Overland Track, A Journey Into Tasmania’s Wilderness

Overland Track in Tasmania Australia


One of Australia’s most iconic multi-day hikes, and one of the greatest treks in the world, the Overland Track is walked each year by 8’000 people. At least six days of wilderness trekking are physically challenging but stunning. The trail passes through a variety of rugged and remote landscapes – rocky mountain peaks and alpine meadows, forests carpeted with bright green moss, lakes and waterfalls, fragrant eucalypt woodlands, and golden button grass moorlands.


 

Overland Track, iconic hike in Tasmania

It was not until we saw the boardwalks and rugged mountain ranges of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park that we realised what we were in for – the 82 km and at least 6-day walk in the heritage-listed wilderness of Tasmania. We were a bit nervous but also, looking forward to it.

When my husband and I decided to visit our friends from Switzerland living in Hobart in Tasmania, we imagined ourselves walking through spectacular wild coasts with white sand beaches, lime green waters, and no one in sight, hiking jagged peaks, and ancient rainforests. We were hoping to see Tasmanian devils, and looking forward to trying Tasmanian famous gourmet food and excellent wine. But somehow we missed the must – the Overland Track. By the time we found out about this epic track, we discovered that the departure for the walk must be pre-booked. Luckily, there were a few places left, and this was three months in advance! The track goes through the protected areas, and to limit human impact, only 60 walkers are allowed daily.

Relieved that we managed to secure our trek right before Christmas, a popular time for hiking in Tasmania, we almost missed the warnings. According to the official Overland Track website, the hike promised to be very challenging, and not fit for everyone. This is not a walk in the park. Some people even train for a few months prior to walking. With our friends’ reassurance “You will be fine! You don’t need to be super athletes to do the hike,” we were settled for our multi-day walk in the wilderness.

Similar to our friends, who encouraged us to do the Overland Track, an Austrian-born Australian, Gustav Weindorfer, and his Tasmanian wife lobbied the Tasmanian government to create the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. In 1910, on the summit of Cradle Mountain, Gustav Weindorfer proclaimed “This must be a national park for the people for all time. It is magnificent and people must know about it and enjoy it”. Their efforts were not wasted, and in 1922, the territory between Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair was declared the protected National Park.

 

Preparation for the Overland Track

Tickets bought, dates for the Overland Track booked, we started the preparations for hiking in Tasmania. It will be our first multi-day hike, and a tough one. At first, we were not sure what falls into the category of “absolutely necessary” or “nice to have” things. Having done many hikes in Switzerland, we have all hiking gear, so our clothing strategy worked out pretty well. But when we thought we are all set up, we realised we don’t have a tent. We don’t have a stove. We don’t’ have… the list was getting longer and longer.

This is where we discovered the whole world of tents – dirty cheap and highly expensive. It’s a long walk, and we have to carry our tent, so we opted for an ultralight and compact but also expensive MSR tent. And never regretted the choice. When you have to carry at least 18kg bag for 6-8 days, every gram matters. The tent survived the wind, rain and even snow later on during our one month hiking in Tibet. It did not collapse under the wind, and our sleeping bags did not get soaked under the rain.

Now sleeping bags. We already had sleeping bags, light-weight and compact, that we use in Asia. But with the rapidly changing weather in Tasmania and occasional snowfall on the Overland Track even in summer, we opted to buy proper, warm sleeping bags adapted to minus temperatures. This was definitely the purchase we did not regret once, and this is where we made a discovery of Sea to Summit brand.

A Perth-based company funded by two Australian climbers, experts in their field, they make a range of fantastic outdoor gear, functional, compact, lightweight, and solid. Every piece of Sea to Summit gear is designed to make you want to immediately embark on a hike. And also, to buy more.

Hiking in Tasmania, with its rough and wild landscape and fast changing weather, is not hiking in Switzerland. Vividly imagining a near-death in the middle of the track due to underpreparedness, Olga bought slim inflatable sleeping mats and sleeping bag liners in case the mercury abruptly drops. Errol could not resist from buying an inflatable pillow, compact and lightweight.

Once arrived in Hobart with its great camping stores, we continued our shopping – camping fuel stove and fuel (the national park is a fuel-stove-only area), light cookware and cutlery, collapsible silicone bowls and mugs, and dry sacs. Our purchases were alarmingly increasing in geometric progression, same as our backpacks’ weight, and at this point, the main criteria became light weight and compactness.

And then came the gaiters. Bought on advice from our friends, they turned out to be extremely useful for hiking in Tasmania. Walking through rainforests, where the trail becomes all mud, they were a natural barrier against waterlogging, dirt, and scratches. “Gaiters are good as protection against leeches. And snakes,” adds a seller at the camping gear store. Now Olga’s already nervous mind was imagining deadly poisonous snakes sneaking inside our tent, blood-sucking leeches all over her body and aggressive jack jumper ants striking with their painful pincers. But she reminded herself of how stunning and unique the track is, put a stop to her imaginative mind and bought the gaiters.

