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The score was two kayaks, two paddles, one bruised face and one sore shoulder. But a score doesn’t tell the story of a trip. Here is the real story of the Tasmania Paddling Trip 2007.
We had a large and diverse crew, beginners through to experienced paddlers and a couple of families. We’d planned to paddle a range of rivers throughout Tasmania and a few people had brought bikes and rock climbing gear in case there was no water in the rivers.
Storms accompanied our arrival in Tasmania. Snow covered the mountains, water lay on the ground and it was cold, perhaps we’d have some paddling after all. We converged on our southern base near New Norfolk, the cabins at Base Camp Tasmania. This was a great place that Peter found. Fantastic location, great facilities and helpful hosts, complete with cute animals. The warning to tie down all our gear seemed a bit over the top but after the story of the office blowing away and the way the cabin shook one night we took it seriously.
The local wildlife also made its presence felt. Those who set their tents up on the Paddymelon highway heard all about it in the middle of the night. Those in the cabin also had a brush with ‘wildlife’. Brandon’s snoring was so loud Simone thought there was a wild animal in the room.
The first river was the Picton, south of Hobart. The guide book said that the river was wide, mainly grade 2 and flowed through rain forest. The perfect river for everyone to enjoy. Our first glimpse of the river was at the take out point just downstream of the junction between the Picton and the Huon Rivers. The rivers were wide and at the top of their banks. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be the best river for the less experienced paddlers.
We found the get in point at a closed bridge. We climbed into our gear and set off down the river, Paul Sorrentino, Paul Hooley, Walter, Jimmy, Miriam, Mick and Alison. The river was fast, wide and full of huge wave trains. Some of the waves were two metres high. It was fantastic fun riding the trains through spectacular rainforest. A decent rapid with a good drop claimed two swimmers. Others went to help Paul Sorrentino while I claimed the rescue rights with Walter. His boat was still churning in the stopper and his paddle was gone. While we wondering what to do next the boat came lose and headed down the river. I followed while Walter went for the big swim. I got his boat into an eddy and soon paddler and boat were reunited. Paul was also back in his boat and we were off again.
The support crew was waiting at the road bridge. Under the bridge was a series of big waves which provided lots of entertainment for the spectators and adrenalin for the paddlers. The first wave slowed you down and the second wave slammed into you. Not far past the bridge the Picton joined the Huon and we’d reached the get out point. What a fantastic fun paddle and a great way to start our paddling trip.
The next day Walter and his family head to Hobart to see the sights and to buy a new paddle. The river of choice today is the Tyenna, near New Norfolk. The Tyenna is a narrow river flowing through farmland. The section we’re looking at is from the Mount Field National Park entrance to the town of Westerway. The level on the gauge at the Westerway Bridge is 1.5 metres. The river is flowing fast with few eddies and lots of willow trees. The road runs along the river and from what we can see this isn’t looking like a great river for the beginners either. We decide to send a group of experienced paddlers down first to check it out. The crew is Mick, Jimmy, Miriam, Paul H., Brandon, Anthony and me.
The willows are thick along the banks and joining in the middle. Mick is in the lead and tangles with a willow. Mick loses and finds himself upside down. A swim ensures and he’s rescued by Jimmy. His boat disappears down the river. We head down the river looking for the boat while Mick follows along the bank. After about 400 metres we still haven’t found the boat! This isn’t looking good. We decide that we must have missed the boat and that it must be stuck under a log or something. Mick heads to the nearby road, together with Paul, who’s had enough of the willows.
We continue down the river. The willows have lessened and the fun wave trains and rapids make it an enjoyable paddle. We reach the first road bridge to be greeted by Peter. ‘What happened?’ he asks, ‘We saw a kayak float past under the bridge’. One group, including Jimmy, drive down to a low farmer’s bridge downstream, surely the boat would be stopped there, if anywhere. We continued down to the bridge looking for the boat as we went. There was no sign of the boat and no sign at the bridge. We continued on to Westerway, no kayak but a great fun paddle.
Paul S. wanted to do another run to look for Mick’s boat. Paul S, Miriam, Brandon, and I volunteered. We go back up to the bridge where the kayak was last seen and paddled down to Westerway. Still no kayak. It looks like it might have gone down the river and maybe into the Derwent. If it is in the Derwent then it has gone.
We weren’t the only ones having a bad day on the river. As we head back to camp we saw a group of rafters trying to recover a raft which was wrapped around a bridge pylon on the Derwent River. Lots of ropes but not a lot of success.
The next day we go back to the Tyenna. Walter has a new paddle and Mick is still mourning the loss of his boat. The river has dropped 20 centimeters and some of the power has gone out of it. Hopefully we can get everyone on the river at last.
