I remember thinking that it sounded like some kind of military compound or operation. Perhaps i’ve just watched too many war films?
“But what is there to do there?” I asked as I sat in the travel agents office planning my east coast trip. Clearly, I hadn’t put much thought into where I wanted to go on the east coast.
No, skydiving is not something I’m bothered about, surely that couldn’t be the only thing worth doing there?
Then the guy sat across the desk from me mentioned whitewater rafting.
No sooner had the words left his mouth than I was saying sign me up. Yes for the extreme one. I’m not paying a bunch of money to have a jolly little tea party down the river. No, I wanted to get wet. I wanted to get in the water whether that was because I fell out or jumped in. It didn’t matter which.
Ever since I had my first taste of whitewater rafting back on the Ontario river in Canada I’ve been itching to have another go and this was my chance.
Mission Beach itself is, well, tiny. It is literally just a road and as I was staying in a hostel out of town I didn’t really get to see it other than through the shuttle bus window.
It is the kind of place where there are lots of interesting things to do if you’re the outdoorsy type of person. Which I count myself as being by the way. Only, it also the kind of place to really appreciate you kind of need a car. Something I didn’t have.
Plus the weather wasn’t exactly pleasant while I was there, so I took the opportunity to spend my non-whitewater rafting time hanging out in the cool little tree-house rainforest hostel I was staying at, Jackaroo Treehouse.
If you want a place to hang out and get away from it all this is definitely a hostel to do that. You feel like you’re a million miles away from everything, way up in the trees. Whatsmore is you still have an awesome phone signal plus the hostel has free wifi everywhere.
Raging Thunder Adventures (the whitewater rafting company) pick you up right from your accommodation and drop you back at the end of the day. Note; if you are situated in Cairns they can also take you from there.
You raft on the river Tully which is full of category 3 and 4 rapids that come at you relentlessly. Don’t worry though all the guides are really friendly and know the river so well.
In fact, a few of them know it so well that they beat the Australian semi-pro team at the world whitewater rafting champs test event on just a couple of hours of sleep (due to partying the night before) and so will now represent Australia in the world champs next year.
Which as you have probably guessed is on the Tully river. Yes, that is right I rafted the same bit of river that will feature in the world rafting championships.
I mean I’m not going to lie to you, I had no idea that was even a thing but I’m sure its the kind of event that would appear in the obscure sports quarterly magazine right?
The river itself flows through one of the oldest rainforests in the world. In those moments where you are not paddling hard down the rapids, you can take in the sheer beauty of the place you are in.
You get to see areas of the rainforest only accessible by the river.
At points the banks of the river stretch high up, almost touching the sky. The intertwining trees, plants and vines building an impenetrable fortress. A veil into a past world that you can only really imagine.
It is quiet but for the roar of the river and the occasional bird call.
It is a world that I have never seen before.
A world that looks like it’s straight out of a Jurrasic park movie, only we never got to see the dinosaurs (although considering the films probably a good thing). A river so steeped in beauty that you had to reluctantly pull your gaze back to the raft for each rapid.
Once we arrived at the top of the river we got ourselves kitted out. Thermal tops, life jacket and helmets (there is also the option to use wetsuits should you think you will be cold, but to be honest you don’t really need them) and don’t forget your trusty paddle. With that nervous excitement in the air we and headed down to the rafts ready to get our raft on.
The guides were keen to keep those travelling together in the same rafts which ultimately meant that I was in a raft with other solo travellers. I think this actually made the experience more fun as we very quickly bonded and worked well as a team.
After a brief, but thorough safety talk and instructions on how to paddle, stop and what to do when our guide shouted certain signals and/or we fell out of the raft (let’s be real it was a definite and) it was time to go.
Oh, one last thing, our guide, Tom, who incidentally was one of the guys who is on the world champs team forewarned us that he likes to flip the boat for fun. Were we all alright with that? Yeah. sure. of course.
What we weren’t expecting was for him to flip the raft on purpose halfway down the first rapid!
After managing to resurface and grab the rope on the side of the raft (all while still holding onto my paddle) I suddenly realised that the raft was on one side of me and on the other side there were some rocks.
The flow of the water was pushing me and the raft towards the rocks.
In what I can only describe as my own version of the star wars trash compactor scene the raft suddenly sped up and before I had time to even contemplate my best move, smashed my face into the rock.
Luckily my helmet took the brunt of the force along with my nose. After what seemed like an eternity we made it through the rapids and were able to climb back into the raft, albeit with a sore head.
