Overland Track: 4 January – 10 January 2019
Many people have asked what our motivation for doing the Overland Track was. I don’t think there was any one motivating factor – it certainly hadn’t been on our bucket list for hiking for any time. We knew we wanted to spend a month in Tassie and when we started looking at what there was to do, the Overland came up and we recalled this from watching a DVD series before our lap around Oz. When we looked on the website for the track we were promised over 65kms of hiking through the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and world heritage area for Australia’s premier alpine walk.
While it had been just over 2 years since our multiple class 5 hikes throughout gorges and ranges in WA and SA when we did our lap, we felt confident that our resilience and love of the outdoors would get us through the hike, even if our fitness had dropped off a bit since coming back. I also realised that with my back injury and quirky feet, that there were limited years left for me to do something like this with the kids.
There was months of planning to be done and a lot of shopping at Anaconda for all of the gear we needed to get through the hike (the staff at Anaconda know me by name now!). Slowly but surely, piece by piece and sale by sale, we had everything we needed (possibly a few additional things that we didn’t thanks to a camping and hiking sale at Aldi).
Though we had plans to prepare well beforehand with multiple overnight hikes and other practice runs to get us ‘match fit’ for the Overland – none of these eventuated. Our one attempt at an overnight hike in the Mount Buangor State forest was an epic failure but taught us a lot about what we didn’t need to pack and the value of walking poles!
With our packs ready and weighed, a few additional snacks and meals taken out (there’s a cafe at Lake St Clair end so I removed breakfast and lunch for our final day and packed the credit card instead!), we got settled into our first night in a hotel for our last night’s sleep in a real bed with access to hot showers and electricity for a week!
Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley (10.7km, 27 degrees forecast)
We decided on a hearty brekki to prepare us so Master 17 and I opted for scrambled eggs while Miss 9 had cereal and pancakes (breakfast of champions?!). Bushfires had broken out just south of the national park and the weather was predicted to hit 27 degrees for what is supposed to be the toughest day of the hike so I was a tad nervous and beginning to question this crazy idea! While the kids heartily ate, I struggled to get anything down before we jumped in the car and headed to the visitor information centre to grab the first shuttle bus to Ronny Creek.
At Ronnie Creek, I registered our party and we headed off along the flat duckboard start to the track after a quick selfie and Facebook post advising friends of our expected completion date should anything go wrong!
While we were likely the first public hikers to get started for the day, we soon found others joining, and passing us, along the walk as we made our way to Crater Lake. Despite the relatively early start (8.45am start), it was already pretty warm so we took off our boots and socks and enjoyed the cool refreshing water at the lake before heading off to face the steep ascent to Marions Lookout. By now the day had gotten pretty windy so we took 10 steps up the steep hill at a time to break up the steep climb ahead of us. Once at the top, we stopped for lunch trying to shelter from the extreme winds behind a rock. We took this opportunity to take off the shoes and socks and elevate them a little to avoid any swelling of feet in the heat. We reapplied sunscreen, cleaned up our lunch stuff, put our boots back on and left the day-hikers to enjoy the stunning views and shorter walk back to the car park.
We began walking along the long and exposed rocky alpine plains grateful for the wind in the heat to help cool us a little while we enjoyed great views of Cradle Mountain. Stopping at Kitchen Hut for some respite from the sun and to enjoy some of the unique history of the hut. Miss 9 was fascinated by the idea that in winter the snow can get so bad that the second story window of the hut was in fact a door and that the shovel hanging from high on the wall is used to help shovel your way out of the hut – a stark contrast to the sweltering day we were having!
We eventually got to enjoy some bush land hiking and some shaded parts of the track though we were still hot and tired and could see smoke off in the distance so when the rescue helicopter flew over, it was tempting to flag it down! Instead, I started looking for potential spots to pitch the tent as it was getting later in the afternoon and we were still a way off our first hut.
We hit the emergency ‘hut’ at nearly 5pm (though it looked more like some futuristic rounded shelter designed in the 70’s) and a sign advising that we only had an hour to go (which was lucky as we’d run out of water by that time). My feedback to Tasmania Parks and Wildlife is that they should have some indication of the kms you’ve travelled on their path markers along the way to help you to know how far you’ve come (or how far you’ve still got to go).
