What To Expect: My Trip
Day One: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley, sidetrip to Cradle Mountain summit
I had gorgeous weather to start; sunny blue skies set with friendly-looking cumulus clouds. Filled with excitement, I took off at full trot until the reality of the load on my back hit me. Okay, so maybe I had a little more excitement than experience. This would be my first multi-day, self-sufficient, solo hike. The first day into Cradle Valley has some steep parts that will have you breathing heavy even if you’re a seasoned hiker. The mind-blowing scenery takes a bit of the load off, however. You arrive upon alpine plateaus with views of glacial lakes like Dove and Crater, and all the huffing and puffing is forgotten. The sky opens up above you, and the mountainous land stretches out in all directions, alternately spotlit and shadowed; a thousand peaks of perfection. The bottomless blue of the lakes against this backdrop is amazing. Up here life is clean and clear.
I met a couple from ‘Lonnie’ (Launceston) who were on a day hike up to Cradle Mountain, and decided to take their lead, scrambling up the craggy rocks. It was very similar to some of the climbing I did in Wales and England’s Lake District. It took around two hours round trip, and as I neared the summit I was not surprised to see the clouds quickly rolling in, snapping my photo of the view before Mother Nature could take it from me. From Cradle Mountain it was several hours to Waterfall Valley where I would stay for the first night. There were two huts at Waterfall Valley, and both were full, so I popped up my tent, ate, wrote in my journal and passed out. Spotting wallabies on the way to the toilet was cool. I got a bit chilly as I had no sleeping mat or groundcover below my tent. I was glad when morning came, and I set off optimistically in the light rain.
Day Two: To New Pelion Hut via Lake Windmere
This was a long day of hiking; literally 8am-4pm with a half-hour stop for lunch at Windmere Hut. The rain let up after a couple hours, but the skies remained gray and overcast the entire day. The track crossed over moors and glacial tarns, with several kilometres through dense rainforest. I never went more than an hour without seeing other hikers. Some called me crazy for hiking alone and others praised my bravado. Most people I met on the track were from Australia. Only three percent of overseas visitors to Australia visit Tasmania. I arrived at New Pelion hut weary, with mud-covered boots. New Pelion is the newest of the huts and also the largest, so even though I arrived on the later side, there were still many bunks available. Being able to relax with a good book was the best feeling after a long day of hiking. Groups gathered over hot cocoa and coffee, playing cards and sharing stories. It was a pleasant feeling going to sleep when the sun went down and getting up when it arose. When you live out of a backpack, you realize just how little you really need; it is a humbling experience.
Day Three: To Windy Ridge Hut, sidetrips to Mt.Ossa and Hartnett Falls
Begins with rain once again, but as I eat breakfast on the large porch of New Pelion with views across the tarn to the mountains, I am in awe. I set off and find myself at the base of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s tallest peak, before lunch. I momentarily hesitate as an old mountain goat of a man asks if I’ll be heading up too. He starts off without me as I fortify myself with a few spoonfuls of peanut butter and then decide I can’t miss out on this peak. The views on the way up were spectacular. About three-quarters of the way up as the climb turned into rock scrambling and the wind whipped rain in my face, I finally paused to look down and up. Down was going to be steep and wet; up, where I could see the blue dot of the mountain man ambling up with a walking stick into the clouds. I decided going any further would be rather dangerous and I wouldn’t get to see anymore than I had at the summit than I had on the way up. So I headed down, warning those coming up that the conditions up top were not pretty. I decided I would have to be content enough with almost reaching Tasmania’s highest point.
Kia Ora Hut was crowded with people stopping for lunch, so I push on to Du Cane Hut, now used only for emergency shelter. Most of the walking this day was through lovely green rainforest with many small rivers and waterfalls. There are several side trails to waterfalls, but the biggest and best is Hartnett falls, about a half-hour round-trip off-trail. I reached Windy-Ridge Hut around five-thirty and was not surprised to find the eight-person hut filled to the max. This is the point at which I talked to a boy on a Cradle Huts Tour and found out they stayed in special cabins with showers and prepared meals. I asked him if he thought they’d notice if I slipped in. Since it was their second to last day on the trail, he assured me the guides knew who was who at this point, so sadly I was left to erect my sad, wet tent on a small wooden platform. I expected to sleep miserably, but was surprisingly warm and dry.
Day Four: To Echo Point Hut via Narcissus Hut
The thought crosses my mind that I could finish the hike on this day if I took the ferry from Narcissus Hut. For a moment I imagine the bliss of hot showers, hot food and dry socks, but then I know how I would always feel if I didn’t “officially” complete every step of the track by foot. If you do choose to take the ferry, you must call and reserve a spot. This ferry is operated between Narcissus and Cynthia Bay by the private operator Lakeside St Clair. Phone (03) 6289 1137 for bookings and timetables. A radio, located in Narcissus Hut, is connected to the operator to enable ferry bookings.
When I reached Echo Point, I felt sorry for all those who skipped this part of the track. Echo Point Hut was my most favorite. Set right on the shore of Lake St Claire with its own private beach, it is a cozy hut, with just four bunks. I spent the afternoon reading on the small boat ramp, watching the small ferry buzz by; making its rounds. I was glad I had one more night in the wild. I wasn’t ready to go back just yet. As the sun began to set I thought I would be spending the night alone until a guy walked in, just starting out from Lake St Claire. He proved to be delightful company, and when I was awoken during the night by the screams of the Tasmanian Devils, I was glad I wasn’t alone.
Day Five: To Lake St. Claire Visitor Centre
I wanted very much to just hike back in with my new friend Brian, but I knew I had a plane to catch the following day. It was hard to leave Echo Point Paradise; I spent a long morning reading on the beach. I finally took off, hiking the last three hours back to the Lake St Claire Visitor Centre. I was supremely happy. I sat in the lodge with a beautiful view of the lake, digging into a large slice of carrot cake with a bottomless cup of hot tea. I felt accomplished, invincible; superhuman even. I recognized many of the people in the room as we had seen each other on and off along the way. With roughly the same itineraries, we had been a little community for several days; we had complained together about the weather, knowing all along we were all here on our own wills to experience the highs and lows of the trail. The high became bittersweet when I realized the journey was over as I signed out in the registration book at the Lake St. Claire visitor centre.
Returning to “civilization” was more of an adjustment than I thought it would be; the hustle and bustle of fanatic consumerism hits you in the face and everything feels in excess. You realize the sharp contrast between the accommodating conveniences of modern technology that crowd every day life and the simplicity of nature and life on the trail. When I went to sign the log book at Echo Point, I was moved to write something profound, but all I could squeak out was: “I love Tasmania”. Some had written that their experience on the Overland changed their lives; others wrote of humorous events or correspondence to those they had met on the trail. I spent the entire last leg of the journey thinking of other things I should have written. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that no one really cared that much what I left written; what was most profound was a personal reflection not meant to be expressed in words.
Lake St Clair Vistor Information Centre
Phone:(03) 6289 1172
Lake St Claire has excellent facilities, including a store, restaurant and parks exhibit.