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Enjoy this article i wrote for Australian Geographic “OUTDOOR” magazine last year. BONDY Photos Josh BOND, Dana HEPTINSALL Saturday March 6th, 2010 3 am The day begins with my alarm ringing.

Enjoy this article i wrote for Australian Geographic “OUTDOOR” magazine last year.



Saturday March 6th, 2010

3 am

The day begins with my alarm ringing. Everyone is already awake and we are all too excited to sleep knowing what lay ahead over the next two days.

By 4am we are on the road with the ute laden full of kayaks, we drive through the darkness, finally arriving at the helicopter landing zone as the sun is rising.

Myself and nine other experienced kayakers from Cairns and Townsville are about to embark on one of Queensland’s most pristine, spectacular, and challenging grade V white water rivers, Broadwater Creek.  The headwaters of this river feed from high up in the Girringun national park mountain range, which lies behind the sleepy township of Cardwell, the gateway to Hinchinbrook Island.

The river flows for a distance of approximately 30 kilometers, descending almost 3000 feet over this distance. The only way to access the headwaters of this river is by helicopter, as there are no tracks or roads into this untouched wonderland.


The upper two thirds of Broadwater Creek is pink-granite gorge, surrounded by pristine rainforest, and amazing sheer cliff faces that stretch up to the sky.  The water flowing in this creek is the cleanest, clearest water I’ve seen in North Queensland. 


As everyone frantically packs their kayaks with camping gear, food and all the necessary essentials to get us through the next two days, the thumping sound of the chopper can be heard in the distance, the excitement is palpable.


After a short safety brief the first chopper shuttle is off.  We fly over some spectacular mountain peaks, covered in thick, dense, tropical rainforest, when suddenly the realisation dawns upon us as to just how isolated this river is.  If something goes wrong during this trip, the only way out is down the river. 


As we fly over a ridgeline, the earth suddenly disappears below, revealing the golden gem we have come in search of.  As I look down at the river below, all that can be seen is waterfall after waterfall, as the river drops away from the headwaters. The levels look good, the skies are clear and the temperature is a very tropical 30 degrees.

The pilot takes the chopper low into the gorge and begins searching for somewhere to land.  As we get lower the canyon walls close in as the chopper flies only meters above the river; this is amazing. We find a small rocky section on the edge of the river near the base of a 200 foot high waterfall which is large enough to bring the chopper into, this is it.  After the boats are off the chopper, it disappears up the gorge out of sight, to pick up the next two paddlers.  After two hours, the last shuttle is complete, and everyone watches on as the chopper flies away, leaving us to the mercy of the river.  The sound of the chopper flying away for the last time leaves a daunting feeling among us all, we are now fully committed, with no other way out but down.


We all get in our kayaks and begin paddling down this spectacular gorge.  After only 150 meters we reach the first horizon line, as the river disappears in front of us we are greeted with a nice 15 foot high waterfall to warm up on. 

Around five minutes later we reach our first grade V rapid.  The video and still cameras are set up on the cliff edge overlooking the rapid, and the team pick their lines and contemplate if they are going to run it or not.  The rapid consists of a steep 70 foot rock slide, which leads into a narrow slot, with a large curling wave pushing all the water into the left wall of the slot, before pouring off a 20 foot high waterfall.  Gary, Woodsy, and I are the first to run it.  We all have good lines down the rapid, convincing the others to run it after us.



We paddle further down the river and are greeted with continual waterfalls and grade IV – V rapids. After an hour or so of challenging white water we arrive at a horizon line where the river narrows to around 2 meters wide, between two massive boulders, one of which overhangs nearly the entire distance of the gap.  There are very limited viewing points to scout this rapid before we run it.  From what we can see, it looks as though it is a large, steep, undercut rock-slide which runs directly onto a large rock at the bottom, forcing all the water to the right, feeding the entire river into a narrow, churney slot, no more than half a meter wide. Falling into this slot would result in a nasty situation.  The entire rapid looks sketchy however it seemed there may be a line down the slide and a possibility of sneaking past the slot into the eddy below.  Feeling confident, I decide to run it.  Safety is set up at the bottom as I get in my boat, and psych myself up.  Not being able to see the entire rapid before running it, and knowing that if I don’t make it past the slot at the bottom I’ll be in trouble, leaves me feeling nervous.  My heart rate increases as the nerves kick in, a few deep calming breaths and I’m ready to run it.  I pull out of the safety of the eddy and start paddling towards the narrowing gap, there is no turning back now.  As I approach the edge, I still can’t see what lay ahead, the gap narrows and I have to duck my head to get past the undercut entry.  Suddenly every thing speeds up and all that can be seen is white, as I speed down the rock slide, a few correction strokes have me making the dog leg, and pop out in the bottom eddy, narrowly avoiding the slot at the bottom.  I let out a hoot of excitement, stoked to have made it down. This is what kayaking expeditions are all about.