After 15 minutes, we hit another sign advising that we only had 30 minutes to go. The kids and I were ecstatic to know that we were nearly there! I’m not sure who timed that final 30 minutes but my guess is either their watch was broken, they had no pack on their back and ran the whole way there, or they were a sadistic soul preying on the tired hikers attempting day 1 of the Overland! Well over an hour later, and with what I could feel was the onset of a blister, we finally made it to Waterfall Valley Hut (noting that there were in fact no waterfalls to be seen). We were greeted by the friendly face of Judy the volunteer ranger who advised that despite being some of the last hikers to arrive, there were still plenty of beds available in the hut. She also advised that it got to at least 32 degrees today – no wonder we were bloody hot!
We met some other lovely Overlanders while cooking our spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and were tucked up in bed by 9pm on our wooden bunks. The hut has windows but no power so despite it still being light outside, it gets fairly dark inside and the sun rising at around 5.30am makes it fairly light by morning.
Despite it taking us 9.5 hours from start to finish (with multiple 10-30 minute breaks along the way), I was so proud of the kids for their efforts and making it through a pretty tough start to a week of more of the same.
Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere (7.8kms, 22 degrees forecast)
Sunrise at 5.30am after not too much sleep for me (kids seemed to have slept well even with Miss 9 sleep talking a few times). I dozed heavily between snoring from fellow campers and some late night arrivals and early morning departures.
After the first day, we were promised easier days following so we took advantage of a shorter second day by sleeping in a little to rest and recuperate. A hearty brekki of porridge with some chia seeds, cinnamon and milk powder (so yummy we might start making it like that when we get home) and we eventually set off at 12noon. (Not before Miss 9 managed to squeeze in a few games with some dice that Judy our friendly volunteer ranger had taught her – she even loaned Miss 9 the bag of die to take to the next hut for entertainment).
My feet were still pretty sore from the last part of day one so day two, while a lot shorter and flatter in terms of terrain, was still quite difficult. We stopped at Lake Will for a 30 minute lunch break but decided not to do the additional side walk to the lake itself.
Today was much colder than yesterday and we even got our gloves and hats and an extra layer on for parts of the day. With my feet being quite sore, we made an additional two stops along the way to take off our shoes and packs which the kids were grateful for too. Miss 9 was still pretty tired after a big first day.
If it weren’t for the logistical nightmare of trying to find transport from the end of the hike at Lake St Clair to our car back at Cradle Mountain (I’ve got more suggestions for Tasmanian PWS on some much-needed updates to the information on their website), I might’ve taken today as a rest day to allow the kids (and my feet) some rest time before attempting the rest of the track.
We made some additional adjustments to the packs along the way to get them right and my pack actually felt quite comfortable on my back (despite it being so heavy at 21kgs that I needed Master 17 to help lift it onto my back each day). Miss 9’s pack was slightly big for her (they don’t make hiking packs for children) so she liked to have fairly frequent breaks to take the weight off and lean forward on her hiking poles.
After 4.5 hours (including the 30 minute lunch break) through buttongrass plains, heathlands, alpine lakes and tarns (small mountain lakes), we made it to Windermere Hut and set up again inside the hut. I noted with some disappointment that our loudest snorer from the night before was also in the hut while others had opted for their tents.
We gratefully took off our hiking boots and walked down to the lake for a quick dip (this would have been the best hut to make it to on the previous day to enjoy a swim in the lake on such a hot day). While other hikers took a full swim, Master 17 went in up to his waist and I went in as far as my knees (the water was actually very mild as it is fairly shallow and warmed easily by the sun).
With some yummy cottage pie and mash potato for dinner we were off to bed as early as we could to get an early start for the longest day on the track.
Day 3: Lake Windermere to Pelion (16.8kms, 20 degrees forecast)
We were off by 9am ahead of a few of the other hikers, knowing that they would eventually catch up.
It was a cold and drizzly morning so we started the day in our raincoats, wet weather pants, and warmer clothes with Miss 9 setting a cracking pace in the light rain and wind. We traversed up over some beautiful areas, stopping briefly for a quick selfie with another hiker who was amazed that a 9 year old was doing the track (it was to inspire his own children, who were older, to do the track with him next time) before making it to the Forth Valley Lookout side track. Here we stopped for lunch while enjoying the views before getting back to the track for the last 13kms of the day.
