Irenabyss to Camp Arcade (24 km - 80m fall)

The first drops of rain pattered on the tarp at 4am and, by 5am, it was falling steadily. Sitting beneath the kitchen tarp, eating breakfast, we watched the raindrops splashing on the water surface, while, on the far bank, Tahune Creek was rushing out into the river and small waterfalls were beginning to flow down nearby rocks. The river level was slowly rising before our eyes - it promised to be a good day of rafting.

Breaking camp in the rain is no fun, but, by the time we set off, the rain was already easing and the cloud was looking a lot lighter. The ambience was superb - soft raindrops spotting on the dark river surface, enhanced by heavier drips from overhanging vegetation, mists drifting on the heights above, and water pouring off the valley walls. Small waterfalls were now thundering into the river and every rock channel that could carry it was spouting water out into the Franklin.

Breakfast on a rainy morning

Entering a narrow section of the river

A short but powerful waterfall

Passing one of the many waterfalls running after the rain

With high levels, the river had become a series of dark pools and sporty rapids, with long races of rooster-tailed pressure waves and several tricky drops - one so tricky that our raft got wedged on a rock, necessitating a mid-rapid transfer of paddlers into the other raft to lighten the load and release it. We passed the confluence of Maud Creek, now flowing so fast that it created its own rapid.

The lush green vegetation near Fincham's Crossing

Fast-flowing gravel race with waterfall

Side stream flowing out into the river

By now, the rain had stopped altogether, as we paddled under a set of steel cables strung across the river. We were at Finchams Crossing, site of the proposed Middle Franklin Dam - its flying fox cables and gauge station a blot on the wilderness, but perhaps a needed reminder of what might have been had all this wonderful river drowned beneath a reservoir.

A brief stop to check out Fincham's Crossing ....

.... before heading back onto the Middle Franklin ....

.... and more fast but pleasant rapids

From Finchams, the river journey resumed its rhythm of paddling along the still dark reaches, where floating vegetation washed down by the rain and sidestreams, eddied and swirled with the currents. In between, churning drops, with evocative names such as Hind Leg Slide and Duck Shoot, added frisson to contemplation.

Beneath the Jericho Walls

Looking back to the gentle gravel race

A touch of zen garden

One of several lovely still reaches

After passing down the long bouncing run of Rafters Race, with its tea-tree covered gravel island, we found ourselves beneath the imposing bluff of the Jericho Walls. As a reward, patches of blue sky began to appear above.

Lunch-break on a stony beach

The cadence of still deep reach separated by sections of white water shallows continued as we rounded the big horse-shoe bend known as The Crankle and on to our campsite for the night at Camp Arcade.

The peaceful reach at Camp Arcade

Setting a steady paddling rhythm

Day's end - Camp Arcade

Time for nibbles beneath the kitchen tarp

Here, a short sandy track took us up to a ledge above the river with a couple of large flat sites amongst the tree-ferns and myrtle beech trunks. It had been a "cruisy" day, to quote Elias, under 6 hours for 25 km, with no portages or raft-dragging required. Had the water level not risen some 40cm, there would have been several.


Tarp site at Camp Arcade


And so, seated beneath our large kitchen tarp, enjoying a carb-rich meal of pasta with kangaroo and freshly steamed vegetables, we reminisced on the great day of rafting in which we had the privilege of seeing a very different mood of the Franklin. And as we did, the water below rose another 40cm - tomorrow promised to be a very interesting day.

Camp Arcade to Coruscades Camp (10 km - 40m fall)

We had slept to the soft rush of the distant rapids. It was pleasant to be woken up, not by the patter of raindrops, but the sweet twitters and whistles of forest birds. The band of rain that had shed 20mm on the Franklin was gone and the river was already on its way down from its overnight peak.

After breakfast, we formed a human chain down the steep sandy track to the tiny beach and passed down the assorted barrels, eskies, dry bags that stored our supplies (plus, with utmost care, the groover). Getting started in the morning takes some time, as Elias and Franzi are meticulous with the positioning and tying down of the load - for good reason, as we would find out later in the day.

Then we were off for our fourth day on the river - straight away into the first rapid, a long rough water race that led us into the next deep reach. The apparent calmness of the reach was belied by the eddies and upwellings that created swirling patterns of foam on its dark surface - after rain, the whole river is active. The sequence of flat- and white-water continued as the sun broke through the clouds above the green forest tapestry that lined the steep-walled Franklin Valley.

The 60m drop of Blushrock Falls from far ....

....and near
(Photo: Don Fletcher)

You are now officially in The Great Ravine

Steep climb on the portage around The Churn

Sunlight on the river

A reflective section of the river

Suddenly, a long silver thread appeared to the right - water was tumbling over the 60m drop of Blushrock Falls at the end of a short side-valley and pouring out into the Franklin. It was such a nice view that we pulled in to shore to wander up for a closer look.

