Franklin River

Lyell Highway to Sir John Falls

Verified! Advanced Wilderness Trip Five Star Classic! Summer Autumn Spring CLASS IV CLASS V CLASS VI


West Coast. 170 km West of Hobart

Contributed by Michael Lyons


Class: IV (V - VI)(p)

Season: Usually late November through till April. It can be paddled in winter, but rain is even more likely and therefore floods.

Time: 10 Days by raft, 5-6 days in Kayak. Be prepared to have to sit out floods.

Length: 110 km

Level: The Franklin has a large catchment and is subject to rapid changes in river heights. This is why summer is the best time to paddle, the chances of major floods are reduced; but still a good chance. Increases of one metre per hour are quite common. As a rule .6 to .8 is low water, .8 to 1.2 are ideal and anything above is flood and therefore very pushy.

Gauge: The Collingwood bridge on the Lyell Highway

Shuttle: 87 km (Easy bitumen)

Character: This has to be one of the classic paddles in Australia. Set in a steep sided valley, surrounded by towering mountains and containing some of the most beautiful and most spectacular rapids you can find.

Suits: Rafts, river running kayaks.

The first thing to be said about the Franklin is how to get out of the Franklin Valley. This is important as it is very difficult to do and is worth knowing straight off.

There are 5 main escape routes and are listed as follow, they need to be compared with a map for full details.

1. Junction Camp -- Donaghy's Hill to Lyell Highway.

2. Bub's Hill track (Irenabyss via Raglan Range to Lyell Highway).

3. Fincham's track (to Lake Burbury)(virtually non existent 22/02/2005).

4. Mt McCall track.

5. Eagle Creek track (from Flat Island to the Gordon River).

Junction and Mt McCall seem to be the best options with Bub's track the runner up.

Having noted all these escape routes, note that some of them are multi day walkouts and should only be attempted in conjunction with a map.

Now about the river...

The river is 110 km of some of the most spectacular river country I have ever seen, deep gorges, towering mountains and extremes of weather that deliver everything from beach weather to snow, and that's in summer.

You need to register at the put in and you need to have paid your park fees. The first section of the river is possible the most important, if you are finding the paddling difficult on the Collingwood, then it is best to leave the river now, using the junction track, the paddling becomes more committing.

The Collingwood contains many gravel races, logs, a few class 3 rapids and one notable drop, all of which form large stoppers in high water. The Franklin does not get washed out, it just gets bigger.

Once on the Franklin proper, the first rapid of note if the Gordian Gate, scout this on river right as it contains logs at its base on river left. Boulder brace can also scouted on river right. Nasty Notch is the next major rapid, this can be scouted / portaged on river right.

Descension Gorge is the next big thing, a series of class 3 rapids that can be scouted on river left which ends in Irenabyss, a deep slow gorge. After Irenabyss, the river is a series of class 3 rapids.

Hind leg slide and Duck shoot are the two rapids of note, duck shoot has a log across part of it, run river left in high water, river right in low water. More class rapids leads to Rafters Race, after this the river has numerous rapids, and logs abound this section.

And now the Great Ravine begins...

You know you are entering the Ravine by the pockmarked cliffs of the Bend of Martins. The following are major features of the Ravine.

Side Slip - Left bank for scouting / portaging / lining, the central block is undercut.

The bare face of Oriel Rock is a sign that you are at the start of the Churn. High water portage - on river left, a track starts after the hanging rock and goes up and across before dropping down at the end of the rapid. Low water portage - river right.

Coruscades - Scouting / portaging on river left, it becomes a series of class 4/5 rapids in high water.

The Faucet - A must to paddle, scout / portage on river right. The settled waters of Transcendence Reach mark the end of the Coruscades.

Side Winder - Scout / portage on river left.

Thunderush - Potentially runnable, but get it wrong and welcome to a world of hurt (most portage to be safe). The low level portage is river left, lining rafts to it isn't a bad idea.

The Sanctum links the Thunderush with the next rapid, the Cauldron.

The Cauldron - Pull out on river left at the high portage track, a climb to the Eagle's nest camp site, if the rocks on river right are exposed then you can use the low portage, otherwise 3 hours of climbing is in store for you. This is the end of The Great Ravine and most of the hard portages, there are a few drops and rapids down to Rafters Basin. As a side note for kayak paddlers, the portage can be a nightmare. A good way is for someone to paddle onto the wild thing rock, all the other paddlers paddle onto the right bank (opposite the portage point) and lower their boats down by joining throw bags. The person on the rock gathers all the boats and sits there while the others tie off the line so the our man on the rock can pull himself back up the river. They then swim across and do the high portage, once they come back down to the river, our man throws the boats into the river for them to pick up, he then pulls himself up the rope, swims across and does the high portage.