We decide to go from the second road bridge down to Westerway. We break into two groups. The A Team of Walter, Miriam, Brandon, Margarita and Peter and the Number 1 Team of Paul, Jimmy, Rod, Anthony, Andy and me. The Number 1 Team won the toss and head off first. The river was fun and everyone was enjoying the paddle. After the portage around the low bridge, Rod went for a swim. A quick check that he was safely in an eddy and we raced off after his boat. We didn’t want to lose another one. Soon paddler and boat were reunited and we continued on to Westerway.
From Rod – Thanks to Paul Hooley & Jimmy for keeping me out of the willows during my Tyenna swim. Commendation to Jimmy for getting me into an eddy, which besides being on the wrong side of the river was at the base of a pipeline that had a walkway attached so I could get back to the road. Honourable mention to Alison who prevented my boat following the example set by Mick’s. From Alison – honourable mention! Next time I’ll let your boat go and won’t attempt at great personal risk to recover it!
We found a great surfing wave in the middle of town and spent a bit of time carving it up.
A group decided to do the section from the town bridge to Westerway prior to lunch. Very shortly after they started Margarita went into an eddy with a strainer, did the first half of the roll, tried the second part of the roll and came up against a submerged log. Unfortunately the log won and she lost her paddle and created a talking point for the rest of the trip. You certainly get notices when you’ve got two black eyes and a swollen nose!
Walter, Anthony, Miriam, Paul and I decide to do the section of the Tyenna from Westerway to Meadow Bank Road. The section starts with the river meandering through farmland and a nasty looking weir which we potage. The gradient increases as we head into the gorge. The speed of the river increases and the wave trains and stoppers appear. We came across the second weir. This weir is wide, nasty and immediately followed by lots of trees. Another portage and we’re back into it. Lots of fun rapids. Down one large set of waves Paul does a spectacular tail stand and swims. I head down the rapid to find him desperately clinging to his boat and paddle in one hand and a tree in the other. Between Miriam and me we manage to rescue him and no gear is lost.
Finally we reach The Cruncher rapid. A very nasty looking rapid. Lots of nasty rocks with great volumes of water and no pool at the bottom. A swim would be very likely and another lost boat equally likely. The local farmer comes down to see the entertainment but we disappoint him by deciding to portage. Not far to the end and there is the car and boat trailer. Certainly a great section of the river.
In the mean time Mick’s daughter back home had sourced a couple of options for a new boat as trying to contact someone for a loan boat was near on impossible. Mick, Paul H, Jimmy and Brandon shot into Hobart to see what was on offer and water tested one of the options. He ended up with a lovely new canary yellow ‘yak’.
The next day the weather is forecasted to deteriorate but first thing in the morning it doesn’t look too bad. We had originally planned to paddle the Styx River but the weather forecast had put us off. Paul is keen to give it a go. I’m easily talked into it. The river is grade 3 to 4, flows through fantastic rainforest, is fairly inaccessible and takes a full day trip. Paul managed to get a group together, Miriam, Peter, Brandon, Paul Hooley and me.
We started by leaving a car at the end at Bushy Park – Macquire Plain Road. We checked out the river level at the Glenora Bridge. The level has dropped to the bottom of the sloping section on the bridge. We also made a sacrifice to the river. The night before we’d made a kayak and paddler effigy out of paper. We had a theory that if we sacrificed a kayak to the river then no gear would be lost. Here was our chance to test the theory.
We headed up to the start near Karanja. Walter had organized access with the paper mill and we drove up the logging tracks to access a bridge over the Styx River. The river looked fantastic, running through beautiful rainforest. The guide book described the first 6 kms as full on so it should be fun. We head off and are straight into it. The rapids are long and involve working your way down and avoiding holes. It’s great fun, demanding but satisfying as you meet the challenge of the rapids. One rapid catches a few people out. A shelf of black rock appears as still water but in reality only has a film of water covering it. Peter hits the shelf and spins around but manages to complete the rapid backwards. Miriam also hits the shelf and goes upside down. She is scraping down the rocks upside down and a swim is inevitable. After the experience of the last couple of days we leap into action grabbing paddle, boat and paddler. Nothing is lost! The river gods appear to be smiling on us at last. There is further evidence of this when Paul drops into an eddy to see a GPS sharing the eddy. It was his GPS and had washed off his deck a short time earlier. Perhaps the sacrifice is working.
The rapids start getting longer and more demanding. One particular long rapid ended with all the water heading for a wall. Quickly we had two swimmers, Peter and Brandon. Peter managed to hold on to his paddle and boat and make it to an eddy, only losing a shoe. Brandon holds on to his paddle but not his boat. Paul and I tried to get it into an eddy but we didn’t quite make it and the boat disappears down the next rapid. Paul disappears after it.
