Palm Cove is known, amongst other things, for its spas and therapy centres. We developed a cunning plan: to go white-water rafting in the morning, and then have a well-deserved (and probably needed) pampering session in the afternoon.
Alas, it was not to be, as the white-water rafters were only available in the afternoon on Friday. Well, what the hell, we went and booked ourselves into the spa in the morning anyway. I had a massage, and Nicola went for a mud wrap. Mine was really good, and I’m assured that Nicola’s was also well worth it.
We had a fortifying lunch at one of the bars on the beach before heading back to our digs to be picked up at 2:00pm, dressed for action, and driven to the top of the rapids on the Barron River. On the way we were given a rather alarming disclaimer to fill in, complete with emergency contact information, for insurance and liability purposes.
We arrived at the top of the river and were advised to leave behind anything that was not strapped on and that we didn’t want to lose – including glasses in my case – and also told to ditch any footwear that wasn’t firmly strapped in place. So it was away with the jandals (thongs/flipflops to all you furriners), and we were issued with a pair of plastic boat shoes instead. We were also strapped into life jackets and yellow crash helmets.
The instructors divided us up into teams of six or seven each, keeping groups and couples together as much as possible. We were then allocated a guide, and a boat. Our guide was called Bill, and he was originally from California but had settled in Australia seven years ago. He arranged us around the boat, and we lifted it onto our heads and carried it down to the river. He arranged us in the boat, with me and another bloke taking the front two positions, presumably because he wanted a bit of power up front. Bill then instructed us in the art of white-water rafting, including how to paddle, the commands that he would give, and what to do if we fell out of the boat. The rapids are caused by the daily outflow of water from the invisible hydro-electric power station in the Barron Gorge further upstream.
And then we were off! It was a short while before we reached our first drop, and Bill ran us through some drills before we got to it so that everyone was working together and getting their timing right (at least I assume they were – I was looking out in front, not seeing what was going on behind me).
We got through the first rapids OK, then reached a fairly startling drop. On this one my oppo fell out of the boat, and Bill was up like a shot from his position at the back of the boat to haul him back in. “Blimey!” I thought – all this talk about falling out of the boat was no joke. At the next big drop, it was my turn – I could feel the boat turning and there was no way I could stay inside, and slipped gently out over the edge. Bill came charging to the rescue again, but I lost a shoe en route.
We went down some fairly tricky falls after that, but seemed to have got the hang of staying in by then, and we didn’t lose anyone else overboard. When we got down to a calmer stretch we recovered my shoe, which had floated on ahead of us.
This river is known as a grade 3. This is as high as a novice would tackle with a guide – after that you get onto grades where all the crew should be experienced. So it was no cake-walk, and I think we’ll stick to rivers of this difficulty for the time being.
At the bottom of the river we had a final row across the calm section of the lake, before disembarking and carrying our boat back to the road. We posed for a group photo – which I will post once I’ve received it from the company, in about 2 weeks’ time – and there will be photos from around the course as well. You’ll be able to spot me – I’m the one in the yellow helmet.