The Franklin River flows 125 kms from the Cheyne Range to the Gordon River through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Rafters usually commence their journey at the Collingwood River, 49 km west of Derwent Bridge, and finish at the Gordon River. Rafters can then either catch the Gordon River ferry at Heritage Landing, or charter a float plane or yacht to pick them up from Sir John Falls camp (see the Tourism Tasmania web site for operators). The trip takes about 8-14 days.
The best time to raft the Franklin is between December and March when the weather is relatively stable. However, you are advised to come thoroughly prepared as southwest Tasmania is renowned for its wild weather. High flood levels can occur even in summer.
All party members should have had previous bush and rafting experience -- preferably in Tasmania. The trip will require the party to negotiate some arduous 'portages'. In the event of a mishap, any walk to safety will be very demanding -- especially carrying rafting gear.
The Franklin is a demanding river to raft or kayak. It requires intense concentration, good preparation, a high level of river skills, confidence and experienced leadership. If you are in doubt about your ability do not go on!
If you are tackling the river privately make sure you have the right gear and the right level of experience. All party members need to have had previous white water experience in the same craft that they will use on the Franklin.
The group leader should have experience on the Franklin and be a competent rafter and 'river-reader'. They also must be able to handle people in cold, wet and stressful conditions for days on end.
Inexperienced rafters should consider joining a commercial trip with a suitable operator. There are a number of good companies with experienced guides and different lengths of trips to choose from. See the Tourism Tasmania web site for a list of rafting companies.
Please record your trip intentions on the sheets in the registration booth at Collingwood River and deposit in the box provided. Information from these sheets provides data that is used in planning for the area. Remember to sign the log book at Sir John Falls on completing your trip.
It is essential that you leave details of your trip with someone reliable who can contact the police should you be overdue. A search will only be mounted if someone reports you as being overdue.
The most convenient National Park pass for the trip is the Holiday pass which is valid for all National Parks for up to 8 weeks. See our park fee pages for the costs and range of passes available.
Minimal impact rafting
Campsites are well distributed along the Franklin River, but many are relatively small providing enough room for 2-3 tents. Larger numbers can cause environmental damage. You can assist in minimising damage by remembering to:
- Use a fuel stove instead of a campfire to reduce wildfire risk and campsite degradation.
- Bury faecal waste 100 metres (or as far as possible) away from your camp and watercourses. This is essential. Attacks of gastroenteritis have occurred in the past due to poor sanitation habits. Consider carrying faeces out with you. Commercial companies do this and it is not as difficult as it seems. Details are available from the Queenstown park office.
- Do not use soap and detergents in the river as these can damage aquatic life.
- Don't feed the wildlife. Processed food can give them diseases and feeding also creates unnaturally large populations around camps where they can become pests dependent on rafters' food.
- Carry out all rubbish, particularly plastics that can harm wildlife.
Leave campsites as natural as possible. Do not:
- enlarge campsites
- dig ditches around tents
- cut saplings for tent poles or
- erect rock shelter
Deaths on the river
Unfortunately the river has claimed many lives. Deaths have occurred at the rapid above Irenabyss (a kayak entrapped in a relatively easy rapid), in the Great Ravine (rafter falling into the Cauldron rapid and becoming jammed whilst assisting with a portage), and two deaths at Big Fall, the last major rapid on the river. The last two were caused by rafters becoming entangled in loose ropes in a stopper. The following factors have contributed directly or indirectly to death:
- Loose ropes (which have entangled rafters)
- High river levels
- Equipment failure
- 'Four person' rubber rafts -- These carry only one person and gear. This raft is the minimum size that should be taken on the Franklin. The raft should be equipped with a bow line and a rope attached tightly around the raft through D-rings.
- Lilo -- Useful to have in small rafts to protect the flooring.
- Paddles -- Must be well constructed and float. Carry spares (at least one per raft).
- Pumps -- Good quality high volume pumps. Carry a spare.
- Rope/Netting -- Required to tie barrels and packs to the raft (remember -- no loose ropes).
- Bailer -- For removing water from the raft.
- Rescue Equipment -- At least one throwbag per raft. Also 30 m of 8 mm or 10 mm static rope (see also section on ropes).
- Safety knife -- Quick release and buoyancy vest-mounted. At least one experienced person per raft should have one and be trained in its use.
- Repair kit (housed in an ammunition box). Needles and thread for repairing large holes, lilo and raft patches (rubberised canvas and hypalon, or a material that matches your raft), matches, roll duct tape, pliers, candles, sandpaper, contact glue such as Rema SC2000, brush and mixing container, scissors and a spare lilo and raft plugs.
- Personal Equipment -- Wet suit (preferably the full length type), wetsuit boots (or woollen socks with sandshoes that have a good grip sole), life jacket/buoyancy vest and helmet (must be worn at all times on the river), windproof jacket, tent, stove, fuel and cooking gear, sleeping bag and mat, spare clothes (woollen or thermal), woollen gloves, hat, boots (good idea for side trips), waterproof parka and overpants, pack, maps detailing rapids and a compass.
- First aid kit -- Sunscreen, wound dressings (4), roller bandages (2), triangular bandages (4), band-aids and butterfly closures (1 packet), space blanket, pain reliever ( e.g. aspirin or panadol) sticking plaster (5cm wide -- 1 roll), non-adherent dressings (8), antiseptic (e.g. Betadine), scissors, tweezers, splinter probe, Stingose or Blue Gel for bites and stings, eye irrigator and other personal medications.