Now the most stressful part – food planning. As many hikes in Tasmania, going through the fragile environment, the Overland Track has a strict “Leave No Trace” policy. This carry-in, carry-out principle means we will be cooking our food, carrying our gear the entire way and carrying out all the rubbish back using a solid rubbish bag so it won’t attract possums. As much as Olga is against all kinds of pre-packed and pre-cooked food, the idea of carrying for a week packs of rice, lentils, and vegetables seemed less appealing than pre-cooked food. She finally resigned herself to buy dehydrated meals, which use a cook-in-bag system, from two major brands available in Australia – the Backcountry Cuisine and the Outdoor Gourmet. The latter is much more expensive but more refine and tastier.

We discovered that you can have pretty luxury food while hiking in Tasmania – Coq au Vin, Mediterranean Lamb with Olives, Tandoori Chicken with a yoghurt sauce etc. – instead of miserable instant noodles. For Errol, a vegetarian since he is 14 years old, we bought all possible kinds of curries, Nasi Goreng, pasta, and cheap and delicious couscous with dried tomatoes from the nearby Coles supermarket.

Back in Switzerland, we do not need to worry about cooking during our hikes – mountain huts serve the three-course meals with wine for the additional price. But here, in Tasmania, the huts are more like shelters. When you are exhausted, when your hunger is high and patience is low, having a meal-in-a-bag is a life saver. The only effort you must make is to boil water, fill in the pack and wait for a while. But although very handy, the price behind these appealing names like Coq au Vin is almost equal to the price of a meal in a restaurant. Now we see why many Tasmanians buy a dehydrator to dehydrate their own home-cooked meals.

Our friends found the portions serving two only enough for one person after a long day of walking. Less than enjoyed by the perspective of hunger and reading the stories of people being stuck in the middle of the Overland Track due to terrible weather, we rushed to buy more. Good decision at the end, however, 1.5 portion would have been ideal. We were also tempted by a whole range of desserts but after weighting them in hands, putting them back on the shelf, then putting them back in the basket, we finally left them in the shop. Too heavy, 150gr each… The count now goes by grams.

Our menu for a week of hining in Tasmania would consist of porridge for breakfast, dried fruits, nuts, and cereal bars for snacks and lunch, and dehydrated meals for dinner. After some reflection, we decided to sacrifice the proper lunch – less food and rubbish to carry, and less energy and time to spend on cooking. Snacks will do. As for water, the enitre way along the track there are spring water creeks, where we refilled our bottles without using any water purifying tablets. The water is clean and fresh!

Life is full of compromises but there is one Olga was not ready to make – coffee. She needs her cup of good coffee in the morning, not this instant coffee-like beverage, before she can head up the hill…. She just puts the ground coffee in the mug, pours the boiled water, gives it a good stir, covers the mug and waits a few minutes for the grounds to sink. There is no need for extra gadget – coffee is ready. “You cannot leave the removed used ground coffee. Remember, “Leave No Trace” policy,” our friend’s words sounded like the last verdict. Undeterred, she was ready to carry heavy and bulky wet coffee grounds the entire way back. But she had her morning coffee!

Our backpacks were finally ready for the iconic hiking in Tasmania. The traditional view that camping is cheap definitely does not apply to Overland Track. But we don’t regret any second buying light-weight and compact outdoor gear. It made our walk more enjoyable, and it served us well in our hikes such as in Tibet. But the bags were still too heavy… Thinking about indigenous Australians living in the area and surviving harsh winters thousands of years before Gore-Tex was invented, we ditched our third sets of merino T-shirts, shorts trousers, third pair of socks, travel towels (there are no showers anyway), and all the toiletries altogether except for the sunscreen and insect repellent. We almost left aside the light comfortable sandals to wear in the camp but later were so happy we kept them.

Now, we were prepared for the moody Tasmania’s weather. Rain, snow, sleet or sun – we were ready. Our bags were weighing 15kg for Olga and 18kg for Errol, with everything we needed to survive for a week. But the camera gear… This is where the sacrifice had to be done. After many backs and forths, the tripod was left in Hobart followed by a few lenses. After trying to walk with her backpack full of camera gear, Olga had a feeling that adding 5-8 kg to her already heavy backpack would lead to curses after probably the first hour of walking. The decision to take only one camera and one lens was tough but wise. Olga painfully accepted the idea that the Overland Track will be more a physical challenge than a photographic journey. It will be the discovery of wild and majestic Tasmania’s nature.

