Whyte, Heazlewood and Pieman rivers gold*, trout and exploration trip
James said that the biggest gold nugget from Tasmania was found near the junction of the Whyte and Rocky rivers. Gold is pretty exciting and the area looked good on maps. I could only find one record of a previous trip online, where kayakers had done the Whyte from a put in near Savage River as far as Corinna and rated it grade 2/3 and said that it took one day, but hadn’t written up any more about the trip. That could have meant that it was a gruelling, log-choked horror, or just that they didn’t get around to writing about it. James, Klaus and I are professional scientists, so alternative income streams are always worth keeping in mind given our general employment prospects. I got a gold pan and got a small shovel that would tie to my pack and we planned a three night trip for the Whyte river from Luina and finishing at Corinna.
Driving from Hobart to Luina, where the Whyte crosses the Warratah Road took us seven hours via the Vale of Belvoir with stops for coffee and lunch. Luina is a former mining village with lots of vacant lots, but no houses. The Whyte looked too small to packraft here, so we checked the Heazlewood river, which is another tributary of the Whyte that crosses the same road five km west and it was a little wider and looked doable. There is a good spot to camp on the south side of the bridge in a clearing 100 m off the road. Andrew was going to meet us there later on as he was finishing up work in Launceston still, so we did the car shuffle from here to Corinna, where we left Klaus’s car and had a couple of beers at the great little pub. Back at the Heazlewood a couple of hours later, we got the tents up and a fire going just as the rain started in. By the time Andrew arrived, somehow managing to bring a bag of hot popcorn, we had drunk about a third of the trip alcohol and were regretting not getting some beer on the way.
We got going by about 10 the next morning and the river was just navigable at the level we had. Lots of gravel bars to walk over, but no log jams in this section, which was all grade 1. We found the first discarded microwave ovens along here and bits of these would show up from time to time all the way down the river. This is a mystery - did a delivery truck full of microwaves fall off the bridge at Luina? Despite this garbage and the river only being 10-15 km from the Warratah Road, it still had a nice remote feel to it. The water was nice and clear on the Heazlewood and we saw some trout as long as my forearm in the big pools. It was reasonably slow going because of the low river levels and having to get in and out of the rafts all the time. Some log jams started to show up in the afternoon. At 4 pm we climbed over a large-ish logjam and there was a great shingle bank behind it (Arthur River, Grid CQ 542 052), which we decided to camp on as there had hardly been any other campsites sighted.
A few things had been forgotten. Klaus found he’d left one of the three poles of his tent at the previous campsite. I had forgotten the maps, my book and my beanie (no hair on my head so kind-of significant). Andrew was more organised and had his Spot Tracker, so at least we could sign-in with that and later on know where we had been, even though at that time we had no real idea. Klaus cooked us dinner and then set up to sleep under the cooking tarp shelter he, Andrew and James had set up. It was raining and everything was soaked, so no fire. I tried some gold panning, but no gold. We had some whisky and port and got into our tents at 7 or so. James and I had pokey little one-pole tents, while Andrew had a nice Mont Moondance tent that I used to have also, but it got destroyed in high winds on the top of Mt Ossa a month before. I spent most of the night with a faceful of wet Nylon and curled up in a ball to stop my feet getting soaked by the wet Nylon at the other end of the tent. James had similar problems with the condensation. It turned out that Klaus didn’t even get one leech, so possibly a tarp is the best option when it is that damp.
On the next day, the river improved, becoming more continuous with some nice small chutes just the right size for packrafts. We got to the confluence of the Heazlewood and Whyte rivers just before noon. The sun was out and we stopped for an early lunch. Things were looking up as we now knew where we were and there was a lot more water to travel on. There was a piece of fluoro pink flagging tape marking a track out to a nearby access track here. The water quality decreased with the Whyte flowing in, becoming more turbid and we thought this might have been from mine tailing runoff as we’d read a news item about this in researching the river on the web.
The river was more fun from here and we were pretty sure we recognised the junction with Post Office creek when we passed that, although it turns out that this was the junction with one of the un-named creeks running off Mount Meridith. With the sun out and a fair chance of getting to the end of the trip on time (a couple of us had work / other commitment deadlines) it was a fun day and we got to what we thought was the junction with the Rocky River around 3 pm, although it was really the junction with Post Office Creek. I saw another microwave oven shortly after this fairly high up suggesting significant flooding happens through here.
An hour after the Post Office Creek junction was a really great sandbar campsite (Pieman Grid CP 493 901). It was still sunny and there was a lot of dry wood around so we made a fire and everyone was happy. I had another go at finding gold, but it was still eluding me. The shovel I’d brought for this was useful for evening-out sandbar campsites, but it was looking unlikely that I’d get rich from the local mineral resources. James cooked us a meat-rich dinner and we drank the rest of our grog, which wasn’t enough, but better than none of course. I persuaded James to cut his book in half (Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises - excellent) so that we could both read something overnight.
The condensation in the horrible micro tent I was in was slightly less grim than the night before, although still significant. I reluctantly decided not to set fire to it in the morning just in case we had another night out and we got everything packed up and were on the water by nine. The river got really nice through here with a lovely set of small gorges that reminded me of a smaller-scale version of the Huon River middle section. It was pretty good going until about 11 when we came to one large logjam / strainer that would be dangerous in higher water. Beyond that the logs got more frequent and we had two more largeish portages. When the gradient eased off it started to be log maze negotiation and quick log-liftovers. This section seemed to go on for a long time. We were farther up river than we thought we were, which didn’t help of course, and there were a couple of tedious hours in the slow water before we reached the Pieman junction.
We made it to Corinna at 1 pm, only half an hour later than the 12:30 I’d predicted, so we weren’t quite as punctual as a bullet train pulling into Tokyo central station, but it was pretty good for a fairly disorganised wilderness trip with so many unknowns. Even better news was that the Corinna pub was open for lunch, so we could finish up with steak sandwiches and beer.
Here are some photos:
James Marthick, Klaus Meiners, Andrew Stirling and Simon Jarman, 17th-20th April 2014.
- I must remember to take maps. They are very helpful.
- This is a good river for packrafts. Too small for multi-person rafts and too annoying for kayakers to have to get in and out of boats all the time and carry them over things.
- We did this at quite low water judging by the riverbanks. It would be even better with more and some parts might get significantly more technical. Grade 2 seems about right in the conditions we had.
- Walking to the Whyte / Heazlewood confluence and going from there to Corinna would make this a good quality 1 or 2 day trip.
- No gold was found.