When I was a young boy I remember discovering an old external frame hiking pack deep in the back of a storage closet. Questioning my parents as to the use of this strange contraption, I learned that it was purchased by my Mum to walk the Overland Track in the early 1980’s. Multiple times over the ensuring years, I heard further tales of this walk that was filled with deep mud, dense jungles & souring mountains, it seemed like a grand adventure. Of course I decided at some point along the way, that I must one one day experience it for myself.

In the 30+ years since, the Overland Track has seen an ever increasing number of visitors. During the peak season (October – May) hikers must book & purchase a permit for the walk. Thankfully with the increased traffic have come improved facilities, including modern huts with gas heaters. The track is much improved also, but as I discovered, it is still prone to involve plenty of mud! During the peak season the track can get quite crowded, although limits apply to how many permits are available to keep overcrowding in check. Outside the booking season the track is still open to walk, but without as much support from the National Parks rangers. HIkers are also permitted to walk the track South to North in the off season, but only North to South in the booking season. Of course being winter, short days, cold weather & snow are also on the agenda.

So, many years after first hearing about the Overland Track, I came to start organising a trip there in 2014. I decided to go in Winter, since being a snow-deprived Queenslander, the prospect of a quieter track with the chance of the white stuff was actually quite appealing. My attempts to convince friends to join me were unsuccessful, a mixture of timing and the fact that cold weather wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea… Undeterred I went ahead with my plans & booked a trip for early June. The standard itinerary allows 7 days to complete the 65km trek, but experienced walkers will be able to do it in less. I was in no hurry so allowed myself the full 7 days to get to the other end, walking north to south.

Day 1: Waldheim to Waterfall Valley Hut

After the obligatory two tedious days of flights & bus transfers I found myself at the Cradle Mountain visitor centre where I registered my intentions with the ranger on duty & hired a PLB for the duration of the hike. With that sorted I jumped on the final shuttle bus that dropped myself & four other hikers at the trail-head just after midday. We all signed the logbook, completed any last minute gear checks at set off at our own pace. The weather was a warm 18 degrees, with light cloud & I begun to wonder if my expectations for a real ‘winter experience’ were a bit overzealous. The track undulated gently for a a couple of KM before climbing rather steeply to Marion’s Lookout. From here, the panoramic views are spectacular, a perfect spot for a late lunch. Moving on I followed the trail as it skirted around the base of Cradle Mountain. It was already getting late in the day, so any thoughts of heading up the side-track to the mountain’s summit were short lived. The late afternoon light was spectacular & I stopped often to take photos. The daylight was disappearing fast resigned myself to walking the last couple hours through the increasing darkness. The sunset hitting the craggy flanks of Cradle Mountain was simply incredible, definitely worth a walk in the dark. It was turning into a cool clear night as I eventually wandered into an already warmed Waterfall Valley hut, which I shared with three others for the night.

Day01

L: Heading off from the beginning of the track. R: Overlooking Cradle Mtn. from Marion’s Lookout.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut to New Pelion Hut (via Windermere Hut)

I woke with the sun & enjoyed breakfast with one of the locals in front of the hut, a Bennet’s Wallaby (pictured below). The countryside opens up again not long after leaving Waterfall Valley, and the trail heads across rolling low hills & button grass plains for several hours. The distance to the next hut (Windermere) is only 7.8km, so it was before midday that I arrived in time for an early lunch. I had plenty of energy & nothing else to do, so it seemed like a good idea to push on to new Pelion Hut. The terrain wasn’t too steep & varied between open grassland, low hills & a few sections of steeper forest. The weather was much cooler than the previous day & once moving it was perfect temperature for walking in comfort. The sun set with about 5km left to walk, so once again I resigned to walking by the light of my headlamp. Apart from an encounter with a fairly stubbon Wombat blocking my path, the rest of the evening was fairly uneventful. It was a peaceful & relaxing day & I’d not encountered another soul since setting off that morning. Bringing an end to my solitude I found New Pelion Hut bustling with activity upon my arrival, hosting about 25 occupants for the evening. I settled in for a meal & some good conversation before settling in to drift into slumber to the sounds of others snoring.

Day02

L: A friendly Bennett’s Wallaby. R: A stubborn Wombat blocking the trail.

Day 3: Rest day & Side trip to Mt. Oakleigh

Since I was ahead of schedule already I decided to take a rest day & have the morning off. I read my book, napped on the huts verandah & explored the nearby area a bit. After lunch the lure of Mt. Oakleigh, which I’d been eyeing off all morning became too much & I headed off see what the view was like from the top. The trail leading to Oakleigh went across what could only be described as a swamp. Somehow I managed to stay mostly dry whilst negotiating my way across by leaping between clumps of button grass. On the far side of the swamp a faint at times trail headed up the mountain to reach the upper-plateau. From the right angle, Mt. Oakleigh looks a bit like a fortress surrounded by towering columns of rock. I had a great time picking my way along the ‘battlements’, catching glimpses of the landscape through swirling clouds. At some point the wind picked up, the clouds opens up & it began to grow dark. So for the third night in a row I found myself heading back to the hut in the dark. My efforts at re-tracing my way through the swamp weren’t without mishap & I found myself waist deep in the sludge several times. So much for keeping my feet dry! Despite less than ideal weather, It was a great side trip & I highly recommend checking out Mt. Oakleigh if you have the time.

