Terry | Feb 10, 2017 | 0
The Overland Track: Mountains, Wombats and Wallabies
Hiking the Overland Track wasn’t even on my radar when we booked our flights to Australia. To be honest, it wasn’t on my radar up until a month before we were on a plane to Sydney.
But I guess that’s usually how things go around here.
Sometime last November we were sat planning our route around Australia. We knew we wanted to avoid hostels and tour buses and that we’d camp as much as we could to save money.
We toyed with the idea of the East Coast, and, of course, we wanted to visit the Outback.
And then, Terry googled ‘best thru hike in Australia’. Suddenly we were scrambling to book passes for a seven day bush walk through Cradle Mountain National Park and looking up flights to Tasmania.
The East Coast would have to wait. The Overland Track looked just too good to miss.
Well, there was the promise of some seriously iconic scenery for one. The photos of Cradle Mountain looked stunning, as did the views from Mount Ossa.
Then there was the wildlife. We weren’t sure what an echidna looked like, but we knew we wanted to find out.
Mostly we were just excited at the thought of seven days out in the wilderness. We hadn’t done a proper thru-hike in a while and we missed it. I wanted to be out in the woods. Terry wanted another challenge. All in all, it seemed like a good idea.
And was it? YES! I’d say I couldn’t even tell you what an amazing week it was, but here I am, about to try anyway.
Other than the Overland Track itself, which was awesome, we also made some gorgeous new friends. We managed to meet up with a lot of them during our last week in Tasmania was so, so nice.
But let’s start off with some day to day highlights.
Day to Day Highlights
Hiking the Overland Track is pretty amazing all by itself, but it’s the side trips up mountains, past waterfalls and to tiny, historic huts which make it really spectacular. Oh, and all the animals and the wild flowers and swimming in rivers at the end of each day.
We hiked past wallabies, wombats and snakes, found a baby possum on the steps to the toilet and climbed the highest mountain in Tasmania. Not bad for a week’s work.
Day One: 10km, 3-5 hours
The first day of a hike is always a tough one. Yeah, we were excited to be setting off. But our packs were the heaviest they were going to be and our legs definitely needed some waking up!
Fortunately, it was a day of glorious sunshine. As we headed out of Ronny Creek car park over the buttongrass, we knew there would be some pretty spectacular views of Cradle Mountain from Marion’s look out.
We just had to get there first.
The 300m ascent from Ronny Creek to Marion’s lookout is a toughy. In terms of altitude gain it’s not really that far, but once you get past Crater Lake the path is steep and rocky; on some of it you need to use a chain to help you.
It also didn’t help that, with our packs fully loaded, we were about as quick and nimble as two elderly donkeys. This part of the hike is accessible by day hikers and they nipped past us with their teeny tiny bags at alarming speed.
But let’s be positive. We were glad not to be battling against the wind and rain, especially once we got to the top.
With the clouds considerately holding back, our views of Cradle Mountain from Marion’s lookout and the path beyond were unreal.
It’s without a doubt these views which make the first day of the Overland Track, so it’s a real shame if the weather is lousy.
We continued around the shoulder of Cradle Mountain, looking all the way to Barn Bluff, and enjoyed an hour or so of relatively flat walking.
It was too late in the day for us to try and summit Cradle, so we headed straight down to our first campsite at Waterfall Valley.
I always find steep descents pretty tough with a pack on and this was a hard one – practically straight down for 200m.
But, as if to cheer us along, a lone wombat stumbled across our path just as we were coming into camp. We’d seen wombats before but only in the dark, so it was really cool to have this one almost bump into us!
Tired and sore, we found a likely looking spot near to the old hut and started to set up our tent. The first day of the Overland Track was complete!
A job which we usually had down to a fine art was much trickier with our hungry bellies and tired legs. Plus, four young ladies on a hen do decided to watch us and provide ‘encouraging’ commentary.
I resisted the urge to throw a tent peg at them, which was lucky, because they turned out to be four of the loveliest girls ever.
Also – a week long hike for a hen do? How badass is that?!
Day Two: 7.75km, 1.5-2.5 hours
For many hikers, the first half of day two is spent climbing Barn Bluff, a 3-4 hour side trip from the main path. You do have to backtrack up through the valley, but as the main hike is so short and you can leave your pack behind, it’s usually worth it.
Not so on the morning we woke up.
If the first day had been an idyll of sunshine and blue skies, the second was a decidedly grey and gloomy affair.
There would be no far reaching views for us, so we packed up our tent and took our time having breakfast and coffee in the shelter of the hut.
With the windows steamed up and the rain falling outside, it was actually incredibly cosy. We didn’t set off until late morning and could happily have stayed cuddled up and chatting to everyone else all day.
It may have been raining, but the track was still absolutely beautiful. The colours all seemed deeper and a wispy mountain mist lay over everything.
