This is the moment when I get off the bike for a few days to hike the Overland Track! Biking Oceania goes Hiking 😉
I decided to make a single (very long) post over this hike. First, I will give you some general and historical information about the Overland Track. Then, I will give you my general impressions about it. Finally, I will make a short day-by-day summary, putting the priority on photos!
General information and historical background
The Overland Track is a 80 km-long hike that crosses the Tasmanian Highlands from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. It is Tasmania’s most popular multi-day hike and takes in average 6 days to be completed. This hike is a bit victim of its popularity and to prevent too much degradation of the fragile ecosystem, the authorities have taken two main actions:
- they have introduced a system of daily hikers quotas in the peak season (with a 200$ fee to be allowed to hike the track)
- they have installed boardwalk on more than the half of the hike to prevent further erosion in moorland areas.
Besides the main track, hikers are offered many “side trips” to climb on nearby summits, view waterfalls or lakes.
The firtst Europeans to explore the Cradle Mountain & Lake St Clair area in the 1820’s were hunters and (mining) prospectors. The area proved to be not interesting from a mining point of view, which might have saved it from a fate similar to the Queenstown area. In 1931, fur trapper Bert Nichols had a brilliant idea that changed the history of the area: he sent an invitation to the then Director of the Tasmanian Tourism Bureau E.T. Emmet to hike from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. Emmet accepted and was fascinated by the journey and saw its great potential as a touristic attraction. The Overland Track was born! Bert was appointed ranger and in 1935 the track was consolidated and used by independent walking parties.
My general impression / experience on the Overland Track
This hike deserves its popularity: the landscapes are amazing and very diverse, it is a pure wilderness experience.
Not taking the side-trips into account, it was much easier than I thought it would be! In fact, it is probably even one of the easiest multi-day hikes I have done so far. This is due to a combination of factors:
- Having done 4 to 7 hours physical activity every day for more than one month, I was really fit!
- I was quite lucky with the weather: only 2 half-day with rain in 5,5 days.
- The widespread installation of boardwalks, primarily intended to protect the wilderness, has a side consequence that it makes the hike really easy. In fact, on these sections it is not really bushwalking anymore!
- I had paid a lot of attention to reduce the weight of my backpack. This, plus my lightweight trail running shoes, proved to be a winning combination: I was flying on the trail and nicknamed “the Belgian Express” 😃
On the other hand, some of the side trips require a much higher level of fitness and walking experience. This is great, because it makes the walk enjoyable for hikers of all levels since these side-trips are per definition not mandatory. According to me, these side-trips give the most flavour to the hike, because of the difficulty they add and the amazing view they offer. Luckily, I was much faster than the average hiker and hence could do nearly all the side-tips during my 5,5 days on the track. Having been hiking at almost every daytime between 8 AM to 7:30 PM and often at different times than “the crowd”, I saw lots of wildlife and lots of different light conditions in this beautiful wilderness.
The only part that I have probably missed a little bit is the human experience of hiking 5-6 days with the same people, because I made “double stages” several times. However, I met much more people than the others and when arriving at the last hut, I met again people I had seen on my 4 different previous stops!
I enjoyed a lot staying away from the bike for a few days. Obviously it allowed me to see places where I would never have been able / allowed to cycle to, and it gave some rest to my ass 😜. Finally, for 6 days I did not have to pitch a tent (because I slept in the provided huts) nor to cook “complicated meals” (because I ate freeze-dryed meals). Consequently, this week represented an increase of comfort level for me, which is rather funny because it was the contrary for all the other hikers!
Day 1: Ronny Creek car Park – Waterfall Valley Hut (+ ascents of Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff)
This first day is the one involving the most elevation gain on the main track. A good quality track climbs steadily until Crater Lake, then the climb becomes much steeper to reach Marion’s lookout.
This place offers beautiful views on Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain. From there a gentle climb continues to reach the alpine plateau at 1250m.
Hikers may leave their backpacks at Kitchen Hut to climb at the top of Cradle Mountain, about 200m higher. The climb is very steep and the help of the hands is mandatory. I have seen many tourists doing the summit as a day-hike struggling in this climb because they were absolutely not used and equipped for it. On my way to the top I saw Andrew and Alice going down, so nice to see them again. The views from the top are just amazing, and I was so lucky with the weather, the visibility was perfect!
After a careful downhill and a lunch, I continued the hike on the plateau. Since I had still plenty of time, I decided to do the second side-trip of the day, the climb to another dolerite tower called Barn Bluff.
It turned out that I was the only one to go there this day, and I had the place all for myself. A great moment.
The last bit to the first hut was an easy downhill. At the hut, I met a very diverse panel of fellow hikers: a group of ladies from Northwest Tasmania aged around 35 – 45 who had left husbands and kids for a week to hike the track together, a father and his 8 years old son (!), a 78 years old man who had done the hike 20 years ago and wanted to do it again with his son, etc.
Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut – New Pelion Hut (+ Lake Will & Old Pelion Hut)
Since the next hut (Windermere hut) was only 10 kilometres away and the profile to the second next hut (New Pelion Hut) was mainly flat and descending, I decided to skip the next hut and hike te 28 km to New Pelion Hut.
During the first half of the day the track took me on boardwalk through the alpine plateau. The views on the surrounding valleys and summits were stunning. Vegetation was mainly buttongrass moorland with some pandanis and snow eucalyptus and their amazing bark colors. At some places, there are denser forests of myrtle tree, and occasionally fagus bush. This tree (Nothofagus gunii) is Australia’s only cold climate winter-deciduous tree and is a close cousin of the beech tree we have in Europe, but much smaller (2-5 metres) and with tiny leaves.
In the morning, I also did the short side-trip to Lake Will and its surprising white beach looking to Barn Bluff.
