Derwent River – Butlers Gorge

Canoe Tas Inc

Central Tasmania

Derwent River

Butlers Gorge





Full Trip: 26 km approx. – it is a big day’s paddling, long and tiring but worth it.
Lower Butlers: 8 km approx.
Average Grade: 17 m/km.
Peak Grade: 60 m/km.
Difficulty: Grade 4-5.
Paddling Time: 5-7 hours Full Trip, or 1-2 hrs Lower Butlers
Entry Point:
Full/Upper Butlers Gorge: At the Mossy Marsh Siphon Pumps downstream from Clark Dam (C603 – Butlers Gorge Rd off Lyell Hwy A10 between Wayatinah and Tarraleah).
Lower Butlers: Key required from SFM Environmental Solutions (03 6223 3536 – New Norfolk Office is opposite Post Office, $200 deposit required) to access Mystery Rd, a gated logging road 7.2km N of Wayatinah on LHS of Lyell Hwy A10. Follow Mystery Rd for 1.8km, turn R, 700m to track on left, park here, approx 25m down track take small left hand track – 30mins down hill to river carry/drag through bracken ferns and regrowth.
Exit Point: At the bridge over the Derwent River at Wayatinah 2km from Lyell Hwy A10  (Florentine/Wayatinah Rd). River right below bridge is easiest.
Water Level:
Full Trip:  22-80 cumecs  (anything above 60cumecs is BIG), but may be paddled lower.
Lower Butlers:  March 2020,  2000ML/Day or 23 Cumecs released from Clarke Dam with some side inflows was a perfect level – 26 cumecs estimated. Oct 2020 approx. 21 Cumecs made it a bit rockier but still fun.
Tasmap: 1:100 000 Nive.
Shuttle: About a 15-20km drive from Wayatinah to Butlers Gorge put in or 9km from Wayatinah for Lower Butlers.
General Description:    This is a long but classic Grade 3-4-5 trip through a fantastic wet sclerophyll and temperate rain forest gorge. Best done in summer.
The Upper Butlers Gorge section of river flows only when Lake King William is spilling or when water is released from Clarke Dam (which only occurs rarely). After putting in and negotiating the weir at the Mossy Marsh Siphon, a 500m warm-up leads to the main gorge where a series of waterfalls lead to the base of the HEC washaway below the Tarraleah canal. The first and second falls are Grade 4 and paddled on the left, the third being Grade 5, (able to be easily portaged) is a large drop into a trench, followed shortly after by Butlers Falls, a 6m clean drop into a turbulent plunge pool encased by cliffs with boils recirculating into an eddy on the RHS immediately below the drop. The eddy can be hard to get out of. Portage is possible – over the hill on the RHS  – although not recommended, slow and hard.
Butlers Falls
After the gorge, good grade 3 whitewater follows for 5 km until several large grade 4-5  (depending on level) rapids are encountered, after which more grade 2-3 continues until the logging track access from Mystery Rd (for Lower Butlers access) reaches the river, signaling the start of the grade 4 lower section. (At March 2020 this track is very overgrown and easily missed, but the river immediately drops away again so you’ll know you’re into the bottom section).

Lower Butlers has long, read and run Grade 3-4 rapids with some good boof drops. About 1.5kms in the main rapid – Wak’s Walkout – is reached. A large central spur of rock (good scouting or walk option) from the left pushes the river right. There is a serious keeper stopper in the chute not visible from the steep lead in above. This requires a start Middle heading to Hard Left line – a swim from this stopper down is long, and painful. (Note: this rapid has logged up at times and not visible from above, so worth a scout if it hasn’t been paddled in a while.) At the bottom of the following long steep-ish 300m cascade two diagonal stoppers on the left often claim the unwary – aim to finish R on this rapid. The next rapid has a large central boulder. Take the RHS but beware – the  drop has a decent, flushing hole. LHS is boulder choked.

From here it is almost continuous, pleasant 3 to easy 4 – plus a bad fish-farm weir (which at 25 cumecs can be scraped down on the RHS)  – down to the bridge get out.

Most parties paddling the upper section will do the whole trip including Lower Butlers rather than doing a more difficult shuttle and carrying the boats uphill to Mystery Rd and missing some more great whitewater. For a shorter day Lower Butlers is premium value – great bang for your buck, but arrange a key from SFM Environmental Solutions first to avoid a 3km walk in from the highway.


Below Wak's Walkout
Cascade below Waks Walkout, May 2006 – 20 Cumecs approx.  Photo – Andrew Maynard.

Updated 6 Oct 2020