Trip Report by Darren Edwards
Overland Track Day 1 – Dove Lake to Waterfall Valley
For quite some time I have had this classic trek on my bucket list as I have heard so many amazing things about it from friends and fellow hikers. Yet for some reason I seemed to be avoiding actually booking it in. I wasn’t really certain if I would ever hike the Overland Track, everyone hikes the Overland Track. What is so special about this trek? Why can’t we do something that no one else does and come back to this one when we have no other options? When I started really thinking about it I realised I would never run out of hiking and trekking options and in fact had the same feeling about trekking to Everest Base Camp but I undertook this adventure earlier in 2016 so decided it was time to book this one in too.
So there we were on Boxing Day 2016, standing at the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair visitors centre collecting our permits. Waiting with great anticipation and a little apprehension as to what would unfold during the eight days that lay ahead of us. Was the 10kg of food we had so carefully planned and packed going to be enough? Was the 10-40mm of rain that was forecast for each day going to be just too much to bear? I guess there was only one way to find out.
After a gear check and final hearty lunch, it was time to board the Dove Lake Shuttle Bus and head towards our start point. The Overland Track generally starts at Ronny Creek in Cradle Valley and follows the boardwalk across the button grass moorland before climbing to Marion’s Lookout. We chose to start our adventure at the iconic and picturesque Dove Lake, at the foot of Cradle Mountain so that we could enjoy one of Tasmania’s better known vistas before setting off.
By lunchtime, we had walked past Dove Lake, Lake Lilla, Wombat Pool, through our first section of ancient temperate rainforest and witnessed the dramatic glacially-carved Crater Lake. The steepest section of day one (except for our planned side trip to Barn Bluff) was now behind us as we happily approached Marion’s Lookout which offers spectacular views of Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake below. Just beyond this point many hikers choose to leave their pack at Kitchen Hut and carry a day pack to the summit of Cradle Mountain with essential items (waterproof jacket, first-aid kit, food and water etc.). Here’s a useful tip; If leaving your pack anywhere on the Overland Track, tie zip ends together and cover your pack with your pack cover as currawongs (crow like birds with sinister yellow eyes) have cleverly learnt to undo zips to access your food. We chose not to summit on this occasion as we had done so on a previous hike and really wanted to head to Barn Bluff for panoramic views while the weather was still in our favour.
Our trail continued south across the plateau then around the western base of Cradle Mountain, out along the edge of Benson Peak and a spectacular glacial cirque before heading out along Barn Bluff cirque and the towering Barn Bluff, Tasmania’s fourth tallest mountain. Barn Bluff is perhaps the most prominent peak of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. The mountain’s nearest neighbours are quite distant and, therefore, the 360-degree panorama from the summit is uninterrupted and spectacular. Barn Bluff, like Cradle Mountain, presents a classic summit and is well worth the side trip if you have both time and energy.
Descending from the summit we retraced our steps along the cirque before finally dropping into Waterfall Valley where we set up camp for the night. With heavy eyes and tired legs, we crawled into the tent, quite satisfied with our first day on the trail. The rain started falling around us as we headed off to sleep.
Overland Track Day 2 – Waterfall Valley to Pine Forest Moor
I opened my eyes to hear that the rain had eased during the night and was quite thankful that the tent was relatively dry. After a warming bowl full of porridge, we packed our gear into our packs and set off into the mist that surrounded us. (hence not as many photos today)
The usual plan for day two is to walk from Waterfall Valley to Windermere hut but we had decided to push on a little further in the hope of camping at Pine Forest Moor as we wanted to be closer to Pelion West for our side-trip summit attempt the following day.
Mount Pelion West is a located in the Central Highlands region and is part of the Pelion Range at the eastern most boundary of the Murchison River catchment. It is a mountain not often climbed as part of the Overland Track and we were hopeful we would see the mountain and the trail leading to it as it was hidden well amongst the clouds.
Compared with the previous day’s climb up to Marion’s Lookout and across the highest part of the Overland Track, the trail to Lake Windermere was relatively flat and leisurely. In the first half hour we hiked through heathland and alpine gums as we skirted the rim of the spectacular Waterfall Valley cirque. As it had rained the night before we could hear several waterfalls down in the valley below but the heath was too dense to even consider exploring them. It’s best on the Overland Track to just stick to the trail.
About an hour down the track we reached the junction to Lake Will. This is a popular side trip, where many people choose to lunch on the lake’s shore, beneath the backdrop of Barn Bluff. As we were able to see the lake clearly from Barn Bluff the previous day we decided not to explore this area and kept walking high across the plateau enjoying the mist filled views of the tarn-studded alpine moors.
