Walking the Overland Track? Here Are Some Notes From Someone That's Hiked It Loads of Times

So, on the date that bookings open, you’ve headed to the Parks VIC website. You’ve refreshed your web page 3,731 times. You’ve only left your computer for toilet breaks with your 9-year-old child/relative manning the fort. You didn’t ever think you could go 27 hours 39 minutes and 46 seconds without sleep, but you’ve discovered you can.

The profit margins of International Roast, Prime, and Red Bull have skyrocketed through your consumption today alone. You started at 3,324 on the wait list and with each refresh you inched closer. You made it to 127 when your computer hiccupped and suddenly you’d plunged to 1,324…

Finally, you’re in and whilst not the dates you were hoping for, you have settled for what’s on offer those for whom you are also booking are jubilant at your efforts and go back to the party they were enjoying…

You think I’m joking, don’t you? Well, anybody that's booked the Overland Track (OLT), or the Milford or Routeburn Tracks across the ditch in New Zealand for that matter, know there's a degree of truth in it. 

Must Dos After You Have Booked The Overland Track

This is important. You must do 2 things immediately after you've secured your place on the track.

1. Book accommodation at Cradle Mountain for the night before you startthis enables you to get an early start on Day 1.

If you can get one, the Waldheim Cabins are your best bet. Even if there’s only 1 or 2 of you book a cabin. Advertise the spare bunks on of the OLT Facebook Group and you’ll have no trouble sharing the costs.

Get there early enough for the pre-walk briefing the day before and to get your OLT passes at the Visitor Centre.

2. Planning to finish the walk at Narcissus Jetty and use the ferry? Ring/book now! There are usually only 3 sailings per day in walking seasonsless at other times. It gets booked out quickly.

Overland Track Itinerary

Day 1: Ronnie Creek to Waterfall Valley - 4-6 hours

This is excitement day you are finally off!! The boots are tightened, the pack is shouldered, and so it begins. Within a very short space of time the adrenaline has dissipated and you realise that you have some serious climbing to do. 

Ah, but what a landscape! Your first stop will be Crater Falls. The uppermost falls have a viewing platform and it’s a great spot for photos and to empty your water bottles of tap water or water from a tank and fill them with fresh, Tassie mountain water.

A steady climb to Crater Lake, photos around the boat shed then off and up. Further on and you come to the saddle between Crater and Dove Lakes – more good photo opportunities and stunning views. (Well, if the weather gods are smiling).

You look up to Marions Lookout, take a deep breath and walk on. It looks steep (well, it is) and it looks like it’s a long way away – but surprisingly it’s not. From the saddle you’ll be there in next to no time and experience the joy of some steep climbing whilst pulling yourself up by the chains so thoughtfully provided!

Lots more oo-ah moments with Cradle looming over Dove Lake, a pause for some scroggin, then off to Kitchen Hut. A popular spot for lunch. It’s also the point at which you decide whether you’ll climb Cradle or not.

If the weather’s bad – forget it. If it’s great weather, you’re fit and comfortable with steep boulder scrambling – go for it. Not to be missed, with stunning views of the Park.

It’s easy to think you’re nearly at Waterfall Valley when you’re at Kitchen Hut, but you’ve probably got another couple of hours of walking to do. The track sidles around Cradle and seems to go on forever. If it’s a clear day, you’ll have great views down to Fury Gorge and Barn Bluff will be dominating the horizon. Even if the weather has closed in, that brings a beauty all of its own with the near becoming the focus. 

Though seemingly taking forever, the turn-off to Lake Rodway finally appears along with the emergency igloo, and you think, ‘Ah, nearly there.’ Well, yes and no. It’s only 30-45 minutes to the hut from there, but the descent off the cirque seems to take ages.

A word of warning: At this point, the cirque is possibly the most dangerous and exposed part of the whole walk. The winds from the South-West can howl across the cirque and even ‘drizzle’ can become projectiles that sting exposed flesh. 

Hypothermia is a real danger at times like this and walkers have died here. Hopefully you have heeded the warnings and your gear is suitable for this walk.

And then you are at the hut, Waterfall Valley Hut, one of the newer huts on the track (the others being Windermere and Kia Ora). It’s excellent and even if you are tenting, it may be worth socialising or cooking and eating in the hut – depending on the weather.

There are 4 bedrooms away from the main dining area and a larger one that comes straight off the dining area. Avoid that one if you can as the noise from the larger room migrates…

At this point walkers divide into two groups. Those that will stay in the huts each night and those that tent. I’m a hut person – lots of new friends to meet. Others I walk with are happy to mingle in the huts but prefer their tent for the night.

