Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain Overland Track
26 July – 1 August 2018 (private)
The iconic ‘Overland Track’ is Australia’s only multiday track walk that is comparable to the popular New Zealand ‘Great Walks’. The Overland Track, comprising a network of tracks and huts, ranging in size and comfort, traverses the World Heritage central highlands of Tasmania, over a distance of 65km.
The ‘official walking season’ is from 1 October to 31 May where one must walk north to south and commands a fee of $200 plus a National Park Pass. It’s a popular track with Australians and international visitors. During the season, the track is extremely busy and walker numbers are regulated. All the seasonal restrictions, with the exception of the National Park Pass, don’t apply out of season. So it’s a good time to walk the track as there are less walkers and if you are lucky, lots of snow. Overall, the track is an easy walk, but what makes it difficult in winter is the extreme and changeable weather.
I recently completed the Overland Track with my stepson, Harry and his wife Mel. We met in Hobart and enjoyed an evening of delicious Tasmanian food, wine and ambience before catching a regular bus service the next morning from Hobart to Queenstown. The bus stopped at the Lake St Claire National Parks Visitor Centre where we, the only walkers on the bus, disembarked. We took the midday ferry to the top of the lake to intercept the Overland Track at Narcissus Hut and start our walk.
We planned to stay at Pine Valley Hut. This hut is situated off the Overland Track and provides access to the Labyrinth, Lake Elysia and the numerous peaks of the DuCane Range. In hindsight, after checking the weather chart, we should have continued north on the Overland Track to Bert Nichols Hut, so that our only fine day coincided with crossing Pelion Pass and provided an opportunity to climb Mt Ossa. A lesson learnt!
We started our walk under an overcast sky, the weather slowly deteriorated over the course of the day, by evening it was pouring with rain. Pine Valley hut is small and dank. I stayed here in 2010 in similar conditions, however, there was no heater and it was very cold. This time there was a potbelly stove with damp kindling plus coal. Another lesson, pack firelighters. We gave up trying to start a fire and retired early. The next morning we returned to the Overland Track and enjoyed an easy walk to Bert Nichols Hut. That evening the clouds cleared displaying a blanket of stars with promise of a fine day.
A glorious clear morning dawned. Amazing how sunshine energises the soul and gets one moving. We hit the track early, ascended to DuCane Gap at 1100m encountering our first snow of the trip. Much of the track traverses through Myrtle-beech rainforest and patches of Pencil and King Billy pine, and runs parallel to the Mersey River for a short distance after the gap. We arrived at Kia Ora Hut by lunch time. I wandered up the track towards Pelion Gap with good views of Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion to the west and east respectively, and Cathedral Mountain to the south east. Spectacular dolerite columns crown these and the other mountains. The track from the hut is predominantly boardwalk. Patches of knee high snow gradually merged to cover the track closer to the gap. Snowshoes weren’t required. I looked back and noticed an insidious low cloud moving quickly up a valley towards the hut and immediately turned back. Within a short time, cloud obscured the surrounding mountains, and that evening a low pressure system moved in. The next day we walked in the rain over Pelion Gap (1126m) to Pelion Hut!
Pelion Hut was almost full when we arrived, with a school group, large private group of locals plus two independent walkers. The large hut is located in the centre of the Overland Track and is readily accessible via the Arm River and Lees Paddock tracks. The hut looked like a laundry with clothing strung up everywhere to dry. We spent the afternoon listening to the pouring rain, playing cards and drinking hot beverages. Our stay here was the warmest, noisiest and most social of any hut on our trip. We discussed climbing Mt Oakliegh the following day, but abandoned the idea when it started snowing that evening.
A blanket of white snow covered the landscape the following morning. The hut was buzzing with activity as everyone prepared to leave. Our group headed northwards on the longest section of the 14km track. The track descends into Frog Hollow then ascends to a plateau at 1000m. Unfortunately, cloud obscured all the views. The large amount of boardwalk made for quick easy travel, though a number of new sections lacked chicken wire which slowed our travel. We were looking forward to a quiet and solitary evening at Windemere Hut, when a party of nine from the Hobart Walking Club turned up. It was interesting and informative chatting to locals. I also saw my first spotted Eastern Quoll (a type of marsupial ‘cat’) that afternoon as it scavenged for food at the hut entrance.
Overnight, there was a light dusting of snow, however the clouds lifted at times to provide views along the plateau south to Lake St Claire where we had climbed to 1100m. We had lunch at Waterfall Hut before ascending and traversing the narrow Cradle cirque to Mt Benson, and then turning eastwards onto the Lake Rodway Track. This section of the Overland track was pectacular; blanketed in snow and great views to the south of the magnificent Barn Bluff and the Cradle Plateau. At the track junction, we stopped to admire a new and impressive emergency shelter - a dome securely anchored into the ground.We descended to Lake Rodway, located on the eastern side of Cradle Mountain. We took this lower route to avoid the deep snow on the Overland Track plus we planned to stay overnight at Scott Kilvet Hut - a beautiful A framed hut. It was erected as a memorial to David Kilvet and Ewen Scott, who both died tragically of exposure in 1965 in the area. The hut was built to provide shelter to future walkers and avoid such tragedies occurring in the future..
The next morning, we walked out after an extremely cold night. It was an easy two-hour walk around the eastern side of Cradle Mountain to Dove Lake past snow laden vegetation and frozen lakes. We climbed Hansons Peak for stunning views of the Cradle Plateau and eastwards, then completed a steep descent with the assistance of chains. At the track end, a free shuttle, delivered us to the Cradle Mountain Lodge and back to civilisation and the wonderful smell of freshly ground coffee.
We were: Sonja Risa, Harry Crawford, Melissa Crawford (SR)