Tasmania - Not Just For Looney Tunes
Tasmania may be known for it's famous cartoon character, the Devil, but there is so much more this Australian island has to offer outside of cartoons. This island south of mainland Australia is being hailed as an outdoor adventure paradise. A recent trip down under allowed me to set sights on bushwalking, or hiking, the country's premier long distance trail- the Overland Track.
After flying into Sydney I boarded a flight to the island to begin my trek the following day. Australia was in the midst of summer and Tasmania had been the victim of forest fires due to searing 40c temperatures near the capital of Hobart. Luckily, south westerly winds coming up from the Antarctic would cool Cradle Valley and the mountains I would traverse. The track itself without side trips is 85km and has six huts to use for the usual length of 6 days. The well-marked track navigates all the way to my destination at Cynthia Bay, the south end of Australia's deepest lake- Lake St. Clair. Due to time constraints, the plan would be to skip every second hut and knock off the highest peaks and waterfalls in three days. I would also sleep in my tent as opposed to using the huts if the weather was good. I packed my tent, sleeping bag and three day's food into my backpack which total weight came in under 20lbs. I took a three hour bus ride into Cradle Mountain National Park from the closest city of Launceston and checked in at the ranger station. After answering questions about my preparedness and small pack size I was relieved to hear I might get lucky with the weather (it occasionally snows in summer). I then set off on my solo bushwalk through the heart of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area.
The trail starts off on grassland covered with plank board as the rain has created a large amount of soft mud. As it ascends to the first lookout, Cradle Mountain and my first objective, came into view. Craggy peaks and large boulders created an incredible view of the glacial landscape. I climbed and balanced on sharp ledges with my backpack and enjoyed the feeling of isolation when I finally made it to the peak. Once I scrambled down carefully I was back on the exposed valley trail soon after. I took a break at the first hut a couple hours later and filled my water supply from the rain water tank. The long, sunny day made it easier to move 21km further to my first night's stop at Windermere Hut. I then set up camp near the hut and shared experiences with friendly Aussies while tiny wallabies hop around me.
I awoke to the shock of ice on my tent and temperature reading 0c on my watch. This was a big change from the previous day's heat and sunburn I had experienced from Tasmania's incredibly strong sun. I headed inside the hut to warm up from the chilly morning and boil water to prepare breakfast. Once I returned, I heard what sounded like a pig coming from camp. A wombat was happily snacking on some bush beside my tent. As I was packing up I laughed at how oblivious this short and stubby creature was to my presence. I then headed off into the wilderness and continued south through wide-open heathland and dramatic views of the deep valley below.
This led me into a beech rainforest and an hour of navigating knee-high mud. This slowed my pace dramatically but once I made it out to the moorlands I reached Pelion Hut, which was perched in front of the incredible dolerite spires of Mt. Oakleigh. I gazed in wonderment of what I saw as I refueled on chocolate and topped off my water from the rain tank. My next stop was Tasmania's highest peak- Mt. Ossa. When I arrived at the trail junction, I stashed my backpack and attacked the 6km trail which led me to steep exposed rock that I scaled to the summit. The top of Tasssie had expansive views for hundreds of kilometres and marked the half-way point of my journey. I climbed down quickly, grabbed my backpack and made my way in the late afternoon sun to Kia Ora hut to finish the 31km day.
The previous night's sleep was highlighted by two possums rummaging through camp. Known to have low intelligence, one actually took a bite of my cork-handled trekking pole. Once I packed up and left, the rain and clouds settled in for what would be the longest day. Alone in the rainforest, I battled torrential rain, fog, humidity, mosquitoes and mud. I took in Hartnett Falls, almost stepped on a tiger snake and crossed paths with an echidna. Unfortunately no sign of a Tasmanian Devil, as their population has severely declined and are considered endangered due to facial cancer disease.
I made it to Narcissus Hut 23km later, the official end of the Overland Track by early afternoon. There is an option to take a ferry to Cynthia Bay from here but I still felt energetic. I refueled and decided to power through the final 18km along Lake St. Clair to the Visitor Center. Luckily the cafe was still open to reward me with pizza and a side of cheeseburger while I washed down the past 3 days/95km of memorable Tasmanian bushwalking with a milkshake.