Coming down through some of the rocky and windy areas was torture on my feet (not only had I developed blisters but my less than attractive crooked toes were very painful and I was starting to understand why others with similar conditions, had their toenails removed or toes broken to straighten!). Miss 9 flew down these areas though and I had to frequently yell out to her to check that she was still within ear shot and on the track. She’s actually very good at following a track and spotting hard to find wayfinding markers so veering off track wasn’t really a concern.
At Pelion Creek we decided that the cold weather was behind us now and removed all of our cold weather gear and took the opportunity to give our feet and backs a rest for a bit. As we entered the myrtle-beech rainforest on the eastern flanks of Mt Pelion West, we sang ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’ to help distract us from the lengthy and windy descent under the canopy of trees into Frog Flats.
At one stage, we had thought that we surely weren’t far from the hut (it was around 5pm and we’d been walking since 9am with breaks in between) as we stopped for a final rest and contemplated a bush wee or holding out until the hut. I’m glad we opted for the bush wee as it turned out to be another 2 hours before we made it to the hut!
The last 1.5 hours were relentless – while the terrain was fairly flat and picturesque – fatigue had set in and my feet were in a great deal of pain. By this stage Miss 9 was so exhausted and I, unable to help reduce her burden, told her she could cry if she needed. So she did. For the entire final 90 minutes of our walk and it was heart breaking (and exhausting as I tried not to do the same). While the kids were asking ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘can you see that side track that’s near the hut?’ every so often, I was muttering expletives under my breath about how ‘F’ing’ far away the damn hut was. The later it got, the more I was resigned to setting up the tent when we got to camp.
Our feet were aching and we were exhausted but we kept encouraging each other and eventually, at 7pm, we stumbled into the hut where I’m sure that Veronica and Andrew (a lovely couple we’d met on the track from Sydney), had saved us the last two bunks in the entire hut. Miss 9 and I shared a top bunk while Master 17 had the other top bunk and slept alongside some of our belongings to save some space.
My feet were so sore I nearly burst into tears when I saw Veronica waiting to show us our bunks on arrival. Miss 9 recovered so quickly after dropping her pack on the bunk and couldn’t understand why mummy just needed to put her feet up before heading outside to look at the pademelons and other wildlife outside the hut.
The hut was bigger than the first two nights but was packed with a lot of additional hikers who had ventured in from other tracks to base themselves at Pelion and climb the likes of Mt Oakley and Mt Ossa.
We ate just as it was getting rather dark and then went to bed as did most other campers. There was a loud group of hikers playing cards in the common area until rather late and I was almost at the stage of getting out of bed and going out with my mum voice to tell them to pipe down, when they too, decided to head to bed.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful to lay down on a wooden bed and close my eyes as I was that night.
Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora (8.6kms, 22 degrees forecast)
By now, we had met quite a few of the other track hikers as we all started on the same day and finished at the same hut each night (there were the odd extras along the way that doubled up doing multiple days in one – my definition of madness!). While we only saw a few of them out on the track each day (usually overtaking us at some point), we saw many of them in the huts as we cooked dinner or refilled water at the tanks.
One of the other groups included a dad in his 60’s hiking with his three adult daughters (Jen, Kim and Fiona). They had noticed how bad my feet were so Kim gave me some soft lambs wool to wrap around my toes to help with my blisters and quirky toes. The ranger also had a big roll of tape that I grabbed to secure my new toe rescue and I soon had very comfy feet. Until I put them into my boots and realised that they wouldn’t fit! I had to remove a lot of the padding and just put up with sore feet (with the help of some ibuprofen, airing of my feet enroute and the odd expletive when the kids were out of earshot).
Being a shorter day than the one before, we didn’t head off until 11am after a rigorous routine of stretching led largely by Miss 9 drawing on her dance class experience to prepare us for the day.
Today was a bright and sunny day and we headed off with some tired sooky hikers who got into the rhythm of the day soon enough with a stop to take off the boots and rest the feet before continuing on to Pelion Gap. We even saw two of the yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. After about 3.5 hours we thought we’d be very close to Pelion Gap (the halfway mark and resting spot for those doing the Mt Ossa or Mt Pelion East climbs) when we stopped for a rest in the shade and met Steven from Sydney who was hiking on his own and had started the day with a hike to Mt Oakley and was now about to lap us on his way to climb Mt Ossa! He told us that he thought he’d be at Pelion Gap within an hour which was heartbreaking for us as we thought we only had about 20 minutes until we were there (if it took him an hour, it would no doubt take us 2!). Soon after he left us, we saw him walking back towards us to advise that he was actually very wrong and that the gap was just ahead but that we should take a moment in the shade to reapply sunscreen as the next part of the track was very exposed. After all of us got sunburnt on day 1, we were most grateful for this advice!
