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Published: January 15th 2014
The start of the Track is the one to the right
Tasmania is stunning. Fact, no ifs, buts or maybes it just is. Having lived in the fair green isle for a couple of years during my nomadic childhood it has stayed in my memory as my favourite temporary home and The Overland Track through the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area has been firmly on my bucket list for years.
Routinely up there as one of the top long distance walks in the world it is also one of the most accessible. 65kms over 6 days from Ronny Creek in the north to Lake St Claire in the south, it can easily be extended by a day or more with side trips, stay overs and a walk around Lake St Claire to Cynthia Bay. During those 6 days you get to walk through alpine plains, rainforests, mountain passes, visit waterfalls, lakes and rivers and soak in the stunning beauty that is the heart of Tasmania. You also will experience sun, rain, hail, sleet, snow if you are lucky/unlucky (yes in Summer), mud, ankle twisting roots, water, water and water - falling, flowing, clinging, standing, mixing with dirt - probably not a place if you have a
Now, I like a good hike, but am just as likely to do a relaxed 10 mile and then head to the pub so I have to confess that there was a bit of trepidation at tackling it. I always knew I could do it, but I did have some concerns about how much 'enjoyment' I'd get out of it having been a bit tied up with work in the lead up to my trip so that training was but a briefly considered concept. Add to that was the last minute purchase of my pack 4 days before fleeing the UK (along with some other nice shiny new 'toys'😉 so forget getting it adjusted correctly or really ensuring I could fit it all in. However despite the multitude of personally engineered impediments to an organised, relaxed overland hike can I just say ... it rocked big time! Yes it took 2 days to get my pack correctly adjusted (what a delight it was when it actually fitted), yes I got rain, sleet, hail and 2nd degree sunburn (my poor nose), yes there were moments when my 'just one foot in front of another' mantra was
The Start ...
My lovely friend Helen
a struggle, but I can say without hesitation this has been one of my favourite holidays of all time.
My key compadre on this trip was Helen who I used to work with when I lived in Brisbane. Bless her, when I emailed a few friends at the beginning of 2013 to suggest they come along she jumped at the chance despite never actually having done a hike, let alone a multi day trek (BTW she killed it on the track!). At a BBQ in June I added travelling companions in the shape of Geoff and Eti who run a hiking group in the UK and who were planning to be in Tassie at the same time so we agreed to do it together, then came a facebook update and Jacquie and Anthony, also from the UK, came on board. Geoff and Eti added Andrew (Aussie ex-UK hiker) and his girlfriend Jemima so that we started the trek as a party of 8.
Day 0 was private transfer from Launceston airport by the hugging taxi driver (who also had a crack at copping a feel) to Ronny Creek where we had booked a hut
for the night before to enable us to get an early start on day 1 a 10km hike up past Crater Lake, Marions lookout and then past Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff and down into Waterfall Valley for our first hut. Our Ronny Creek hut was palatial - electricity, running water, heaters definitely time to try out the first rehydrated meal of the trip after all what you don't eat or wear on your body you carry on your back. That meal probably saved me 70g or so of weight woo hoo.
The night was a bit tumultuous weather wise, but we had great hopes for day 1, rainy patches were expected, maybe a little blustery. Well there were rainy patches ... just one ... it started with us and stayed with us all 10 or so kms. The hike above the buttongrass plains was lovely then up past Cradle Falls, then Lake (covered in cloud/mist/rain) before a steep climb up to Marions Lookout. Now I love a good scramble and this wasn't hard, in fact by way of chain it was even assisted ... we were also assisted by strong, buffeting winds and trying to get used
to our slightly sail like packs. It made you very careful about where you put your feet as those winds had a mind of their own and I wasn't keen on starting again from the bottom. By the time we reached Kitchen Hut we were soaked to the skin (gortex pffft) and ready to brew up a cupasoup just to warm up. The second half was just as wet, but flat(ish) and then down to Waterfall Valley and the shelter of our first hut. I'll say it up front - they do an amazing job on this Track. Where it is necessary to protect the ground you get duckboard/logs and the like - the rest is natural surface with all that comes with it roots, puddles, mud. The huts are amazing - sleeping platforms, a gas fire, eating areas and the proverbial drop dunny. They also come complete with pademelons, wombats, currawongs, welcome swallows and other delightful wildlife - I didn't see any spiders/snakes or crawly insects at all on this trip - I think the rain and at night the rhythmic snoring o0f 20 plus and the fragrant stench of drying hiking boots and outdoor gear probably scared everything
See it does exist
Day 2 started with promise -a bit cloudy and overcast, but at least not raining. Fingers crossed that the 7.8km day would continue dry and perhaps even open up and allow some blue sky and sun through if for nothing else but to dry out some more kit. Well what a day - it went from cloudy with sunny patches to a magnificent clear, bright sunny day. Helen and I agreed to a side trip to Lake Will under the skirt of Barn Bluff and it was nice to do it with the sun peaking through. As we took our time and didn't rush for Lake Windermere the end point of day 2 we had the pleasure of the clouds clearing and enjoying expansive views back to Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain and once we topped the knoll above Lake Windermere, the mountain ranges further south, Mt Pelion West, Mt Ossa and the first craggy glimpses of Mt Oakleigh. It was so sunny by the time we got to Windermere hut that I managed 2nd degree sunburn on my nose and we decided it was the perfect weather to pull everything out, dry it off, set up
the tent and get ourselves sorted to see the year out in style. Of course this was New Years Eve and the perfect way to celebrate, good friends, stunning scenery, whiskey, port and chocolate mousse (it's hiking, not depravation). I am proud to say for New Years we made it to 10.10pm before retiring ... it was midnight somewhere in the world!.