Windermere Hut is just beyond Lake Windermere, at the edge of a myrtle forest. Tent platforms are located either side of the hut, amongst gnarly snow peppermints and graceful pandanis, with Lake Windermere visible in the distance. In warmer weather you might be tempted to take a refreshing mountain lake swim. But not today. We stopped for an hour at the hut just to dry out our boots and grab something to eat for lunch.
Continuing along the duckboard after lunch we were fortunate to encounter a friendly echidna on the trail, happily catching ants. The trail continued across plains of button grass towards Pine Forest Moor with ancient pencil pines sitting with their roots in water. There are no large hills in this area and the once notoriously muddy Pine Forest Moor now has a duckboard path to carry you over the mud. Thank god.
We weren’t really certain where we were going to camp for the night as we had only selected this area from the topo map during our planning and it looked relatively flat. As we walked through the hilly, twisted and dense forest of the Moor we stared to question if there would even be any clear and level ground to pitch the tent. At the end of the Moor the forest cleared so we searched west along the creek and found a perfectly enchanted camp site under the pencil pines on the edge of the forest.
There ends day two and here comes the rain, again.
Overland Track Day 3 – Pine Forest Moor to New Pelion Hut
The rain that started falling late last night had not eased a bit when we woke on day three. Reluctantly I crawled out of the tent so see if there was any chance of eating breakfast outside but no, the rain was dampening every spirit. Crawling back inside we ate breakfast and started to slowly pack our gear in the confined space of our tent. Thankfully everything was dry inside with only the fly taking on the load of water that was dumped during the night. Our tent has the advantage of being twin walled with the fly supported independently by the poles. This means we were able to simply unclip the tent from inside and pack the ten and our gear without getting wet. The fly on the other hand was soaked so was rolled into a ball and stuffed on the outside of my pack.
Today, we began with a long, slow descent around the base of Mt Pelion West. As mentioned in my day two account, our intent was to find the trail leading to Pelion West and attempt the summit. We walked for what seemed like hours, trudging through the mud and navigating through the labyrinth of twister tree roots of the myrtle-beech rainforest, all the while keeping an eye out for the Pelion West track to our right. Eventually we decided to check the maps and GPS only to discover that we had passed the trail a few hundred metres back. We were so focussed on watching every step and keeping our feed out of the wet that we completely missed the trail that would have been buried in the dense undergrowth and steep eastern flanks of Pelion West. With hesitation we turned around in order to retrace our steps but in the end made the wise decision to leave Pelion West in the rain and mist and continue our journey down to the Forth River which plunges into the Lemonthyme Valley.
After a well-earned break by the Forth River on the leech filled Frog Flats, we commenced a long, gentle ascent out of the valley onto the beautiful Pelion Plains. I am told that the plains offer outstanding views of Mt Oakleigh but the mist was so heavy around that we could barely see a few hundred metres in any direction. This was by far out wettest day yet and we were so thankful to see the sign to New Pelion Hut approaching.
The spacious New Pelion Hut is set on the edge of picturesque button grass plains, with the spectacular dolerite spires of Mt Oakleigh framing the view to the north. If we could have seen them that is. As we approached the hut I was amazed at just how large it was, it looks more like a ranch than a hut and was certainly a very welcome site. When we arrived we were amazed that were the only people there so quickly set about choosing our room, hanging our gear on the veranda to dry and boiling some water for a much deserve sponge bath. Over the next few hours more and more people arrived, well into the early evening in fact, to make the hut their home for the night. We were fortunate that our room was only occupied by another couple but even so I had possibly the worst night sleep of our trip. The bunks just don’t feel as comfortable as my tent. But then I sleep better in my tent than I do at home too.
This was the only hut we slept in on our eight-day trek and we were thankful for the chance to dry everything out before heading off the next day. (as a result, not many photos today either)
Overland Track Day 4 – Pelion Plains Hut to Kia Ora Hut
YAY, today is Mount Ossa day, the highest mountain in Tasmania and a side trip that almost everyone on the Overland Track is waiting for. Busy praying to the weather gods the night before. This truly is a mountain day with a steady climb out of New Pelion Hut, a climb to the magnificent summit (1617m) then finishing at Kio Ora hut, the same altitude (850m) as we started.
Our day started with a steady climb through rainforest, beside Douglas Creek, out of New Pelion Hut. After all the rain from the preceding days the creek was flowing heavily and we had the opportunity to sneak off the trail to admire the cascades that were created. After a few hours, and a final steep pinch, we emerged from the forest onto Pelion Gap – the exposed alpine plateau between Mt Pelion East and Mt Ossa.
