Dragging myself out of bed at 5:30am in the morning, this was certainly not something I was looking forward to doing. However, I had promised my boyfriend that I would go along with him, and since he had agreed to go on a sailing trip with me a few days before (and was sea sick the whole way), I felt that I owed him this much at least. I was going to be white water rafting on one of Australia’s most extreme rivers.
Having had no time for breakfast, I pulled myself up onto the bus and was greeted by a friendly Aussie ‘G’day’. As we made our way around the town of Cairns, Australia, we stopped to pick up many unsuspecting passengers, each looking more dishevelled than the next. Instead of the 20-something-year-old male backpacker, adrenalin-junky types I had imagined, there were middle aged couples, parents with their teenage kids and groups of giggling school girls. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Soon we were all standing high in the mountains, surrounded by a thick white fog. Our guide for the day was Crazy Eddie, a stocky built man from Essex with a wild look in his eye and bruises and plasters all over his body. Crazy Eddie led us down the hill along with the rest of our group – two hung-over Irish guys who looked like they had not slept all night, and an Aussie couple who looked as if they had just stepped out of the outback. I had growing faith in our raft already!
In front of me lay the raging Tully River, said to be the best place for white water rafting in the whole of Australia and New Zealand put together. White froth foamed below and swirled in eddies around sharp rocks that poked out of the water. These were grade three and four rapids – some of the most challenging, and I had signed up to raft them for five hours straight!
After a short lesson on rafting, which consisted of bouncing around the raft a bit on dry land with Eddie shouting orders at us, we were launched into the freezing cold bubbling water and carried down the river.
“The first rapid, which is coming up in a few seconds” said Eddie “is called the Alarm Clock. If you are not awake now, you certainly will be after this.”
I barely had time to think before the words “forward paddle, forward paddle” were bellowed into my ear and we were being plunged downwards, and shaken from side to side. Then just as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over and the water returned to calm. I looked around me and everyone was still amazingly inside the raft. Well that wasn’t so bad I told myself, as I watched the other groups screaming as they plunged over the edge and someone fall overboard. I envisioned the girl being carried away down stream, smashing against rocks as she went, but to my amazement, just as quickly as she had fallen overboard she was plucked out of the water and dragged back on the boat. Before she had even time to realise that she had been in the water, her guide was giving her high fives back on the raft.
“Right get out of the raft everyone” Eddie shouted. What? I had just spent all that time holding on and trying to stay in the raft, there was no way I was getting out now, just as the water was beginning to swirl and bubble again. We all looked at each other as if he was mad. “Get out” Eddie shouted again. “I’m not kidding. You are going to swim this one. Just remember to stay on your back with your legs out in front of you and you will be fine. You’ll just float over all the rocks.” Reluctantly, one by one we slipped out of the raft. As soon as I touched the water, I felt myself being carried away faster and faster downstream around rocks and through swarms of bubbles. At one point I got stuck on a rock, the water was pushing me so hard from behind and I couldn’t move forward. When the water had finally calmed down, there was Crazy Eddie waiting for us in the raft ahead. That wasn’t so bad. Actually, I had to admit – it was rather fun. Now that I knew that it was ok to fall down the rapids without any protection from the raft, I didn’t feel scared any more. It didn’t matter if I fell out. Next came rapids with names like Foreplay, the Wet and Moisty and the Doors of Deception, each one a little bit harder and faster than the next – and each with a few gruesome stories told by Eddie, before we embarked upon them.
Before I knew it, we had been rafting for two hours straight and it was time for lunch – a good old fashioned Aussie barbecue. In truth, it was more like feeding time a cattle station – everyone dripping wet and cold, grabbing burgers and pieces of salad and dropping bits everywhere. It was so cold in fact, that I couldn’t wait to get back in the raft – the adrenalin keeping me warm there.
Once back on the water, we continued down the river through Cowboy Alley, Birthing Canal and Double D Cup, each of us enjoying the thrill and none of us, surprisingly, falling out. Next came, Jabba the Hut – a giant rock sticking out of the middle of the river. “Right, get out,” shouted Eddie again. One by one we got out of our rafts climbed up the enormous slippery rock. I didn’t quite realise what was going on, but when it became apparent to me that everyone was jumping off the rock into the water below, I definitely wanted to go back down the other way. It was a long way down, but everyone was jumping – the middle aged men, the screaming girls, the Japanese students. I couldn’t be the only one to chicken out. I think Eddie’s craziness had begun to rub off on me as I decided to jump too; I leapt far out and plunged deep into the cold water below. Water went up my nose, pierced my eyes and sucked me downwards – this part wasn’t fun.
After a short while, we came to the next rapid, Eddie screamed at us all to leave our paddles tucked inside the raft. We did as we were told, even though we no idea why. Suddenly, without warning Crazy Eddie flipped the raft half way down the rapids and we were all thrown into oblivion – tossed and turned in the swirling bubbles. I couldn’t quite remember what happened next, it was all a blur, but when the rapids finally calmed down and the river became slow again, I swam to shore to get my bearings. Slowly the rest of my team came to join me, no one looking happy. We all turned and saw Eddie pulling the raft behind him, blood streaming from eyes and head. He looked like something out of a horror movie. As Eddie sat on the shore to get patched up by one of the other guides we couldn’t help but feel that he had somehow he asked for it.
An hour and eight more rapids later, we had finally reached the last one and I can definitely say that after five hours I was more than ready for my rafting experience to be over – and I could tell my boyfriend felt the same. The last rapid went either side of and through the middle of two large rocks. Both sides were foaming and bubbling, and in the middle small whirlpools had formed that spat out white froth. We watched as all the teams went down either side carefully, paddling with precision, then came our turn and, yep you’ve probably guessed it – Eddie steered us towards the middle one. “Back paddle, back paddle,” he screamed. I didn’t understand why were we back paddling? Suddenly the raft spun around and we found ourselves being launched backwards down the broiling rapids. A few of my team mates were flung out the sides, but I clung on desperately trying to keep hold of any part of the raft I could. When we emerged, Eddie smiled ruefully. “I’ve been making you do the extreme river rafting the whole day!” Everyone on this trip had signed up for the regular Tully white water rafting, but without knowing it, our little raft had been doing the extreme version the whole day.
Although rafting on the Tully River was an experience which I will not be doing again in a hurry, I surprised myself and was a lot braver than I expected. And now that I’ve done the best rafting in the whole of Australia and New Zealand – most other rafting trips should be a doddle.
Facts: Esme Fox went rafting with Ranging Thunder Adventures and for a full day trip including transport, lunch and insurance it cost $195 AUD.