The descent to lake Windermere offered me fantastic views on what expected me for the following afternoon and days: Mt Pelion West, Mt Ossa, Pelion Gap, Mt Pelion West, Mt Oakleigh,…
I reached Windermere Hut at noon and continued my way on an easy track on the plateau for two more hours, approaching from Mt Pelion West.
The track then went around the east side of this mountain in a thick forest, and here it was surprisingly difficult because of the particularly uneven and wet terrain (lots of roots and loose rocks). With around 20 km already hiked, this part costed me a lot energy to hike. I tried to keep my feet dry for as long as possible, but finally realised that it was better to have the feet wet but maintain a more constant stride and pace. I finally arrived at the hut around 6:00 PM with some fatigue in my thighs.
I used the last energy I had to hike 20 more minutes to the little river near Old Pelion Hut, and I bathed myself in the cold water, which was really enjoyable for my soared legs. Then, I could enjoy a nice sunset with beautiful views on Mt Oakleigh.
Day 3: New Pelion Hut – Bert Nichols Hut (+ climb to Mt Ossa)
This morning the weather was rainy and misty.
After the climb to Pelion Gap, I decided to attempt the climb to the summit of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest mountain despite the bad weather. I knew that the chance of having a clear view at the top were very thin, but at least I had to try. On my way up the only living being I saw was a soaked wallaby.
Despite the wet rock, the climb was much easier than I thought (and much easier than Cradle Mountain). Once at the top I waited for about 20 minutes but this time no miracle happened and I saw only mist and rocks. One cannot always be lucky…
On my way down the weather cleared a little bit, but not enough to climb back up.
I was thinking about climbing again to the top the next morning from the next hut, but on my way to this hut I met a young guide from the private tours and later on a Park Ranger, and both of them convinced me to go to Pine Valley Hut (the nicest hut in the area according to them) in order to enjoy the views from the Labyrinth and the Acropolis. In order to free up sufficient time to do this long side-trip, I had to skip the next hut and hike another 10 km, making it a third big hiking day in a row! I took a huge late lunch at the hut that I would skip, preparing myself for a long day. In the meantime the weather was sunny again and I had a lovely afternoon alone on the track, passing along the old Du Cane Hut and admiring Hartnett Falls.
Day 4: Bert Nichols Hut – Pine Valley Hut (+ the Labyrinth)
It took me 3 hours to hike from Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut. The hut is located in a lovely humid forest, along a beautiful river where platypus can sometimes be spot. This forest is probably the most beautiful I have seen on the Overland Track!
After lunch, I decided to go for the Labyrinth, a plateau with many alpine lakes and tarns circled by impressive mountain ranges. To go there, I had to climb a steep path in the forest. With the elevation gain, the humid forest is progressively replaced by smaller pencil pines, King Billy pines, fagus trees and snow eucalyptus.
On my way to the Labyrinth I met Mark, Jane and Kelly and we continued the hike together. Even with the cloudy weather, this place was fantastic. Seing these gorgeous lakes surrounded by these dolerite peaks was simply amazing, and in a way, the mist added something to the dramatic atmosphere.
Back at the hut, I met a group of lovely ladies reaching their seventies, but still with an impressive level of fitness! They know each other since college and have been keeping doing things together since then! This is just fantastic!
Day 5: Pine Valley Hut – Echo Point Hut (+ climb to Acropolis)
This morning I was hoping for good weather because I wanted to climb to the top of the Acropolis, a big flat mountain dominating the Labyrinth and offering fantastic views on all the area.
This time I was lucky, and I had probably my best views of the whole hike on the top of this mountain! The Labyrinth revealed all its beauty from above, I had fantastic sights on the glacial valley leading to Lake St Clair and the circus of the Du Cane Range.
It was really a place difficult to leave, but I had to hike all my way back to the main track, and then to Narcissus Hut. There, I met lots of hikers whom I had seen the previous days and it was a nice moment. Unfortunately, I had to continue further along Lake St Clair in order to be sure to be on time for my bus. Some people avoid the hike along the lake and take a boat to cross Lake St Clair to reach the end of the hike. I had no booking for the boat and anyway, wanted to complete the track by feet. I hiked for another 7 km on a totally empty track, and had the chance to see a hungry wombat from so close that I could nearly touch it. This gave me another amazing picture!
I reached Echo Point Hut at a late 19:30. I was afraid that I could not find an empty bunk bed in this tiny hut, but to my great surprise, I had the whole place for myself instead. I spend a very special evening on the shore of the lake, admiring the sunset while eating my meal.
Day 6: Echo Point Hut – Cynthia Bay (+ hike down to Derwent Bridge)
The last 11 km to the end of the Track at Cynthia Bay were a very easy hike in a more classical forest. Once I reached this place, I decided to hike 5 more km to Derwent Bridge to have a gorgeous burger at the Hungry Wombat Café (two weeks later!). It is such a strange feeling to be there again, this time by feet and with good weather!
To go back to Cradle Mountain, I had to take two busses and spend one night in Queenstown because of the very poor bus timetable. It took the bus a few hours to cover the route that I had been cycling on for four days! It is really bizarre to relive this experience at such a different speed.
In the bus I met Karla, a young Brazilian women with her bicycle. She was bike touring with her French boyfriend Florian, taking the bus when the route would be too hard. A smart way to travel together while dealing with the differences of fitness level.
I got back my bike and paniers at the Cradle Mountain camping and rearranged everything for the next bike day. I decided however to spent the night at the camping. This allowed me to see again Andrea, who was there by chance guiding a group around Tasmania. I was very happy to see her again since Bicheno, and she gave me many valuable advice for my last three biking days in Tasmania. I then had a great evening with Florian and Karla, sharing our biking and hiking experiences as well as our food.