March 13, 2012
It has been two days since we have completed the Overland Track, our first trek of our journey. We are nursing sore knees and feet as would be expected in covering about 50 miles / 80 kilometers over seven days. We are also basking in the exhilaration that we experienced during this hike.
We chose Tasmania’s Overland Track because it provided a challenging hike that we could do self-supported in one of the most pristine natural areas on earth. About one-third of Tasmania has been set aside as reserves or national parks and about 20% of the land classified as world heritage. In the world heritage listing, the Tasmanian Wilderness is described to “constitute one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world”. The Overland Track not only winds through rainforests, but also traverses through exposed alpine areas, buttongrass moorland, grassland and heathland, all within the world heritage area. The dominant trees include several types of Eucalyptus, Pencil pine and King billy pines. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old.
Due to the popularity of the walk, a booking system is in place from November until April in which only 34 independent walkers (and up to 32 guided hikers) are allowed to begin the track each day. Accommodations on the trek are in basic huts and space is not guaranteed, so we carried a tent in addition to our sleeping bag, mattress pad, cooking equipment and food. The track is known for is varying weather conditions, including the possibility of snow, even in the summer, so we packed accordingly. In all, we were each carrying nearly 40 pounds / 20 kilograms when we began the hike.
The first day ‘s walk, beginning a short shuttle bus ride away from the Cradle Mountain National Park’s visitor center, is the most difficult because the trail climbs over 1,200 feet / 350 meters in just three miles / five kilometers while traversing through moors, rainforest and exposed alpine terrain. Just a few minutes after beginning our climb, it began to rain and become foggy, limiting visibility. We hiked along the western shoulder of Cradle Mountain but could barely see it. The trail is so steep at one point that the path ends and there is a climb of about 30 feet / nine meters of rock, with a chain guide. Challenging to do with a full backpack, needless to say! The rain continued the remainder of the day as we completed our six mile / 10 kilometer hike to Waterfall Valley Hut. We were able to secure places in the hut, which was nice, considering the weather.
The trail is prone to water and mud. To alleviate the trail impact of many hikers walking through the mud, boardwalks have been installed in many places. Where there is no boardwalk one must walk through the mud and puddles and expect to have wet socks and shoes. This area is prone to leeches. We both had issues with them during the first few days of the hike. We were able to get them right off when they latched on except in one case where one was found on Sandy’s foot after it had fallen off.
The rain continued the next morning as we set out for a five mile / eight kilometer hike to Lake Windermere. The weather cleared up in the afternoon and we were able to enjoy endless vista views as we hiked through the alpine areas. We found a great campsite overlooking the lake and set up our tent there. To minimize impact, campsites are set up on wooden platforms with cables to secure your tent. It was near freezing at night but our sleeping bags and layers of clothing kept us comfortable.
Our third day of hiking alternated between moors and forest. The weather was perfect with clear blue skies. Although it was windy while hiking along the ridges, we were rewarded with clear views in every direction. We were told that the Overland Track receives only about 10 clear days a month so we were pleased to experience such great weather.
We slept in the New Pelion Hut after covering about 10 miles / 16 kilometers on day three. The hut is a popular place for hikers to stay and spend an extra day completing other side trips. The great majority of hikers we met during the week were Australians doing the Overland Track for the first time. During the entire time we saw only two Americans, a couple of New Zealanders and a few Germans.
Day four was another difficult day, with a climb of about 1,000 feet (300 meters) in a distance of only two miles / four kilometers to Pelion Gap at about 3,694 feet / 1,126 meters. From here, side trips can be taken to Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s tallest mountain at about 5,305 feet / 1,617 meters and other high points in the area. We satisfied ourselves with the marvelous views from the gap, and another picture-perfect day as we moved through the final alpine area of the trek. We continued down to Kia Ora Hut. We actually got the last two spaces in the hut upon our arrival at about 1:30pm. When all the side trip hikers arrived there were about 60 people staying in a location that had just 20 hut bed spaces. So there were many campers that night.
We continued through forest for about 3.8 miles / six kilometers on day five. We climbed a final time (about 656 feet / 200 meters in about 1.25 miles / two kilometers) to Du Cane Gap at 3,510 feet (1,070 meters). After this we descended steeply for another 1.25 miles / two kilometers to complete our six mile / 10 kilometers day at Bert Nichols Hut. This was the most difficult stage for us, not because the climb or distance was particularly difficult, but because of the steep up and down hill hiking was on top of several days of wear and tear on our legs. The trail was also full of tree trunks and roots to navigate, which made the walking slow going.
When we reached the hut area we found a nice campsite to pitch our tent and relax for the afternoon. That evening the Track Ranger provided an update on the cancer that is threatening the Tasmanian devil population. The current animals in the wild are in danger from this disease but there are efforts underway to breed a cancer-free population in captivity that can take the place of these animals in the wild if need be. The weather was changing and it rained until about midnight as we lay in our tent. We were happy that the tent didn’t leak!
Day six is the final day for many Overland Track hikers. It is a level 5.5 mile (nine kilometer) stage to the edge of Lake St. Clair, where a ferry picks up walkers to transport them to the visitor’s center and the hike’s completion. We had an extra day so chose to add 10.6 miles / 17 kilometers to our total by hiking along the lake’s edge. Having seen very few people during our previous six days of hiking, we now had the trail almost to ourselves when we arrived at the lake and began that walk, with intermittent views of the lake. After walking down about one-third of the lake, we camped at Echo Point. The weather continued to be overcast, but with no rain.
Our seventh and final day was a 6.8 mile / 11 kilometer walk along the lake. Soon we reached the interpretative trail outside of the Lake St. Clair visitor’s center. Our hike was over and we treated ourselves to a hot shower and nice lunch at the lodge while we waited for our bus to pick us up and take us to Hobart, the largest city on the island, for a few days of rest and relaxation before heading back to Sydney.
The entire walk encompassed about 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss as we ended only about 328 feet ( 100 meters) below where we began. We were continually amazed at the variety of terrain that we walked through and that, in fifty miles of hiking, we saw few signs of civilization. We also came across wild wallabies, wombats, snakes and echidnas. Overall, the Overland Track is a great example of the natural significance of the world that we hope to share with all who are following our journey.