A short time later we come to a very nice looking 20ft high waterfall, with a tricky looking pour over, just above the top of the waterfall.  At first a few of the paddlers underestimate this pour over, until Dom nearly comes to grief when he is flipped upside down and the strong flow is rapidly pushing him towards the edge of the waterfall.  Luckily he is able to roll back up just before going over the edge, a very lucky escape.

The day goes on and we have run more grade V rapids and waterfalls then I can count, or remember, and thankfully we have had no major dramas yet.  Unfortunately this was going to change very quickly as we all grow tired from a long day of paddling.


We approach a very technical, tight rapid riddled with pins and narrow under cut slots.  Gary thinks he can see a line and paddles through, he makes it but doesn’t get down upright, I follow, and get flipped in the same spot, bouncing off rocks on the bottom of the river as I flush out.  The line is too narrow to be able to roll back up, and all I can do is tuck up and ride it out.  Popping out in the bottom eddy, we advise the others it would be a smarter idea to portage around, they agree. 

Angelo and Carl however are a few minutes behind the rest of the team, and don’t realize that the rest of the team have portage the rapid.  Carl comes through first, and gets flipped at the top of the rapid, jamming his paddle deep in between the rocks, before pinning his boat vertically, forcing him to swim out.  Angelo comes through behind and is able to pluck the paddle out from between the rocks, only to lose it again as he tries to navigate his way down through the minefield without getting pinned himself.  Carl’s paddle is gone, never to be found again.


We are carrying two breakdown paddles between us, and within a few minutes we’re back in business.  Next up we come to a spectacular section of narrow gorge.  It consists of a 40ft high waterfall that drops down into a very tight section of gorge, with vertical cliffs on either side, no further than 10 meters apart, this runs for around 100m before another waterfall that drops at least 70 feet.  Unfortunately there is a massive boulder over the top of the second waterfall, and all the water feeds through a narrow slot underneath, leaving it not only un-runable, but if anyone swims or losses a paddle on the first waterfall, the rescue would have to be fast, as the alternative could be fatal. 


We set up numerous safety positions at the bottom of the first waterfall, and position all the cameras to get that magical shot. Woodsy runs it first and nails his line, the rest of the team follow.  Bad luck strikes again for Carl though, he has a good line, but unfortunately upon entry his deck pops, and he is ripped out of his boat, he loses the breakdown paddle as he frantically struggles to get his head above water.  Rescue ropes are thrown from all directions and he is pulled out of the water, out of breath, and a bit disappointed.  We get his boat to safety however the split paddle has sunk.  After a short while we notice it jammed under rocks, halfway down the gorge, about a meter underwater. After some nifty roping work, I’m tied on and slowly lowered downstream.  With some nervous moments underwater in the fast flowing currents I’m able to retrieve the paddle, placing it on the steep rocky bank. Everything is looking up as we have all the gear back.  Unfortunately around 30 seconds later  the paddle is accidently knocked back into the water, we all frantically attempt to dive onto it, as it slips back into the fast flowing gorge and disappears for good.  If we lose or break another paddle, we are going to be left with no other option than to complete the river using our hands.

The rest of the team run the first waterfall and we get some amazing shots.  The day is getting late and the light is slowly fading as the shadows in the gorge deepen. The air is becoming cold, and everyone is tired, we need to push on and find a suitable place to camp before dark.



After 20 minutes of dragging our heavy boats through the dense jungle, along the edge of steep rock faces, and climbing down numerous cliffs, we reach the pool at the bottom of the second waterfall.  As we paddle on, our chances of finding a campsite to set up for the night are starting to look slim.  The river is becoming very narrow, and the further we paddle, the narrower it becomes.  Suddenly we come around a corner and to our disbelief there is a flat sandy bank, that looks to have formed during recent floods, and it’s covered in dry drift wood, this will be home for the night.


Tired and weary from a long but spectacular day of paddling, we pull up on the sandy bank and set up camp for the night.  A fire is started as the light rapidly disappears and the air becomes cold.  There are hammocks everywhere, strung up between trees and dinner is cooking.  It looks to be a clear and cool night, and everyone hits the hay early to get some much needed rest.

Sunday, March 7th, 2010


The first light of the day shines through the thick rainforest canopy, into the shallow pool in front of our campsite, through the luscious turquoise water the large granite boulders glow, creating a spectacular scene. 



