Becoming an Overlander

In January 2017,  I fulfilled a long-held desire to ‘do the Overland’.   The Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia often hits the top of the must-do multi-day hikes in Australia. Situated in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park the hike starts at Cradle Mountain and finishes at Lake St Clair.  There is a hut only tour, which I think would be great for those unsure about pack weight, camping etc but for me, this was the chance to embrace the pack and do seven days fully self-sufficient hike.

Getting to the Track

Planning for the Overland track is a bit tricky.  The booking system opens in June each year for the following summer period but the bugbear of planning the overland is organising the transport.  I think the most straightforward for those flying into Tasmania is to get the bus from Launceston to Cradle Mountain and the bus from Lake St Clare to Hobart and organise flights this way.  Be warned that the bus services don’t run each day and you may have to wait a day at St Clare for the next bus to Hobart.

This isn’t what we did though.  We decided to tack on a little extra holiday in Tassy and took the car on the Spirit of Tasmania there and back.  After a few days camping, we left the car at Lake St Clair and organised a bus transfer to Cradle Mountain.  This is a great way to do it but it is quite expensive, especially with only two people to split the bill between.  We travelled to Lake St Clair in the morning and had organised for the transport to pick us up early afternoon.  Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain is quite a long trip (and why it is expensive) so you need to allow three hours when planning.  This meant that we arrived late afternoon at Cradle Mountain but we hadn’t booked a tent site.  The caravan park was full, so be warned if you are going for this option, don’t forget to book a campsite!

Weather

We had plenty of advice about how unpredictable the weather could be and were told that if you couldn’t see the top of a mountain, then don’t bother with the side trip to get to the summit because it is dangerous and of course no views.  I watched the weather forecast leading up to the hike and set out with all of the required wet weather gear.  We could tell from some of the hut journals that we had just missed out on some horrid weather including snow (although some people like this).  I did think that we would get a taste of the unpredictable weather but I was very pleased that we managed seven days without any real rain and most days blue skies.  As a consequence, we were free to summit (or nearly summit in my case) as many mountains as we could.

What to take?

I was keen to have my pack as light as possible.  One way I achieve this is by having a relatively small pack!  So when you’re thinking about that extra this or that, sometimes you just can’t fit them in.  I have to say many of my fellow hikers didn’t follow this mantra and I was amazed at just what some people will carry.  I am putting it down to youthful energy and will admit when I was in my mid-twenties I carried a whole lot more weight, but back then there was no ultralight gear.

A 2 man tent was my purchase for this trip.  I bought a Luxe Habitat and we were both very happy with the amount of space inside.  These new style dome with a ridge pole provide so much more shoulder space and at 2.2kg I was happy with the weight.  While there are lighter weight options out there I didn’t want to spend too much on this item which in reality will get around two weeks use a year.

Tent, sleeping bag, mat, 1 set sleeping clothes, 1 set hiking clothes, food, stove and water.  I was surprised at the number of opportunities for a swim at the end of the day, so definitely factor that into your packing.  If not bathers then a quick-drying crop top.   I only carried 1.5 litres of water each day.  We did have a plastic cup (that doubled as a bowl for eating) on the outside of the pack to allow easy access to stream water.  I hadn’t done this before but this is definitely a strategy moving forward.  Plenty of people on the track treated the water but I didn’t with no side effects.  Each hut has a water tank which relieves concerns around cooking water and filling up before setting up.

For food, we did oats for breakfast (soaked overnight rather than cooking in the morning) Kraft Cheddar Cheese (in the blue pack) and sachet salmon on alternate days for lunch with packaged Tortilla wraps, some sort of bar food as a snack and then store bought dehydrated food for dinner.  We packed a little extra carbs (couscous, noodles etc) but didn’t really need them.  Maybe if we had had some really cold or wet days we would have appreciated a little more filler.  We also packed a sweet for each day.  Fruitcake, instant custard and instant pudding.  I would keep the instant custard, but the pudding needed to be cooled so didn’t set and was a little sickly.  I wasn’t bothered about taking a desert, but it was a highlight of the evening. Many fellow hikers had dehydrated their own food, I think the next obvious step for serious hikers.

How difficult was it?

