The Franklin Diaries

In December 2018 we celebrated our eldest son’s 21st birthday by rafting the Franklin River in Tasmania.  Originally it was to be a father and son trip.  Our other three kids were all away for the week, so it was a perfect opportunity to do something special with Christopher.  I suggested white water rafting as it was something I would never want to do.  Bookings were made and I revelled in the idea of a whole week at home on my own.

But then I started suffering FOMO.  I reasoned with myself that I hate roller coasters and being cold and wet and that this would be like being cold and wet on a roller coaster for a week.  I enjoyed camping but this sounded extreme with no campfires and no facilities whatsoever.    I liked the look of some of the trips offered on the calmer waters of the Lower Franklin, but these weren’t being considered by my husband and son.

The deadline arrived to pay the deposit and I decided to go.  And then spent the next month leading up to our departure feeling sick about it.  What was worse was that it was entirely my own decision.  I wasn’t being encouraged or pressured into going at all – actually quite the contrary! So, I couldn’t complain, no matter how much I might come to regret it.

Hobart, Tasmania

We had our pre-trip briefing tonight, by a dread-locked Klaudia who has one of those well-travelled, hard-to-pick accents.  She has that classic adventure tour guide manner of understating everything.  She used words like ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’ when talking about the weather forecast (torrential rain for the next 3 days) and the resulting rapids as potentially ‘curly’.

Our group consists of we three; a father and daughter – John and Fiona (we were pleased to see Fiona as someone a bit more in Christopher’s age group); a group of three men from Queensland – Peter, Tony and Mark; Linda from Melbourne and a quiet burly bearded man called Johnno. Linda is smartly dressed with short cropped greying hair and trendy colourful glasses.  Basically, looks very Melbourne.  She quietly admitted to me that she had packed waterproof mascara.  She was booked on this trip by her younger sister who was sick of Linda constantly talking about wanting to do it but not doing anything about it. She looks as nervous as I do.

We were all issued with 5 mm thick wetsuits allocated according to our measurements from our booking forms.  Klaudia told us to try them on tonight and if they didn’t fit to call her and she’ll drop round with a bigger size.  ‘But not you’ she singled out Johnno.  ‘You’ve already got the biggest one we’ve got.’  Perhaps she is Dutch, I thought (known for being straight talkers in my experience).

She then demonstrated the equipment and what to wear on the river – thermal top and pants, a long-sleeved thermal rash top, gloves and woollen socks and then wetsuit, spray jacket and life jacket over the top.  Someone joked that it looked like we were gearing up for Antarctica to which Klaudia replied, dead pan, that ‘actually, the temperatures are pretty similar’.

Klaudia then went through the other potential dangers which included capsizing, being swept into an undertow, smashing onto rocks, snagging on a tree branch, having your teeth knocked out by the paddle, broken bones from slipping on steep mossy rocks and snakes.

She then finished by asking if there were any questions.  We asked about tents.  She said we could take a few if anyone thought they needed one.  (They seemed to be an extra luxury only for the wimps.)  Given the forecast, I was pretty keen.  Christopher and Johnno said they would do without so we took 5 between the 10 of us.

We went to the Winston in North Hobart, up the hill, for dinner where they had American style food of spicy buffalo wings and burgers – perfect for Christopher’s 21st birthday dinner. I had a large beer, which went straight to my head in my hyped-up state.

We ran into Klaudia there and later John and Fiona and John’s nephew James who is to be one of our guides.

John is 73 and a retired farmer now living in Denmark WA.  Fiona is a theatre nurse in Geraldton and James, or Jim, lives in Scotland where he is a rafting guide there over the northern summer but comes back to Tassie for the Australian season.

We went on a mini pub crawl on our way back to the hotel to continue the 21st celebrations but we thought we’d better go easy on the eve of a seven-day rafting trip.  We sized up some nice-looking breweries for our return though.

