This is our family’s experience of walking the 65km Tasmanian Overland Track in April 2017. The iconic Overland Track crosses from from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair through world-class temperate rainforests and rugged mountains.
Waldheim Cottages at Cradle Mountain
Our adventure started in the Cradle Mountain National park. Because the rustic self-contained Waldheim Cottages are near the start of the Overland track, this was perfect accommodation for our first night.
These beautiful surroundings have rich history as the gateway to Cradle Mountain. Gustav Weindorfer the original owner of Waldheim Chalet had declared of the Cradle Mountain region “This must be a national park for the people for all time”. And we are certainly lucky to be enjoying this amazing place in the new millennium!
Overland Track Day 1: Ronny’s Creek to Waterfall Valley (10.7 km)
I felt soft misty rain on my face and a jumble of excited tension in my stomach as James and Graham signed us in for the walk at 9:00am. Apparently, the first day is widely thought to be the most difficult section of the track. However, this was just a taster, really. There were more challenging days in front of us!
We had a relaxed walk over button grass plains then a steady uphill climb on well-formed track before a steep climb from Crater Lake to Marions Lookout (1250m). Worried about my camera hitting a rock, I passed it to James (my son) who took the photo of me (above).
Back in possession of my camera I became too busy trying to get the best angle on Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake to feel the effects of the climb.
At Marions Lookout it was difficult to take a photo without including other tourists. Behind James, on the sensitive area—labelled Rehabilitation. Please Keep Off—is a group of tourists taking a selfie!
I was surprised to see so many tourists had made their way up to Marions Lookout. The last time I walked up here in the late 90’s Graham and I were lonely figures on the plateau. We were told by a trekking guide that there are up to 60 people per day walking the Overland Track. But I guess there were around 100 people walking to and from Marions Lookout while we were there.
I slowed the team down by taking several hundred photos during the next six days. But with landscapes like this who wouldn’t?
Barn Bluff dominated our walking landscape for several days. Here, I am looking down into Fury Gorge.
All those downhill steps to Waterfall Valley
Shortly after our lunch break at Kitchen Hut we came to the intersection of Lake Rodway (Scott Kilvert Hut) and Waterfall Valley tracks. A cheery left-hand sign suggested a one-hour walk to Waterfall Valley.
But the celebrations were short-lived! Because the track deteriorated into something resembling a washed-out eroded creek bed full of slippery wet rocks. Previously well-formed steps had become wash-outs up to 500mm deep. I made my way slowly and carefully down the many steps. Meanwhile, my camera became a painful 1.5 kg hindrance around my neck.
My slow progress was the result of a previous severe knee injury (de-gloved). I was (and still am) terrified of falling over.
I felt like a yoyo stepping on and off the track as it seemed every person on the Overland Track—all 60 of them including James and Graham—overtook me. One hour turned into at least two hours, when finally I arrived at Waterfall Valley Hut at 4:30pm. My legs were wobbly jelly about to collapse and my knee had started to ache. (Fortunately, my friend Voltarin kept me on track.)
Lessons one and two
So on the first day I learnt two valuable lessons: 1) suggested walk times for the Overland track are minimum times, and 2) I needed to pack my camera away to walk the rougher sections of track.
Consequently, I stopped taking photos when my need for careful walking was greater than my desire to capture the scenery.
This is the (old) Waterfall Valley hut. The new Waterfall Valley hut — the latest addition to the collection of six huts dotted along Tasmania’s popular multi-day walk, the Overland Track — is bigger, warmer, ‘healthier’ and more energy-efficient than the one it replaced.
About the Overland Track huts…
I was impressed by the huts which all had a similar layout of communal timber bunks and stainless steel-covered tables and benches for camp cooking. In mid-April they were cozy and comfortable without the need to light up the gas heaters. However, solar lighting would be helpful. Perhaps a charging point for devices (although it is a wilderness walk, after all!) could be considered? But a more efficient space for drying wet clothes would be the most welcome improvement to the huts!
Graham’s deadly reputation
Despite the excellent huts, the camp sites became more popular than the huts after our first night. Apparently this coincided with Graham gaining a reputation as slow by day and deadly by night. Personally I think his reputation was greatly exaggerated—but perhaps I got to sleep quickly each evening?