Thankfully, my nose wasn’t bleeding and I just had a bit of nasty looking scrape and a lump that would reside there for the next week or so.
After a quick head count and check everyone was ok we were already at the next rapid. Tom, assured us that he wouldn’t flip this time but it was still pretty awesome.
The rapids came thick and fast with no long breaks between them unlike those that I had had to navigate back in Canada.
To add to everything the heavy rainfall of the wet season meant that the hydro station was at full capacity and subsequently so too was the river.
This meant that the rapids were that little bit more ferocious just in case your adrenaline wasn’t pumping enough yet!
The day wasn’t just about riding the rapids though.
Just before we stopped for lunch we got the opportunity to jump off some rocks into the river.
This is always fun.
Think jumping off the diving boards at your local swimming pool (if it has them) only its rocks and its into a flowing river.
For some reason, I will quite happily do this but diving boards? No thanks. There is something about standing at the edge of a heap of rocks looking down into the water where you’re about to plunge. Knowing that is you don’t quite jump far enough out that you will probably land on some rocks instead of the water.
Has your heartbeat quickened just reading that? If you’ve also got a big smile on your face then maybe you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie like me and the Tully river is for you.
Now on my east coast adventure, I’d become accustomed to the tour group lunchtime routine. Some kind of bread – most often wraps- with a whole bunch of fillings. Raging Thunder whitewater rafting adventures, however, did lunch right.
If Carlsberg did lunches well they would have been as good as this.
For starters it was hot. I guess this makes sense as some people may have been starting to feel cold from the water but still I really wasn’t expecting hot food. Burgers and sausages, plus salad, pasta and hot and cold drinks. It was really tasty and for an added bonus there was plenty of food. So seconds were definitely on the agenda!
Full of energy from our hot lunch we made our way back down to the rafts ready for an adrenaline-filled afternoon.
It wasn’t long until we were out of the boats again though.
The volcanic rock that is found around these parts gives one of the rapids on the Tully river a little bit of a unique twist.
You can actually swim down it.
Well, by swim I mean lie on your back and hold your breath for a bit.
Now I’ve nearly drowned before (a story for another time perhaps) but that was in a calm swimming pool. This, however, was something entirely different.
As I lay on my back gripping onto my life jacket all I could see was the oncoming rapids. I braced myself ready to not be able to breathe for a few seconds.
Only there was another wave followed by another wave.
It’s fine, I’ve held my breath for longer I told myself as the adrenaline surged through my body.
Don’t open your mouth, it will only make things worse.
The waves seemed huge but in reality, they were less than half a metre high. That was high enough though.
High enough that I couldn’t tell what was coming and how much longer I needed to endure this.
Suddenly the waves abated and without thinking, I flipped onto my front and started swimming hard to the shoreline. The current here was strong and fast and if I wasn’t careful I was going to be swept downstream.
I made it to the bank quite easily in the end but the guides had to throw the rescue ropes out to a couple of people who struggled.
Wiping the water from my eyes and catching my breath that smile that encompasses the whole of your face was plastered all over myself and everyone elses.
It had been an experience that was a little scarier than we had anticipated yet so much fun. There were a few crazy people that even went for a second swim!
The rest of the day brought with it rapids which allowed “trick” rafting.
You how skateboarders and snowboarders rack up tricks as they follow a course? Yeah, well apparently you can do that in a raft too.
My favourite involved a manoeuvre which was supposed to mean we went down the rapid backwards.
Pretty cool eh?
Yeah well, what actually happened was we got stuck.
Jammed sideways between the 2 rocks. Not entirely sure if this was what was supposed to be going on my fellow rafters and I looked around at each other nervously.
Were we going to end up flipping the boat again? I definitely wasn’t up for smashing my face against another rock right about now.
Fortunately, we stayed in the raft this time and after a little bit of wriggling around we unwedged ourselves and rode the rapid like the bosses we are!
Before we knew it we were paddling down the last rapid of the day.
I was so not ready for it to end. The 3-4 hours had gone insanely quickly and I had had so much fun even despite the incident on the first rapid.
You can pay a huge amount of money to do a bungee jump or a skydive and that adrenaline rush lasts for what, a few minutes at the most? I got 3 whole hours of it. You tell me who got their monies worth?
Whether you’re up at Mission Beach or in Cairns I would definitely recommend you spend a day whitewater rafting on the Tully river with Raging Thunder adventures.
Whether you choose the standard or the extreme rafting is up to you but either way, I am sure you will have an awesome day! I mean how often do you get to go rafting through the oldest rainforest in the world?
Until next time