Day 1

We were collected at 7:30am in a mini-bus and stopped at a café for breakfast, everyone nervously quiet.  We met Scotty (mid-twenties, blonde mullet) who is to be our other guide.  He double checked that we were all booked to go white-water rafting.  Apparently one time, after travelling four hours on the bus, they had arrived at the ‘put in’ before a 10 day trip and after telling everyone to get kitted up ready to go, a German man came up to him quietly and said he wasn’t going. Scott thought he was having cold feet but it turned out he had boarded the wrong bus that morning and had only booked to do a half-day sightseeing tour.

We ate lunch standing up shivering under the shelter of the bridge and were given a quick demonstration of the fundamentals of rafting.  The basic commands are: ‘Fooorward Paddle!’; ‘Baaaackward Paddle!’, ‘and…Relax’ (stop paddling). And for the rapids: ‘Hold On!’ (grab the rope at the side), and ‘GET DOWN!’ (thrust the handle of your paddle down into the centre of the boat so as not to knock anyone’s teeth out and squat down behind it and hang on for dear life).

The drizzle turned to steady rain as we tentatively layered up. The guides had full dry suits like they were heading off on a space mission.  Fiona had a big thick pair of black ski gloves of which I was a bit envious, although cumbersome and impractical probably.

It had been raining a lot and the river was high and flowing fast.  This was good news apparently as we won’t need to carry the raft much but it will make a lot of the bigger rapids fuller and faster.  Or ‘curly’ as Klaudia would say.

We have two rafts with 5 crew and a guide in each. Christopher, Richard and I went with Johnno and Linda in Scott’s raft and the others with Jim.  There were two groups ahead of us.  One had boats full of young blonde girls and I thought Christopher was thinking we’d booked with the wrong company.  Apart from Scotty and Fiona, everyone in our group was about thirty years older than him.  We caught up with them later however and their guide, talking in euphemisms while we were within earshot, told Scotty that there had been ‘an incident’ and that one of the girls was ‘a bit emotional’.  We later learnt that their raft had capsized and the girls were hysterical and wanted to go home.

It was all very pretty on the river but I was too terrified to notice most of the time.  When I wasn’t terrified, I was freezing.  I spent a lot of time tucked up in the foetal position in the bottom of the raft.  At one stage up to my neck in water.  Whenever Scotty yelled the command “GET DOWN” I got so far down I couldn’t get up again.

We started off with Richard and Christopher up the front, me and Johnno in the middle and Linda at the back with Scotty.  This worked quite well until Richard and Christopher swapped sides for some reason.  Richard was on the same side as Johnno, unbalancing the raft.  As we went down a rapid, clearing a rock on the right, the raft tipped to the left and Johnno went over the side.  With head in the water bum in the air, he grabbed hold and started to bring the raft over with him.  For the first time I was grateful for all Richard’s IRB training (surf life saving rescue boats).  He quickly launched the ‘tea bag manoeuvre’ and hauled Johnno back into the raft.  It wasn’t long before we were underway again, laughing nervously about what had just occurred.  I just kept thinking thank God that wasn’t me.

Johnno has a dry self-deprecating sense of humour and comes out with some very funny comments but always very quietly which often go unheard by those at the front of the boat.  He says he is a life insurance salesman but I’m not sure I believe him.

Scotty pointed out a camphor laurel tree on the banks saying the leaves are good to use for toilet paper.  There are ridges on the underside of the leaves providing extra traction.  Don’t tell me we don’t even get toilet paper, I thought.

We went further than intended today. The other groups were already set up at the campsite we had been heading for so we pressed on to a cave called ‘Angel Tears’ which looked nice and dry but there is a lot of rain scheduled and we could get stuck there.  So we pressed on before the river got too high to negotiate the next few rapids ‘safely’.

We didn’t reach camp till after 7pm.  We tied up the rafts and formed a chain up the hill to haul all the gear into camp – eskies, barrels, bags – so much stuff.  It is amazing how much can fit in the rafts.

The ‘campsite’ is on a mossy slope.  There are puddles everywhere and just as we landed it started to rain and didn’t stop for the next 18 hours.  We strung up tarps and set up tents in the dusk – well Richard did while I got changed out of my wetsuit into thermals as he could see I was at breaking point.  Christopher was now thinking twice about sleeping under a tarp so asked to share with Tony.