 

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley Hut
Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut to Windermere Hut
Day 3: Windermere Hut to Frog Flats
Day 4: Frog Flats to Kia Ora Hut through New Pelion Hut
Day 5: Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge
Day 6: Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut
Day 7: Pine Valley Hut to Narcissus Hut
Day 8: Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair visitor centre

 

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley Hut

Distance: 10.7 km, walking time: 4-6 hrs

Day 1 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 1 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 1 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

The first day involves the most elevation gained on the whole Overland Track, and it is considered to be its most difficult section. Starting with a walk across button grass plains, the trail turns into a steady ascent before becoming a steep climb to Marions Lookout for panoramic views. From there, the trail is descending into Waterfall Valley and its hut.

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley Hut

 

Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut to Windermere Hut

Distance: 7.8 km, walking time: 2.5-3.5 hrs

Day 2 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 2 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 2 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

The second day is an easy walk, with no significant climbs. The track crosses alpine plateau and forests, and makes a possibility for a short side trip to the lovely Lake Will. The final walk to Lake Windermere and its hut hidden in the forest is accompanied by the views of mountainous peaks.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut to Windermere Hut

 

Day 3: Windermere Hut to Frog Flats towards New Pelion Hut

Distance from Windermere Hut to Frog Flats: 10 km, walking time: 3 hrs
Distance from Windermere Hut to New Pelion Hut: 14 km, walking time: 5-6 hrs

Day 3 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 3 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 3 can be the longest day of the track if you go all the way to New Pelion Hut. But not difficult. It starts with an easy walk through Pine Forest Moor, an open button grass plain, then goes through dense forest with deep mud and tangled tree roots slowing down the progression before coming across a clearing, Frog Flats.

Day 3: Windermere Hut to Frog Flats

 

Day 4: Frog Flats to Kia Ora Hut through New Pelion Hut

Distance from Frog Flats to Kia Ora Hut: 11.8 km, walking time: 3-4 hrs
Distance from New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut: 8 km, walking time: 2-3 hrs

Day 4 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 4 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

On Day 4, the trail goes steadily uphill through the ancient thick forest with slippery, wet loose rocks and tree roots before reaching the spacious New Pelion Hut and its panoramic veranda, a perfect place for lunch. From there, the track ascends to Pelion Gap before descending to Kia Ora Hut.

Day 4: Frog Flats to Kia Ora Hut through New Pelion Hut

 

Day 5: Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge

Distance: 9.6 km, walking time: 3.5-4.5 hrs

Moss-covered forests on the way to Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge

Day 5 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 5 walk is mostly across the forest. It starts with a pleasant easy walk to the historic Du Cane Hut before going through the moss-covered forest to reach the junction leading to nearby waterfalls. The trail continues through rainforest before ascending to Du Cane Gap and then descending through eucalyptus forest to Windy Ridge and its modern Bert Nichols Hut.

Day 5: Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge

 

Day 6: Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut

Distance: 10 km, walking time: 3.5 hrs

Day 6 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 6 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 6 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Day 6 is a leisurely walk through heath and eucalypt forest to Pine Valley Hut. Officially not part of the Overland Track, Pine Valley has a beautiful setting in lush humid forest carpeted in bright green soft moss. It’s a popular place to climb the Acropolis and the Labyrinth.

Day 6: Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut

 

Day 7: Pine Valley Hut to Narcissus Hut

Distance: 9 km, walking time: 2.5 hrs

Beautiful Lake St Clair

Day 7 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

The detour from the Pine Valley to join the Overland Track requires backtracking to the junction. From there, a leisurely walk leads to the small and rustic Narcissus Hut beside Lake St Clair. This is where many bushwalkers choose to finish their track by taking a ferry to the visitor centre at Cynthia Bay.

Day 7: Pine Valley Hut to Narcissus Hut

 

Day 8: Narcissus Hut – Echo Point – Lake St Clair visitor centre at Cynthia Bay

Distance: 17.5 km, walking time: 5-6 hrs

Lake St Clair

Day 8 of Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

On the last day, it is an easy and rather flat walk to the St Clair visitor centre, the official end of the Overland Track. The trail goes across the forest along Lake St Clair, passes through the rustic Echo Point Hut before reaching Cynthia Bay.

Day 8: Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair visitor centre


Practical Information

The information below is for independent Overland Track walkers.

How to get to / from Overland Track: The Overland Track is located in Tasmania, an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.

By bus: There are scheduled as well as chartered bus services to and from Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair visitor centres from Hobart, Launceston and Devonport. For bus companies, see the official information on Overland Track. Rather than using our friends’ car, we found it more convenient and hassle-free to organise a minibus charter to bring us from Hobart directly to Cradle Mountain visitor centre and pick us up at the end of our walk at Lake St Clair visitor centre.

By car: If you come by car, you can park it while you walk the Overland Track at both Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair visitor centres. If you left your car at the Cradle Mountain visitor centre, at the end of your walk at Lake St Clair, you will need a pre-arranged transportation to get back to your car. Many walkers leave their car at Lake St Clair and catch a bus to Cradle Mountain to start their walk.


