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  • Writer's pictureNicko

Derwent River (Butlers Gorge)

Notes from a trip leader...


Tasmania Grade 4-5—Saturday 3rd March 2001

Level approx 40cumecs or 1200 cusecs, 12 members.

Continuous Grade Four—Raising the Stakes!


River Notes: The bottom section of Butlers Gorge on the Derwent River is fast moving water, at around 1200 cusecs. This section of river is unlike most Tasmanian ‘drop pool’ Rivers. It moves hard, fast and continuous, dropping rapidly with a steep gradient of 20m per Km.


If you wanted to compare this section of the Derwent with any other river you would probably say it is similar in speed to the Wayatinah run (Derwent) or the Mersey run below Parangana Lake.


It is also a 'shallow river', which meant we got stuck on large pillowing rocks numerous times, by mistake and on purpose. We made good use of these rocks as they were a good platform for scouting the next succession of drops!


There is no doubt about it, this is a kayakers river. For these boats there are a variety of places/eddies to pull into and check out drops or alternative channels to enable you to miss drops altogether if required.


Rafts on the other hand take a lot more maneuvering, you can’t make those micro eddies and most of the time you have to take the main channel drops, like it or not!!. Having said that there were a few good eddies which can hold rafts, above and below some drops.


The top section of the run contains numerous drops in short succession, requiring quick response from guides and crew. All the very large waves and drops seem to flush out, well at least that’s what happened to us. It’s hard to describe the sequence of drops, it all happened so fast and I couldn’t do them justice. There are probably between 5 and 8 significant drops and at least three of those are one on top of the other. There is also a very large house size bolder/island right in the middle of the grade four section. This you must take on the right and pass between it and another large bolder. The shut between you take right then left. Then set up for the next 3-4m drop. After eddying up and setting up safety for Pete’s boat, we could see back up river the size of the series of drops. The river must drop about 20-30m over about a 100-150m stretch. There is water every where, and only one way to go (or maybe two according to Pete). After a few photos and the other boat safety eddying up the next major feature provided the biggest thrills and spills.


The monster wave and haystack. Slipping into is from the left hand side proved to be a little too ‘assy’. Three of us ended up in the drink, luckily Simon was on the ball and pulled us back in within seconds. Saving us from the next 2-3m drop, which would have been an extremely painful swim.


We had been told that ‘You Can’t Take Rafts Down There’, and in a conversation with Mugger at Bron’s party afterwards I was informed we might have been the first to take big boats down there. This section only flows every 3-6 years, and you have to catch the water at the right time. We were just lucky to get it during summer. We only just managed to get the two self bailing rafts down. And it would be safe to say, ‘Don’t even consider taking bucket boat’s’ down there.


We were expecting to be on the river for between 2 and 4 hours, however with the lines being pointed out by our safety kayaker ‘Antho’, who had been down this section 2-3 times before we were able to do it in 1hr 15 mins. We had no casualties on this occasion, however the probability to do so is very high. The only losses then, were a throw bag and a paddle.

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