As we hovered round in the damp and cold at 9 o’clock waiting for dinner we were briefed on the toilet procedure – poo into a plastic freezer bag then squeeze the bag firmly, enough to get the air out but not too hard to explode the bag, carefully tie a knot in the top and place in the dedicated barrel, all the while watching out for leeches.  I was pleased to see there was toilet paper provided at least.  Obviously a good tactic telling us about the camphor laurel leaves – now we see toilet paper as a luxury!

It was at this point I thought to myself, imagine if I had decided to stay home…Richard and Christopher would be saying, ‘Lucky Mum didn’t come.  She’d have really hated this.’

Linda got the first leech.  She didn’t know what it was as she’d never seen one before.  This is Linda’s first-time camping. Talk about baptism by fire.  Johnno was chewing absent-mindedly on his beard, a habit of his while reading, until he realised his moustache was a bit chewier than normal.  It was only a tiny leech, he said, that he’d been rolling around in his mouth but I was still horrified.  Christopher has bleeding ankles but doesn’t care while I am totally paranoid.  ‘They’re just like slugs that bite you,’ he said.  Exactly!

Linda and Fiona keep saying to Christopher ‘Your parents must really hate you if this is your birthday present.’  I’m thinking The Maldives for Julia’s 21st.

While Scotty worked his magic cooking dinner, we all looked on hungrily from ‘The gallery’, seated up the muddy slope on camping mat squares.  He played mellow blues music on his portable speaker.  ‘The music doesn’t match the mullet,’ said Christopher. He cooked up chilli prawns for entrée and chilli con carne for main.  ‘Lots of roughage to get the system moving’. We finished off with ice cream for dessert, still solidly frozen, as if we needed more proof of how cold it is here.

Day 2

I surprisingly had the best night’s sleep.  I think the stress of the lead up combined with the adrenaline of the day made me so tired.  I crawled into bed and slept for over 12 hours.  In the morning I couldn’t wake up.  The sound of constant rain belting down over the tent was not very conducive to getting up in any case.

We were told that we’d be sitting out the rain another day and staying here another night.  That was welcome news as I’m really dreading getting back into all our wet things.

Breakfast was cereal, rice pudding made from leftover rice, bacon and eggs and zucchini omelette on toasted muffins.

There are no dietary requirements in our group and Scotty is celebrating.  He said they normally have to deal with pescatarians, vegetarians and ‘at least one glutard’.  Which is fine if they are pre-warned and can cater for it but often they’re not told until it is too late.  On a trip departing one New Year’s Day, a woman announced on the bus that her new year’s resolution was to be vegan.  Scotty spent the whole week cooking her separate meals, with her drooling over the bacon every morning, only for her to give up and order a steak at the pub as soon as they got back to Hobart.  He said it took all his self-control not to kill her.  Another guy was lactose intolerant and Scotty bought soy milk, lactose free cheese and chocolate etc but turns out he was allergic to all types of milk.  ‘So, I had all this shit and he couldn’t f___in’ eat any of it!’

It is now 3pm and the decision to stay is being reconsidered as the river has come up 2 metres and is lapping at the edges of our tents.

However, the next campground is apparently not much higher.  As Christopher said, ‘it would be annoying to move and still get flooded out.’  So, it was decided to stay, but we might have to move our tent.  John has moved up the hill and made a nest like a brush turkey.  We are looking at sites as potential campsites that we wouldn’t even consider sitting on a day ago.  There was nowhere else flattish and we couldn’t be bothered moving all the tarps and everything along with it so in the end we decided to risk it.

Day 3

The gamble paid off.  By morning the water level had dropped almost to where it had been when we arrived.  One raft was suspended in a tree.

Breakfast was the same delicious omelette and bacon on a muffin.  ‘God, we had this yesterday,’ I whinged.  Probably too early to make a joke like that as Jim and Scotty exchanged looks as if to say, ‘there’s one in every group’.  ‘Gee wizz’, said Scotty. He says this a lot. ‘You don’t have to eat it’.  Now I am being punished and served last for everything.