After stopping for lunch at the Gap (where we found some shade a little way up the hill) and taking the opportunity to take our shoes off for half an hour or so, we were ready to continue on our walk wishing Steven all the best for his ascent to Mt Ossa. The currawongs are very clever on the track and renowned for opening zips and stealing food. We noticed a bag of nuts opened and spread on the boards and realised that it belonged to Veronica and Andrew so we packed them up and secured them back in their packs and rezipped their bags and laid them so the birds couldn’t get to their food again (they were off climbing Mt Ossa and had left their packs like so many others at the Gap).
After our break we put the boots back on (reluctantly) to head along the gradual descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora hut through the beautiful Pinestone Valley with views of the Cathedral Mountain. While this part of the track is apparently a favourite for many, my feet and blisters were awful on the way down and I found myself muttering ‘left, left, left, right, left’ just to be sure my feet kept moving!
Kim, Fiona and Jen (with their dad already ahead earlier in the day) went past us and Miss 9 suddenly gained more energy and latched onto them and flew ahead of Master 17 and I. While I wasn’t too worried about Miss 9 losing her way, I wasn’t exactly sure that she’d stuck with the girls so when she didn’t respond to Master 17 and I calling out to her, suddenly the pain in my feet was (not entirely) forgotten, and I walked as fast as I could just to ensure she was safely within eye or earshot.
We soon caught up with them all (largely due to Jen, also a mother, thinking that they should stop and allow me to catch up in case I was worried about my daughter) as they were stopped to admire an echidna next to the track.
When we arrived at the hut at 5.30pm another family that we’d met along the way with a mum plus four grown boys and teenage daughter, gave us some leftover Chilli Concarne as a ‘snack’ before we headed to Kia Ora creek and the little waterfall for a dip to cool off in the glacial waters! While I had every intention of diving into the icy waters, I only managed to get in up to my knees to help with the pain and swelling in knees, feet and ankles. Master 17 dove right in. And then jumped straight back out again – confirmation for me that it was far too cold for me to swim.
Back in the hut we met the loud group from the night before who had started the Overland the day before us and who were also the group that Judy had told us about that had one hiker with a 35kg pack (which included a 5kg keg that they drank on the first night!). Matt and Kara were very friendly and one of their party was running out of food so we gave them some of ours as we couldn’t fit in all that I’d packed for dinner that night after our rather substantial ‘snack’ prior to our swim.
We also left our second gas canister in the hut for other walkers as we had completely overestimated just how much fuel we would need to cook each day (especially since we didn’t need to boil our water, filtration tablets were enough to treat the water from the tanks each day and even then, we’d only started treating the water after day 3). We’ll start day 5 1/2 kg lighter!
Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge (Burt Nichols Hut), (9.6kms, 20 degrees forecast)
We were the last to leave the hut in the morning at around 10am to start the day with my feet already sore. We made it to the Du Cane Hut (aka Windsor Castle as it was once nicknamed – built in 1910 by Paddy Hartnett, a snarer, miner and bushman) where Miss 9 left a message in the visitor book while we enjoyed a short break.
Today we did our first ‘side hike’ – only 1km down to D’Alton Falls. We left our bags at the main track and I swapped my hiking boots and socks for my crocs (yes, I bought crocs for this hike and walking down to the falls in them was absolute bliss!). We took our lunch to the waterfall where we sat and enjoyed the view of a rainbow crossing the falls as we ate.
I was tempted to keep the crocs on for the remainder of the track (in hindsight I probably could’ve). We were enjoying the gradual climb to Du Cane Gap, using the A-Z game to keep us distracted and entertained throughout the day helped (we each had to think of something starting with each letter of the alphabet – we went through movies, animals, songs and musicians, adjectives, celebrities etc. throughout the day and I was pretty impressed with some of the songs and musicians the kids came up with).
