The famous Tasmanian walking trail, the “Overland Track”, (without doubt the most well-known in Australia) goes for 82 Km from Cradle Mountain to lake St Clair and takes at least 6-7 days, over an impressive diversity of terrain.
In summer you must pay an entry fee, book in advance and may only travel north to south. Staged huts with wood or oil stoves are provided along the way, and camping is allowed at a few clearly marked spots. Luckily our stay coincides with the beginning of winter, and the Overland Track is free from the 1st June.
We really wanted to try the adventure, taking a break from the van to feel the ground under our feet instead of wheels. Here is the log-book of this epic week !
Day 0 : Grand Delusion
Packs on our backs, food mathematically divided for the 7 days to come, a good stock of herb tea, our wool socks in our summer shoes, we are ready to set off ! The plan was to park the van at lake St Clair, the official end of the Overland Track, and hitch-hike back to the start at Cradle Mountain. We thought how good it would be to go straight to the comforts of the van after the big week…
We start walking with our thumbs in the air under the illusion that a good soul would carry us over the 219 KM that separated us from our starting point.
We walked five miles down the road, had an hour more waiting at a strategic crossroads, and a picnic under snow that never stops falling. We are frozen, we are soaked, and the few cars that passes seem to have no pity at all. We begin to doubt. At best, it would take three hours to get to the start, and night would fall quickly. We also doubt the feasibility of the Overland track in the weather and our light gear. Our shoes are too thin and not waterproof, and we have little to protect us from rain, wind and snow except a K-way and a poncho.
After deep discussion we retrace our steps and returne to the van.
An evening next to the fire and a good meal warm up our morale a little. We abandoned the idea of hitching to the starting point, and develop plan B. We would do the Overland Track the other way round, leaving from where we were. And if the conditions get too bad we had the option of just doing a part of the walk and returning to the van. We have seven days worth of food for some security….
Day 1 : If your feet are cold put on a beanie !
Stomach fortified with sticky porridge, here we are more than motivated to leave the tarred roads and feel nature more closely. We improvise a pair of gaiters, cutting up a piece of waterproof cloth that a bloke had given us when we bought the van. There is no time to polish it, the velcro tape do not stick. Four stitches is it for today. We take a sewing kit in the pack-back with an eye to eventual improvement.
The path follows the length of lake St Clair, through the middle of rainforest covered in snow. The branches of the eucalypts are enormous, the ferns the size of a palm. Everything white, all frozen, and we feel really tiny in this beautiful forest. The snow is already melting in places and we trie in vain to avoid the puddles and torrents crossing the path. In spite of the super membrane barrier of our shoes (think plastic bag put over our shoes!…), our feet are rapidly soaked. We quickly freeze again and the packs seem strangely heavier after lunch-stop.
24,2 km for this first day ! We arrive at the hut as night is coming. It’s already buisy, we are a bit desapointed…
But after a big plate of pasta we socialise with the others, Robyn and Phil took pity on our state, and without a chance to refuse, found ourselves with a copy of the Overland Track guide, and a pair of slippers each, to get our feet dry at night in the chalets. It is last day of their walk and they are happy if we return them in Hobart at the end of the walk if we have time.
The night is not cold. Ear-plugs are useful…
Day 2 : The Arch-Duke’s socks
The sun do not rise until 7.00 in the morning. This huge night gave us back our strength, and we decide to continue as least to the next hut. Morale plunge all the same as we put on our socks, still soaking from the day before.
The forest opens onto a glittering plain. After three hours walk through snow we arrive at Bert Nichols hut, huge, empty and horribly cold. It gets its name from a Lorinna trapper who marked the overland track for the first time in 1932.
Bad idea of the day : to dry new wool socks on the oil heater… “- hmm can anyone smell roast pork ?! – Oh no oooo my socks !” . Only later did we discover the sign about using the stove. After several lines about being allowed to light it if the temperature inside is below 10deg C, it explicitly says not to dry clothes on it. We race to get air through to try to get rid of the smell before the Ranger or someone else arrived…
The evening is occupied with a sewing session to repair Ben’s shoes which had not appreciated the activities of these last two days.
Day 3 : Overland track DIY style
Wake frozen. The thermometer reads under 0 deg C inside the hut…
Today we plan to cover two stages. The countryside changes again and the slopes make themselves felt. A little over 4 hours to get to the first hut, Kia Ora, where we have a well earned picnic stop !
The afternoon is more difficult and the track seems to get longer the further we walk. We slip on the frozen snow. We slip on moss-covered branches when trying to avoid putting our feet into water. But our shoes are already so soaked that we wonder if it is really worth the trouble of trying to protect them. So we just run through the creeks ! We at least feel we are going forward. The sun is setting when we reach Pillion hut. Dying of fatigue, feet stinking, bones frozen, every part of our bodies seeme to want to give up its existence (this especially for Alice), and Ben’s shoes have several more holes…
After a restoring meal, (think dehydrated soup…one is soon less picky) we draw on our last strength for a sewing session under head-torch light. We fix the velcro to our gaiters, from which we cut some pieces to repair Ben’s shoes more durably.
Day 4 : Tasmanian extract
In 6 hours walking we see a procession of totally different landscapes ! The snowy plains brutally change to dense wet forest of centuries-old trees. Then with no transition we find ourselves on a marshy plateau with lakes and mountains. Then a few steps on and some dead eucalypts come into view through the mist, the cries of crows adding a sinister character to the setting…
Even though we do pass some people on the way, we feel really far from civilisation, the sound of engines and the colour of bitumen. We feel privileged to be there, marvelling before the turquoise blue of a tiny fungus, a gnarled root, or discovering patterns designed in the rocks.