At dinner time there’s lots of noise, aromas and strangers. By the end of the walk you will have made a stack of new friends, exchanged email addresses and befriended each other on Facebook – and it all begins here.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Windermere - 2.5-3.5 hours

This is the shortest day on the track – if you just go hut to hut. However, there are 2 good side trips.

1. Leave your gear at the hut, take a day pack with food, warm and waterproof clothing and head back up to the cirque, hang a lefty and head for Barn Bluff. Not a hard climb, but a climb nevertheless. More breathtaking views.

Allow 4 hours return, then saddle up and head for Lake Windermere.

2. About 1.5 hours down the track you’ll come to the Lake Will junction, a must do if the weather is good. Drop packs at the platform, take snacks and head in – only 20 minutes or so. There’s a lovely little sandy beach and you’ll be sitting right under Barn Bluff.

If you have a bit of spare energy, wander down the lake and find Innes Falls – worth a visit.

Many walkers do both Barn Bluff and Lake Will.  At the junction you’ll find you have a phone signal if you are with Telstra.

Another half hour down the track you’ll come to the last high point before you drop down to Lake Windermere, great spot for photos. There’s a phone signal there too.

I arrived at that spot in 2017 with a howling wind and horizontal snow, and then we dropped over the edge and the world changed. We were out of the wind and the snow fell gently around us, like in a fairy tale. Stunning.

Lake Windermere hut, along with Kia Ora are the 2 newest huts on the track. Both magnificent. A big picture window in the dining room here with views back to Barn Buff. 

There’s a phone signal up the hill behind the hut here too.

Day 3: Lake Windermere to Pelion - 5-7 hours

The longest day on the track with a full pack. You’ll go up and down. You’ll cross open moors, you’ll sidle down forested hills, you’ll dodge tree roots by the gazillion and you’ll wander open-eyed as you enter the area where, arguably, you’ll see the best panorama on the track.

Mountains in every direction. Mount Oakleigh, Pelion East, Ossa, Mt Doris, Paddys Nut, Thetis and lastly, looming over the track in splendour, Pelion West.

Just before you leave the open area and enter the forest, there’s a lookout over the Forth Valley. Take a gander. Way below you flows the Forth River – you’ll be crossing that later today at Frog Flats.

Frogs Flats is the lowest point on the OLT, lovely and shaded in hot weather and the spot many stop for lunch. It’s a great spot, 100,00 mosquitos can’t be wrong.

Then begins what seems to be the longest slog of the walk (it’s not) as you climb to Pelion Plains and on to New Pelion Hut.

The hut is the largest on the track and is often crowded. The Arm River Track joins the OLT here and enables walkers who aren’t doing the whole OLT to easily access the mountains grouped in that area.

Views from the hut across the Pelion Plains to Mt Oakleigh are magnificent with differing perspectives as the light changes. In the distance you can just see Barn Bluff and the tip of Cradle peeping over the horizon. Early morning mists on the plains create a picture of Mt Oakleigh surrounded by sea. 

Once you’ve settled in, it’s worth wandering back to Old Pelion hut (15 mins) for a gecko and a dip in the swimming hole below the hut. 

If you are planning a lay day, this is the place. In which case Mt Oakleigh is a no-brainer. 

Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora - 3-4 hours

And today you sweat on good weather – is it an Ossa day or not? Packs on and the climb to Pelion Gap begins. Whilst it seems to go on forever, it’s actually only about 1.5 hours to the gap, and the first half hour is mostly flat.

A tip for clamouring lungs: When you get your 1st, fully clear view of Pelion East through the trees, you have 5 minutes to go to the Gap.

Pelion Gap is the highest point on the track and the last time you’ll see Cradle and Barn Bluff unless you climb a mountain.

If the weather is conducive, do climb Ossa. It’s Tassie’s highest mountain and not technically difficult. You need to allow a minimum of 4 hours. If the conditions are right and you lunch on top, you’ll be looking at least at 5 hours.

If clouds are low over Ossa and don’t look like clearing, but Pelion East is till clear, that may be worth a try. Good views and only about 2 hours return.

No matter how sunny and calm it may seem at the Gap, you are on the sheltered, Eastern side of the mountain. When you step over the final lip, you’ll be hit with whatever is coming from Antarctica. Take a waterproof coat and warm clothes you can don if needed. And water and food.

