Not the Denison... (Heazlewood + Whyte River)
Date: Friday, 7 October 2022
Rivers:Whyte River, Heazlewood River, North Esk River.
The plan was simple. Run the Denison again at high water and experience some of the best wilderness paddling Tassie has to offer. As expected, this trip had nearly fallen over at every shuttle, pickup, drop off. Even the NRS gear order with everyone’s new dry suits had only arrived at lunch the day before the trip. Despite these challenges Justin had made it to Hobart and everyone else was packed and ready for the pickup at 6am the next morning.
Then the call came. Due to wild wind predictions, we weren’t going to be able to cross Pierce Basin on the fishing boat as planned. Lauren arrived during the middle of the mad panic of phone calls to discuss what we would do. 10:30pm rolls by and we finally agree we won’t be able to continue with the Denison and will have to bail out to the Heazlewood + Whyte instead. This backup trip was run in the club a few years ago and they had received so much rain their three-day trip had been shortened to two. With little more info then 2-3 days of paddling time, grade 2-3 paddling and plenty of food we setoff.
The next morning, we all drove back north, much to the disappointment of the northerners. Along the drive through the Great Lakes and Sheffield we saw many swollen rivers which gave us hope for the trip as we knew we would need a large amount of rain. We arrive at the Waratah Road bridge over the Heazlewood around lunchtime. What we found was a little trickle of water that was below the bottom of the bridge foundations. With no better plan we began the 1.5-hour shuttle and got to packing the boats.
With the return of the drivers, we setoff down the river. We soon got in the rhythm. Scrape scrape scrape stuck! Did I tear a hole in the boat? Is the floor okay? Ah for f**&#$^@, stuck again. We had ‘paddled’ 1.5 km of the Heazlewood and I was thoroughly disappointed. This was quickly becoming an Andrew River trip and not an epic white-water trip. One discussion later we had decided to continue down the river as we have no better trips to run and dragging boats was more fun than no trip.
The padding did not improve over the next few hours. Sure, we were starting to enter the beautiful rainforest that the West Coast is known for but the thought of gear wear and spending the next two days dragging boats was weighing heavily on my mind. Around 4pm we finally got a hole in the orange Robfin. Nothing the Tyvec tape couldn’t fix but this wasn’t helping the general mood of doom. The tape was holding but we decided to make camp asap. Thankfully it wasn’t long before we found a flat area of forest on the left bank. A quick clean up of the undergrowth gave us enough space to setup both the tarp and tent. This year we had splurged on tarp sizes after trying to huddle five people under a tad too small tarp in heavy Southwest Tassie rain during the last trip.
With camp setup and the beers being produced the mood was quickly improving. With the security of a camp and the weight of the trip lifted temporarily I was truly able to appreciate the stunning rainforest I found myself in. Every direction you looked was the most lush and green rainforest you could imagine.
Woken up by the morning light filtering through the trees I was ready to start the morning with a gentle stretch and some porridge. Instead we starting the morning with a shrill shout from Lauren as she discovered the large leach stuck on her cheek.
With the leach issue resolved and breakfast eaten we setoff down river. The Heazlewood had been progressively narrowing, allowing us to paddle nearly unobstructed. After morning tea we arrived at the Heazlewood gorge. While it was low the gorge still had plenty of good grade 2 features with one G3.
The gorge was thoroughly enjoyable. Next stop was the confluence with the Whyte where we discovered the Chris Lane Memorial Hut. This would be an epic spot to camp if you were doing a high-water trip. The Heazlewood finishes in an great log drop with an epic view with the Whyte and Heazlewood being divided by a knife of rock. There were two logs on the Heazlewood that spanned majority/all the river and would present a hazard at higher water.
Once on the Whyte the river widens a touch and had us dodging rocks again. The river still has a good amount of gradient and pool and drop rapids, so progress was still quick. Not many features of note were encountered between the confluence and the 4WD campsite that we were aiming for. Not long after we arrived at the old Whyte river campsite from my childhood. A fire was quickly lit and tarp setup. The last of the beers were consumed with the snacks and lentil curry. Lauren taught us Monopoly Draw which kept us entertained for as long as our eyes would stay open.
