest-covered slopes on either side, flower-speckled tea-trees arching from the banks over the water, and the occasional rich honey scent, as we passed beneath a leatherwood tree in full bloom.

Rafting technique practice pool on the Collingwood River

All loaded up and ready to go

Heading down the tree-lined Collingwood

Setting of the Collingwood River

The first hour or so was spent descending the different types of small rapids and avoiding the occasional fallen logs and snags. It was good hands-on practice in quickly following the guide's orders, learning what not to do as much as what to do - something that would stand us in good stead in the much bigger rapids to come.

Ooops! a bit more practice needed

Lunch break on a gravel beach

A couple of rapids with tight gaps provided the first frissons and a couple of dismounts to haul the rafts over a fallen log or obstructing boulder gave our arms a work-out. Soon we passed through the first named rapid, Sticks and Stones, but contrary to their name, they did not break any bones.

Easy rapid on the Collingwood ......

.... and one requiring a bit of work

Indaba Passage upstream on the Franklin

Once through them, a large tree-covered wall appeared ahead of us - we had reached the junction of the Collingwood and Franklin Rivers. It was a time for a short break on the stony beach at the confluence - and a chance to admire the narrow rock-walled gorge of Indaba Passage upstream on the Franklin.

At the junction of the Franklin (photo: Don Fletcher)

A quiet deep pool on the Franklin

Then it was back on the water and down the Franklin proper, a deeper, stronger-flowing stream set in a deeper, narrower valley than the Collingwood. We were starting to find our rhythm as Elias guided us skillfully through a series of rapids with names such as Gordian Gate, Boulder Brace and Flanagan's Surprise, separated by deep pools and cliff-lined still reaches. Welcome to Aesthesia Ravine.

Entering Aesthesia Ravine

Heading for The Boulder Brace

Now I see why Flanagan was surprised (photo: Don Fletcher)

Finally, we reached a small patch of sand beneath the cliffs that sheltered the Angel Cavern and pulled in. Our first day was over and it was good to change out of wetsuits into dry camp gear and set up for the night.

Looking down from the camping cave

Japanese garden on the river

The camping cave at Angel Cavern

So, as I finish writing this, the sound of the evening meal being cooked on the rocks nearby promises good things to come. Elias has just finished explaining the use of the "groover" - something best done outside of meal time. I offer no further explanation other than to say that on the Franklin River, what goes in must be collected and taken out, human waste included. The system seemed very practical.

Day 2 - Angel Cavern to Irenabyss (10.5 km - 50m fall)

The piercing call of the Tasmanian currawong echoed down the gorge. "Get up you lazy buggers" it seemed to say "it's another lovely day on the Franklin". The currawong was right - by the time we were eating our breakfast on the river's edge, the sun was lighting up the quartzite cliffs opposite and the sky above was a brilliant blue.

Leaving Angel Rain Cavern campsite

A quiet section of Aesthesia Ravine

Checking out the way over The Log Jam

Rafts loaded up, we headed off once more down the clear tea-coloured water of the river, as it wended its way through the rest of Aesthesia Ravine. A couple of minor rapids got us in the mood, and we quickly reached our first major obstacle of the day - The Log Jam. Here, many years ago a large tree trunk fell completely across the river and has since accumulated large amounts of debris.

The waterfall at Cranny Nook

Nasty Notch

Hauling the rafts over boulders at Nasty Notch

The valley starts to constrict

Looking into Descent Gorge

There was no shooting this barricade and it was to be our first serious portage, carrying paddles and lighter gear around the rocks and then hauling the rafts over the tree trunk before lowering them down the steep drop into the foaming pool below.

One raft over The Log Jam

A lovely still section of the Upper Franklin

Then it was back into the rafts to push on, as we left the ravine to enter a wider valley - slopes thick with beech, laurel, sassafras and, for the first time, Huon pine, while the higher and drier ridge-tops carried a silhouette of more open eucalyptus canopy. The time passed pleasantly, paddling peacefully down the dark limpid reaches and running the occasional shorter rapid or longer gravel race. We passed the confluences of the smaller Loddon and Vera Rivers as they added their flow to the Franklin, stopped to explore Cranny Nook, a tiny side chasm, and its dark, shaded waterfall, and soaked up the sun-filled ambience of the river.

Where rafting and zen merge

Smaller tree trunk blocking the river

An increasing roar of water signalled the arrival of our next obstacle - Nasty Notch. Here the river passed through a narrow constriction coupled with a serious drop - it had destroyed one canoe of the first explorers to descend the Franklin. For us, it was time for another portage, manoeuvring the two rafts up and over the rock beside, before lowering them 3m into the pool beneath the fall. It was a tricky exercise requiring a team hauling effort.

Back into the river below the fall

Nello at Nasty Notch

Once past Nasty Notch, the Franklin narrowed to a small ravine with a longish section of small drops and rapids - time for a bit of excitement as Elias and Franzi expertly guided our rafts down, aided by short volleys of forward and backward paddling. The last fall was a bit more difficult, with a high risk of getting wedged at the top of the drop - time to man-handle the rafts over one more time before entering the Descent Gorge.

Lining the raft at the top of Descent Gorge

Getting ready to run the rapids of gorge

The descent of Descent Gorge (GoPro photo: Elias Eichler)

A bit of back paddling beneath the cliffs (photo: Don Fletcher)

Descent Gorge contains a long series of sporty rapids, but, after the last drop, the foaming white-water morphed into the still black pool of Irenabyss.

Deep in the shade of the sheer rock walls of the abyss, we drifted slowly downstream, surrounded by its silence, reflections and the gently twirling spirals of foam on the water surface - they were all that remained of the rapids behind us.

Smooth end to the run down Descent Gorge (photo: Don Fletcher)

Reflections .......

..... ribbons of foam ......

..... sheer rock walls .....

...... Irenabyss

At the far end of Irenabyss, we emerged once more into the sunshine and arrived at our camp for the next two nights - from a small rocky shelf, a path led up to campsites scattered amongst the ferny groundcover, gnarly roots and mossy trunks of sassafras and myrtle. Tonight we would be sleeping under tarps, but first, once everyone had changed into their dry camp gear, Elias and Franzi had a special treat for us.

Happy hour in Irenabyss

The tranquility of Irenabyss (photo: Paul Davies)

They had converted one raft into a floating "happy hour" - complete with fine cheese, fruit, nibbles and wine. We paddled both rafts back up through the abyss, tied them together and then floated back down the limpid black waters and cathedral walls of this tranquil place - it was a perfect finale to a great day of rafting.

Time for a cuppa on the river's edge

Our tarp beneath the beech trees

Looking across to Tahune Creek from our campsite

As we ate our dinner on the river's edge, watching it gently flow by, the fairy martins swept low across the water hawking for insects and the occasional fish would splash the surface. It was easy to see why this was called Irenabyss by those who first passed through - Irene by name, irenic by nature.