The Andrew river enters just below here (see guide for that river, an excellent alternative entry point for the Franklin.) and the Mt McCall track (a possible take out). A couple of kms after Mt McCall is Ol' Three Tiers, a surprising drop that can be scouted / portaged on river left. After this there are a few rapids and then you reach Ganymedes pool, after this is Trojans, a long rapid that is best run on river right. ABC is a fairly straight forward run, except for the log which can be avoided by staying river right.

Pig Trough although having been run is considered a mandatory portage, the drops look clean but have pinned many people (claiming two lives), portage on river right.

Newland Cascades, this is a series of drops and holes that just get bigger as the level increases. Scouting / portaging on river right are easy and the large pool at the bottom makes for an easy clearing up, the photo potential is excellent.

The river becomes limestone and sharp limestone at that, rafts and other inflatable take care.

There a few more rapids such as Little Fall, Double Fall and finally Big Fall, this is one of the most innocuous drops and yet it has killed two and easily hold rafts and kayaks, this is a mandatory portage in anything but very high water when it washes out.

That is the last of the majors rapids and the Gordon is soon met, a relaxing paddle down to Sir John's follows. As you approach Sir John's, if you here a buzzing sound, paddle immediately to river right bank and continue, this is a landing site for the seaplanes and there is little warning, so listen.

If you are being collected by the yacht, then Sir John's is the end of your trip, otherwise the extra 22km to Heritage Landing can take up to 2 days for rafts.

Remember to de-register at Sir John's

As a final thought, many of the rapids are quite runnable and yet many don't. The question of whether to run or not will come up, remember that you are miles from any where and rescue is exceedingly difficult, with that in mind make your own mind up, but remember you are paddling with others and they are the ones who will collect the pieces.

The above guide was based on the book 'The Ever Varying Flood' By Bruce Baxter and Peter Griffiths.

Rowan Privett. Howdy folks, just a few things I'd like to mention.

Firstly, in regard to the possible exit routes. Fincham's track to Lake Burbury is pretty much non-existent. We hoped to extricate a paddler there but the track was very overgrown & thick.

We had people try from both ends but fearing an epic, they retreated.

Rumour has it that Bub's Hill track is much the same but at least it's more open across the plateau & maybe therefore plausible.

Junction camp & Mt McCall track seem to be the only realistic exit options.

Secondly, in regard to the picturesque Franklin itself, everyone knows that it can become a raging torrent & much care needs to be taken.

As well as the Great Ravine & Newlands Cascades, also be wary of Descension Gorge. In high water, it can easily rate grade 4 & above & with minimal eddies, no / minimal scouting points & no portage tracks, it understandably has caused grief to many parties (especially being the first gorge that you come to).

It's no wonder that the pioneers Dean & Hawkins met grief here on many occasions. We were held up at Huon Pine camp for a couple days to wait the storm out (this location was apparently a portage point for miners & not really a camp)

Thirdly, be very careful at the Debacle bend small rapid (marked on maps just before Jericho walls). It is a very simple rapid but it is surprising how many groups that have had their rafts nonchalantly slashed on its sharp pointy rocks.

Lastly, in regard to camping etc, I'd recommend at least 4 sets of thermals, maybe consider sleeping in a hammock under a tarp (during storms you still get vary wet on tarp / in tent due to very wet ground).

Be sure to take more than enough fuel for your stoves, as hot food & drinks can become an absolute premium. It's an awesome trip. It delivers many tough times as well as exciting times & that makes it all the more a rewarding experience.

Enjoy. Rowen Privett

Andrew Hudspeth September 06, 2009. Sir John Falls is named after Sir John Franklin, once Governor of Tasmania, but better known for his one way trip to the Arctic in yet another attempt to discover a Northwest Passage. Somewhere between scurvy and a diet of tinned food from cans soldered with lead it all came unstuck and they started eating each other. Not pretty.