That leaves the rest of us. Eventually we found Paul. He’d chased the boat down the next rapid but the rapid after that was more committing and he’d given up the chase. The boat was gone! We now had too many paddlers for the number of boats. We also had a couple of paddlers who didn’t appear to be enjoying the rapids. There wasn’t really any choice we were walking out.
We identified our position on the map and Peter skillfully led us out of the rainforest lined valley towards the logging tracks. The saw grass was over our heads and cut our fingers. The only thing visible was the top of people’s paddles as they slogged through the grass. It was a hard one hour walk to a logging track. Brandon, Miriam, Paul H and I wait with the boats while Paul and Peter (with only one shoe) walked for another hour back to the cars. We packed up our gear and collect Peter’s vehicle from the pull out. The Styx had beaten us and another Tasmanian river had claimed another boat. I’d never seen anything like it but vowed to come back and complete the Styx!
Meanwhile Mick wasn’t overly keen to try too much in his new boat and headed back to the Tyenna and run the section along Westerway with Jim, Emily and Andy. A sweet run and plenty of eddy turns and some surfing helped sort out the new boat.
We headed north to meet up with the others at Derwent Bridge. Snow was falling as we reached the hotel. The roaring fire in the hotel was extremely inviting, in the way that the outside shower block was not. We thought we’d be the last in but Mick and Ann’s crew hadn’t appeared. They eventually arrived. They initially trusted their GPS and were well on their way to Lake Gordon before realizing they were going the wrong way. The scenery was to be seen to be believed, or something was said along those lines anyway. We enjoyed the meal at the pub before braving our rooms and the snow.
The next day we went down to Brady’s Lake to see the slalom course. The gates that release water from one lake, down the Brady’s Lane slalom course and into another lake are fully open. The water is roaring down. We took lots of photos and videos but didn’t take the boats off the roof. Too cold and too much water. We continued north. Rod and I had a look at the Ouse River. The Ouse had been on our list of rivers and it looked like it was flowing. The only problem was that we would have frozen to death. The plains were covered in snow and the water temperature barely above freezing point.
After a bakery stop at Deloraine we continue on to our final base at Gowrie Park. Gowrie Park was originally a construction town but now it is a backpackers/caravan park with cabins, and is up for sale. While we settled in a group of us head up to the Mersey River to check out the various access points. Back at the camp and our host has prepared a fantastic meal of pasta and apple cake with golden syrup ice cream.
Friday and we’re back on a river after a non paddling day yesterday. We’re doing the Wildwater Racecourse section of the Mersey River. The river is dam release and there is sufficient water coming down. A lake at the end of the section means that we won’t loose any boats or gear.
Everyone is paddling and we split into two groups. The section is good fun. Nothing too demanding but plenty to play in, particularly at the slalom section. We regroup at the end of the section. Some are keen to paddle the section of the Mersey between Parangana Dam and Echo Valley Bridge while others want to do some more paddling of the racecourse section.
I head down with the group paddling the next section. The river is easy grade 2 to 2 plus with a couple of more demanding rapids. Brandon is paddling the club’s boat and manages to go upside down, drop over a large rock, hurt his shoulder and swim. Fortunately no loss of gear. Back to camp and our last night together. This time it was a great chicken curry with cake and ice cream from our host.
Saturday and our last day. People are starting to go in different directions. Rod is driving to Launceston to drop Jimmy at the airport. Brandon and Paul are also going to Launceston to do a spot of shopping before they go back to their girlfriends. The rest of us are off to tackle the mighty Leven River near Devonport. The section of choice was between Gunns Plains and Bannon Bridge. The description is grade 2 to 3 with a gorge in the middle. We set off through farm land and willows, fairly easy paddling. The willows give way to bush and blooming wattles, very pretty paddling. There are a couple of more demanding rapids but it’s quite a pleasant paddle. A wave towards the end attracts some interest and then a swim from Mick in his new boat. Ann meets us at the end and we managed to finish off our remaining food.
The paddling is over. We’ve had some great paddling on some fantastic rivers. We’d been lucky with the river levels and enjoyed some great company and adventures. We’d lost some gear and certainly have a great deal of respect for Tasmanian Rivers. We’ll definitely be back, if only to conquer the Styx.
Thanks to everyone who helped organize the trip and came on the trip:
The Muller Family, Water, Louise, Genevieve, Harrison and Thomas,Miriam, Andy,
Emily, Mick, The Cheffings Family, Val, Anthony,
Simone and Claire, Rod, Ann,
Paul S, Jimmy,