Starting the deep descent into the bowl-like cirque of the Du Cane Range, sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago, was tiring and painful on my feet (some glacial ice at about this time would’ve been a welcome relief). Miss 9 however, got her second wind and was off like a rocket again. Just as I was telling her that we should have no more than about half an hour to go, we spotted our first tent a short walk before reaching the Burt Nicholls Hut – a 5 star hut compared to the rest we’d stayed in! Managed to get a large top bunk space to ourselves where we set up beds, got changed and headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Jen (one of the daughters) was a doctor so Master 17 asked her about popping my blisters. She happily advised that yes I should given they were all intact and giving me so much grief. She sterilised a needle for me but I was happy for her to do the popping for me (she was a paediatrician which was a lot closer to podiatrist than I was going to get!).
Dr Jen burst my blister for me (it covered the entire base of my pinky toe on the right foot) in the hopes that our final day hike might be less painful. In hindsight, I should’ve got her to burst my other one too but the pain getting the bandages off was excruciating & brought more expletives and even tears to my eyes (even after soaking in the collapsible sink we’d brought for 20 minutes).
Many of our Overland companions were leaving very early the next morning to walk to Narcissus and get straight on the ferry the next day so most were in bed very early. We were walking to Narcisuss to camp for the night as our transport wasn’t booked until the following day so we got to enjoy a bit of extra sleep and avoid the busy morning rush in the common areas.
Day 6: Windy Ridge (Burt Nicholls) to Narcissus (9kms, 15 degrees & snow forecast)
Our early morning hikers set off in the rain and it was still lightly raining by the time we set off at noon.
The final day’s hike for us as we were getting the ferry from Narcissus Hut rather than walking the final 17.5kms to Cynthia Bay. Today has no more uphill walking, just a gentle walk down the glacier’s path to the hut situated beside Lake St Clair.
The weather was a little varied today – one minute we needed the raincoats on and the next we were sweating in the sun. We bumped into our first Park Ranger – Melody – as we walked along the track (the others we had all met at each of the huts). She mentioned that the weather changing and blowing in and out like it was, was perfect for the snow on the mountain predicted for today. They do say to prepare for all kinds of weather on the Overland – starting in heatwave and bushfire conditions and finishing with snow with a bit of everything else in between is certainly ‘all kinds of weather’!
Miss 9 happily told Melody of the fresh Tasmanian Devil poo and all the wombat poo we’d been seeing along the track as well as the echidna, wombat and yellow tailed black cockatoo – all logged in her junior Overland Track guidebook.
We finally made it to the Narcissus River where Miss 9 finally got to cross the only suspension bridge on the Overland Track. It was a single person at a time cross and we were all reminded of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – which Master 17 enthusiastically recreated using his hiking poles as sword as he crossed.
Arriving at Narcissus Hut Master 17 and I were keen to pitch the tent for our final night (I was tempted to pitch it at Windy Ridge but got outvoted). I had carried nearly 3kgs of tent the entire track and was keen for that burden not to have been for nothing. Miss 9 was not keen on the tent however, so we slept in the hut where we met a lovely family with two young girls. Miss 9 was so excited to see other children (there were no others doing the Overland) that she happily played and chatted to them until bedtime.
Day 7: Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair
Leaving the next morning on the ferry, we exchanged phone numbers with the family who live just outside of Hobart on a small farm and were happy to have us camp there for a few nights when we got to Hobart for some exploring. We always seem to meet the most lovely people in the most remote areas!
We got off the ferry and took our final celebratory photo at the end of the Overland Track marker before signing us out of the registration book as home safe where we happily saw the names of a few of our other fellow hikers (many others were doing the additional hikes to Pine Valley and continuing on foot to Cynthia Bay).
Breakfast at the cafe and returning our EPIRB to the visitor centre and boarding the Overland Track mini bus with 7 others who were about to start the track for the 3.5 hour bus ride back to Cradle Mountain. We stopped off at Queenstown for a yummy lunch and enjoyed some breathtaking views as we drove – including those that we had seen up close and personal during our hike.
We gratefully checked into our upgrade deluxe spa room at the hotel and ordered room service dinner after some nice hot showers. Feeling refreshed we drove to Dove Lake to watch the sunset and reflect on the remarkable achievement we had just made. I am so incredibly proud of the kids and the resilience, compassion, humour and grace they displayed throughout our latest adventure!