Linda and Peter were on washing up duty.  While rinsing the coffee pot, Peter nearly threw it into the river.  Jim said one time someone threw out all the cutlery with the washing up water and they had to eat with their fingers the whole rest of the trip.  Linda walked down to the river’s edge and remarked with amazement about how far the level had gone down. ‘It was right up to here last night!’ she exclaimed.  It had only been the sole topic of conversation for the last 24 hours but apparently she’d only just noticed. Poor Linda is yet to scale the mental hurdle of using the ‘toilet facilities’ and she is very distracted. She is getting quieter and quieter as the days go on.

It is often hard to tell if Scotty is being serious or not.  Jim is the same, although I’m pretty sure neither are serious very often.

Turns out Johnno is an anaesthetist.

We reluctantly put on our wet clothes again.  It wasn’t too bad once they were on.  Bit like braving the toilet – a mental hurdle to get over.

We loaded all the boats up and piled in, configured in the same groups as yesterday.  It seems we’ve already formed tribes.

It was a very uneventful paddle today, for only about an hour to the next camp called ‘Arcade’.  The water was still so high that all the tricky bits that are usually log jams were a non-event.

On the way we talked about the damming of the Franklin and imagined if that had gone ahead.  ‘None of us would be here now and I wouldn’t have a job,’ said Scotty.  ‘And I’d be tucked up warm and dry at home,’ I muttered.  ‘Gee Wizz’, said Scotty, shaking his head in disbelief. Johnno suggested that when I return home I could start campaigning to dam the Franklin.

Arcade camp is much more comfortable with large areas of flat ground – we all walked around oohing and aaahing, thinking we were in the lap of luxury.  I’m sitting in the door of our tent watching the river fly past through the ferns and tea tree branches.

Scotty made us all lemon and ginger tea mixed with port.  Just like glühwein and really hit the spot.

There was mention that this trip should be promoted as a gourmet tour but Scotty thinks that as soon as you mention ‘gourmet’, particularly in Tassie, then you attract a different type of client.  They’ve still got to cope with the cold and the river and pulling their weight. As Linda said, ‘It’s not for the faint-hearted.’

And although delicious, I wouldn’t class Scotty’s cooking as your conventional ‘gourmet’ fare.  Definitely inventive though. He enjoys making lots of concoctions and usually pulls them off, although even he admitted the blue rice pudding was a mistake.  Linda said she likes cooking but always follows a recipe.  Scotty looked at her with disdain. ‘That’s like saying I like sex but only in the missionary position’ he said. This left Linda speechless for quite a while.

Day 4

It was a beautiful sunny day but I was nervous as we were heading for all the big rapids and I felt a stress headache coming on.  I voiced my concerns to Jim who merely responded with: ‘As Marcus Areolas said, there are only two sure things in life – death and suffering’.  When he saw this wasn’t helping, he gave me some Panadol and assured me the guides do all the scary stuff.

Initially we drifted along listening to Scotty tell gruesome stories of toileting mishaps on the river, like the one about an old bloke who was struggling to rise from his squat, did a big hoist but didn’t make it and sat right back down splat.  ‘I had to get everyone together and tell them a long-winded joke to distract them while the poor old guy scuttled down to the water to wash himself off.’  This then started a spate of toilet humour – just three days in the wilderness and already we have sunk to basic levels.  We thought the contents of the freezer bags might all resemble Scotty’s blue rice pudding.  It was suggested that we all put our names on them and take them home as souvenirs.  That we could keep a logbook.  Scotty said Linda would have to go home empty handed to which she proudly piped up and stated that, in fact, this morning she had made ‘a considerable contribution’.  I thought she was looking more relaxed.

The conversation did not suit the scenery.  We cruised past a beautiful view of Frenchman’s Cap peak, framed by the steep valley walls before stopping at a spectacular waterfall which we climbed up and swam in the pool under the torrent.

I’m starting to feel glad I came.

We then got to ‘The Big Ravine’ and it was so big even the guides weren’t going to attempt it.  We unpacked half the bags and carried them up and over the hill, sometimes carrying, sometimes forming a chain and passing them, slipping in the mud and sliding down the steep banks.

