Guidebook writer Warwick Sprawson looks back at his experiences on Tassie's iconic Overland Track.
Recently my partner Yasmin and I walked the Overland Track to update a guidebook. It was a pleasure to hear black currawongs calling in the Tasmanian highlands once more. Initially it seemed nothing much had changed since I first walked the route many years ago. There was the same breathtaking landscape of rugged peaks, mossy rainforests, buttongrass moorlands, alpine meadows and mysterious lakes, all seeming recently gouged out by the last ice-age. The were the same unique plants and animals, from cute long-tailed mice to the bright red fruits of the mountain pinkberry – species found nowhere else on earth. This was a landscape that only seemed to change at a geological pace.
But there were changes, mostly human-wrought. Some huts had been updated or rebuilt and many now had gas heating instead of coal. The signage was better and there were more boardwalks over muddy ground, improving accessibility. A booking system had been introduced to prevent overcrowding. The possums and currawongs had become even more sophisticated in their attempts to raid packs for food. I now wore synthetic boots.
I realised that no matter how many times you’ve walked the Overland – and many Tassie locals have walked the route scores of times – there was always something new. In the space of 20 minutes thick dark clouds had replaced a blue sky and the temperature plummeted 15°C. The mountain bluebell flowers that were open in the sunshine closed with the cloud. This is a walk that changes hour-by-hour, day-by-day and season-by-season.
Summer is arguably the best time to hike the Overland. Many plants are flowering, including bright bursts of orange everlastings, sweet smelling boronia and brilliant red Christmas bells. The days are long – making spectacular sidetrips like climbing Cradle Mountain, Mt Oakleigh or Tasmania’s highest peak Mt Ossa (1617m) more feasible. Although the average maximum temperature is a relatively benign 16.3°C, snow in summer is not uncommon.
Autumn hiking has it rewards too, including the spectacular golds and reds of Australia’s only autumn deciduous tree, the deciduous beech, at its best around Anzac Day. Autumn also brings a wonderful array of fungi, from neon coloured coral fungi to alien-like stinkhorns.
Spring hiking has its pleasures, with some striking plants beginning to flower, including the Christmas decoration of the bush, the majestic Tasmanian waratah. One day, if I’m properly prepared, I’d like to walk the track in winter. But with overnight temperatures as low as -9°C and paths sometimes hidden under deep snow, it is something that would need serious preparation.
Suggestions and highlights
One of the biggest things I’ve learned on these Overland trips is to go slow and savour the experience. While it’s possible to walk the 80km track (or an abbreviated 63km version of the walk catching a ferry across Lake St Clair) in just 3–5 days, allowing yourself more time, ideally at least eight or nine days, gives you time for a rest day if the weather turns bad, and provides an opportunity to explore some of the Overland’s sidetrips. These sidetrips are the highlight for many walkers, from scrambling up the lichen-spotted boulders to the summit of Cradle Mountain to discovering Pine Valley’s ancient, moss draped rainforests.
While everyone will have their own track highlights, some of mine include:
1. The jagged profile of Cradle Mountain as seen across Dove Lake
2. The panorama from among the huge rock columns near the summit of Mt Oakleigh
3. Enjoying the sweeping view from the veranda of New Pelion Hut
4. Pine Valley Hut, deep in the heart of the rainforest, as well as its two lesser-known sidetrips: the spectacular peak of The Acropolis and the otherworldly landscape of The Labyrinth
5. The lovely, varied forest of the Narcissus Valley, particularly the southern end towards Narcissus Hut.
6. On our most recent hike Yasmin and I climbed Mt Oakleigh in the brilliant sunshine and sat among the dolerite rock pillars near the summit. Asking her to marry me was another highlight, and just another piece of an ever changing track.