Make sure you get a reflective photo at the Pool of Icarus.

Even if you aren’t going to the top, you MUST, MUST, MUST head up towards Mt Doris and sidle around to the Japanese Gardens. It’ll take you less than an hour to get there and it’s one of the best spots on the track for lunch. You’ll also get great views across to Pelion East and down the valley to where you’ll be heading. If you look carefully you’ll see Hartnett Falls where’ll you have lunch tomorrow. 

The descent from Pelion Gap is a lovely 1.5 - 2.0 hour stroll where you’ll find Kia Ora hut. Brilliant hut with striking views straight at Cathedral Mountain.

Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge - 3.5-4.5 hours

Today is waterfall day along with an excellent section of Myrtle rainforest that begs for reflection as you walk. You’ll come to Du Cane hut, one of the original huts on the track and now used as an emergency shelter only. Just before the hut is an ‘interesting’ toilet – check it out.

The famous Ottie Merinos have been sighted in the wild at this very spot. 

When we reach this point, we now have a practice of leaving Du Cane hut 2 minutes apart and walking in silence until we reach the turn-off to the first set of falls. The forest is enclosing, dark, richly aromatic and perfect for ‘being still’. We encourage each other to think of things for which we are thankful, things with which we struggle, friends for whom we are grateful, our surroundings and so on. 

As the day wears on we share our experience and reflections.

All three falls are worth a visit – particularly if there has been heavy rain in the preceding week or so. You descend to D’Alton and Ferguson Falls from the same spot. Hartnett Falls are a further 30 minutes or so up the track.

If you only have time to make one side trip, make it Hartnett Falls. They are large Falls that you can visit on top and then descend to the base. There’s a great swimming hole on top and it’s an ideal lunch spot. 

After lunch you begin the longest climb of the walk, it takes 27 hours and 13 minutes. Well, okay, it doesn’t but it feels like it, especially if it’s a hot day. The climb up to Du Cane Gap seems to take forever, but you’ll get there. 

Just before the gap is a lovely, refreshing fast flowing stream from which you can refresh your parched mouth. You’ll hear it tumbling over rocks on your left before you see it.

Then, the Gap. This is a watershed moment. All the rain that falls on the Northern side of the range flows out to Devonport and Bass Strait via the Mersey River.

The water to the South heads to Lake St Clair, into the Derwent River and out to sea from the South of the State.

A plunge into more great forest and you reach Windy Ridge and the Bert Nicholls hut – the worst hut on the track. It’s the pits with it’s dark, inadequately heated large dining area with huge, high ceilings and bedrooms that are like cold storage rooms.

But on clear days it’s great to sit outside on the elevated area above the hut and look out at The Acropolis and Mt Geryon – fantastic views that would be great from the hut if only they’d put in decent windows on the Western side. 

Day 6: Windy Ridge to Narcissus - 3.5-4.5 hours

Day 6 is all down hill and a doddle, unless you are racing for the 9:30 ferry! Otherwise enjoy the stroll through mostly dry sclerophyll forest.  At Narcissus hut there’s usually time to boil the billy one last time for a cuppa whilst you wait for the ferry.

Back at Cynthia Bay make sure you pose for the obligatory photo at the Overland Track sign and then go into the bar at the Lake St Clair Café and try their Overland Track Beer (on tap) and Overland Track Gin. Both highly recommended. 

Then, head to the Hungry Wombat out at Derwent Bridge for the best hamburgers you’ll ever taste.  You’ll have deserved both!

Pine Valley (PV) is a trip in and of itself. From Hobart it’s easily accessed in a day. Drive to Lake St Clair, ferry to Narcissus and then approx. 3 hours, 9 kilometres and a gain of 100 metres in elevation.

Two or three nights there is bliss. From the hut you can head up into the Labyrinth and spend a day exploring. Or, climb the Acropolis across the other side of the valley – allow 4 hours return.

Some walkers doing the OLT skip Windy Ridge and head straight to PV from Kia Ora. It’s about 6 hours walking for that trip – but you’ll miss the waterfalls, a pity.

For every side trip or night you skip on the OLT, you have to ask yourself, ‘When, if ever, will I be back here?’. It’s taken some work to get an OLT pass and get here, a shame to skip stuff.

With PV, it’s easily accessed as a separate trip if you can’t extend your OLT time. You should allow a minimum of 2 nights in PV – it’s worth it.

This article was written by Jim Wilson. He writes a blog here and has hiked the Overland Track and nooks and crannies of Tasmania more than most people.