All the heavy stuff – the eskies and barrels were put in one raft and the other raft tied on top and the two rafts strapped together.  Ropes were rigged along the cliff face and the rafts guided down from the bank, Jim and Scotty standing perilously on the cliff faces and at one stage having to abseil down further to free up a caught rope.  They had to work so hard and were dripping with sweat by the end.  Meanwhile we thought ourselves so intrepid, hauling all our gear and trekking through the ‘jungle’ like we were on the Kokoda track.

Then the rafts had to be repacked and we all got back in to go down the last bit – called the ‘Crankle’.  I was so scared and wanted to walk around it but that looked even more perilous so I ended up braving it out, sitting in the ‘Princess Seat’, i.e. squatting in the middle of the raft and doing nothing except closing my eyes.

We stopped for lunch but ended up staying there for the night as the next set of rapids are still too high.  The other group – the one with all the girls who had capsized the first day – arrived and looked none too happy to find us here.  They had to paddle back upstream against the current to find another spot to camp.

Lunch was couscous salad (at 3 o’clock so we were all starving and would have eaten anything) to which Scotty added carrot, beetroot and apple which looked delicious but then continued with leftover curry, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and leftover dips – it just kept going in.  Linda said she didn’t realise there was couscous in it.

We spent the afternoon bathing and washing and basking in the afternoon sunshine.  Linda, used to Melbourne beaches, swam for a good 15 minutes while I could barely dip my toes in. I am now sitting on an outcrop in the middle of the river watching sea eagles soaring above and swallows dip and dive into the river.  I am half expecting a grizzly bear to appear fishing for salmon from one of the rocks.  It is a truly glorious scene and I’m now definitely glad I came.  We’ve had scallops for entrée to accompany my whisky to be followed by steak for dinner.  Happy days!

Day 5

We slept out in the open last night under a tarp so we woke to views of the river rushing by.  I kept thinking there was a huge wind howling through the trees before realising it was the rapids.

Christopher slept on a ledge with stars to the front and glow worms behind.  Tony, Mark and Peter, are now the only ones to sleep in a tent and they take ages to pack up in the morning.  Tony said he slept like a log the first two nights but not well last night. He must have been missing Christopher.

The fog lifted and it was another beautiful day.  We walked past the next rapids while the guides brought the rafts down on their own.  Then we had to leap in and hit the first rapid running.

We had two more turns of porterage – one major one where they needed two volunteers to help take the rafts down.  Mark stepped forward and Christopher and Richard both volunteered for the second spot.  ‘Bit of a Sophie’s Choice’ said Linda – ‘your husband or your son’.  Mark saved me the choice by pulling out and they both went.

They had to get the raft to a rock and unload it, hoist the raft up and over, wedge it into a crack between the rock and a cliff, load it again then jump in and steer it to safety.  Meanwhile the rest of us trekked the Kokoda track again – up and over a steep slippery path but at least not having to haul any gear except our paddles.  On the descent I heard shouts from the river but couldn’t tell if they were of catastrophe or celebration. On approach it was clearly celebration as the three of them were holding a dance party on a rock in the middle of the river, playing music from Scotty’s waterproof speaker.  It was a silent disco from where we stood as we couldn’t hear the music over the rapids.  They looked pretty silly.

I have now overcome most of my fear as I went over all the rapids today without too much terror.  And it was hot and sunny so completely different to the first miserable, freezing day. I also have complete faith in the guides, who are always so calm and in control. Well, they seem it anyway – I’m in awe of them. Christopher was given a turn of steering down some of the easier rapids, Scotty having him in sight as a trainee guide.  ‘How do you want to run it, Chris?’ he’d ask on the approach. ‘Just send it!’ was always his reply. We went down a wide rapid with two small obstacles – a rock and a stick – and we managed to hit both.  Clearly not as easy as they make it look.  Scotty said in future, whenever he is tackling any rapid, he’ll think to himself, What would Chris do?

It is possible for people to start the tour here – walk in down a steep ladder with their gear but Scotty says it never really works as it totally changes the dynamics of the group. Lucky I was never given that option as I probably would have gone for it.

