The day before
My son Jacob and I took a lunchtime Jetstar flight direct from Brisbane to Launceston. We arrived at 5.30 pm with plenty of light. We took a taxi to our hotel – Balmoral on York in the city centre. Our room was fine and the welcome was great. Our two gas cylinders that I had purchased from Allgoods were waiting in the room for us. The Allgoods store is just down the road from the hotel. I placed an order for the cylinders over the phone, paying by credit card and they delivered the cylinders to the hotel for me for no charge – what a great service! That evening we walked down to the water and had a nice meal. We also found out that the local Coles stores are open from 6.00 am to 100 pm at night so we planned to go early the next morning to get some fresh bread and supplies.
Day 1 Launceston to Waterfall Valley Hut
Early Sunday morning we went to Coles and grabbed 5 apples, fresh bread, chicken and cheese slices. Back in our hotel room we packed the amount of bread we planned to take in an ice-cream container to stop it getting crushed in the backpack. The hotel room came with an included continental breakfast which we enjoyed with the very friendly hotel manager.
We were picked up from our hotel in Launceston at 8.30 am and arrived at Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre at just after 11:00 am. On the bus we met Steve and Sally who we would run into for the first three days on the walk. On the way to Cradle Mountain there we stopped at a small town called Sheffield which is famous for the number of murals decorating the walls of the town’s buildings.
I dozed for most of the bus trip so don’t have much recollection of the scenic aspect of the trip. As we approached the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre it was starting to rain. The bus left us there and we were able to put some rain gear on under the verandah cover of the Visitor Centre. Here we collected our Overland Track Pass, the park entry pass and the receipt for the small commuter bus which takes you to the start point. There is a nice food bar at the Visitor Centre so we took the opportunity to have a very nice hot pie before boarding the bus which would take us to Ronny’s Creek carpark.
On the short drive there we started our final dressing preparation, adjusting gaiters and wet weather gear.
The start point for the Overland Track is the Ronny’s Creek car park where you complete your name and walk details in the register in a small wooden shelter. There is not a lot of cover at the start point and if I could make a suggestion to the park managers; a covered area for hikers to do final gear adjustments would be ideal.
We crossed the road and began our walk in the rain at about 12:10 pm. The initial part of the walk is a gentle stroll along duckboards. One of the things I will never forget is the amount of animal droppings (apparently wombat ) that greeted the first hour or so. The weather was a mix of rain and wind and it was not long until we were a bit hot so we shed some warm layers and stuck with the waterproof layers.
The first bit of excitement is coming to the boat hut at lake level before you start the real climb. The boat hut was an opportunity to adjust clothing out of the rain. The next hour was a steady climb including a chained section that takes a bit of concentration. We passed a number of day walkers looking very cold and wet in their shorts and t-shirts. Marion’s Lookout greeted us with a howling gale, sideways rain and small hail. There was a lot of cloud cover so we never actually got to see Cradle Mountain. The weather forecast for the day was showers.
Lesson learned – ‘Showers’ is Tasmanian for ‘horizontal rain and ice’!
Photo of Jake from the Boat House and later overlooking Cradle Lake and the mist.
We stopped at Kitchen Hut around 2:30 pm for a snack of fresh bread with chicken and cheese washed down with a nice warm cup of tea. We then headed off towards Waterfall Valley Hut – an estimated two hour hike from Kitchen Hut. After about an hour of miserable weather we approached the junction to Scott Kilvert Hut and were joined there by two distressed female hikers. They had been walking since 9:30 that morning and had taken a wrong turn from Kitchen Hut and gone down the mountain. They were very relieved to see us and comforted by our assurance that the first hut (Waterfall Valley) was only an hour away.
We walked with them to the hut and they were very relieved to be greeted by a female Ranger who took them under her wing. They arrived with mild hypothermia and a number of people in the hut shared food, warm clothing and bedding to help them warm up. These girls had not been prepared for the walk. All of their gear inside their packs was soaked with no plastic bags or wrapping for their clothing or bedding. They were very lucky that we came by when we did – as if they had elected to go to Kitchen Hut or Scott Kilvert Hut to spend the night they would have only had soaked bedding and clothing for the night. Anyway the Ranger was an angel, got the girls warmed up and made everyone in the hut feel wonderful.
There is an older small hut nearby and I understand that 6 or 8 people elected to use this hut for the night. The main hut is quite new and has a gas stove to dry clothes. It is quite small but the ranger welcomed about 26 people – 24 on bunks and two girls on the floor under tables.
Our first night in Waterfall Valley Hut was interesting. It is quite a small place. Jacob and I arrived quite late in the day – just before 5:00 pm. For dinner, we elected to have the remainder of our bread, chicken and cheese and a hot drink.
Everyone was ready for bed before 8:00 pm. As it happened the person on my left side was quite a snorer. After a short while I got sick of the volume level and got up and took my mattress and sleeping bag onto the back verandah. This was quite a cold place with wind howling through the floorboards and heavy rain. I did not sleep very well and during the night the rain changed to snow. Each time someone left the hut to go to the toilet my face would be hit with snow blown in the door.