David Tasker February 18, 2012. Caution! - The High Level portage at Thunderush has a significant landslide. Portaging would be extremely dangerous if not impossible with gear. National Parks have been advised. Just completed the Franklin River (3rd trip Jan 28 to Feb 10 2012) - none in our party of 6 were prepared to do the high level portage!

Brett Fernon, Guide, Water by Nature, Tasmania 17, September 2013. - The Thunderush high portage track (river right) has always had a tricky small pull in eddy at higher water levels. Several years ago a landslide wiped out the cat walk on a very steep section ~ 3/4 of the way along the track. Parks have since removed most of the steel catwalks and closed the high portage track. When approaching Thunderush pull in as far upstream as you can on the left bank. Several experienced guides and their crews have missed the eddy and been washed down the rapid. At low to medium levels the top section of rapid is often lined. This is not the best place to lose your boat, so if in doubt, carry everything around. The rocks here are particularly slippery. At very low levels the lower rapid is grade 3 and at medium to high levels solid grade 4, scout from high on the left. The Cauldron is not far downstream.

From the National Parks of Tasmania Website --- "Sir John Falls - Claimed to have been named by the photographer Stephen Spurling after Sir John Dodds, Chief Justice, 1887- 1898." That info is on the plaque at the falls.

Brett Fernon September 14, 2016 - The commercial take out from Sir John Falls to Strahan is now only with Stormbreaker (operates on demand) as both seaplanes are no longer flying. Other options are to paddle ~21kms of flat water, often into the prevailing Westerly to Heritage Landing and cruise out with World Heritage or Gordon River cruises and their day trippers. It is best to pre book both the previous options. There are, if you are very lucky there are sometimes private yachts at SJF.

Putting In: Driving from Hobart, follow the sign to Queenstown (Along the Lyell Highway), some 30 km short of Queenstown you cross the Collingwood River, this is the get in.

Taking Out: The get out for the Franklin involves a bit more than paddling to the bank and there is the car, it involves a yacht and 6 hours of sailing. Where you leave the car is easy, continue on from the Collingwood, pass through Queenstown and head to Strahan. Drive through to the docks in the centre of Strahan, this is where the boat comes in. There are plenty of places to leave your car. You can either be picked up by West Coast Yacht Charters at Sir John Falls, the Ferry at Heritage Landing or rafters can be collected by Wilderness Air Seaplanes at Sir John's, all of the above need to be booked beforehand.

Map: 'Franklin' and 'Olga' 1:100,000

Camping: MINIMAL IMPACT CAMPING. The Franklin is delicate area and needs to be treated as such, you should be carrying everything you bring in; out, that means everything including all that excrement A poo tube is an excellent addition to kit. Many of the campsites on the Franklin are high above the river, there is a reason for this and you need to make sure that both you and your craft are well secured and if its raining be prepared to have to move craft. The following are a list of campsites on the Franklin river, they are sometimes occupied by large parties and/or commercial groups. You need to allow enough time in each day to look for alternatives if they are full. Junction Campsite - on the junction of Collingwood and Franklin river. Angle Rain Cavern - River left soon after entering Aesthesia Gorge. Nasty Notch - River left directly above the notch. Huon Pine Camp - River left above the entry to Descension Gorge (small parties only). Irenabyss - River right and left just before Tahune Creek. Maud Creek - River right just upstream of the junction. Rafters Race - River right in the pool after RR, a track leads off a beach. Crankle - River right just before the Crankle. Camp Arcade - River right in the extensive pool. Dean and Hawkins Camp - 15 minutes after Blushrock Falls. The Churn - immediately after the churn on river left, high up under and overhang, with many small caves. Serenity Sound - River right towards the end of the Sound. Coruscades - River left immediately above Coruscades Rapid. Eagle's Nest camp site - River left just above The Cauldron, follow as for the portage. Rafter Basin - Both sides of the river. Ganymedes - Opposite the entrance to the pool. Pig Trough - a small campsite after the rapid on river right. Newlands Cascade - immediately after the cascade on river right is a large cave, suitable in all water levels and very dry in any weather. Calder Ferry - River right by the pool above the rapids. Blackmans Bend - river left on the acute left hand bend of the river, a track running from a small sandy beach. These are the last of the major campsites, in low water there are many little beaches, in higher water more work is required to find a place to sleep. The final campsite is on the dock at Sir John Falls, beware of the man eating possum. As a note, camping in Tasmania is very easy and many side roads offer easy camping.

Entry Date: May 14 2001

Verified by: Rowen Privett


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