We’re camped on a little stony island, now in the lower Franklin where it is much calmer water from here.  There are flowering tea trees and leatherwoods on the banks, huge numbers of cormorants circling in the thermals above as well as sea eagles, fantails, pink chested robins and splendid fairy wrens.  The mosses on the riverbank when we’re walking the trails are all different shades of green and look like coral.  There are also tree ferns and pandanis grass, making it seem almost tropical.  Johnno said I can pretend I’m in The Maldives after all.

Day 6

I thought the last day would be very calm and cruisy but it was full of surprises.

Scotty played Cold Chisel and AC/DC at full volume while we packed up camp.  ‘Ah, the serenity’ said Johnno. It did get us all moving and much better suited the mullet.

It had been beautiful camping under the tarp – the sky full of stars through the night and the cliff face glowing orange in the morning sun.

We set out tying the rafts together with our boat in the rear. It took John about an hour before he realised that we were tied together and he was outraged, thinking they had been towing us.  The truth was though that we were pushing them as those in the other boat were useless paddlers – couldn’t stay in time to save themselves. ‘Like a dyspraxic spider’ said Johnno.   John would dip the tip of his paddle in every now and then and Mark and Tony sat up the front chatting. We had become quite tribal and competitive between the two boats!

We found two platypuses, ducking and diving along the bank and watched them for ages.  I’ve never seen any in the wild before.

We then stopped at a cave, Kutikina, which has evidence of ancient Aboriginal habitation and is world heritage listed.  It was discovered during the height of the protests and helped draw attention to the importance of preserving the area, however apparently the hydro company proposed protecting it merely with a Perspex cover. Scotty is a wealth of information and is passionate when talking about his river and its heritage.  But just when you get used to him being serious, he’ll launch into some other story and you don’t realise you’ve fallen for it until it is too late.  John is getting a bit fed up. ‘God you guys are full of shit,’ he said. We keep telling him that he’s crossed the line but with each day on the river the line keeps moving.  His excellent delivery of politically incorrect jokes lets him get away with it, but Linda said ‘you’d never get away with that on the mainland.’

We untied for a couple more rapids and stopped at a rocky beach for lunch where we all swam but in wetsuits as despite the day being very hot, the water was bloody cold.  Wetsuits were being peeled on and off to waist level constantly.  Scotty made his bucket lunch again.  Fiona and I looked on in dismay as cans of beans, beetroot and corn, chicken schnitzel, carrot, tzatziki dip and guacamole were all added to the leftover salmon fettuccine from last night and topped off with crushed Doritos.  ‘Every bite is an adventure!’ said Christopher.

We had one more porterage to go and we tackled it calmly being complacent by this stage.  The guides have always made it look easy and we only appreciated the challenges fully when something went wrong.  As it did this time.

Christopher led the way across the steep, sharp rocks and Jim called out to him to look out for snakes.  ‘Oh yeah – there’s one!’ he called back.  ‘It’s a big red belly black snake’. ‘We don’t have them – can’t be,’ Jim shouted.  ‘Must be a tiger.’

I was actually too focused on negotiating the deep crevice I was trying to forge with a paddle in one hand and the heavily laden snack bag in the other to care too much about the snake, which had slithered away by the time I approached.

Christopher was then recruited to help the guides with the rafts.  He was stationed on a craggy rock island with a rope tied around his waist which was attached to the front of the raft.  It was a steep drop into the river and I had visions of him being swept off the rock, neither the raft nor my son ever to be seen again.

The first raft down flipped over and two barrels and Fiona’s ski glove, not for the first time, went sailing off down the river. Scotty and Jim battled it out for a good 15 minutes trying to right it again.

I think Christopher believed his job was to guide the raft into shore once clear of the rapid.  In fact, he was supposed to pull hard on the rope to stop the raft from being sucked back into the undertow.  As Jim and Scotty sent the raft over the rapids Christopher calmly took up the slack, neatly coiling the rope.  The second raft went over the rapid cleanly but then it went into reverse and was being pulled backwards and sideways and starting to tip over, wedged in the crevice.  Jim and Scotty were frantically working to save it and shouting desperately at Christopher who couldn’t hear them and continued to slowly coil the rope.  Finally, Jim shouted as loud as he could to be heard above the thunder of the water: “PULL THE F—ING ROPE!” Once Christopher did pull the ‘f—ing rope’, the raft was freed and came sailing through.