Day 2 Waterfall Valley Hut to Windemere Hut
Below are photos of the world that greeted us on day 2. Around 3-4 inches of snow had fallen overnight. The small building in the background is the toilet block. There was quite a bit of cloud coming and going in the morning. At one stage from the hut we got to see the magnificent Barn Bluff, snowcapped and in sunlight. What an absolutely beautiful sight! See next page for a photo which was provided by Gill McCartney.
Walking on day 2 was quite difficult. Walking on duckboards is great but slippery when covered with snow and ice. Again I made the mistake of starting the day with a fleece on. After 10 minutes of walking I had to stop and remove it. By this time I realized that I should plan to start the walk ‘cold’ each day as the warm up time is very quick. Day 2 is a relatively light day with a walk of only 7.5 km. This short walk was welcomed as the first day had not been physically demanding but the elements and length of the day starting in Launceston was quite tiring. Windemere hut is quite cozy. I spent the night on the floor in the kitchen-dining room.
Day 3 Windemere Hut to New Pelion Hut
We woke to a little more snow on the second morning but there was a promise of some glimpses of blue sky. The first part of this day involves a gentle climb and and for a kilometre or so you can access the Telstra 3G telephone network. I sent out a text to home which was the last contact until I reached Narcissus Hut on day 6. Day 3 had some beautiful vistas. Day 3 was the longest walk of the trek, but not the hardest. At 16.5 km was certainly some ground to cover but the views were great and the climbs were mild. The only difficult aspect of this day was melting snow and ice which made some of the footing quite difficult. Duckboards in particular were treacherous – with lots of sliding and near misses.
The vertical features as you approach New Pelion are uplifting. By the time we reached the “10 minutes to go” sign we were ready for a rest. New Pelion hut is very spacious and there are doors to the bed rooms which provides more privacy. A tip for this hut – choose to sleep at the end away from the toilet and water tanks. There will be fewer people clomping past you in boots in the middle of the night. Many people stay at this hut for more than one night so there may be a much larger crowd here than other huts. The larger crowd and separate dining area also means a lot more social interaction here and a later bedtime. As the weather was much better now a lot more people elected to sleep in tents.
View from New Pelion Hut (right)
Day 4 New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut
Before starting the Overland I thought that it would be an easy thing to do all the side trips. I had particularly wanted to attempt Barn Bluff and Mount Ossa. As it turned out the weather ruled out Barn Bluff and by the time I got to Mt Ossa my age was starting to show. When we got to the junction point for Mt Ossa there are a couple of options. Mt Ossa via Mt Doris to the west or East Pelion to the East of course.
Jacob was definitely up to climb Mt Ossa and he started out with Chris, the 15 year old son of a family we dined with each night. I elected to try for the easier Mt Doris with Chris’s Mum, Gill and Dad, Bernie. The walk to Mt Doris follows the same path as for Mt Ossa. The climb is relatively straight forward following markers. The views on the way up are extraordinary and definitely the highlight of the trip from my perspective. As we approached the summit of Mt Doris the track disappears and some real rock climbing is required. Bernie and I elected not t o continue but Jill made it to the top. When I got back to the platform at the track junction I lazed around and talked to fellow walkers waiting for Jacob and Chris to return. They arrived elated from their adventure and we enjoyed a simple lunch and a warm drink in the sunshine. This day was the highlight and the fine weather made us look forward to the opportunity of a night in the tent away from snorers. When we arrived at Kia Ora we shared a platform with Bernie and Chris and planned to sleep the very loud white noise of the waterfall of the nearby creek.
Day 5 Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nicholls Hut
This 10 km section is the day of waterfalls. The first stop is to see two waterfalls – Ferguson and D’Altone. Then an hour further down the road is a side trip to the much higher Hartnett Falls. Not a bad day but after the grandeur of day 4 the last two days of this walk are not in the same league. At this end of the trip I was simply looking forward to getting home. The Bert Nicholls Hut is an amazing structure and well worth seeing. My son stayed here but I elected to sleep in the tent on my own in a vain attempt to get some sleep.
Day 6 Bert Nicholls Hut to Launceston
Day six was a fast 9km walk to Narcissus Hut which is only a few hundred metres from the boat pick up point on Lake St Clair. The only mistake I made in planning this trip was not booking the boat leg across Lake St Clair to the Visitor Centre where our private charter would collect us. There is a push-button radio inside the Narcissus Hut where you can talk to the Visitor Centre about catching a boat ride. I managed to get Jake on the 11 am boat and I managed to get the next one. The ferry is a 22 seat (21 passengers) boat and the ride across the lake is very pleasant and a nice way to end the trip. We paid the driver cash at the endpoint and then walked the short distance to the visitor centre where I found Jacob just about to eat a hamburger and chips. I ordered a meat pie and a Pepsi Max that I had been craving. Our bus was waiting for us so Jake and I met the driver and enjoyed a guided tour back to the Mercure Hotel in Launceston.