There were ample camping platforms near all the huts, and there were additional sites at other locations along the track, too.
Soon, however, our family had teamed up with Brian and Dennis to share a sleeping platform each night. As we got to know them better we discovered we had more in common than just noisy night-time breathing and our age-group. They live in the region where I grew up. Brian even thought he may know some of my cousins.
This year (2021) Brain and his wife Paula stayed with us in Branxholm. It was terrific to catch up.
Overland Track Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere (7.8km)
Sunrises were crisp and clear like this one captured at Waterfall Valley on our second morning on the Overland Track.
Today our official track notes suggested a leisurely, relatively flat walk to Lake Windermere. So we took our time getting away at 10:00. We may have become the conscientious people who cleaned up the hut each morning…
I took heaps of photos as we crossed the open plateau (i.e. code for “this was a good track”)
We stopped for lunch near Lake Will, again under the watchful eye of Barn Bluff on the Overland Track.
The morning had been easy, pleasant walking. But as on the first day, the track deteriorated in the afternoon. There were rocky trip hazards and uncomfortably deep steps, where water had eroded deep gutters. This became a repetitive sting-in-the-tail experience for most days of the Overland Track walk. Graham was starting to feel the effects of exertion.
Cheered by the expansive scenery framed by Mount Oakleigh and Mount Pelion East, any discomfort experienced on day two was put firmly behind us.
Reaching Windermere Hut by 2:30pm meant we had time to explore and…take more photos! James even went for a swim in Lake Windermere—winning a $20 bet in the process.
We had time to chat and get to know our fellow travellers better. As with all groups of strangers, there were some who enjoyed company and others who kept silent and away. However, socialising in the evenings was an enjoyable aspect of our family’s experience and is a large part of our Overland Track memory.
Overland Track Day 3: Windermere to Pelion (17km)
The next morning we got away just after 8am and were treated to easy walking through moorland landscapes.
With distracting scenery like this, it was easy to miss your footing—even on these good tracks—when crossing the moorlands.
Hard slog to Pelion – The Innes track
After looking deep into the Forth Valley we ascended through a forested hill. Then we started the descent to Pelion Creek. (I really enjoyed this lightly forested track, and took too many photos!)
Pelion Creek is the half-way point of the third day’s walk and provided a welcome stop for our lunch. We refilled our water bottles. Then took a break before starting the second, more difficult half of the track—the old Innes track.
Then we thought we would never reach the Forth River. But after finally reaching it we took a short break at this (lowest) point on the track. Now we had to face the never-ending uphill slog through the myrtle-beech forest—made worse by the bad track conditions.
In places the track took on the appearance of a muddy slow-flowing creek. Many feet over many years on this 1890’s track has eroded the forest floor down to bare rock and mud and exposed large tree roots. This must be damaging the health of the rain forest. I feel lucky that we managed to navigate these slippery rocky tracks without mishap!
New Pelion hut
New Pelion hut was one of the newer and largest huts on the track in 2017. Brian having arrived before us—actually everyone arrived before us—greeted us with “I’ve made you a cuppa and I’ve got a steak cooking for you, Graham” (joke).
It was 5:30pm, and our longest day’s walk. We sat out on the helipad to watch the daylight fade. That night Brian, Dennis and our family had a room to ourselves. Really, where did Dennis get that amazing squeaky yellow sleeping mat?
Overland Track Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora hut (8.6 km)
We were the last to leave the Pelion hut on day four (Pelion to Kia Ora hut, 8.6km). We did a final clean-up of the hut, closing the windows and sweeping the floor and left after 9:00am.
A trek guide told us the night before, it would be a stick day. We soon worked out what he meant as we walked steadily uphill on a track with deep steps , uneven rocks and tree roots to reach Pelion Gap. Actually, I didn’t mind this part of the track because it was a bright clear day and the track was mostly dry.
From the platform at Pelion Gap there are side-walks to Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion East. We chose to have a leisurely lunch and a rest.
Pinestone Valley was classic Overland track—with Cathedral Mountain (top-L), Falling-down Mountain (top-R) and eroded slippery rocky track (bottom-R). In April it was still hot. So we were grateful to cool off and refill our water bottles at the Pinestone Valley Creek crossing.
