The Gordon River
The Gordon River is also extremely beautiful, and different in character again from the lower Franklin. Large and gentle, it moves slowly between hills overflowing in astonishing green forest.
Despite being the official “end” of the trip, St John’s Falls is still a very, very long way from the nearest flushing toilet, and is accessible only by yacht and seaplane. Still, the jetty seemed bursting with people and spluttering motors and mooring regulations. It was hard to find the energy to be excited about the place. Though, the green walls of the Gordon provided an excellent Indiana Jones backdrop for the seaplanes to do their thing.
In the hut (I have high standards for huts, but this one was ok, large and and well stocked with mosquito repelling candles), tired conversation and a steady line of characters passed by in the heat of the afternoon.
Speaking of standards, I have a low standard for meals, but even I had to admit the mixture of cous cous, peanut butter, and raisins was getting dire. And with the milk powder run out, the museli was even being disgustingly mixed in with black coffee. The suffering, it seemed, was returning with interest. We contemplated 22 kilometers of flatwater, the weather finally breaking with a huge cold front arriving the next morning, and nothing but cous cous without even the raisins to liven it up.
Someone put forward the idea of pushing on and paddling the 22km that night, under an almost full moon. Of course, it just had to be done.
Pushing against a slight headwind and wincing into the setting sun, we cast off, into an endless, numbing, lactic rhythm of paddling. We would need to keep it up for three to five hours, in the long cold twilight. A capsize in the darkness was unthinkable.
It took a long time for the stars to appear and the moon to rise. But they did. By then paddling had become deeply rewarding. A brilliant shooting star fell in front of everyone. It was spectacular. We even knew where we were, and found the Heritage Landing jetty right on schedule as we swept the Horseshoe Bend, just before midnight.
The only structure at Heritage Landing is the boardwalk. It’s a mediocre sleeping platform. Cold and wet we dragged out our groundsheets and sleeping bags to lie under the stars.
Well, not for long. I had the unmistakeable feeling of drops on my face and put out the shout to action stations. “Guys it’s raining! Where are the tarps!?” The tarps were found, and propped up sadly along the boardwalk railings as the rain set in. We really were beyond caring.
As we huddled under our crappy shelters the next morning, a pleasant elderly couple arrived on a yacht. They brought news that the ferry was on its way.
As the Lady Jane Franklin II arrived, we flew into a frenzy packing up and trying to look kind of respectable. The ship was incredibly packed with all ages and sorts of people. We dragged the kayaks up to the top deck as directed by the crew and huddled inside, all too ready for the buffet lunch with its now-famous smoked salmon.
The buffet lunch was excellent. The ferry cruised out past tidal flats onto Macquarie Harbour, and we’d made it to the ocean.
Surprisingly, the tour of the Sarah Island convict settlement ruins was great as well. The pouring rain – seriously, it was bucketing by this point and we all got proper wet through – gave it an extra impact.
Huddled in back in the ferry, I had wild glimpses of the West Coast Range through the weather as we crossed the harbour. Finally, we arrived in Strahan.
I always call this last part of the trip “the ragged end”. Trips, naturally, don’t want to end, and there’s a certain quality to those last hours. The waiting, the tiredness, the indifference of the strangers around you, the existential despair. Eventually, we drove back up to the Donaghy’s Hill lookout, and slept in the car park. Right back at the put in where we started, as though to emphsize the pointlessness of it all.
The North West Bay, Picton & Huon Rivers
I still have one more story to tell.
We made it back to Hobart, met old and new friends, and a lot of things happened, the ups and downs of the dirtbag life on the road. It started raining. Actually, it rained a lot. It turned out, Hobart experienced a 100-year storm and 150mm fell on Mt Wellington overnight.
And so we ended up in the carpark of Margate Bowls Club, staring at the North West Bay River, which was running at a flood level described as “very very exciting”. We were supposed to meet a local guy we’d contacted about two hours before, but steadily, other kayakers started showing up. It was the day of the year for the local scene.
At the put in, it looked like a really large amount of water for a fairly narrow river. Actually it was raging, without even an eddy to launch in. But the locals were jumping straight in (and disappearing instantly downstream). We weren’t not going to paddle. So we each bought a ticket, and took the ride.
Fourteen kilometers of continuous (and I mean continuous) big whitewater later, we were back at the bowls club, and my heart rate finally started lowering. What a run. Those who were up for it went for a second lap!
The next day, Niels, Bulti and I drove to the Tahune Forest with some of the paddlers we’d met. Chris, Tulky, Snapey, the young slalom paddler David, and his father Jonathon all bundled in with us as we drove up the road towards Farmhouse Creek.
The Picton river was also at flood level (“It’s definitely the highest I’ve run it at” commented Tulky) and the main drop for the day was the “gorge” rapid. The “gorge” turned out to be entirely underwater, and we scrambled to paddle around some wild waves, which unfortunately resulted in one swim (not from our group of course, the pride of NSW was upheld).
Further downstream, we found what we were looking for – surfable river waves, with a big eddy and ledge on the bank for filming. The Ottawa River it wasn’t, but it was excellent by Australian standards. Bulti and Niels’ faith in lugging a playboat all this way was rewarded, and we had a full two-hour play session. Finally, we floated down the swollen river to the confluence with the Huon, beneath the bridges lined with admiring tourists.
We said goodbye, and it was time to put away the kayaking gear and make the long drive north to rejoin our friends.
That’s the end. But I’ve still saved some of my favourite
- James Kelly’s original 19th century account of the discovery of Macqurie Harbour – an excellent read!
- Footage of the famous dam construction blockade at Warner’s Landing and St Johns Falls (video). Dramatic.