Cascade rushing out from a side stream

The valley walls get steeper

At the next bend, we were told to look around, to see the top of Frenchmans Cap disappearing into the cloud above the valley wall. It seemed a long time ago that we were up on the ridge just opposite this iconic peak. After a bit more pleasant paddling and running the appropriately named Side Slip rapids, we pulled into shore for an early lunch - an energy boost was needed, as a lot of work was waiting for us after lunch.

View down-river from Side Slip Rapids towards Oriel Rock

The valley now began to narrow and the rock walls became steeper and higher. We were entering the Great Ravine, a highlight of any trip down the Franklin River. Paddling beneath the imposing bluff of Oriel Rock, our thoughts began to turn to The Churn, one of the most fearsome rapids on the river. No one runs in their right mind The Churn - the water thunders down through a narrow constriction and over a 3m drop to boil its way white and chocolate through a jumble of boulders and blocks.

Waterfalls in The Grand Ravine

Elias takes a look at the approaching rapids

The roar was getting louder as Franzi and Elias guided us into a small cove just upstream. To get past the The Churn would take an hour or two. For us, it was time to get out and carry the loose gear up and over a steep portage track that crossed a muddy rain-forest covered spur. Meanwhile, Elias set up a rope line along the small cliff above the rapids. For he and Franzi, the hard work was beginning as they guided the raft, loaded but devoid of people, into the rapids on a long tether and over the big drop - success. We paddlers sat on the ledge above and watched the proceeds through the trees.

Franzi runs a line above The Churn (photo: Don Fletcher)

The first raft went over upright.....

... but the second flipped at the base (photo: Don Fletcher)

Then it was down to the river below The Churn, as the second raft was lined through. Over the falls it went ...... and flipped at the base, pinned against the tumbling water by the back-current. It took over 10 minutes for Elias and Franzi to extract the raft and right it, but, apart from a good wash of the raft itself, all the gear was fine and dry. For us, it was a good lesson in why it is sometimes better to walk a rapid and why securing the load needs such care.

Reboarding the rafts, moored in a small eddy below The Churn, we now had a chance for a bit of fun. We were not out of the white-water and, with a few paddle we were back in, shooting The Corkscrew, foaming, churning, and giving us all a cold shower and bouncing our raft off the rock walls ... but all done safely. The skill of the river guide is in reading the water.

Shooting the Franklin Rapids

It isn't possible to take photos while shooting a rapid and, even if you did, the lens would be covered with water splashes. However, Elias set up his camera on a rock at the base of The Corkscrew and the following slide show of the photos gives a pretty good idea of why shooting the Franklin River rapids gives you a nice adrenalin rush. Check out the disappearing raft on the second run and enjoy!

Mouse over the image to start or stop the slide show at any point

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Shooting The Corkscrew (Photos: Elias Eichler and Franzi Reutz, carousel WOWslider 8.7)

..... and now the views from in the raft (taken off the GoPro video)!

Shooting The Corkscrew

Continuing on down The Great Ravine

The aptly-named Serenity Sound

Riverside vegetation

Relaxing at Coruscades Camp

This brought us out into Serenity Sound, which, as its name implies, was a lovely still stretch of water in which to regain our zen and compose ourselves before The Coruscades, the next big rapid of The Great Ravine. That, however, could wait for the next day - at the end of the Sound, we pulled into shore at Coruscades Camp, perched on a small ledge amongst the tree-ferns, beech and sassafras trees.

Sleeping tarp all set up

It was a lovely location to spend the rest of the sun-filled afternoon and soak up the ambience of the Great Ravine; upstream the peaceful waters of Serenity Sound and downstream the seething white-water of The Coruscades .... and, as a bonus, the sun dried all our wet suits and on-river clothing.

Tree fern at Coruscades Camp

Foam patterns on the still pool

Tranquil afternoon on Serenity Sound (photo: Elias Eichler)

That night we celebrated with a steak on the grill, fresh salad and vegetables, plus a camp-made black forest cake, complemented by a glass of cask red. For those who fancy that they may come on such a trip to lose weight - no chance. Franzi and Elias feed you too well to do that.

Where we head tomorrow

Coruscades Camp to Newlands Rock Shelter (20.5 km - 105m fall)- Part 1 morning rafting

As we slept peacefully beneath our tarp and forest canopy, the fungus gnat larvae (aka glow worms) in the mossy rock grotto nearby spent the night busily luring prey with the glow of their luceferin lights, to be trapped in the sticky silk threads that the larvae had exuded onto the rock face. Our work was to come the next day - the "cruisy" rafting was now behind us.