Kia Ora hut
We reached Kia Ora hut by 3pm. James was keen to take a swim in the Kia Ora creek, so I chaperoned him. Naturally I couldn’t resist taking an icy dip too. To preserve modesty I went into the water in my undies. But I hadn’t thought it through…I had no towel or change of clothes. So I had to stay wet most of that night!
In this small cozy hut, the sleeping platforms were right next to the dining tables, so Graham and I were able to snuggle-up in our sleeping bags and still take part in the evening chatter. James stayed up playing cards long after I fell asleep. I didn’t even hear Graham snoring!
Part of the daily morning ritual was lining up at the lou with toilet paper in hand. The nearby tank of water was for washing hands and brushing teeth. I found a good splash of the icy liquid on my face was good for waking up, too.
Overland Track Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge (9.6 km)
Day five saw us get away by 9:30am. Walking through the forest that morning was pleasant, despite the tree roots. When we found a fallen log to sit on, chocolate, dried fruit and nuts tasted so good!
Our lunch stop was at the old Du Cane hut. Graham stayed in this hut in the 90’s and remembers it being infested with rats (and fleas?). I wonder if he used this ingenious open-air bog?
Although a little monotonous, the walk through the rainforest was pleasant up to the junction with Hartnett Falls.
Then the ascent (Du Cane Gap) and subsequent descent (Windy Ridge) was a tedious walk. The track was too similar to the Innes track (day three). Finally we were pleased to see the canopy open up and rainforest give way to the eucalypts on Windy Ridge. We arrived at the Bert Nichols hut at 3:00pm.
Bert Nichols hut
The Bert Nichols hut is the most modern of the huts. The eating and sleeping areas are well separated. Also there is plenty of airy space for drying wet clothes and boots. But it had the longest trek to the (almost) smelliest toilet. Fortunately the sparkling night sky was worth the inevitable mid-night trek!
On the last night our group of Overland-trekkers were wanting to talk and celebrate. We felt like comrades on an epic journey. So two of our more seasoned adventurers organised a quiz, with a prize of donated left-over food treats. Some may have considered the prize to be a heavy booby-prize to carry out to Narcissus. Despite this, the competition was fierce, and great fun! It was a fitting farewell. And no, team nerd did not win the prize!
Overland Track Day 6: Windy Ridge to Narcissus (9 km)
The final day’s walk was as leisurely and pretty as described in the official guide book. We got away at 8am. The drier track through mostly heath and eucalypt forest was not as badly eroded as the wet-forest tracks.
We reached the junction to the Pine Valley hut (our next walk!) well before mid-day; but we stopped for an early lunch anyway.
As we walked the second-half of the track we started meeting people walking the opposite direction. Many were out for a day walk, and a few were headed to Pine Valley. We stopped and chatted because we had plenty of time to make the 3:30pm ferry.
Approaching the Narcissus River, one week’s growth, pain and exhaustion shows clearly in Graham’s face. But the swing bridge over the Narcissus River signaled the final short walk of the Overland Track!
When Graham and I arrived, James had made us a warming hot cup of tea! We reached the hut just before 1pm. So we were in plenty of time for our 3:30pm pre-booked boat ride across Lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay.
At journey’s end there was relaxed happy chatter as people waited at Narcissus for the ferry boat across Lake St Clair.
We arrived at lake St Clair too late to use the free showers. I don’t think it is an accident that the public showers close around mid afternoon! Do be aware that there are few if any options for eating at this end of the Overland Track.
Trying to find affordable and convenient transport from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain, Launceston or Branxholm was impossible. So we were pleased to pile into our little Feroza 4WD for the four-hour drive home. (A week before we started the walk, we had driven two cars to the Lake St Clair car park and left the Feroza behind.)
Google slide show
You can view our images as a slide show here.
As the days go by since we completed the walk, I enjoy the experience more and more. This is a cliché, but it was a great family-bonding experience as we looked out for each other. I was proud of James! He was so cheerful and helpful.
For me, walking in the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was about enjoying nature, breathing in the scenery and noticing the plants and wildlife.
However, I feel that the badly eroded sections of track robbed me of much of this experience. I spent far too much of the walk watching my feet and looking for the next rock to place my foot.
I think there is still some way to go to upgrade the tracks to meet the standard for an international iconic walking track.
Tin Dragon Cottages
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