Hiking the Overland Track, Tasmania
It is billed as one of the Great Walks of Australia and often listed among the best walks in the world; a quick search of the internet will provide multiple luxury and guided options. But in reality, this is a totally achievable family multi-day walk. Last Christmas, my son and I set out completely independently to this beautiful part of the world. Here is what we experienced.
First of all, you need to book if you want to walk this in the summer season (which you do, unless you are very experienced with snow). Permits for 1 October - 31 May cost A$200pp and go on sale 1 July on the Tasmania Parks website. My chosen date (a Saturday start in December) was sold out by 10.30am on 1 July. So set a calendar reminder so you don’t miss out! For this fee you have the right to start on your set day, and the fee includes staying overnight in the huts en route. You also need a Tasmanian Parks Pass, which is A$30 and can be used at other parks in the state if you are extending your stay.
The gateway to the Overland Track is the city of Launceston, in Tasmania. We flew in the night before our booked start date, and took the early morning transfer to access the trail head with Overland Track Transport . They also hire gear and sell stove fuel, the latter is very handy if you have flown in. When you arrive at the park you must stop in at the Visitors Centre to pick up your paper permit. There, they also get you to sign that you are carrying all the required safety gear, and provide a weather update. It is then finally time to snap the start photo and head off down the track!
Day 1 of the Overland Track is by far the hardest. It is only 12kms, but the combination of a full pack, steep ascent (where you need to pull yourself up a chain on one short section) and steep descent into the alternate hut at Scott Kilvert make it challenging. It is definitely the day you may question your ability. In my case whether it really was a good idea to take on a multiday hike with an injured foot.
But just look at these views! Once you are up on the alpine plain there is no doubting that it is worthwhile - and we were blessed with the most beautiful clear weather. Absolutely stunning!!!!
The huts are weatherproof and clean, and have bunk spaces (no mattress), toilets, food preparation areas and tank water. While there is not enough room for the 60 people per day starting the track, and you must carry a tent, we found that in nice weather most people opted to stay in their tents, leaving the bunks inside quite empty.
Day 2 of the Overland Track for us started with a steep ascent out of the alternative Scott Kilvert Hut and then a meander on mostly boardwalk through to hut 2 at Windermere. The boardwalk allowed me to ignore foot placement and really take in the spectacular views. Some people find the boardwalk detracts from the 'natural feel' of the park, but with such a delicate ecosystem and so many feet passing over it, the boardwalk really is the only way to protect nature from humans.
With only 60 permits per day to start the track and a compulsory north-south direction you see almost no one else on the trail. It is a time to just BE. To move and to breathe. My favourite place to be.
Day 3 of the Overland Track is the “long day” at 17kms, but it was far easier than day 1 or 2. We were again blessed with beautiful sunny weather; which meant more snakes sunning themselves on the path - but a bit of patience and they were happy to move on and let us pass. Six hours of leisurely walking, with heaps of photo stops, and we arrived at Pelion hut, with this magnificent view of Mt Oakleigh. Time to enjoy a glass of wine on the verandah!
If you arrive early there are several options for shorter walks, or for a swim. I took a Sea to Summit fold out bucket (70g) and used this half way point for a bucket wash and a quick wash of my t-shirt. (Remember to use only biodegradable soap, and very sparingly, so as not to harm the delicate ecosystem)..
Day 4 of the Overland Track exemplifies why this is a great hike for everyone. For those who are after an easier day, the spine of the track is 9kms, with beautiful views from the Gap. For the very fit, Mt Ossa awaits - my gazelle like son went up, ate lunch and came back down in 3hrs. And for those in the middle like me - 1 hr each way took me up Mt Doris, across the saddle and halfway up Mt Ossa to a rock straight out of the “Lion King” and magnificent views.
December is perfect for wildflowers and wildlife. I watched a baby echidna overbalance while trying to remove ants from a nest, and was regularly distracted but the variety of flowers. Just a beautiful day in a beautiful place.
So there are (at least) 2 ways to do Day 5 and 6 of the Overland Track: the traditional way and the slightly insane. Guess which we did?
The traditional route involves a 10km hike on Day 5, with side trips to various waterfalls. Then a 10km hike on Day 6, before boarding the ferry at Narcissus for the 1/2hr ride to the Lake St Clair Visitors Centre (the end of the Overland Track).
However, we decided (in the middle of Day 4) that instead of taking the ferry, we would walk an additional 17kms around the Lake to the Visitors Centre. But we still needed to arrive by 2pm on Day 6. So, on Day 5, we hiked 26kms from Kia Ora Hut, via the waterfalls to Burt Nicholls Hut, onto Narcissus and then the first 7kms around the Lake to Echo Point Hut. Leaving 10kms for Day 6. And making our Day 5 a triple hut day.
Would I recommend this? While completely achievable, I have to admit the last 4kms seemed never-ending. They were hard-going with tree roots, fallen trees and rocks, as the track around the Lake is no where near as well maintained, past the ferry pickup point. Personally I think if you have 6 days - catch the ferry! 7 days then you can walk around the Lake and enjoy the experience.
In total with side trips we hiked 102kms over 6 days. And absolutely loved it. Such a great multiday hike!
One warning about the Lake route. If you do walk through and overnight 10kms from the finish, you stop in a place called Echo Point. To be fair Dan from @overlandtracktransport did warn us that there were rats at Echo Point Hut. But I was tired, having walked 26kms, and it was late (well- hiker late - 7pm). The hut was empty - everyone else had set up tents in the beautiful grove along the lake. There are signs at the hut directing you to store food and packs inside large metal bins “to avoid attracting rats and other wildlife.” Everyone had used them, so no critters would be attracted right?
It was right on dusk, and as I lay on my bottom bunk, a rat ran in through the open door. I chased it out, cursed myself for leaving the door open and closed it up, even blocking the gap at the bottom. Back into bed.
Noise above me and I look up to see a rat scurrying across the beams.
Movement to my left and a rat scurrying across the floor, less than a metre away. That’s it - I’m out!
We got that tent up in the dark in less than 5 minutes!
Moral to this story: heed advice. And if you are walking the Overland Track DO NOT sleep inside Echo Point Hut aka rat city. All the other huts on the track are great!
There are no showers on the Overland Track, but plenty of alpine lakes to swim in - if freezing water is your thing!
Kudos to those able to swim in freezing water AND enjoying it - on this trip I learned that is not me! Just standing in it was as much as I could bear.
Overland Track Quick Facts:
Distance: 65km - 110kms+ (with side trips)
Time: 6 days
Cost: A$400pp ex Launceston, Australia (permits and transport)