The Overland Track – one for the bucket list!

I’ve just rejoined civilisation after six days walking the Overland Track in Tasmania with the Tasmanian Walking Company. It was absolutely wonderful – I don’t quite know where to begin. When our lead guide, Sanjay, said on the first morning “welcome to the best six days of your life” I thought that it was heavy on the hyperbole, but it may not have been too far wide of the mark. I’ve pushed myself physically (including climbing Mt Ossa, the highest peak in Tasmania), seen so much stunning scenery, swim in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall, taken a much-needed detoxing break from city life, and met some fantastic people. I spent part of the bus journey back to town trying to decide which photo to attach to this blog post. The competition was too stiff, and I’ve put a bunch in a Facebook album here (should be visible even if you don’t have a Facebook account).

Let’s be honest – the way I did the Overland might be construed as cheating a teeny bit. Instead of camping or choosing to walk alone and stay in public walkers’ huts along the way, I joined a guided trip run by a superb Tasmanian company which has its own huts tucked away from the track which you can only find if you know where to look. These have the added benefits of hot showers, drying rooms, electric lighting, food (and wine!) dropped in by helicopter twice a year, board games, books, a gas oven and stove and guides whose job is not only to guide but also to cook delicious meals. It didn’t come cheap, but I wanted the company and, although we carried packs containing six days’ clothes, the idea of carrying a tent, stove and six days’ food as well didn’t especially appeal. The hut experience was not unlike a catered chalet ski holiday, enhanced by the fact that four of the five huts were laid out the same, so it did feel a bit like returning to the same place each evening.

I was lucky in a lot of ways. The weather was rubbish for the first two days but then glorious, including on the all-important day four when we climbed Mt Ossa in perfect conditions. The guides and the group were just brilliant. There can be up to twelve in a group but in ours just five, and not only that but we were pretty evenly matched in terms of pace. I was worried that my slow, steady and stubborn style of walking would see me consistently left behind, but this was only really the case on the last day when I felt pretty unwell. Three of the group were kiwis who’ve lived in Australia for a long time, and they’ve given me some great ideas for more walking in both countries. The guides, Sanjay and Silas, were two guys in their 20s who are knowledgeable and passionate about the national park and its geology, flora, fauna and history, and who enjoyed sharing this with their guests. They also had a great sense of humour and, perhaps most importantly, were fantastic cooks.

The Tasmanian Walking Company thought of everything, especially how to create superb dinners with food that’s non-perishable – dropped in by helicopter twice a season – and the minimum of fresh stuff carried by the guides. The huts have been there 30 years and appear to minimise waste and manage tricky stuff like toilets very impressively. Food is cooked in a gas oven and gas hob with gas coming from big cylinders out the back, also used for heaters and hot water, and the lights were powered by solar panels on the roof. I can understand how costs would have mounted up. We also appreciated the little things like having the same book collection in each hut so you can read a book over multiple evenings.

The other thing I hugely appreciated was being completely away from the “real world”. A tech and city detox was part of what I was really looking forward to, and it was wonderful! I read two books, played cards, and had a lot of time to myself and my thoughts – I must get away from phone signal more often! My only disappointment was not seeing a wombat, as the track is known to be a hotspot for them, and I’ve never seen one in the wild. Maybe I’ll have to come back…

The last thing I did each evening was write a diary-style paragraph for the blog, so here are my daily notes:

Day one

Saturday began with a 5.35 alarm in my small single room in a “faded glory” kind of backpackers’ hostel, and ended standing on a wooden helipad by our hostel for the night watching sunset over the mountains and a rainbow over the bush. The ten minutes I stood out alone on the helipad, which doubled nicely as a viewing platform, were utterly magical. The feeling of remoteness and appreciation of the beautiful surroundings is exactly what I signed up to this trip for. The walking was, at times, challenging, the weather variable (but mostly wet!), and the scenery consistently lovely with craggy mountains and sheltered lakes. Despite getting thoroughly drenched, I loved it. But I resolved to wear waterproof trousers tomorrow!

Day two

Today was even wetter. And, for some unknown reason, I didn’t wear waterproof trousers until lunchtime because it wasn’t raining when we set off. Growing up in Manchester clearly taught me nothing! I did, however, discover that my entry-level gaiters are worth ten times the £16 I paid for them (thank you Costwold for the 20% National Trust member discount!), keeping my feet vastly drier than they were on day one. The walking was less challenging – undulating for sure but not much steep stuff and a fair chunk was part of the 30% of the track which is boardwalk. Despite this I was stiff as a board at the end of the day and walking like a robot by the time it got to bedtime. The vegetation changed as we passed from quartzite to dolorite rock – the former relatively barren shrubby moorland and the latter more fertile and, at various stages, forest. At times we could see bugger all due to basically walking through a cloud; at others there was still a half-decent view. In the morning we passed several lakes, including Lake Will, which boasts a little sandy beach, and Tasmania’s own Lake Windermere, where we stopped for lunch. Rather smaller and fewer tourists than the Lake Windermere I’m familiar with! On arrival at the hut we were greeted with lemon myrtle scones and tea. And unlike the previous evening, i didn’t leave the hut as the mist meant there was nothing to see! Others went out in search of a teensy glimmer of phone signal available on the veranda. I couldn’t have cared less – the phone stayed on flight mode and I enjoyed blissful ignorance of the world outside, despite it being day four of the first Ashes test. Who am I and what have you done with the real Sarah?

