Tasmania has a strong white water kayak community and the rafting opportunities are numerous. Many of the larger rivers have been dammed to provide for the generation of hydro electricity, nevertheless, being a small mountainous island, every gully has a potential creek waiting to tempt the unsuspecting adventurer. The bigger rivers suitable for rafting are either rain dependent or hydro controlled.
In the south the Derwent, Picton, and Huon Rivers offer single and multi-day trips on grade one to three rapids. In the north the Mersey, and North Esk Rivers offer day trips of grade three and four water. Further west the Hellyer, Arthur and Little Henty Rivers all offer more adventurous trips for the self-sufficient group. A complete guide to Tasmanian Rivers can be found at http://www.paddletasmania.canoe.org.au/.
A few commercial groups offer opportunistic trips, generally on the back of a Hydro release. A number of operators offer ten day Franklin River expeditions. King River Rafting offers a summer one day white water raft journey through a remote West Coast gorge in Western Tasmania.
Historically there are records of Tasmanian Aboriginal people using small canoes of wood or bark on Tasmania’s rivers and sheltered waters. The Europeans came to Macquarie Harbour and made their way up the lower reaches of the Gordon and other western rivers in open rowing boats. In 1840 James Calder crossed the Franklin River on a raft of logs, followed by Sir John Franklin and his wife in 1842.
The men logging Huon Pine had to find a way to easily move around the western rivers. The piners punt was a small light dingy rowed by two men, about 5 metres in length, built of Huon Pine. Probably originally built in Port Davey, they were used by private piners on the rivers around Macquarie Harbour. These little dinghies have been rowed and portaged up through the gorges of the Gordon, Denison and Franklin Rivers. Being their only link to the outside world the piners would have to cherish the dinghy and not risk it in rapids or swift water, hence the need for something light and sturdy to withstand the rigours of the day to day working life.
Once the pining finished there was little need for people to travel on the western rivers save for the occasional Hydro Electric Commission party which generally either walked or used helicopters and small rubber dinghies to establish gauging stations and other infrastructure.
In 1951 four young Launceston men, including Johnson Dean & John Hawkins, attempted to canoe the Franklin River in ex-army folboats (collapsible canoes) as used by commandoes in WWII. The trip ended quickly in Descension Gorge with the destruction of the canoes and the men walking out from the river. Some years later in 1958 the men returned to the Franklin with canoes made from a new product – fibreglass. The trip went well until Descension Gorge again, where they broke a canoe, the river came rose up in flood and the trip was abandoned.
It was a case of third time lucky when in 1959 the men finally paddled their fibreglass Canadian style canoes down Franklin River to the Gordon. Travel on the western rivers continued to be a rare and dangerous undertaking. Olegas Truchanas and others used the folboats style of canoe up into the mid 1970s.
The advent of fibreglass allowed for people to make enclosed kayaks that were strong light and fast and could be controlled in the river's rapids. This however still had its problems as a high level of skill was required and the kayaks would often be snapped in two in rapids.