White-water rafting is a rush. The adrenalin pumps, even at small rapids. On a rafting trip along Australia’s Mitta Mitta River in the Victorian High Country, with Rafting Australia, I learn that if ever there’s a study in collaboration and camaraderie, this might be it.
The shouted command reaches me over the rushing sound of water, as our inflatable raft hurtles down Victoria’s Mitta Mitta river: “Over right!”
In unison, the three people on my side of the raft hurl their bodies towards the three on the other side. Our combined weight does the trick; the raft lurches and shifts, and misses the boulder in our path, allowing us to continue surging down the river.
There are 10 of us, and two rafts. Rafting Australia’s owner, Linton Smith, is a former Australian champion rafter and he takes charge of one raft, the other is under the watchful eye of one of his trained guides.
We’re a mixed bunch – ranging in age from about 18 to 50, three men and seven women. Some are locals, others from as far as Western Australia. While a couple of us have been rafting before, for most it’s a new and exciting experience, which all (including me) are approaching with just a tiny bit of trepidation.
Smith assures us the trip is well within our capabilities. He’s taken novices from eight (the minimum age) to 81. We’re about to take a day trip down the river, one of several that his company offers.
Before hitting the water, we’re given a thorough briefing on what to do and not do, what the simple commands mean, and most importantly, what to do if we end up in the water – either alone or as a whole boatload. We’re kitted out with helmets, handed our paddles and then we’re in the raft and on a stretch of calm water, practicing our teamwork and paddling. When Smith decides we’re ready, we paddle off through the Mitta Mitta Gorge.
In the quiet stretches of the river, between rapids, there’s a chance to take it in. High sandstone cliffs, bush that comes down to the water’s edge, and the occasional bird circling overhead. The rapids are gentle at first, despite their somewhat daunting names – Lose Your Breakfast (no-one did on this trip), Bump & Grind (we can all see why – there’s a lot of “over right!” and “over left!” being shouted here), and the Graveyard (we don’t ask how this one got its name!).
After negotiating our way through a rapid called the Big Stopper, we idle along in calm water under a towering rock formation that’s dubbed Faulty Towers, taking time to enjoy the scenery.
After several hours, we’ve passed through Dislocation, taken a look at the remains of some old gold mining camps on the riverbank, and pulled up at Black Duck Hole. Over our picnic lunch, there’s discussion about how anyone could have stumbled on gold in such a remote spot – even today, it’s difficult to get to, and the only other people we see all day are a couple of hopeful trout fishermen who’ve hiked in to try their luck.
Back on the river, we are hitting our stride as we make it through the Minefield. Then the real challenges start. First, there’s the small waterfall called the Widowmaker, a steeper descent than any we’ve encountered before; then the Gobblers – two of them in succession! We’re amused by the names by now, but the rapids themselves are no laughing matter.
As each raft takes its turn through a rapid, we get a chance to watch each other. It’s clear that the key to a happy day is good teamwork, the ability to listen and follow instructions, and – most important of all – a sense of humour.
We reach our landing point at Hinomungie Bridge without mishap for either raft. We’ve spent eight hours on the river, paddled 18km, seen one of Victoria’s hidden natural wonders and used muscles we didn’t know we had.
The trip also got me thinking about other rafting trips I’ve done, in particular a short trip on Sri Lanka’s wide and fast-flowing Kelani River. As we floated down a quiet stretch of the river, two orange-robed Buddhist monks appeared from nowhere on the river bank. We paddled over, they jumped in and we delivered them to the other side. They waved and went on their way. Few words were spoken and we continued paddling. It was an almost surreal experience. The unexpected. That’s what I love about travel (and life).