I shoved a plastic bag over my camera and hoped it would do the trick. I wasn’t going to put it away with scenery like this, especially with so many helpfully posed wallabies about!
It didn’t take us long to arrive at Lake Windermere and set up camp. Some braver souls went in for a swim, but with the sun stubbornly hid away we didn’t really fancy it.
That night, we fell asleep to the sound of Pademelon’s hopping over our tent platform. It took some getting used to!
Day Three: 16.75km, 4-6 hours
Day three was one of our longest days; the weather was so beautiful, we decided to climb Mt Oakleigh at the end of it.
And when I say we decided, I really mean Terry bullied me into it.
Already worn out by 5 hours of hiking, I moaned and groaned my way up the mountain, cursing the flies and the incline and the lack of snacks.
Sure, I’d left my pack at New Pelion hut, but I still wasn’t sure why we had to do this side trip today when we could do it tomorrow instead. (Terry’s reasoning was the weather could change by then, which it did, much to my annoyance).
And then, just as I was really getting going with my whining, something moved across the path. Or, more accurately, something moved off the path just as I was about to stumble over it.
A large, teal coloured snake slid gracefully out of the patch of sunlight I’d disturbed it from and disappeared into the undergrowth.
By the time I’d collected my senses and tried to point it out to Terry, it had gone.
We later figured out that I’d probably seen a white lipped snake, not a potentially deadly tiger snake. Still, it made me wish that we’d brought gaiters for the extra protection.
In the end, I didn’t make it to the top of Mt Oakleigh. I chilled out at the lookout while Terry headed up to the summit.
When we finally got back to camp, I was super happy to get my poor achey feet in the river and have a quick swim in the sunshine.
That night, I sat out on the helipad with my tripod and had my first bash at photographing the Milky Way. We got bitten to death, but I reckon it was worth it.
Day Four: 9km, 3 hours
Day four started with a little detour to Old Pelion hut, the oldest hut on the track. Originally built as part of a copper mine, it remained in use as a shelter for trappers, cattlemen and eventually bushwalkers!
The little wooden building, with it’s worn bunks and graffiti going back decades, was incredibly atmospheric. To help preserve it, hikers are no longer allowed to stay overnight.
Still, it was pretty awesome to sit and imagine over a century of walkers seeking shelter here.
The rest of the day was spent hiking up and over Pelion Gap, at just over 1100m, before settling in at Kia Ora.
We attempted the side trip to Mt Ossa, but only made it to the saddle before turning back. The weather was too unpredictable and low cloud was hiding the best views.
Day Five: 10km, 3-4 hours
As was becoming the norm, our day of wind and rain was followed by one of calm and sunshine.
So, naturally, we decided to turn our easy 3-4 hour day into a 10 hour slog so we could have a second go at Mt Ossa.
Leaving our packs at Kia Ora, we made our way back to Pelion Gap and headed up the mountain.
It was definitely worth it. The climb was a little hairy in parts, but once at the top, we could see for miles in every direction.
I don’t think any of my photos do the breadth of the landscape justice, but hopefully you can get some idea of what it was like.
The way back down to Kia Ora was manageable, but putting my pack on and starting our 4 hour hike well after lunch was a little soul destroying.
When we finally made it into Bert Nichols Hut, the girls were actually really surprised to see us.
We thought you’d either arrive in tears, or not at all, they said.
I tried my best to look offended, but I was so tired, I don’t think I was very convincing.
They also weren’t that far off the truth, but no need to tell them that.
Day Six: 9km, 3 hours
For our last day of hiking we were treated to 3 hours of solid rain. Not especially heavy, but a steady, determined drizzle that permeated our packs and our boots.
It was pretty and peaceful walking through the rainforest towards Narcissus hut, the last stop on our hike. It was a lovely chance to talk about everything we enjoyed about hiking the Overland Track and whether we’d do it again.
We got to the hut soaked through but in time to get bunks in the hut itself. We’d decided to get the ferry out across the lake the next day rather than walk around it, so it was nice to dry off and know that we’d stay dry.
Our final highlight was standing out on the jetty as dusk fell, watching a platypus diving through the water.
An awesome end to one of our favourite ever hikes.
If we’ve managed to convince you that hiking the Overland Track is worth the effort, here’s some information on how you can do the same.
First up – how hard is it?
Hiking for 6-7 days with all your camping gear is obviously not going to be easy.
Having said that, the Overland Track is one of the more accessible and user-friendly hikes that we’ve done.
- In summer, at least, the path is well marked and easy to follow.
- You walk on average 12km a day, which is manageable.
- There are some steep sections, but the most arduous hiking is the side trips, which are optional and done without a pack
- There are huts. Sleeping spots in these are first come first served, but everyone is welcome to cook, shelter and dry off in the communal areas. This is very different to New Zealand, where you can book and pay for spots in the huts but are left to the mercy of the elements if you are camping.