Windemere is a smaller chalet, more welcoming than the two previous ones. We meet two cheerful husky fellows, Rob and Andy, have a good evening with them round the stove. We find that Andy had worked with Nic (our host at Lorinna) and that Rob is going to travel soon in England and France for several months !
Day 5 : Aquatic trek
Wake to the sound of rain. Dressed in the most adsorbent clothes to brave the deluge and blasts of wind. A large part of the track is made of wooden planks to cross above the marsh and preserve the fragile environment. A series of waterfalls can be faintly seen through the thick fog in the valley. And to stay with the aquatic theme of the day the water is rushing down in a torrent over the last descent of the track. But this time the water is clear, and we are almost pleased : it cleans our shoes and smelly socks from the preceding days.
After 2 hours of energetic walking we get to our well-named chalet : Waterfall Valley Hut. We have the afternoon to dry all our dripping clothes.
Day 6 : Final Home Straight
The weather was warmer but the rain and wind made the night restless. A door of the hut blew open in the gusts and its banging made the walls of the hut shake. We ask ourselves whether it was really reasonable to walk today, but we know the weather forecasts are not good for the coming days.
Finally we get onto the track for the last stage to the finish. It’s Sunday, the area is more used at weekends and we’d have chance of getting a lift today and get to the van by evening.
The black notched shapes of Cradle mountain stand all round us. The decor is impressive and the lighting makes the valley mysterious through the mist.
It’s getting harder on top of the plateau.
Clouds fly across with mad speed. It is hard to put one foot in front of the other and stay on the narrow planked path. The wind make us stagger and we walk like we were drunk. And the process become more technical because of the steep descent. “If you bend forward you drop your centre of gravity and it is easier to move forward.” “WHAAT ? CAN’T HEAR IN THIS WIND !”
We have the impression of battling not to be thrown against the mountainside. We go down further before reaching shelter. Wow ! In a moment all is getting peaceful and the track wound gently across the valley to the Cradle Mountain parking spot : The tracks finish.
We’re here ! We did it ! 82 Km in soaked trainers !
Good, but hey, the adventure has not quite ended. There are still 219 Km to cover hitching to get the van. Approaching people in the car park should be the best bet. After a number of refusals we realise we are not going to get to St Claire this evening. Maps under us we study different possibilities. The most practical solution is to get to Lorinna for the night. We would have warned Nick and Arana, but there was no mobile phone coverage.
“Oh ! It would have been a pleasure, but we are on a bus, on an organised tour”, a group of Grannies at the parking tell us. “But hang on, there are spare places on the bus. We could ask the driver, he is very nice !”
The enthusiastic tourists wait with us for the driver to return from his break to jump on him with “George, George, these young folk have something to ask you ! ” And that’s how we got dropped by a private tourist bus on our road.
But obviously not at Lorinna. Lorinna is not ‘on the road to…’ Remember, Lorinna is isolated from everything, at the end of a magic forest. In the bus we succeeded in grabbing a moment of coverage to send a text to Nick and Arana without being sure it would reach its destination. After an hour walking without success and a dead echidna by the roadside the deluge begin. By luck Arana had got our message come to our rescue. We get to their house, again drenched, but happy to be again with this lovely family and spend a last lovely night with them.
The next day, Nick take us along our way a little and left us at what seemed a good spot. It was not long before a Ford 4X4 stopped there.
« Climb in quick to warm you up inside ! ”
” We are going to St Clair, is that OK ? ”
” Why not ? We can go there with you »
Steve at the wheel, and De with her sheepskin hot water bottle and box of tissues on her knees, are out on a car trip because they are fed up with being shut in for 3 days because of bad weather. They have the habit of searching the roads looking for souls in distress. When it is not soaked hitch-hikers, it is wounded animals. We get acquainted, cover some superb countryside, and stopp from time to time so that Steve can make us smell and taste some of the native bush-plants. We stood the drink at the local pub before climbing into our van, which even the snow and rain had not cleaned.
And now we can say, ” Overland track, nous l’avons fait “… we did it!
We realise with a twinge to the heart that our Tasmanian adventure was coming to an end.
We come back to Hobart to drop the slippers and Overland track book at Phil’s office. At Clifton beach we find Robyn again, who invites us to have a shower and a coffee in their little corrugated iron house
Robyn, this determined little lady who tries to grow red peppers in negative temperatures (and succeeds) and who collects pebbles, shells, bird skeletons and other jetsam to watch them change over time, displayed on her garden table…..
We spend our last night in the company of De, Steve and their daughter Anabelle, who take us again in their car for a night expedition to meet the local fauna. First-aid kit in the glove-box we drive looking for a wounded animal to care for, or dead to remove from the road. It must said there are plenty on the roads of Tasmania (and a dead wombat smells deader than any other dead animal). But this night we were fortunate to see amongst the possums, wallabies, and pademelons in the fields and bushes, spotted white fur coats of two magnificent little quolls (little carnivorous marsupial). Our eyes were shining, this on our last night.
However, the devil did not show his nose. As if Tasmania wanted to keep a little of its secrets, a part of its mystery..
As if Tasmania wanted us to return one day…
While Ben were thinking that very long post will be the last he’ll try to translate, we received an e-mail with an attachement… a text document with the whole translation. Thank you Graham for this unexpected surprise !