Full stroke on the river

Chris Viney pad­dles the Gor­don River on Tas­ma­nia’s west coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Happy land­ings: Stop for a river­side pic­nic be­fore head­ing back down­stream

IAM slip­ping over a sheet of dark am­ber glass, glid­ing across a slab of pol­ished bronze, fly­ing through air along a ruler-straight hori­zon with iden­ti­cal cliffs and forests above and be­low. Ev­ery­thing is so dead flat, so ut­terly mo­tion­less that it can’t pos­si­bly be a liq­uid.

But as the wake curls silently away from the bow of my kayak, as drips from the pad­dle-blade pock the sur­face into widen­ing rip­ples, I know I’m mov­ing through wa­ter. I amon the but­ton­grass, tan­nin-stained Gor­don River on Tas­ma­nia’s west coast.

Ahead is my pad­dling com­pan­ion Brian Hall, an ex­pe­ri­enced out­door ad­ven­turer and a vet­eran of the re­gion; he’s guided dozens of raft­ing trips on the Franklin and Gor­don. We’re on the river to re­con­noitre lo­ca­tions for a new Pure Tas­ma­nia sig­na­ture ex­pe­ri­ence based in Stra­han. The Gor­don River Pad­dle is a one-day ex­cur­sion, but our pre­lim­i­nary trip in­volves an overnight camp and a brief thrust into the lower reaches of the Franklin.

We start our jour­ney in the same way as the Gor­don River Pad­dle, with a voy­age across Mac­quarie Har­bour aboard the fast cruise boat Lady Jane Franklin II. At Her­itage Land­ing, while other pas­sen­gers ex­plore ashore, we lower our sea kayaks to the wa­ter and pad­dle up­stream. As soon as we round the first bend, the world drops away and we’re alone with the river, hear­ing only the dip and splash of our pad­dles and the clat­ter of cur­ra­wongs in the trees.

In the late af­ter­noon, clouds gather and the river takes the colour from the sky. On the sil­ver-grey sur­face a soft rain turns the wa­ter into the hiss­ing static of an off-sta­tion tele­vi­sion screen. Ahead is a stretch of sand, where we pitch tents, cook a sim­ple meal and sleep to the sound of a rain­for­est creek cas­cad­ing over Sir John Falls.

Par­tic­i­pants on the Gor­don River Pad­dle stay on flat wa­ter but our sec­ond day in­volves head­ing fur­ther up­river and into the lower reaches of the Franklin. There are sev­eral short rapids to tra­verse; de­pend­ing on elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion in the Gor­don power sta­tion, they can be easy or im­pos­si­ble. We are able to pad­dle most of the rapids but one de­mands a short portage, wad­ing around a rocky bend and drag­ging our boats through the tan­gle of river­bank veg­e­ta­tion.

The lower Franklin is in­ti­mate and friendly and we pad­dle as far as Ve­ran­dah Cliffs, where the river closes in and jum­bled rocks block our progress. We turn back and drift with the flow back into the Gor­don.

It’s a bouncy ride down through the jog­gle of rapids that we’d portaged and pad­dled ear­lier. As we ar­rive at our camp, we’re sur­prised to see three new sea kayaks drawn up on the beach. They be­long to a trio of women pad­dlers who have made the up­stream trip from Her­itage Land­ing that day. Af­ter in­tro­duc­tions, we share mugs of wine from our bot­tle and their cask.

Chance en­coun­ters in the bush usu­ally re­volve around en­thu­si­as­tic com­par­isons of favourite out­door equip­ment and ex­ag­ger­ated ac­counts of past wilder­ness epics. Nei­ther of th­ese themes in­ter­ests me much, al­though I’ve had my share of both. Now, with a new au­di­ence of like-minded gear-freaks, my com­pan­ion morphs into River Guide Man and soon the talk is all of dry-bags, wet res­cues and the power phase of a pad­dle stroke. I re­treat to my tent with a mug of red and my copy of The Fa­tal Shore .

The sec­ond morn­ing is still, si­lent and sunny. We break camp, pack up and launch our kayaks, aim­ing to meet Lady Jane for its af­ter­noon cruise back to Stra­han.

I have never pad­dled with an iPod be­fore this trip. This morn­ing it is the early sun that makes my eyes wa­ter, but back home, as I lis­ten to K. D. Lang, they prickle at the mem­ory of glid­ing down that won­der­ful river with her voice, a smoky cello, in my ears.

I match my pad­dling to the slow and mea­sured ca­dence of the songs, al­though I feel re­luc­tant to break the river’s per­fect mir­ror. With my head full of mu­sic and my eyes full of re­flec­tions, I round the last bend at the end of Limekiln Reach. And there’s the cruise boat wait­ing at Her­itage Land­ing to take us back to the real world.

Check­list

The Gor­don River Pad­dle is a full-day guided ex­pe­ri­ence, op­er­ated by Pure Tas­ma­nia from Stra­han. De­part­ing on the morn­ing sail­ing of Lady Jane Franklin II, the pad­dle be­gins with a safety brief­ing and gear check at Her­itage Land­ing. Safe, sta­ble dou­ble sea kayaks are used and spe­cialised equip­ment is pro­vided. Af­ter an hour and a half’s up­stream pad­dling in flat-wa­ter con­di­tions on the lower Gor­don, there’s a river­side pic­nic lunch be­fore an easy drift and pad­dle back down­stream to meet the cruise boat for the re­turn trip to Stra­han. Daily from Oc­to­ber 5 to April 5; $345 a per­son (min­i­mum of two, max­i­mum of eight peo­ple). More: www.pure­tas­ma­nia.com.au.

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