The first couple were a slightly balding young man and a pretty girl with longish brown hair. They appeared to be in their mid-twenties and had enough similarities to suggest that they were brother and sister. (It turned out that I was correct and they were siblings but that wasn’t revealed to everyone else until one of the other walkers accused them of being married, much to the amusement of those of us who knew better.)
As this pair reached the counter to buy their passes they were greeted by a broad grinning national park employee who said, “Normally the first days walk is about three and a half hours, but that’s in normal conditions. These aren’t normal conditions, you’ve got a hard day’s walking ahead.”
This is the only warning we got. The fact that this man seemed to think that we were going walking in appalling conditions is something I now feel very upset about. He should have warned us that the conditions were bad enough to consider not starting that day.
After the first couple had sorted out maps and passes it was my turn. I sorted out the passes for Hiro and myself without so much as another word from the attendant, before stepping away from the counter.
The final group then proceeded to the counter. They were made up of three Australians, a man and wife in their late thirties and a grizzled looking man of about fifty. They were clearly very well equipped for their expedition; they were all carrying or wearing high quality equipment, whereas Hiro and I were wearing a mishmash of cobbled together equipment. I must stress that neither of us were under-prepared, but being budget backpackers high quality Gore-Tex clothing was well out of our price range. The only piece of clothing that I had that turned out to be less than suitable was my waterproof coat and that was simply because it was not a breathable enough material.
Hiro soon returned from sorting out his clothing and we were soon on our way to the starting point of the Overland Track. This presented us with our first problem. The actual start of the track is seven kilometres from the visitors’ centre and we had no means of getting there apart from walking or hitching. We had been told that normally a shuttle bus would be running, but today the driver was nowhere to be found.
So, without further ado we started walking towards the start. The scenery was already hinting at what we would be facing as the snow was piled up around either side of the road and on the surrounding hillsides, giving alpine views that I had never expected to see when landing in sun-drench Queensland seven months earlier.
As we trudged along a few cars headed past without stopping to offer a lift to the start. This was a little depressing as I knew that we had nearly eighty kilometres of walking ahead, all we needed was another seven on top of that. Just as I was about to give up hope and face the prospect of the extra distance, a car pulled over and out jumped a man in his mid-thirties wearing a Harlequin rugby club jersey.
“Want a lift?” his accent immediately gave him away as a fellow Englishman. It turned out that he was in Australia on a photographic expedition and we discussed cameras and favourite photographs as we drove down the winding unsealed road to the start of the Overland Track at Dove Lake.
Traditionally, the track started at Waldheim hut but this has now been changed to Dove Lake. As we headed towards the lake we passed the brother and sister attempting to hitch a lift. The wave from our driver was apologetic, whereas ours was a little on the smug side.
As we pulled into the car park at Dove Lake we gained our first view of Cradle Mountain. It was heart-achingly beautiful. It was snow covered but it’s brother and sister peaks at either end of the cradle shape stood out like lords of the track against the grey but clear sky. In front of the mountain the waters of Dove Lake were a dark, almost impenetrable grey. I could feel the chill of the water even as I scanned the lake.
The last task before starting was to sign the walker’s register. This register is in place to protect the walker in case they get lost or injured during their trek. No matter how short your walk you should always sign the register, it’s there for your safety.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Pacific Insiders page.