The morning was certainly colder and grey cloud filled the sky - it looked like a change was moving through. Franzi had checked on the weather by sat phone - an intense cold front was forecast for tomorrow, accompanied by a lot of rain. Our next planned stop was between The Great Ravine and Propsting Gorge, but, if the river rose significantly before we got through the latter, we could end up stuck for a day or two in a very uncomfortable place. The decision was made - today we would be double-staging.

We had been listening to the roar of The Coruscades all night - a mean rapid, caramel-coloured water churning over big falls, through large hidden boulders, undercut ledges and rock sieves that could suck down anyone who fell out and keep them there. It was no surprise that we started our day by walking up and over the short track through the rainforest on its left, as Elias and Franzi teamed up to run first one and then the other raft through the rapid - they don't fall out.

Yet another rain forest portage

The next raft runs the Force-it

Franzi and Elias ride the Coruscades

About to be swallowed by The Force-it (photo: Don Fletcher)

Moored in a small eddy, we paddlers climbed aboard with no time to think, as we backed into white-water to quickly run the lower section of The Coruscades. From here, the river descended through a series of technical rapids - "forward paddle .... stop .... get down .... left forward .... over right .... up .... back paddle .... hold on .... relax", the orders came thick and fast as we manoeuvred our way through the rocky beds and chutes of The Force-it to emerge soaked and with adrenalin pumping.

Warm smile on a cool day

At the end of The Force-it, we found ourselves on a long tranquil drift through Transcendence Reach, lined with steep rock walls. The physical beauty of this place, highlighted by the lovely little slot-canyon of the Livingstone River flowing in from the left, calmed the spirits.

Cruising down Transcendence Reach

Slot canyon at Livingstone River entrance

However, in the Great Ravine, such rests are not for long - a string of rapids lay ahead. After lining the rafts through The Sidewinder, and shooting a few smaller drops, we could hear the increasing roar of Thunder Rush, one of the meanest rapids on the river - time for another obligatory portage.

Rock overhang in Transcendence Reach

Stopping to inspect the next rapid .....

...... the falls at Thunder Rush

Looking down the throat of the Great Ravine

Fortunately, the level was low enough to avoid the high route, so we scrambled over the boulders on the left hand side of the river, carrying paddles, metal boxes and the loose gear. Elias carefully set up the rope-line, with a "five-man anchor", then, as the "anchor" fed him more line, he guided the tethered raft carefully into the white-water and over the thundering drop that gives the rapid its name. Once through the churn of boulders beneath, the five-man anchor quickly hauled the rope in to bring the raft into a calmer eddy beneath the falls. The process was then repeated - no capsizes today.

Getting ready to line the raft down the top of Thunder Rush

The five-man anchor

At the base of Thunder Rush

Then it was all aboard to run the lower part of Thunder Rush - once again "Forward paddle .... stop .... get down .... watch the bump" (as we bounced off the wall), and finally "high fives" for a five-paddle salute as we shot out of the bottom of the rapid, drenched and exhilarated.

Lower rapids at Thunder Rush .....

... one quick turn and down we go

Start of the portage at the end of The Sanctum

Down the shute ......

.... and into the heart of the Great Ravine (GoPro photos: Elias Eichler)

From Thunder Rush, the Great Ravine tightened between almost vertical rock walls as the Franklin ran still through The Sanctum, scenically the most impressive part of the river so far. Tranquility was short-lived, however, for at the end of this reach lay The Cauldron, next in line of the Great Ravine's monster rapids.

Our rafts eased into a rocky inlet just upstream and we disembarked. The portage at The Cauldron is a half kilometre climb, steeply up into the rain forest and then even more steeply back down to a point mid-rapid, but below the main fall. Carrying paddles and loose gear, we scrambled and root-laddered our way up the muddy track and down again to a rocky cliff edge. From here, we could look back to the action at the top of the rapid, where the other five were hauling all 200kg of raft and load over a large flat rock, before slipping the rafts sideways into a notch below the main drop.

Steep climb up a mossy track

Hauling rafts over a rock at The Cauldron ....

... and lowering them back in ....

.... to continue our way down The Great Ravine

From the flat rock, they could jump in and ride the white-water down to a small stony beach, where the rest of us climbed back in to shoot the bottom section of The Cauldron - more quick-fire commands, plus "pull, pull, pull" (Flying Dave tried to leave the raft backwards as it buckled on one large wave, only to be yanked back in by the flotation vest) - heady stuff.

