A full-day whitewater rafting trip down the Russell River with Foaming Fury outfitters proved to be the single most memorable experience of my Australian adventure. I was fortunate in that the previous week’s cyclone had raised the water to exciting levels. The day began with a hotel pick-up at 9:30. It would be another three and a half hours before our paddles touched water, but it was worth the wait and effort. Our rafting was preceded by an hour of bus travel, lunch, a 40-minute rainforest hike to our put-in spot, and a half hour of swimming while our guides inflated the six-man rafts. Then, after a thorough safety lesson, we were ready to go.
The setting closely resembled Mossman Gorge, which I visited the day before. The clear waters of the boulder-strewn river were flanked by the rainforest and densely vegetated hills. Tropical birds and teal blue butterflies fluttered about while we boarded our rafts. Here, the river was smooth, but the first whitewater was not far ahead.
The trip down river included about six sets of grade-four rapids, including: "the Roller Coaster," an up/down set befitting its name; "the Three Stooges," which we navigated backwards; and a particularly steep drop known simply as "the Falls." At one point, we pulled out of the water, walked about 25 feet crouched beneath a rock shelf and came upon Rainbow Falls, a sacred Aboriginal Site where the spray from its cascade produces a perpetual rainbow. It felt as if we were transported back to Dreamtime in this secluded spot. We got tribal here and used soft ochre stones from the bottom of the pool to paint our faces and bodies. One of our affable guides, Garreth, transformed himself into an ochre Braveheart. Legend has it, if you take three drinks of the water here, you will return one day. (Yes, the water is clean enough to drink in this World Heritage area.) Of course, we all gave it a try.
At a later spot, we pulled out, hiked back along the rapids, then jumped one by one off a five-foot ledge into the roiling whitewater below. What a rush to feel the power of the rapids push your body down river! Where the river calmed down, we swam back to shore. Several members of our group jumped in repeatedly.
At the end of the ride, it was a much shorter haul back to our bus. With everyone exhausted and exhilarated from a day on the rapids, we had the chance to shower and change, then relax along the scenic drive -- past the green rainforest mountains, papaya groves and sugar cane fields -- back into Cairns. The trip cost A$99 and included transportation, lunch and afternoon tea.