- Because you don’t need to book spaces in the huts/ campsites, you can take a day to rest if you need to or if the weather is particularly foul.
- There are clean and well maintained drop toilets at all the huts.
- There are water butts or rivers for drinking and cleaning at all of the huts.
We came across all sorts of people hiking the Overland Track, from 10 year olds to 65 year olds. The best thing to do before setting off is to try a few long, one or two day hikes carrying your pack.
That will give you a good idea of what you’re letting yourself in for and whether you’re likely to enjoy it.
Logistics for hiking the Overland Track
- If you want to hike during the most popular period of 1st October to 31st May, you’ll need to book.
- Booking opens on 1st July for the following season and costs $200 (AUD) per person.
- You’ll also need to pay for a National Park Pass ($30) and potentially also for your ferry out from Narcissus hut ($40) if you don’t want to walk the last day.
- You can only walk North to South (Cradle Mountain to Lake Sinclair) during this period.
Other than booking, your biggest headache will be organising transport.
If there is a group of you, you may be able to organise a private shuttle to the start and from the end of the hike.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try hitchhiking to or from the track.
We caught the Tassie Link bus from Launceston to the start and back again. They were the cheapest and most convenient service we could find at the time.
What to carry while hiking the Overland Track
We already had our hiking packs and all our lightweight camping gear with us, so we were pretty much set.
For anyone who hasn’t done a multi day thru hike before, your basic equipment should include:
- Hiking backpack
- Pack liner and dry bag to keep spare clothes, sleeping bag and roll matt dry
- Tent (even if you want to stay in the huts, you need to carry a tent in case they’re full)
- Roll matt
- Sleeping bag
- Stove (something lightweight like a pocket rocket is best)
- Gas for stove
- Cooking equipment e.g. pan and utensils
- Lighter/flint/waterproof matches
- Water bottle e.g. Nalgene or Camelback
- Purification device e.g. chlorine tablets or Steri-PEN
- Hiking boots and socks
- First aid kit
- Torch and batteries
- Toilet paper and trowel
- Lightweight rope (for securing tents to tent platforms)
*No one else on the track bothered purifying the water at the huts, so these are probably optional.
On top of this we carried lightweight clothes (base layer, lightweight fleece, down jacket) that we could easily layer, plus some warm clothes exclusively for sleeping in.
It will rain while you are hiking the Overland track. If it doesn’t, you are crazy lucky. You’ll need a good quality waterproof coat at a minimum but carrying waterproof trousers too is even better.
It may also be sunny! So you’ll need sunglasses and a hat – preferably a sexy adventure hat like Terry’s.
Plus, a warm hat and gloves weigh nothing and you’ll be grateful for them if it gets really chilly.
Every other hiker apart from us wore gaiters. These help keep your boots dry in the rain and offer some protection from snake bites. A pair are now firmly on my wish list for next time I have money to spend on hiking gear.
As a final point – please wear proper socks with your boots. Or at least avoid trainer socks.
We came across a girl on the Kepler Track with the most awful blisters and sores from wearing sports socks with ankle boots. She could literally barely walk.
And on that topic…
A basic first aid kit (including plasters, small dressings and antiseptic wipes) should be fine.
The only big change we made to ours was the addition of snake bite bandages. These can also double up as bandages for sprains or other injuries if needed.
I wish we’d also added a personal location beacon. They were only $40 to rent from the information centre and the only reason we didn’t get one was because we forgot.
If you do get into trouble, setting one of these off will get the helicopters on their way to you immediately. Which has got to be better than frantically searching for phone signal half way up Cradle Mountain.
If you don’t carry a personal local beacon, you should carry a whistle to attract attention in case of emergencies.
We kept our food supplies simple but with some little luxuries:
- Muesli with hot water for breakfast (take a tube of condensed milk to make this more palatable)
- Cheese and avocado or peanut butter wraps for lunch
- Dehydrated meals for dinner
- Somewhere around a kilogram of chocolate, because chocolate
The avocados surprised a lot of our fellow hikers because they’re relatively bulky and can get squashed easily.
They actually turned out to be a great idea – it was so nice to eat something fresh and green. Well worth the extra weight.
Our lovely group of Tassie girls had brought coffee bags with them for a quick and easy morning brew. So much nicer than our gross instant stuff.
These amounted to two toothbrushes, toothpaste, a stick of deodorant, sunscreen and some anti bacterial hand gel.
We did not look glamorous.
If you want some tips on how to creatively reduce pack weight, check out Terry’s post for some ideas. Just remember that youwill need to sign a required kit disclaimer when you pick up your park pass and before you set off.
Have you ever done anything like the Overland Track? Did you love it? Tell us!