 By 7am we are all fed and back in our boats for another big day of paddling.  We begin with some relaxing grade III rapids to warm up on.  As we continue down the river it becomes extremely narrow as the river becomes no more than 4 to 5 meters wide in sections and even though the water is deep, the massive boulders that make up the river bed are still clearly visible.


After an hour of paddling we come to a massive horizon line. It’s not possible to see what is on the other side from our kayaks, but it looks big. There is a thick mist swirling around, and rising quickly from down below, and whatever this rapid has in store, it is going to be intense. The roar of the water is indescribable, it is so loud that you have to shout to hear the person next to you.  As we exit our boats and scamper along the edge of the steep gorge, I cannot believe what we are looking at. 

What we are faced with is by far the biggest, and most technical rapid of the trip.  The river narrows to around 3 meters, as it pours over the edge of a 25 foot water fall. This then lands on a steep angled slide, on the right side of the river.  This drops down near vertical for around 35 feet, and has a massive curling wave as it nears the bottom, pushing all the water directly towards the left hand wall of the gorge.  There is a massive swirling cauldron at the bottom churning back under the falls. Being pushed back into this cauldron would result in a very un-enjoyable situation.  Just to mix things up, if you do make it to the right and get pushed down stream, directly after, there is a 10 foot high pour over, and it looks as though it will punish any person who happens to get stuck in it.

 Most of the team takes one look and decide that it’s not for them.  Gary, Angelo and I are willing to try our luck though, after all, this is what we have come for.  As the three of us stand on the steep sloping edge overlooking the drop, we pick our line and discuss where we should set up the safety.  After a good five minutes, we are ready to go. The cameras are set up and Gary has one last look at his line.  He gets in his boat, and he is ready to go.  As everyone watches on in anticipation, Gary pulls out from the safety of the eddy and takes a few strokes towards the edge.  As he goes over, he begins to freefall, landing smoothly then disappearing.  A few seconds pass and Gary emerges from beneath the foaming water, next to the left wall of the gorge, with the whole front end of his boat crumpled in.  He takes a few more strokes and makes it over the next pour over… safe.


 Angelo is next to run it, he drops into the waterfall, freefalling down and making a smooth transition onto the slide, before disappearing at the bottom just like Gary did.  When he pops up through the foam though, he is pushed back upstream into the cauldron.  He begins to get violently thrown around, as he struggles to gain control and attempts to paddle out, only to get sucked back under the falls and into the gnarly whirlpool at the bottom.  He struggles for minutes to try and stay upright and attempts to paddle out, however he tires quickly, he finally pulls the deck. Again, ropes come flying from every angle and he is pulled from the water, and his boat retrieved. Now it is my turn…

After seeing Angelo’s dilemma, I double check my line and hope the same doesn’t happen to me.  Confident I am going to make it, I get into my boat and paddle out from the eddy and begin to head towards the edge.  It’s a daunting feeling, paddling towards the edge of nothingness.  Suddenly I’m falling at a ridiculous speed, I lift my right edge to prepare for the landing on the slide, it goes smoothly, and everything becomes white as I become engulfed in the wave at the bottom, hoping not to get pushed left into the cauldron like Angelo.  Next thing I’m looking back up at the rest of the team standing on the rocks, I’ve made it out safely and a feeling of relief comes over me.  This is short lived though, because I find myself backwards, and getting pushed towards the next pour over.  There is no time to spin around so I take a few desperate back stokes and attempt to paddle over it backwards.  Unfortunately this isn’t enough and the river shows me who’s boss; I get tossed and turned but thankfully I flush out after getting flipped so many times that I no longer know which way is up.  Exhausted and out of breath, I’m relieved to have made it down, looking back up at the drop, relief turns to satisfaction.  Stoked at the idea I had just paddled down such an intense rapid.  Three years ago when I began kayaking, if someone had told me that I was going to be able to paddle down such insane white water, I would have thought they were mad, but now these challenges are becoming reality and it is amazing.


As the day goes on the gradient of the river slowly begins to drop, it starts to widen, and entire sections of river begin to clog up with logs and massive boulders.


By 3pm, everyone is tired and the gorge has all but gone as the river opens up. The mountains where we first began paddling the day before are now tall peaks in the distance.  After another 30 minutes we come around a bend in the river to the sight of a jetty and green grassy park land. 


We are at the end and everyone is pleased.  It was a successful and exciting trip.  It had it all, big drops, waterfalls, and some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen.  We have been able to get some amazing photos and video footage, and most importantly, we have all been left with some amazing memories and exciting stories to tell.