Meanwhile as we sat watching the drama, the snake re-emerged next to me.  I had one eye on my son teetering on a cliff edge above a raging torrent attached to a laden raft and the other eye on the snake.  Richard sat nearby filming it all on his phone.  I felt his time could have been better spent, like keeping hold of his son perhaps.

I was very keen to get off that rock and away from the snake but as Linda scrambled crab-like down first ahead of me, she thought she saw the snake come at her and she went into reverse and scrambled right back up again and was frozen to the spot. Finally, Jim shouted to Get a bloody move on! and we managed to coax her down.  We then went barrel hunting.

When we realised one of the missing barrels contained the snacks and booze, we paddled harder.  We found it surprisingly easily, the bright blue of the barrel caught in an eddy standing out against the green backdrop of the riverbanks.

We of course presumed Fiona’s glove was at the bottom of the river until Johnno glanced down at the right time and saw it still floating, about a kilometre downstream from where it was last seen.  He held it aloft with his paddle with a triumphant roar.

The other barrel turned out to be the poo barrel which has become incredibly heavy after a week.  We left that for the other boat to find.  This brought the conversation back to toilet humour again.  I said I’d find it hard to use a freezer bag again and Johnno said, ‘Well, especially twice.’ Linda then said primly that she’d needed three bags that day when she’d made ‘the considerable contribution’.  This had us all crying with laughter.

One last stop was at another cave and a few of us were reluctant to get out and explore, being weary from so many adventures already today.  But we were told it was a highlight and it was basically compulsory.

As I sunk into mud, skidded across mossy logs and waded waist deep through jet black water, I couldn’t see the attraction and started muttering sceptically about what some people considered a highlight.  Johnno let me go first pretending to be gentlemanly but actually using me as a depth sounder.

It did however turn out to be well worth the effort.  A long narrow cavern with a sliver of light high above lit up beautiful ferny overhangs and mossy coral gardens on the walls.  This became a deep canyon which we navigated by doing a spiderman walk, straddling the sides up to a small babbling brook and waterfall. I particularly loved the small intricate spider webs glistening with droplets.

It is tradition, apparently, when we arrive at the meeting of the Gordon and Franklin Rivers for Franklin virgins to swim.  So, we all jumped in and nearly froze to death. The Gordon Dam had been opened and the water was moving surprisingly fast.  Some were swept off in the current and we had to paddle off to collect them. Poor Peter did not wear a wetsuit today due to heat and chaffing and he was hyperventilating.

Once we were all back in the boats, Scotty had champagne and 12 glasses lined up on the kitchen board and we toasted our survival with teeth chattering.  We then had a hot cup of tea.

It was then a long paddle to the jetty tied together again with us, ‘The Engine Room’ doing all the work at the back despite what John thought.

We made it to the jetty and I took off my wetsuit for the last time, thank the Lord.  It is so nice to think we won’t have to get up and put on wet clothes again tomorrow.  I’ve now got nappy rash.

The yacht which will take us to Strahan tomorrow pulled in half an hour later, and we were able to buy a slab of beer which went down well with haloumi and chorizo.  We toasted each other and debriefed the week, workshopping some new nicknames.  Johnno, in his bright orange rash vest, called himself Tangerine Man.  Other names were: ‘Gee-Wizz Scotty’; ‘Fiona One Glove’; ‘Just Send It Chris’ and of course ‘Three Bags Full Linda’.

There were two twitcher types on the boat who had come for an overnight jaunt and understandably gave us a wide berth.

Gnocchi for dinner with pumpkin, mushrooms, fetta, tomatoes, and I can’t remember what else.  It’s amazing what still keeps coming out of the esky at this stage of the trip.

Slept in the open again next to what looked like a Tassie Devil burrow.  There was a board walk to a magnificent waterfall but it seemed unimpressive as we didn’t have to risk our lives to get to it.

Fittingly there was a full rainbow at sunset on the jetty.  It formed a full circle in the reflections.

Details: Water by Nature Franklin River Rafting