If an attempt to summit Tasmania’s highest mountain (Mt Ossa-1617m) is not something that interests you there is the opportunity her to attempt the slightly lower Mt Pelion East. We of course were here to summit Ossa. If only we could see it! While it wasn’t raining, the low cloud cover was obscuring all but the lower reaches of Mount Doris. At first glance it appeared that Ossa was lurking in the shadows just behind the initial climb but as we ascended it became clear that this was Mount Doris and Ossa was threatening from a lot further behind.
We left our packs at the junction on the timber platforms and carried a day pack with waterproof jacket, food, water, first aid kit, and all the essentials for an alpine summit. The climb past Doris was simply stunning with so many wildflowers the scene looked like a Japanese garden. We followed the trail over the saddle between Ossa and Doris and commenced the true ascent of Ossa as the mountain gradually unfolded through the mist before us. In order to reach the false summit, we followed the trail through a narrow canyon then up and over a near vertical scramble in order to reach the boulder field above. About half way up the vertical ascent we thought we must have taken a wrong turn as no one would make a public trail this challenging, but we soldiered on. (later to realise we had missed the true trail which led you over a much easier route).
On nearing the summit, I was delighted to find large patches of snow still on the mountain. Anyone who knows me understands my love of a good snow fight so we spent a bit of time picking snow out of each other’s ears before venturing further. On all of our alpine summits, regardless of weather, we have always been fortunate that on reaching the top any clouds would break to reveal the vista that awaited us. Others near the summit were not so sure but just as planned, on reaching the summit, the clouds parted to the west to reveal an incredible view over the surrounding plateau. We waiting for a while for more clouds too clear but that must have been all we were entitled to see that day so we headed back down. This time via the safer route and via friendly wombat who was out for a feed.
Back at our packs and we had our first experience with the Currawongs as they had happily removed out pack covers and rummaged through our rubbish bag. Luckily they found nothing of value and went on their way, leaving the mess for us to clean up.
The gradual descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora Hut led us through beautiful Pinestone Valley with views to our left of the spectacular Cathedral Mountain, to our right views of the almighty Du Cane Range. After arriving at Kia Ora Hut we set up on a tent platform with an amazing view back towards where Ossa should have been then found the delightful Kia Ora Creek for a refreshing swim. This was a great day.
Overland Track Day 5 – Kia Ora Hut to Windy Ridge Hut
With the mountain summit behind us it is time for a change of pace. Today is rainforest and waterfall day as we make a number of side-trip to D’Alton, Fergusson Falls and Hartnett Falls.
From Kio Ora Hut the trail crossed over the cascading Kia Ora Creek then passed through buttongrass fields. It wasn’t long and we were soon immersed again in rainforest, and you guessed it, muddy and root filled trails, as we skirted the lower slopes of Castle Crag. Below us, unseen from the main track, we could hear the sounds of the Mersey River crashing through chasms and plunging over cliffs. We didn’t know that at the time of course but the roar of the river echoed through the rainforest so it was going to be spectacular.
About an hour into the walk, we broke out of the forest into a small clearing, where we found the quaint and historic Du Cane Hut, built in 1910 by Paddy Hartnett, a snarer, miner and bushman. We spent some time exploring here, had some morning tea and inspected the hut and the famed drop toilet.
We were of course destined to spend the next hour walking through the lovely mud and navigating through tree roots before arriving at the track junction marking the first side trip down to both D’Alton and Fergusson Falls. We dropped our packs at the junction and headed along the trail that descended towards the falls below.
WOW, WOW, WOW. I have never heard such a powerful roar or viewed such spectacularly powerful falls in Australia as Fergusson Falls, our first major falls for the day. The water simply tore over the lip of the cliff and forced itself like an angry geyser into the river below before forging its way along a narrow chasm that has clearly been created by these falls. They were spectacular.
Retracing our steps, next on the list were D’Alton Falls. From the signposted junction we descended along a well-worn trail to view point overlooking the top of the falls. D’Alton Falls start where the chasm created by Fergusson Falls ends so you have the same volume of water being forced over the cascading cliffs to create a spectacular waterfall that plunges into the of the Mersey River below.
Returning to our packs we then walked what seemed to be the longest 700m to the junction of Hartnett Falls – the tallest of the three. Again we left our packs at the track junctions to explore the falls. The walk to Hartnett Falls wasn’t through rainforest as the previous two were, we were in open bush now and I am pleased to report the trail was filled with mud and twisted roots again. Oh what joy. We arrived at the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the falls, they were spectacular too, although not as powerful as its sisters. Walking along the top of the cliff provided adequate vantage points to view this wide and tall waterfall. There is also a track that leads down the cliff to the base of the falls but two tour groups had just started to head down there and we were a bit sick of them tailing us and polluting our lunch stops and serenity with their constant chatter. So we moved on the get ahead of them.