Looking down onto the rocky race

Magic in the mist

The tranquil setting of Deliverance Reach

Slow paddle down the last part of the ravine

From The Cauldron we bounced quickly down the fast-flowing rough water in this narrow section of the ravine, which, in true fashion, pushed us out into the languid waters of Deliverance Reach (no, no banjo music could be heard) to leave behind the marvels of The Great Ravine. We entered a wide pool, as the first light shower spotted its surface, and reached the first strip of relatively flat land that we had seem for a long time.


Moored on the flats at Rafters Basin


We pulled in - this was Rafters Basin, our lunch spot for the day and what normally would have been our overnight camp. However, with heavy rain forecast for overnight and tomorrow, Elias went through the options and their consequences again - we took a group vote and decided to combine the next day's rafting into a long afternoon to get through Propsting Gorge and reach the dry campsite at Newlands.

Coruscades Camp to Newlands Rock Shelter (20.5 km - 105m fall)- Part 2 afternoon rafting

The vegetation seemed to be changing as we paddled to a steady rhythm through this more open landscape - the tapestry of green covering the slopes sported different shades and spiky leaved pandani appeared for the first time. Suddenly, amongst the greenery ahead there was a splash of colour - bright blue and yellow. A couple of rafts had been parked high above the water level in the forest. We were passing the end of the Mt McCall Track, an access point to the river for those doing shorter Franklin journeys. Mt McCall also marked the entry to the Propsting Gorge - home to several runnable rapids and two portages as the river became much more restricted between the rock walls of the gorge.

Looking down the length of Propsting Gorge

Lining the raft through Ol' Three Tiers

In Ganymede's Pool

The top levels of Ol' Three Tiers proved an easy lining, followed by a nice technical shoot out of the bottom rapids (my, how blasé we get after a few days on the Franklin). We were now in the heart of Propsting Gorge, paddling down the tranquil water of Ganymede's Pool, with its beautiful mix of vertical cliffs and steep tree-clad slopes .... made even more beautiful by the mists on high and fine drizzle.

In the heart of Propsting Gorge ....

.... wreathed with mists ....

.... and long still reaches

However, The Trojans woke us up, with its big drop and large splash as the raft buckled at the bottom before straightening out and sweeping on - someone just threw a bucket of cold water in my face, I thought, as we emerged from its churning foam and waves.

Once more, rapids were followed by quiet stretches on which you could contemplate the beauty of the gorge. However, such reveries are not made to last long on the Franklin. The next major rapid was even more dubitable than the last - The Pig's Trough, with its mess of boiling caramel-coloured water, standing waves and white foam as it cascades down either side of a huge rock in the river. Getting through it is a technical exercise in lining - Elias and Franzi (aided by Don and Ron) first ran a rope-line along the narrow rock ledge high above the left bank, while the rest of us scrambled around the mossy boulders on the right bank with the loose gear. Then the rafts were guided down on their tethers through the cascading rapid and over the last big drop at the end of the Trough - both landed upright - success! It would prove to be our last portage.

Portage through the boulders

A lovely waterfall near Rock Island

Lining the rapids at Pig's Trough

Rock Island Bend

The pick-up point was on a flatter rocky bank of the river, where a lovely waterfall tumbled out of the rain forest to add to the volume of the Franklin. However, it was more than just a pretty spot ..... this was Rock Island Bend, location of the iconic Franklin River photo taken by Peter Dombrovskis. This image of the tree clad rock pillar rising out of the river in the mist became a rallying point for those fighting to save the Franklin from the 3-dam hydroelectric project, which would have destroyed this wild river and its magnificent landscape forever. The fact that we are here to contemplate it witnesses the outcome of that protest - all homage to Rock Island Bend and the heroes of '83!

Group photo (Photo: Elias Eichler)

We boarded the raft and headed on, with a sporty ride down the ABC rapids waiting just around the bend. A little further ahead, lay the rafting highlight of the day - a 400m stretch of cascading rapids, roiling water and big standing waves, rushing down an obstacle course of randomly-placed boulders, through which Elias and Franzi had to guide our bucking rafts. Welcome to Newlands Cascades, where we managed to apply everything that we had been taught and emerge at its far end upright, wet and happy.

Looking back up the gorge and cascades

Newlands Rock Shelter campsite
Close-up of Newlands Cascades

At the end of the cascade lay Newlands Campsite and what a pleasant sight it was to the bedraggled paddlers who had just run a section of the river normally done in two days. A long and high rock overhang kept the rain at bay, while a series of undercuts and flat table stones, strung out along the ledge that rose gently alongside the river, provided spots for people to set up their sleeping mats and bags.

There would be no tarps tonight, or tomorrow for that matter. Since we had packed two days rafting into one, we had earned ourselves a rest day. It could rain all it wanted to now, we were high and dry and, as this was the end of Propsting Gorge, nothing could stop us reaching the end as planned.