Day three

What a difference a day makes! This morning in the sunshine we realised that at the end of the “driveway” to the hut was a stunning view of mountains, that had remained shrouded in most the previous afternoon. We swapped anoraks for sunscreen, enjoyed being dry and took it easy, stopping for photos (many photos in my case!) to make up for the previous day. We descended to the track’s lowest point at 720 metres, then back up and took a side track to Old Pelion Hut, which celebrated its centenary last week. The hut hasn’t been used for overnighting for many years, but still has bunk beds, and graffiti dating back to the 30s! With only half an hour left to walk if we wanted to head on, we took a big break, had lunch and wandered down to the creek. Having been told by a friend who’s done the track previously that it was worth having a swim despite it being cold, I took the opportunity and it was incredibly refreshing despite, yes, being seriously chilly! We also went into an old copper mine which was a little claustrophobic and full of crickets and spiders – ick! We passed the public Pelion hut and had a nose in -reckoning that its inhabitants and those camping outside thought we were seriously soft with our private huts, skimmed stones on another creek from a fossil beach, and ambled on to our own Pelion hut where cherry muffins and tea awaited. Bliss! Over dinner we were told about the day ahead – a long and tough one if we take the side trip up Mt Ossa (highest mountain in Tasmania) but one which promises incredible views if the weather behaves.

Day four

Wow, what a day! Climbing Mt Ossa in perfect conditions was just incredible. I’m not sure I’ve seen a view like it, or if I have then not one I’ve earned by hauling my arse up a pretty steep rocky mountain for three hours! Being able to see for miles and miles in all directions, including where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and see neither a road nor a building, was completely incredible. The climb itself was tough – more so than I expected, but nothing I couldn’t handle. A fair bit of scrambling near the top, and some walking across snow patches despite it being very nearly summer. It was amazing to get to the top as a group, and then sit and eat our lunch overlooking what looked like all of Tasmania (I’m told it’s actually a third). Adding Ossa to the standard day made it a long one – nearly nine hours from setting off to arriving back – but it was entirely worth it. And this hut, Kia Ora Hut, is probably the most lovely of them all. The deck overlooking Cathedral Mountain really makes it special! If I need the toilet in the night, I might detour via the deck to look at the stars like I did at three o’clock this morning at Pelion. That was an incredible experience – I’ve never seen so many stars shining so brightly before. I felt truly out in the wild!

Day five

I don’t think I’ve ever done a four-day hike before, and I’ve certainly never done a five-day (let alone six). But by day five, the rhythm is well and truly ingrained. Get up, get dressed, breakfast (best porridge ever – and I’m not normally a porridge eater), pack, boots, lift the pack (which invariably feels heavier than yesterday) onto your back, walk. One foot in front of the other. This morning routine, it’s what we do, all thoughts of the real world forgotten. Today was a little more sore and a little slower after the exertions of Ossa, but was still a full one. We took not one but two detours to beautiful waterfalls (on the River Mersey – rather different from the Mersey I grew up near!): the first to view D’Alton and Fergusson falls, the second to the bottom of Hartnett Falls, where we could swim in the pool where the water landed. On a roasting hot day, this was utter bliss. I didn’t get quite unset the falls, because their power was such that there was a hefty current away from them, but I was full of the spray and adored the cool, clear water. The schlep back to to the track was totally worth it! We reached Windy Ridge hut around 5pm and were presented with a trip first: cold beer, which was extremely welcome! The idea that the real world is less than a day away doesn’t sit too well, if I’m honest. I may be shattered and walking like a robot, but if I could start this all over on Friday then I’d be there in a flash.

Day six

I’m now writing from a B&B in Launceston, having finished the track at lunchtime. Today, while it didn’t involve a tremendous amount of walking, really took it out of me. I didn’t feel particularly well, and add that to moderate humidity and a side dose of exhaustion and it gets a bit tricky. Thankfully, the walking wasn’t especially challenging – up and down, but no serious hills – and both scenery and weather were once again lovely. Despite what felt like snail’s pace from me, we made it to the Narcissus hut at the top of Lake St Clair about 12.15, so in plenty of time for lunch and a paddle in the lake before the 1pm ferry back to civilisation. The afternoon was spent mostly on a bus back to Launceston, via a glass of bubbly and some Tassie canapés at the walking company’s base, where we said goodbye to our wonderful guides Sanjay and Silas who gave us cards with personal messages to mark the end of the trip. It’s very odd now to be spending the evening on my own – I miss the company of the group already!

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