Day03

L: Morning coffee on the verandah of New Pelion Hut. R: Self portrait on the top of Mt. Oakleigh.

Day 4: New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut

I knew this would be a long day so I made an early start. On leaving the hut, my watch put the outside temperature at around 1 degree, with low cloud & light rain falling. My hopes for snow were looking good! As I followed the trail upwards to Pelion Gap the temperature slowly dropped & the rain persisted. I was mostly in cloud when arriving at the turn off to the Mt. Ossa Trail, where I stashed my main pack. Heading up the trail I caught up to John who I’d met the night before. By that time I’d also caught my prize, snow! So given the lack of visibility we decide to keen goin but stick together. The snow increased as the temperature dropped. Surrounded by the swirling clouds we followed the trail upwards until there was nowhere higher to go. It was a very enjoyable climb & not having a view at the top didn’t detract from the experience at all. John & I headed back down the way we came, this time getting a better overview of the landscape as the clouds began to lift. We parted ways at the trail junction & I headed off towards Kia Ora Hut. I followed the trail downhill enjoying stunning views of the neighboring peaks & racing the fading light to reach the hut just on nightfall. Thankfully a couple of other hikers, Andrew & Julie had beaten me there so the hut’s heater was fired up. It was just the the three of us using the hut for the night, so I spread out my cold soggy clothing in an effort to have something dry to wear the next day.

Day04

L: Following John up a frozen Mt. Ossa. R: Looking South towards Cathedral Mountain.

Day 5: Kia Ora Hut to Burt Nicholls Hut

A mostly empty hut & a heater that had switched off many hours prior, made it difficult to leave the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag in the morning. Eventually I got moving & headed out to find some light rain had again decided to keep me company for the day. The trail headed gently downhill & mostly through forest, which reminded me of something out of Lord Of the Rings with it’s abundance of green moss & lichen. After about an About an hour I came across a clearing in the forest & Du Cane Hut, which is now only for emergency use. From there the track plunges back into the forest. Keep an eye out for side tracks marking the turn-offs to Ferguson, D’Alton & Hartnett Falls. These powerful cascades are worth the short detour, as are the narrow winding trails to reach them. Each side trip will only take an hour or less, I stopped for Lunch at Harnett Falls & although a refreshing swim was tempting, I decided to forego a dip into the icy mountain waters. After heading back up to the main trail the trail started a gradual climb up & over to Du Cane Gap. You’ll know the Hut is close when the forest begins to open up & you’re heading downhill into the valley. As a pleasant change I arrived well before sunset & didn’t have ot break out the head lamp. Burt Nicholls Hut is by far the newest & largest hut on the Overland Track, but sadly modern convenience has done away with the rustic charm of the older huts. Regardless it was a warm & dry place to spend the night.

Day05

L: Self portrait, enjoying my sleeping bag. R: One of the countless small waterfalls alongside the track.

Day 6: Burt Nicholls Hut to Narcissus Hut

Knowing this was my last day of walking, I was in no hurry to get started. The walk to Lake Sinclair only take 3-4 hrs, so again I took my time & had a leisurely start to the day. The trail heads gently downhill the whole way & through eucalypt forest. About halfway to the lake you’ll come to the junction leading to Pine Valley. I’d tossed around the idea of spending another night up that way, but decided to leave that for another time. Crossing a wire suspension bridge across the Narcissus river signifies you’re almost at your destination. Narcissus hut lies on the banks of the river of the same name, not far from northern reaches of Lake St. Clair. I’d decided to catch the ferry across the lake the next day & conformed my booking using the radio inside the hut. For those who’d rather walk, a 17.5km trails leads around the lake as an alternative. My walking finished, my evening was spent chatting to other hikers & swapping stories by the warmth of the Coal powered heater until it was time to turn in.

Day06

L: Crossing the Narcissus River. R: Narcissus Hut.

Day 7: Ferry Across Lake St. Clair & beyond.

Not wanting to miss my last morning in this wilderness, I woke early & watched the day begin from the lakeside jetty. After finishing off the last of my trusty breakfast oats, myself & four others gathered on the jetty to await the incoming ferry. We were lucky enough to spot a platypus swimming in the lake whilst we waited, a rare treat. Soon we were zooming across the water with the fresh wind in our faces & the mountains of the overland track shrinking into the distance. The previous evening I discovered that two brothers from Quebec, Frank & Gabrielle,were driving their van back to Hobart & had a spare seat. I gratefully accepted the ride, a far better prospect than waiting until later that day for the bus! The drive back to hobart was spectacualr, the forested monutains giving way to rolling green farmland, then finally the picturesque harbour-side city of Hobart. We all checked into the Picked Frog backpackers & made a bee-line straight for one of the best hot showers of my life. Next of the agenda was a hearty meal & a few beers at a local pub, a fitting end to a wonderful week!

In summary, the Overland Track was all I’d hoped for & more. The landscape is simply amazing & incredibly varied. I can now see what makes this one of Australia’s most popular multi-day hikes. For me it was a great introduction to Tasmania & only left me wanting more. If you haven’t already got the Overland Track on your ‘to do list’ you definitely should!

For more info on the Overland Track, including Booking information, visit the Parks Tasmania Website.

Overland-2

Frank enjoying our final morning in the Park, overlooking the Narcissus River.

 

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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