With a much more peaceful start to the morning, we began down the Whyte again, aiming to reach Corina within the day. Just downstream of camp is the confluence with the Rocky River. Justin promised views of an exciting mine adit if we waded upstream though the old gold rush fields. After 15 minutes of wading we decided it would be just as easy to imagine a giant hole in the rockface. Thankfully Tassie Boys Prospecting has a great video about the history of the area (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0EMXEblwwU).
We continued to paddle down calm shingle rapids wondering why James Barnes had said the rapids on the Whyte had been larger than the Heazlewood . Sure, at high water this would be quicker but certainly not bigger paddling. It wasn’t long before we saw what James was talking about. The river quickly narrowed with giant limestone cliffs rising up on either side of us. Before we knew it, we were padding down grade 3 pool and drop rapids again with contained many good surf waves and gentle holes at this level. It was just after mucking around on one of these waves that I discovered it is possible to roll a loaded Gnarwal :O
The Whyte River gorge comes to its climax as the river pours though a tall slot that couldn’t be much wider than a raft. Unfortunately for rafts there is currently a large log sticking up in the middle of this slot with only enough room to sneak a packraft past. I can imagine these rapids would have been quite the surprise in a raft at a higher level.
With a quick snack stop we got back underway pushing on to Corinna. The rest of the Whyte was uneventful dodging around the huge amount of timber that has become lodged in the lower reaches of the river.
At the sight of the Pieman River, we knew it wouldn’t be long until we reached our final camp to rest our sore bodies. Of course, this didn’t stop me from trying to get Liam to paddle the wrong direction up the river ;)
The Corina pub was a welcome site to our weary eyes and many of Seven Sheds finest tall necks were consumed followed by a fantastic dinner and wine combo.
The next morning, we had a slow start with a plan to catch the King Wave while it was still flowing. We crossed the Pieman on the trusty Fat Man Barge but were disappointed to arrive at the King river just an hour after the power station had turned off the flow. To compensate our dampened spirits we had one final indulgence at the Tracks Café ith some absurdly large Oreo milkshakes. Having had a hell of a good trip and made many memories it was time for the group to part ways, heading home for well-deserved rest.
Oh what’s this? You thought the trip was over, well so did I. But as it turns out these guys are suckers for suffering so Luke organised for us to all meet up for a lap of the North Esk. I won’t spoil too much of the video but safe to say that if people didn’t feel sore before they certainly did now! The guys all learnt a lot and had a tonne of fun so another very successful trip!
I say this every trip but here is another fantastic group of people to be paddling through the wilderness with. Hope I get a chance to go on many more silly trips with you guys!
~Joshua Resta, Senior Trainee Packraft Guide
ps. this will be update over the next week with maps, distances and wiki river will also be updated!
pps. Click the link below for the map with each day paddled. I will be updating these river sections on wikiriver so I won't go into great detail about the paddling here. Safe to say we only had 11mm of rain Fri, 4mm Sat and 3.5mm Sunday at Lunchon Hill in a relativly saturated catchment. The Hellyer River isn't a bad estimate of flow and on the trip we had about 200 ML/day at the Gilford Junction Gauge. At this flow completing the trip in 3 days was just perfect as it gives you time to drive up from Hobart on day 1 and paddle to "Campsite 1" which is much prettier then camping on the side of the road. At this level it would have been a real slog to complete in only 2 days but it can be done with higher flows.
If you plan to recreate this trip which I would recommend then my advice is as follows. For low water trips such as this one I suggest taking 3 days and camping at "Campsite 1" and the 4WD camp on the Whyte as we did. Both these sites offer great camping and will prevent more of the forest being flattened for campsites. For highwater trips you would likely enjoy camping at the memorial hut (more of an open sided BBQ shelter) or continuing down to the 4WD track as James Barnes did in his trip (see here: https://rafting.org.au/trip-reports/2019/west-coast-multiday-trip-heazelwood-whyte-and-pieman/). Keep in mind that there are atleast 3 different logs/tree that would pose a serious threat at high levels so don't undertake this trip lightly if there has been alot of rain.
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