Back on the main trail, we now headed west and began the gradual climb to Du Cane Gap – the saddle between the Traveller Range and the Du Cane Range. There are not a lot of mountain vistas to see in this section and we only caught glimpses of the rocky peaks through the tall fines that flanked us on either side. Following a long and steady climb over the gap we commenced a steep descent into the bowl-like cirque of the Du Cane Range, sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago.
Slowly the canopy started to open out and eucalypts began to appear. After a series of duckboards and not so muddy trails we arrived at Windy Ridge Hut (AKA, Bert Nichols Hut) – a stunning location almost totally encircled by the spectacular Du Cane Range. The hut was a welcome sight after a long day on the trail. We set up camp on the platform then retired to the hut to hang our wet gear in the ventilated drying room then relax and organise the night’s dinner.
Overland Track Day 6 – Windy Ridge Hut to Pine Valley Hut
Reading the information board at Windy Ridge Hut it stated “Whether you’re finishing your walk at Narcissus, or continuing on foot to Cynthia Bay, either way, there’s no more uphill! It’s a gentle walk down the glacier’s path to Narcissus Hut beside Lake St Clair. Relax and enjoy your final hours of walking.” Sounded like we had an easy day ahead of us. Not quite true. The trail from Windy Ridge Hut to the Pine Valley junction was quite undulating and never really felt like we were descending down the glaciers path.
The surrounding environment had changed significantly and aside from pockets of wet forest beside creeks, we were walking in an environment most Australians are more familiar with – amongst tall eucalypts and fragrant heath shrubs, surrounded by birdsong and scurrying skinks.
About halfway to Narcissus, we arrived at the junction to Pine Valley Hut. The hut is a popular spot for hikers who journey up from Lake St Clair and use it as a base to explore the Du Cane Range so you can expect to see a few new faces along the trail. If you are undertaking the Overland Track as a six-day trek you would continue past this turn off and head directly to Narcissus Hut to either catch the ferry or continue through the rainforest around the western shores of Lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay.
As we had extended our trek to eight days it was time to head west towards Pine Valley Hut and the famed Acropolis.
It was our original intent to simply walk from Windy Ridge Hut to Pine Valley Hut and set up camp for the night in order to tackle both the Labyrinth and the Acropolis the following day with fresh legs. As the day unfolded the clouds broke to expose beautiful blue skies above so we altered our plan and decided to summit the Acropolis that day.
We pushed on to Pine Valley without many breaks. The going was initially really good with a gravel track leading to the first of the suspension bridges. The trail then alternates between gravel, duckboard, muddy holes and twisted tree roots (my favourite). Not long after starting the Pine Valley track we passed into a moss covered rainforest. This section of the trail was incredible and looked like somewhere my kids would hope to find elves and fairies. We were truly surprised at how beautiful this section of the hike was, despite the slightly more challenging walking conditions and wet and muddy track.
We continued through the rainforest until we reached Pine Valley Hut, set peacefully amongst this amazing environment. Packs, off, find a camp site, set up the tent, grab a bite to eat and we were off on our Acropolis adventure.
I was desperate to catch even a glimpse of what lay before us but the dense mossy rainforest continued as we wound our way through the valley and over numerous icy streams. The trail turned sharply to the right and we hit what felt like a vertical wall in front of us. Up and up and up, the trail went. Sometimes straight up with only a few twists and turns through the rainforest to ease the burning legs. There were one or two vantage points where we captured views to the south but still nothing of the Acropolis. Up and up and up.
Eventually the ascent eased. The trail turned north to meet a very welcome duckboard and our first glimpse of this stunning mountain. Following a few excited happy snaps, we headed off with great enthusiasm following the trail as it climbed the southern spur then would closely around the eastern flanks of the cathedral like dolomite spires. The trail steepened as we climbed higher with the final stages requiring us to pull ourselves up wet and slippery boulders. Over the rim and onto the saddle we looked north across the boulder field to the summit that was our goal. Clambering to the summit, we stood in awe at the absolutely astonishing 360 degree views that lay before us. There were just too many amazing craggy mountains to take in, the most impressive of them being Mount Geryon and the Du Cane Range to our north west. The sheep vertical cliffs rose dramatically from the plains below. This was like no other mountain in Australia and had us smiling from ear to ear. This is a view that everyone should see.
We were absolutely buzzing with excitement as we retraced our steps, back to Pine Valley Hut then headed to the Creek for a refreshing, yet icy swim.