- Food -- This depends on personal tastes. Take plenty of high energy food that can be eaten on the run. Take at least 4 days extra food.
- Packing -- Most gear can be packed in 25 or 50 litre plastic barrels with wide screw top lids (available from some outdoor shops). Always line the inside of barrels with plastic bags.
Remember to tie up rafts and move equipment well above river flood levels overnight -- the river level can rise dramatically (up to 10 metres in the gorge overnight)!
Most accidents occur during high river levels. Do not begin the trip if the river is rising or if the Collingwood River is above 1.2 m (see gauging station under the bridge). Continue only when the river has dropped to a level where there are plenty of still eddies.
Low river levels can also be dangerous for puncturing and wrapping boats, foot entrapments, logs and stoppers. Experience is required to avoid these obstacles.
Allow yourself four days extra provisions for the trip to sit out high water. This will avoid the stress of being late which often leads to dangerous decisions made simply to meet a prearranged commitment. Maps of the surrounding area should be carried in case you are forced to abandon the river and walk out. Due to erosion on the banks of the Gordon River cruise boats no longer go to Sir John Falls. A new jetty has been completed at Heritage Landing and cruise boats will pick up rafters there. Heritage Landing is 22 km downstream from Sir John Falls. About 2-4 days should be allowed to travel this distance as paddling the tidal section of the river can be fairly arduous, particularly on days when the wind is blowing upstream. Eagle Creek is the best campsite on this stretch of the river.
A party size of six people is recommended for safety and to create low levels of environmental impact. There should be one highly experienced paddler to every three intermediate paddlers. Two rafts per group is the minimum number so that one can always protect the other on the river.
System for river travel
Organise the group so that:
- everyone is always in sight;
- no one enters a rapid until it has been properly inspected; and everyone is safely assembled above it;
- safety backup is provided as required by any rapid and
- no one is encouraged to raft anything that they are not comfortable with.
Stop to inspect all rapids that cannot be fully inspected from rafts. Inspect rapids from the bank, if there is any doubt about the group's ability to handle it the rapid should be either lined or portaged. If the rapid is to be shot it should be done one at a time while an experienced person is standing in a safe position with a throw rope -- ready to give assistance if necessary.
Rapids which should be portaged by all groups include:
- Log Jam in Anaesthesia Ravine
- Nasty Notch
- All rapids in the Great Ravine
- The Pig Trough and
- Big Fall
Big fall is especially tempting as it is the last major rapid on the river. Remember that rapids change with different water heights, at high water levels Big Fall doesn't exist, it's just a slight dip in the river. At most water levels it is very treacherous.
Rapids other than those listed may require portaging depending upon the water level.
You should know what the following are: current, eddy, hole/stopper, strainer, undercut, boil line. You should also know what happens to your boat, what happens to you and how you can avoid trouble in each of these features.
The rocky nature of river beds means that it is easy to jam your feet in between rocks. If this happens in strong currents you can be pushed over and pinned underwater. Entrapment is a greater danger in low grade rapids and at low river levels. Most Tasmanian timbers do not float and consequently the Franklin has numerous logs caught up in rapids (some underwater) which are a serious entrapment threat.
Swim to the upstream side of the raft, keep your feet up near the surface to avoid them being trapped in rocks and logs -- never try to stand up in a rapid or fast flowing water. Swim down the rapid on your back, feet first to fend off obstacles. Stay with the raft if possible. Wear wet suit booties or sandshoes not walking boots when rafting.
Logs are particularly dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. If you are being swept towards a log try to get up on it by throwing both arms and a leg over the log. To do this it may be necessary to turn over and swim towards it to gain some momentum. DO NOT try to put both arms onto the log and pull the rest of the body up, because the water pressure could wrap your body into a U-shape around the log.
Used correctly, ropes can be life-savers but used incorrectly they can be lethal.
- Ropes should be bagged or coiled and tied off so that the risk of entanglement is reduced (this should be checked regularly throughout the day, especially before shooting large rapids). All ropes should float.
- There should be at least one throw rope, packed in a correctly designed throwbag, clipped onto each raft.
- It is imperative that you learn how to use throwbags and ropes as safety and rescue aids. Rafters should also be aware of the hazards associated with their use.
Structures placed along the river help to protect the environment and assist users. Prior to use the integrity of each structure should be assessed. In particular check:
- Ropes for secure anchors and fraying.
- Walkways and ladders for stability.
- Steps for security and strength.
- Ropes placed by unknown persons have proven to be insecure.
- Due to the remoteness all structures cannot be regularly inspected.
- Limit use if every structure to one person at a time.
Please report any damaged or insecure structure to the Parks and Wildlife Service.
This is a real possibility with the combination of water, cold winds and strenuous days. To avoid hypothermia, dress to stay warm and beware of the chilling effect of wind. Always keep your sleeping bag and spare set of clothes dry -- they are essential for treating hypothermia.
Eat high energy foods throughout the day and wear a thin woollen hat under your canoeing helmet to reduce heat loss. For treatment of hypothermia see Before You Walk - Tasmania's Essential Bushwalking Guide.
For more information