Well, I am a very slow walker and not prone to putting myself too far out of my comfort zone.  Marion’s Lookout is described sometimes in harrowing terms.  One hiker who set out on the same day didn’t make it up Marion’s lookout and turned back.  The thing in her mind was if she was finding this so difficult then she didn’t want to be several days into the hike and have issues.  I felt that Marion’s lookout was definitely the hardest climb to do, especially with a day one pack and in this way wasn’t a representation of the whole hike.  Having said that I suspect that those who don’t make it to the top of the lookout might not be prepared enough for the full 5, 6, or 7 days.

The track itself was a combination of well-formed boardwalks with enough tree root infested tracks that you need to watch where every food was placed.  I did play out the ‘boots or walking shoe’ debate in my head while navigating some particular muddy side trips.  I had opted with the walking shoe for their light weight and quick drying option but I would concede that boots would be better, in particular, if the conditions were worse.

Should I do the side trips?

 The answer is always -YES.  I figure that you are doing the hike to spend as much time in the great outdoors as possible (remember I am a slow walker) and not to be sitting in a hut or in a tent.  The side trips were a lot more overgrown and often muddy.  I could see the value in gaiters for this aspect.

Day one side trip – Cradle Mountain Peak.  Everyone who went to the top came down on the top of the world!  I’m not a summiter because of my well-developed sense of self-preservation that realises just how clumsy I am.  I would surely trip over and fall over an edge.  All the summits were a little precarious so it is important that you take care, take a companion and know when to turn back.

Day two side trip – we left our packs at Waterfall Valley hut and backtrack to Bluff Peak, It was nice to spend this time without the pack.  Again, I didn’t quite summit but those who did had some problems with finding the track to the summit initially and were glad when the found the correct track.

Day four side trip – Mt Ossa or Mt Pelion East.  There is an option to take an extra day at Pelion hut giving you time for an extra peak to summit which would have been nice but instead we had to choose between Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion East on our way to Kia Ora Hut. Mt Ossa being the highest mountain in Tasmania is a magnet for most hikers, including my hiking companion.  I took the advice of a seasoned Overlander and took the path less travelled with a hike up Mt Pelion East.  The view was amazing so we were truly blessed with the wonderful weather.

Day five side trips – Waterfalls.  Surely Waterfalls are always a yes.  Bring swimming gear to Harnett Falls.

Hut or Camp?

Firstly you need to carry a tent regardless, but some fellow hikers didn’t unpack their tent at all.  This can be done if you are a fast walker, or if you have fast walking friends.   We stayed in huts for two nights and the tent for four nights and this was a nice balance.

We did consider staying at some of the alternate camp-only spots after reading a review from someone who had planned the entire hike without staying at the main huts that Parks and Wildlife Services recommend.  Their aim was for a peaceful trip without running into loads of hikers.  This seems a wonderful idea, but I can say that the hikers that we met made the trip more memorable. Also, hike with the same group of people over several days we became a little community who supported each other.

Wildlife

Take the wildlife warnings around the camps seriously. We didn’t and ended up with a hole in my wonderful new tent.  After that day all food including rubbish was hung in a hut.  As well as the fat possum bandit that tore through the tent for a bag of scroggin we also had a rodent make a small hole in the food bag.

Day seven?

We didn’t take the ferry across Lake St Clare instead opting for the extra day to walk along the length of the lake.  We skipped Narcissus Hut, which we arrived at around lunchtime and stayed the night at Echo Point Hut.  I had hoped that this would be a quite last night on the track, with most hikers catching the ferry but I didn’t realise that the ferry also stopped at Echo Point.  This meant that a couple of families with small children had caught the ferry to Echo Point to spend the night and then hiked out the next day.  A wonderful introduction to hiking for small children but this coupled with others who were returning from Pine Valley Hut meant that tent sites were hard to find.  A sloping site along with a howling wind meant that this was our lest comfortable night but I would still recommend spending the extra night on the track.

Post-hike accommodation

We were undecided where to stay post-hike.  We had our first shower at Derwent Bridge Hotel.  Not something I would recommend.  I understand that you could get a shower at the Lake St Claire camping area but the information centre was a bit vague on this and recommended Derwent Bridge Hotel.  It was the most horrendous shower that I could imagine and it cost $10 each.  We did get a recommendation from here for a night of free camping which we did at Bradys Lake.  I hadn’t realised just how many lakes there were in this region (OK it is called Great Lakes region) and that there is plenty of free camping without facilities.

I hope you find this useful if you are thinking or planning the Overland Track.  I tried to think of the questions that I had before heading out.  Overall I found it less intimidating than I had expected, I think because of the great travelling companions we found on the track.

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