Overland Track

In 2008 I wanted to do something different for Christmas, so I decided walk the Overland Track, a world famous hiking route through the Tasmanian wilderness that takes around one week to walk.

When the booking system openend on 1st July 2008 I booked my ticket and from the 20th December to the 27th I did the walk and had a fantastic time.

It was my first big hiking trip and it was mostly about getting experience for further trips and of course, also about escaping Christmas and the stress in the city. It’s a really great feeling to have celebrated Christmas on top of Mount Ossa, the roof-top of Tasmania.

On Friday 19th December 2008 I left the office in Hobart earlier than normal to get changed, pack my gear and walk to the Redline transit centre to catch the late bus to Launceston at 5.30pm. Funny was that one of my colleagues took the same bus to visit relatives in Launceston.

Around 8pm I arrived at the Arthouse Hostel in Launceston. I always stay at the Arthouse when I come to Launceston, I spent several months there last year while working, and I like the friendly atmosphere and the people.

After checking in I went to the supermarket to buy some last-minute food. During the bus ride I remembered I forgot to pack sunscreen, so I wanted to buy that in Launceston as well. When I was back at the hostel I noticed I somehow forgot to buy it at the supermarket, so at around 10pm I had to decide whether not to care for sunscreen at all or going back to the city, the long walk to the other supermarket which is open until midnight.

I then remembered how easily I got sunburnt in Australia before, so I decided to walk to the city again to buy sunscreen. In the end I am really happy I did it, on the first day it was so sunny even with sunscreen I got light sunburn. Without sunscreen the whole trip would have ended in a nightmare from the first day on.

So with sunscreen organised I went to bed and the next morning I took the 8am bus from Launceston to Cradle Mountain.

Here’s my itinerary:

  1. Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to Scott Kilvert Hut
  2. Scott Kilvert Hut to Waterfall Valley
  3. Waterfall Valley to Windermere
  4. Windermere to Pelion
  5. Pelion to Kia Ora
  6. Kia Ora to Windy Ridge
  7. Windy Ridge to Echo Point
  8. Echo Point to Lake St Clair Visitor Centre

It was the greatest time I ever had, right next to cycling around (half of) Tasmania. I had so much luck with the weather I can’t believe it, I never had rain except very light rain sometimes for a few minutes, but it wasn’t even worth getting my rain jacket.

Start of the Overland Track
Start of the Overland Track

Lessons learnt, and suggestions

This trip was my first long hiking trip and I knew that a lot of things would go wrong and that I would make mistakes. It was mostly about getting experience, and I got a lot of helpful experience. Here are some thoughts and suggestions from me based on my trip:

  • A 1 litre water bottle is not enough, when it’s hot and sunny it can happen that you run out of water very quickly, like it happened to me on the first day. Whenever you find a good possibility to refill (like a creek) drink as much as you can and then fill up your bottle completely. It can be a long walk until you get another possibility to refill.
  • Maybe don’t take bottles at all. Next time instead of a bottle I will carry a flexible water bladder with about 2-3 litres that I can store in the top pocket of my backpack. I’ve seen a lot of people carrying these and they have a tube that goes to your mouth so you can drink easily anytime. I think that’s more convenient.
  • If you’re camping with your tent, take some string with you. It can be a bit difficult to fix all sides of your tent on the tent platforms that are provided at most huts. The biggest problem is that they don’t have hooks in the middle of the platform and they are all different size, so it’s good to have string so you can fix your tent if there are no hooks left on the platform.
  • It’s helpful to carry a small tea towel to dry dishes. You don’t need soap, just take a sponge with a rough surface on one side.
  • I didn’t have real hiking trousers and carried old cotton shorts and long replacement trousers. It’s definitly worth investing in good water-proof hiking trousers. Take some with zip-off legs and you only need to take one pair of trousers with you.
  • Only wear rain clothes when it actually rains. Most rain clothes are so wind resistant that you will sweat a lot more by wearing them. One day it looked like rain so I put on my rain overtrousers. After a few minutes of walking I changed again, it was too hot.
  • The quality of my sleep depends much on the quality of my pillow, I found out. It’s a good idea (thanks Frank) to carry an empty pillow case and fill it with clothes when you go to sleep. I didn’t take one with me (somehow forgot) and most nights I had very bad sleep.
  • Take a light daypack with you, a small backpack for daytours or sidetrips. It doesn’t need to be ergonomic or expensive, a very cheap one that can be folded to small volume will do fine. It’s very good to have a daypack if you want to do some sidetrips like the climb to Mount Ossa or Cradle Mountain. You can leave your big pack at the junction (everyone does that, sometimes there are even platforms to store your backpack) and put lunch, water, first-aid, valuables etc. in your daypack. I didn’t carry one and made the mistake of taking my water bottle up to the summit of Cradle Mountain. What a mistake, you definitly need both your hands free to do all the dangerous rock climbing.
  • It’s worth doing precise menu and food planning even if it doesn’t really sound necessary. I didn’t do much planning, I just took a lot more food than necessary to be able to extend my stay by several days in case I wanted to. In the end I didn’t extend much and brought a lot of food back home from my trip. Also it’s good to carry dry food and mostly things that only need added water, as water is available along the track. I carried some cans with tuna or soup with added bacon etc, but cans take up a lot of weight so next time I’ll leave them at home, except maybe tuna which is small and good. It worked very well for me to dry some food using a food dehydrator. While it didn’t really work drying fruit (ended up awful and it’s cheap at supermarkets anyway) I was successful with drying spaghetti bolognese or sweet curry rice with banana. Next time I will prepare more dried food. A friend I met on the track carried 1kg of oats and a pack of milk powder, so every morning he was cooking oats for breakfast. Sounds nice and easy, but maybe it gets boring after some days.
  • I probably wouldn’t carry a camera tripod anymore. While I got some really nice photos that wouldn’t have been possible without it, at 1.5kg it’s simply too much weight. Every kilo counts.
  • My tent was way too heavy. It weights around 2.5kg, I will try to replace it with a 1kg one before I go hiking again.
  • I always carry too many gas cans. Half of the trip I still used the almost empty can from my cycling trip earlier this year. With the right gas stove (I have a good one from Kovea) they almost last forever. One 230g gas can should be enough for an 8 day hiking trip, even if you use it twice a day or more to cook stuff. It’s good to go inside the hut for cooking, less wind saves you gas.
  • Check your footwear before you leave. There was a girl who had to fix her shoes with duct tape every day because they were falling to pieces after one or two days. Fortunately she found a ranger who could supply tape. It’s a long walk and it can kill your shoes, I’m surprised how worn my own (pretty good) shoes look after the Overland Track.
  • Mosquitos, there are so many of them! If you don’t take any of the common sprays or cream you will get really annoyed by them. Especially if you wear shorts or t-shirts they will bite you everywhere.
  • Don’t underestimate temperatures. Even if it’s very sunny and hot during the day, it can become surprisingly cold at night. If you’re camping in a tent, make sure you carry a warm sleeping bag or additional clothing for the night.
Sunset at Waterfall Valley Hut
Sunset at Waterfall Valley Hut

In the end I can probably be happy that everything went so well without any major incidents. It was a fantastic walk and the perfect trip to dive into long distance overnight hiking. It’s a well prepared track, the mostly very modern huts almost make the Overland Track a tourist track, it doesn’t seem to be very difficult to walk it – unless you carry too much luggage like I did. That’s probably the reason why you meet so many people that are not really prepared for hiking.

There are many working holiday makers that do the Overland Track as part of their visit to Tasmania, so they carry all their backpacker luggage including lots of stuff you don’t need on the track, and their camping equipment seems to be cheap second hand stuff they got from someone at the last hostel. Anyway that’s up to them of course. I was simply a bit astonished how many people seem to neglect good hiking preparation and I always wondered if I maybe do too much preparation. With perfect weather it doesn’t really matter but if it had become cold or rainy, some people on the track would have struggled with their gear.

But what I can also say is that it’s definitly possible to do the walk alone. There are enough people around, and unless you sleep long and always leave camp as the last one (like some girls did every day), you won’t be alone. But it’s also possible to plan your walk so you don’t meet any people before the next hut. Just get up early, leave before everyone else and enjoy the silence while walking. If anything happens, just wait until the people behind catch up.

And I was also surprised how well the track is organised with rangers and volunteers. There was a ranger who travelled from hut to hut with us for a couple of days and she had lists with names, so they occasionally checked if everyone’s there and if you have your Overland Track pass. They were always very friendly and helpful, and it’s additional safety. So in the end, there’s not much to worry about on the Overland Track. Just be well prepared for all conditions and you can have a fantastic experience!