Our party of three travelled from the Franklin River Bridge on the Lyell Highway to Heritage Landing (Lower Gordon) over eight days. The Jane River Track is becoming quite rough in places, but a few fresh boot prints were noticed as far as the Erebus. A post-lunch start resulted in our first camp shortly after Margaret Pass. We launched on Erebus Rvt. at a similar location to the start point of my previous Jane R. trip in the early 90’s, avoiding the first choked section, and we reached the Jane after a couple of hours. We enjoyed a perfect camp site in the middle of Enkidu Gorge. On our third day I had a brief swim after a lazy and unsatisfactory support stroke at the end of a brisk set of rapids. I forgot how tippy these little boats can be! Rob, being one of the few people to have shot the complete Franklin (every rapid!), showed that his courage remains strong, even if his paddling skills have become rusty in Copenhagen.
Two items of equipment were found less than one metre above the water line in Enkidu Gorge. If you can describe them and admit to their recent loss on the Jane, perhaps they could be repatriated.
We sadly left the lovely Jane, and turned off to paddle upstream on the Algonkian Rvt. until a suitable site was reached to camp in preparation for the scrub bash to the Maxwell River. The traverse to the Maxwell is quite tough with heavy packs and is strongly discouraged unless you have considerable off-track skills and experience in Tasmanian scrub conditions. Please don’t consider doing this unless you are very strong and are comfortable in thick Tasmanian scrub with 30+kg loads.
We re-launched onto the Maxwell River about one kilometre upstream of the Lancelot Rvt. junction and enjoyed three magnificent days on one of Tasmania’s most remote and least travelled rivers. Perusal of several sources indicated that the river was subject to very minimal activity in its lower reaches during the pining era, and only one prior (unsuccessful) attempt to paddle the river is on the public record. That was the research party that successfully located the significant archaeological sites in 1986. That party’s archaeological skills evidently exceeded their paddling skills as they required extraction via the same method as insertion (helicopter) after a short but torrid attempt at rafting the river. We’ve asked around quite widely amongst many Tasmanian wilderness explorers and are tentatively claiming the first descent of the Maxwell in the modern era, unless someone comes out of the woodwork with a prior recorded descent. It’s quite likely that the original inhabitants were paddling on the river 25000 and more years ago! Permission was kindly granted by the Aboriginal custodians for our party to move through the Archaeological reserve. We believe that access to the reserve for research and cultural purposes is infrequent and via helicopter.
We found the Maxwell to be a delightful journey. We were lucky to experience high water levels and would caution that repeating parties should anticipate a much greater time commitment to negotiate the river at low or even moderate water levels. We feel that high water levels saved us several days. Our first day on the river involved many log sieves and short portages as expected, but the second and third days were superb. There was a modicum of portage work, some nasty logs, but many kilometres of superb rafting through magnificent Huon Pines with small rapids interspersed with calmer pools. There were a couple of small gorges. The first required a short portage over the hill-crest on river-right. The second gorge involved no serious obstacles at all. The total distance on the quite serpentine river was approximately 40km.
The Morrison family are understood to have briefly worked the Huon Pine on the very lowest reaches of the river in the 1930s, but no evidence of this was observed, unlike the occasional sawn stump typically seen on the Jane, Franklin and Denison rivers. We saw absolutely no evidence of prior visitation during our time on the Maxwell, and we hope that our tent sites and bash pads will soon rehabilitate to retain that experience for future parties.
Upon joining the Denison River, we moved briskly into the Denison Gorge and camped river-left below the major portage. The Gordon was very full, with sets of big standing waves sometimes one hundred metres wide and running for up to a kilometre! It was genuinely pumping a huge amount of water. Matt had a cold swim when his boat was upset by an explosive whirlpool in Sunshine Gorge. Big, a little scary, but ultimately pretty safe.
We dried out at the old Hydro hut at Sir John Falls for a night before completing the flat water push down to Heritage Landing. I had been held in custody at that hut when arrested as a young man during the 1983 Franklin River Blockade, and it is always a bit emotional to return in peaceful circumstances. It is a strange but rewarding feeling to revisit a place I contributed to saving, while the bulldozers we linked arms around are long gone, and the jungle quietly grows back in its rightful place. The hut is now surrounded by a healthy population of tiger snakes, four of which were observed sunning themselves within three metres of the door.
We used two Yukon Yaks and one Denali Llama. They copped a lot of abrasion and puncture risks, and we only experienced one small puncture, easily repaired with a standard kit. I did not carry a camera. Hopefully Matt can be enticed to post a few pictures.
Although Matt and I will continue to concentrate our efforts in the Tasmanian wilderness, Rob returns immediately to Copenhagen, but has promised to identify a possible brief adventure opportunity in Scandinavia for our next visit.
I look forward to other people’s Tasmanian trip reports from this summer’s paddling!