Tasmania’s Overland Track is an iconic 65km multi-day hike with more magical moments than you can shake a hiking pole at, not to mention all the potential side trips. Explorer Emily Barlow did the track and shares her pick of the highs (and a few of the lows).
The Overland Track
Undertaking the Overland Track – the famous one-way track located in the Cradle Mountain Lake St-Clair National Park in Tasmania – is some people’s idea of a truly physically and mentally challenging venture. For us, it was our idea of a family holiday and though not without difficulty, it was relaxing in ways I didn’t expect. Spending 7 days hiking, untethered from technology and civilisation, you begin to notice minute changes in the landscape. Time has less substance. Your ears prick to new sounds, your nose detects different fragrances.
With 7 days of hiking and over 100km distance under the belt, here are some highlights of the Overland Track.
World Heritage Wilderness
It goes without saying that you’ll experience beautiful scenery when trekking through a remote alpine landscape which can only be accessed by foot. The beauty of the Overland Track – a Wilderness World Heritage area – is in the spongy cushion plants, the widespread buttongrass moorlands, the twisted ancient rainforests and the glorious smell of alpine. It’s in the dainty wildflowers, the spiky pandanus and the trickling streams.
With sightings of pademelons, lizards, native birds, tiger snakes and platypus if you’re lucky, you know you’re wandering through a rare and precious ecosystem.
Despite being renowned for tumultuous weather (expect rain, hail, snow and sunshine), we were granted seven days of clear skies and reasonable temperatures, meaning we could fully appreciate the occasional dip in glacially cold waterfalls and lakes. The stillness of Lake Windemere and Lake Will were mesmerising, while D’Alton Falls and Fergusson Falls glistened, the cool stinging your skin.
Jo, my fearless mother and trek leader reminisced to me at Christmas how she felt she could never tire of the endless vista of mountains, the ancient landscape, the way you become dwarfed by nature.
“You just can’t get enough of it. Of course some places you have to leave because it’s getting cold, but you’re just so drawn to want to stay there forever.”
A Distraction From Reality
As the landscape slowly changes, so does the hastiness of your thoughts. Embarking on a trek like this and dedicating each day to walking one foot in front of the other is a surefire way to detox from the hustle of the real world.
“In a world that’s so busy and technologically driven, where you are constantly looking at phones and messages, it’s amazing to have a forced disconnect from that world and connect with one where you walk along lazily and engage in conversation in a natural, relaxed and easy-going way,” Jo comments.
“The conversation changes depending on whoever is walking at your pace.”
Between the chatter, respite was found multiple times per day, chilling out on the side of the track, soaking in the surroundings while waiting for yet another pot of coffee to brew. Why rush to the finish line every day?
Instead of sitting on Facebook on your couch of an evening, you’re sitting on a deck overlooking the burnt orange of sunset deepen behind Mt Oakleigh. I know what setting I prefer.
The Challenging Side Trips
The side trips and mountain climbs of the Overland Track were an indescribable delight. A challenging, knee-crunching delight. Breathless about halfway up the climb to Mt Ossa, Tasmania’s highest mountain at 1617m, I was shaking from lack of food and the dry summer sun was searing my back; I was fairly ready to pack it in.
But then the sound of Jo reminding me got me re-energised, “Small steps, take a break, eat some dried fruit, it’ll all be worth it”.
When the track starts snaking through cushion plants and century-old King Billy pines, blackened and dry from recent bushfires, you feel a wonderful sense that this is a truly unique landscape.
Despite the steep ascent, I never imagined to be rewarded with panoramic views over what seemed like the entirety of Tasmania, all the undulating hills and bluffs around the National Park clearly visible. We could map out exactly where we had walked over the previous days, reminiscing on the highs and lows. Small pools mirrored the sky and we paused for some time, catching our breath. We went back down the mountain only to avoid the cold.
Similarly, The Acropolis and The Labyrinth, branching off the Pine Valley extension of the track was an extremely rewarding side-trip. Weaving through the mossy green forest, beyond the intertwined roots of the forest floor, you conquer huge dolerite columns which soar into the sky. Some of the group chose to defy gravity and gallop to the very edges, leaving the others to gaze upon the sheer size of the Acropolis.
After resting on the rock, climb over the ridge to see a labyrinth of lakes and trees twisting down into the valley and you’ll be awed by yet another type of Tasmanian wilderness.
I highly recommend adding extra days to fit in these rewarding side-trips to the standard five day Overland Track.
The Little Things
Like sleeping in your own bed after a long trip away, hiking for a week makes you appreciate and crave even the simplest delicacies.
For us, that was coffee, chocolate, spices and cheese. We also copped a bit of a extra weight on Day 1 to enjoy fresh vegetables, chicken and boiled eggs in our first meals.
After this, it was the Kraft Cheddar Cheese – which you may recall from your childhood lunch box – with its slightly plastic taste and spongey texture that won over the heart of Nathan. He kept saying how he intended to include it on his cheese platters at home from now on. A year on, he realises it was the exhaustion and hunger that made the unrefrigerated cheese taste so good.
Jokes aside, food rationing is highly important during a trek like this, especially when you have 7 people to cater for. Distributing the right amount of weight and sustenance per person was key to a comfortable (ish) and energetic hike. If you’re travelling in a group, be sure to share cooking resources and equipment; it’ll save you a couple of kilos in the long run.
Pain And Gain
Be not misled – the Overland Track for us was not without difficulty. The medical student of the family decided to drink water from Wombat’s Pool, resulting in a bout of gastro throughout Day 2. Admirably he soldiered on.
Jo hit her head on a boulder climbing Cradle Mountain, and felt too dizzy to be able to complete the spectacular climb. Crippling pain in Nathan’s Achilles tendon made him reliant on trekking poles and sneakers for the second half of the trek, and then there’s the obvious blisters, neck, shoulder, hip and back pain that everyone endured.
But the stiffness was a sure sign of achievement and the small tribulations resulted in much more laughter than tears.
A Human Connection
Beyond the natural landscape, there is a rare human connection to be experienced on the track. Meeting other trekkers from around the world sharing a common interest is inspiring.
Whether it’s chatting about which stove brand you prefer, joining in on a game of cards by candlelight, or finding out what brought others here, there is no shortage of ways to entertain yourself of an evening.
During our time on the track, we met a mother and son duo from Colorado, a group of five middle-aged women from Adelaide, a young Belgian couple with little to eat but rice and milo.
I will never forget a young man from Singapore who undertook the trek on his own – he had never before been on a hike like this and he had never before seen the stars.
He hadn’t told his mother he was embarking on this particular venture, but he was going to show her his photograph of the Milky Way, taken solo from the emergency Ducane Hut.
The Overland Track is not for the faint hearted or unprepared, but it sure is memorable.
So take your time, share your gear among your group, help each other.
And don’t forget the snacks.