Getting to the start of Overland Track: You have to check in and collect your Overland Track Permit at the Cradle Mountain visitor centre, and then take a shuttle bus to the starting point of the walk at Ronny Creek, 7km away.

Lake St Clair ferry: If you plan to catch a 30-min ferry across Lake St Clair at Narcissus Hut to get to the Lake St Clair visitor centre at Cynthia Bay, you must pre-book the private ferry. Phone: +61 (03) 6289 1137 (confirm your ferry booking by using the radio available at Narcissus Hut or even try to book from there). Alternatively, you can walk from Narcissus Hut to the Lake St Clair visitor centre.


Accommodation:

Huts: There are huts located at regular intervals on the Overland Track. The huts, either coal or gas heated, some more modern than others, are rather simple, with wooden bunk beds with no mattresses (about 20 beds in one room) and the area to eat. There is no electricity, no cooking facilities, and no toilets inside. There are water tanks with rainwater and composting toilets full of rice husks but no showers available. Even if you plan to sleep in the huts, you must still carry a tent as the huts can be full when you arrive (huts cannot be booked, and beds are offered on a first-come, first-served basis). We personally found sleeping in the tent more comfortable than in the huts, which can be crowed and stinky. Also, having a tent gives you the possibility to camp anytime if you are caught in terrible weather, extremely tired or injured.

Camping: To protect unique and fragile vegetation, camping, available next to the huts, is only allowed on the erected wooden platforms equipped with hooks and cables to attach your tent’s peg loops. But having a rope is useful.

Other accommodation: More luxurious private huts are exclusively open to walkers on a guided tour. Cabins and hotels are available at the start and end of the track, at Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair.


Best time to walk the Overland Track: The Overland Track is open all year round but warmer temperatures with long daylight hours is during the booking season (1 October to 31 May), when the Overland Track Fee applies (see Booking information below). April is the month to see the spectacular yellow and gold colours of deciduous beech and many colourful fungi. Some experienced walkers do the track in winter and early spring but it’s very challenging. Overland Track’s weather is highly unpredictable and changes very rapidly, and even in summer snow and sleet can occur. Weather forecasts for the Overland Track can be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Booking: During the peak season, from 1 October and 31 May, you must book the Overland Track online, pay for the Overland Track Permit and the National Parks Pass. During this period, you can only walk in one direction, starting from Cradle Mountain and finishing at Lake St Clair. Outside the booking season, the track can be walked in either direction, and the walkers only require a National Parks Pass (no need to pre-book and buy the Overland Track Permit). The Overland Track is very popular, especially between November and April, and often fully booked in December and January, and during Easter holidays. Book well ahead (bookings open each July). The booking system reserves departure dates only but not the huts or tent platforms. You must start the walk on the day you booked but the date you finish the track is not fixed.

Cost of the Overland Track: The Overland Track Permit costs AU$200 for adults and the National Parks Pass is AU$30. At first, it may seem a very high price but when you think how much it costs to maintain a long-distance walking track and all the facilities in the remote area, the price is reasonable. The fees go into building and renovating boardwalks, huts, signage and facilities, removing toilet waste and heating the huts (coal, gas and toilet waste are transported by helicopter as there is no road access), and paying staff (hut wardens and park rangers).

Duration of the Overland Track: For most people the walk takes 6 or 7 days for the total distance of 82 km, which can be reduced to 65 km by taking a ferry from Narcissus Hut to the Lake St Clair visitor centre at Cynthia Bay. If we had to do the Overland Track again, we would spend more time on the track to be able to do side tracks and would stay for an extra night in one or two locations.

IMPORTANT: The Overland Track is well-signposted but it’s a serious hike in the remote area. With a large part of the hike above 1’000 m, it has steep ascents and descents, requires walking deep in mud, on gravel, rocks, and tree roots. You need to be physically fit and prepared for all seasons, and be self-sufficient. You need to be able to walk an average of 10 km a day, carrying about 20 kg for 6-8 days and enough food for 2 extra days to allow for waiting time in case of bad weather. Weather changes rapidly on the Overland Track, and even in summer deaths have occurred, when people have been caught underprepared in snow.

How to get prepared for the Overland Track: We found very helpful and very detailed information about the track on the Overland Track official website and their Frequently Asked Questions pdf summary.

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Written by
Errol & Olga

Written by ANYWAYINAWAY

Olga and Errol are the Swiss-Russian couple behind ANYWAYINAWAY. Passionate about unique culture and traditions, they decided to take career breaks and explore the world with the intention to expand awareness and provide new perspectives to the understanding of ethnic minority people, customs, traditions and culture. They also show the beauty of our planet and try to find something interesting in the ordinary.

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