Day 3 was a return to form for the changeable Tasmanian Wilderness. With 16.8kms to walk to Pelion through the rainforest, the weather obviously decided it wasn't worthwhile if there wasn't at least a little rain to go with that forest. To be fair it wasn't constant and it did come and go, but that was a loooong, wet, wonderful day. Lots of short ups and downs before winding down through frog flats to the forth river a lovely spot to stop and boil the billy for a nice warming tuna cup of soup - new invention - cup of soup with a sachet of tuna - great with tomato - not so good with Pumpkin, but hey I discovered protein, warmth and an energy boost can trump flavour. From our stop we moved into
Bit rainy this bit
the beloved mud land that is much of the track. They are constantly upgrading the surface of the track to protect those parts which are worst affected by the 8,000 or so who choose to walk this way each year, having been warned about the couple of kms of mud on the other side of frog flats we were delighted to discover that the trusty workers who lay the boards had been busy little beavers and had installed duckboard across the worst of it. I'm not going to pretend that there weren't muddy patches, but lets face it sometimes you are so wet, what difference does another couple of kms of water in your boots make? They'll dry... sorta. Obviously not having done enough distance, rain, mud or climbing up an down I decided to tack on the side trip to the Old Pelion hut - one of the oldest on the track. I knew I wouldn't want to do it the next day and it was only (1)5 minutes away. I was truly knackered by the time I hit Pelion Hut - that was a quiet and early night for me - set up, hot drink, eat, clean, sleep.
Cradle Lake from Above
You can't quite see the sideways rain and strong blustery winds in this shot
Day 4 - wet(ish) start to the day, low clouds, the possibility of a side trip up Mt Ossa the tallest in Tassie (sorry pass) and couple of kms of quagmires. Now on the track the idea is to go through whenever possible to prevent the erosion and widening of the track. Sorry parks and wildlife, but on the 8.6km run down to Kia Ora there were patches where you knew if you went in you would never be seen again. I had hiking poles (best things in the world) which are invaluable for not just saving your knees when you go up and down, but also for prodding the water in front of you to find a safe spot to stand. Sorry Tassie Parks, but when half a pole is underwater and still haven't found bottom you ignore the requirement to go through and you go around. I was quite proud of the fact I got to the end of the day and had only fallen 3 times with 0 injuries. Bushes and mud make for soft and squishy landing points. I was so pleased to finally see Kia Ora Hut - it wasn't the longest
day, but mud under foot certainly takes it out of you. You have to remind yourself occasionally to look up as you get beautiful views across the valley and of Cathedral Mountain.
Day 5 - A relaxed 9.6kms with 2.5km side trips to the beautiful waterfalls of the Mersey River and Tassie finally decided to turn on the sun. The first day where hiking in a t-shirt was a reality, rather than 'marketing hype' used to sell the beauty of this Track. We'd all seen the photos, but figured minimal visibility was a more accurate representation. Such a lovely day. The morning literally flew by as layers came off and smiles got bigger. A skip and a jump to Du Cane Hut, the oldest on the track, to be greeted by 2 welcome swallows who were hanging around on the sign to Windy Ridge just waiting for us to leave then off to the first of our side trips. The best thing about the side trips are the ability to drop your pack and walk unencumbered. Today's treats were waterfalls and we did them all - Fergusson (get up close and personal), D'Alton (enjoy a sunny ledge)
and Hartnett (walk to the top or bottom, but whatever you do have a dip). Only downside was that once the waterfall chasing was over it was a 200m climb over 3 ks to the top of the 'last' ridge of the Track, Du Cane Gap and that seemed to take forever! super excited to hit the Gap and looking forward to the 'it's all down from here' well, once you go up a bit more. It felt like the slowest afternoon of the trip, but hey as my last full day on the track, it was about enjoying.
Day 6 - last day and nothing relaxed about it. Helen and I had tried to book the 1pm ferry from Narcissus, but had to settle for the 11.30am so had 10kms to do by 11am. That made for a very early start, a pressured pace as we had no choice but to get that ferry and as the forecast was for snow on the heights we had our fair share of heavy rain and hail patches to remind us it's not all sunshine and waterfalls in Tassie. In the end we made it in plenty of time
and had a bit of a long cold, wet wait. I loved the Track, but the sight of the ferry did make my heart and my cold little hands and feet dance a little. The trip across the lake is beautiful and we had a chance to look back at where we had come from ... damn it was good! Also good was the steak sandwich and glass of wine at the Derwent Bridge Hotel before our lift to Hobart for food, showers and a soft and comfy bed ... bliss.
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