Today was New Year’s Eve and the view from the Acropolis was a rewarding gift to top off an adventurous year. We celebrated with a few other hikers on the nearby helipad before retiring for the night.
Overland Track Day 7 – The Labyrinth
Our second day in Pine Valley was a significantly shorter one and a kind of rest day following six days on the trail. Today we were heading to The Labyrinth, aptly named due to the maze of tarns, lakes rocky outcrops and mountains in the heart of Tasmania’s wilderness.
On leaving Pine Valley Hut the trail winds its way along the rainforest floor before starting to climb. Firstly, continuing through rainforest, up a rocky and inclined creek (not unlike a waterfall). Eventually, after approximately 360m of vertical ascent the forest thinned and views towards Mt Olympus and Mt Gould unfolded before us. Once we reached the plateau, the track flattens out somewhat as we made our way through the much drier (still had mud) and open forest of snow gums and pencil pines.
We were not blessed with the same incredible weather as the previous day and as we followed the undulating trail north we were engulfed in misty cloud that was blowing in from the west. We had hoped to scramble up The Partheon to our east but the cloud quickly erased any views we would have seen and only provided us with glimpses of its western flanks. We continued to follow the trail north past Lake Leuce and Erytheria and descended the escarpment towards Cyane Lake. During the descent we were fortunate that the clouds broke again to unveil views of the valley below as well as the western flanks of the Acropolis.
On the north eastern corner of the lake the train splits. The trail to the left leads through the Labyrinth towards Lake Elysia then into the heart of the Du Cane Range to the summit of Mount Geryon North. I would love to have reached the summit of this mountain but time and weather did not allow so we took the trail to the right and headed through alpine scrub to the lookout over Cyane Lake and Lake Ophion. By the time we reached the lookout we were in a complete white-out and could not see any views so I spent some time looking for detail on the summit.
We decided to return to Pine Valley just as the clouds turned into gentle rain. By the time we reached the start of our descent in to the valley the rain had become heavier. We soldiered on, drenched to the skin but thankful that we would soon be reaching the hut so we could change our clothes and dry off.
The return hike took us around five hours and was a little under seven kilometres so you can see how slow the going is in The Labyrinth. There is so much more to explore in this region including Mount Geryon and Walled Mountain. I am sure we will return again.
Overland Track Day 8 – Pine Valley to Lake St Clair
Our last day had arrived.
After breaking camp, we retraced our steps from Pine Valley to the Overland Track junction. Turning right at this point after a short break we headed south towards the much anticipated Narcissus Bay. The trail gradually descended toward the bay, following a number of duckboards and surprisingly dry trails through buttongrass plains along the Narcissus River.
As we approached the Narcissus River, the dolerite columns of Mount Olympus formed a dramatic backdrop to the golden glow of buttongrass moorland. The comfortable duckboard track, which protects the boggy peat soils, was a very very welcome change, allowing us to stroll along at a reasonable pace, savouring the view, instead of constantly watching our feet.
Crossing the Narcissus River was via the only suspension bridge on the Overland Track (excluding the ones to Pine Valley which are not officially on the Overland Track). A little further on, we found the small and rustic Narcissus Hut on the banks of the Narcissus River.
If you are undertaking the Overland Track in its entirety you would continue past Narcissus Hut and continue through the rainforest around the western shores of Lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay. Eight days was enough so we were catching the Ferry.
As we intended to catch the ferry down Lake St Clair, we had to first confirm our ferry booking using the hut radio. I would suggest planning to arrive at the hut to confirm your booking early as I had made our booking months before but like many others it had not been recorded. Our ferry was not departing until around 3:45 so we had around three hours to kill. Perfect time for me to wash my boots and stinky socks and hang them and the tent out to dry, as we needed to sleep in it for one more night.
Getting ready for our departure, we headed down to the Jetty where we FINALLY took off our packs and boots and celebrated the achievement! Now all we had to do is sit back and relax and enjoy the views along the shores of Australia’s deepest freshwater lake.
On arrival at Cynthia Bay, we signed out to de-register our walk, confirmed our campsite, booked a table at the restaurant for a mighty feast then headed off to the showers for a well-deserved pamper under the only hot water we had seen for over a week. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.
Eight days on the trail was not as difficult as I had imagined. Our legs weren’t sore, our packs were no longer heavy, we still had enough food, and the weather was nowhere near as dreadful as the forecasts predicted. I was sad that this was our last day but also relieved that I would not have to step on a muddy trail, at least not until my next hike. The entire experience was a lot easier and more exhilarating than I had anticipated. I would highly recommend this trek to anyone.
Author: Darren Edwards – Trail Hiking Australia