As arguably Australia’s most iconic bushwalk, the OT attracts around 8,000 visitors each year from all around Australia and the world. But is the Overland Track over rated? With quotes like this from Tassie’s Parks and Wildlife Service I knew it was going to be very hard to live up to it’s massive reputation:
Walking the Overland Track is a highly rewarding, life-changing experience……..92% of walkers, from all over the world, state that walking the Overland Track was one of the best things they’ve done.Source: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=7827
Each walker will have a unique experience in terms of the conditions experienced and the people they meet. We walked it in September 2014 and this is my story…..
I wanted to do spend some quality time with Mrs Bretto but I wanted the trip to be reasonably civilised so that she wouldn’t end up hating both me and bushwalking. But I have an aversion to large crowds so we decided to walk the OT during September when the weather is more unfavourable and before most people hit the track…or so we thought. Unfortunately most of the snow had melted prior to the start of our trip and the weather forecast was looking surprisingly pleasant. So we left the snowshoes at home but we still packed our cold weather gear and some Microspikes in the hope of some exciting conditions, photos of snow capped peaks and tales of adventure. What did we get? Blue skies, light winds and warm weather. The puffy jackets never saw the light of day and I didn’t even wear my hardshell. Not only was it frustrating that I carried a heap of stuff I never got to use, but the nice conditions and the fast approaching booking season (which features a $200 fee per person) meant that there was plenty of other hikers around. Fortunately the hikers we met were really nice and the good weather meant that Mrs Bretto was happy so I only had to wear earplugs while sleeping in the huts and not on the trail.
Perhaps I crap on too much – I haven’t even got to the actual walk yet….
Day 0. Ronny Creek to Scout Hut. 2km
Yes that is right…..only 2km. We decided to kick off the walk with an easy start given that we had to drive up to Cradle Mountain from Hobart. So we booked a night at the Scout Hut (BP Lodge – bookings required).
I checked out the Intentions Book at Ronny Creek and noted that before we got there at lunch time there had been 15 other walkers starting the OT that day. Taking into account additional people yet to arrive and those that started from other locations I reasoned that Waterfall Valley Hut would be pretty crowded that night so we were very pleased with the Scout Hut which we had to ourselves and offers luxurious accommodation in comparison to the regular OT huts.
But it turned out the short walk from Ronny Creek was over in about 40 minutes and we had great weather so we dumped our packs in the hut and headed up to Kitchen Hut to see if we could knock off Cradle Mountain the same day. It turned out to be a nice walk up Horse Track (albeit quite muddy in sections).
After we reached Kitchen Hut we walked for 15 minutes or so up the track to the summit of Cradle Mountain – all the while being mindful of the lowering afternoon sun and our reluctance to walk back to the Scout Hut in the dark. We then spotted some guy pretty much jogging down the rough track from the summit. It turns out this Italian guy lived in the Alps and was no stranger to steep mountains and snow. He said the summit took him 1.5 hours and described it as quite challenging but that now he had forged a track through the snow that we should be OK. But we decided to play it safe and retreat to the Scout Hut for the night.
Day 1. Scout Hut to Waterfall Valley Hut. 11km incl. Cradle Mountain
We walked back up to Kitchen Hut where we dumped our packs before heading up the rocky track towards the summit. We encountered more snow the higher we got and there is some rock scrambling to be done in the upper sections. Fortunately the rocks that were dry offered exceptional grip. I wouldn’t recommend this walk in the rain as it would be quite challenging. My enthusiasm to reach the summit exceeded Mrs Bretto’s so she relaxed in the sun and enjoyed the view while I completed the final stage of the climb.
As the snow got deeper near the top I found myself breaking through the snow a few times and falling in between the large rocks. One time in the section shown below I broke through with one foot getting wedged firmly between 2 rocks. I briefly considered removing my gaiter and undoing my boot laces to extract my foot. However, I foolishly yanked my foot upwards with such force that I ripped the middle part of the sole off my boot – although I didn’t realise the damage that I had caused until 3 days later. But I made it to the summit, took a few photos and returned to my patient wife.
We then continued on to Waterfall Valley Hut which had about 10 people staying in it plus a few tents.
Day 2. Waterfall Valley Hut to New Pelion Hut. 24.5km
It is about 8km from Waterfall Valley to the next hut at Windermere. So unless you sleep until noon and walk very slowly there is a good chance you will get there in time for morning smoko. So we decided to crack on to New Pelion hut. Lake Windermere looks like a great spot for a swim if the weather is warmer.
I can’t say I enjoyed the section of track between the Forth Valley lookout and Frog Flats. It was rough, muddy, slow and seemed to go for hours. We briefly considered camping at Frog Flats for the night but the area wasn’t that appealing. The final stretch into New Pelion was good boardwalk so we picked up the pace and got to the hut before dark. We secured a couple of bunks as the hut was nearly full and relaxed on the large verandah, cooking dinner and watching the sunset.
Day 3. New Pelion Hut to Bert Nichols Hut. 19km
There had been much talk on the trail and at the hut about the recent attempts to climb Mt Ossa. From what we had heard no one had managed to make it to the summit in the preceding days due to deep snow and the danger of falling between the large snow covered rocks. The weather was pretty average and I knew if Mrs Bretto had to wait 4 hours at Pelion Gap while I did the side trip I would need to find a new wife. Given the potential danger and limited chance of success we continued on to Kia Ora hut for lunch. But Mt Ossa is on the list of places to re-visit. We found out 2 nights later that an Irish madman managed to make it to the summit that day.
The highlight of our stay at Bert Nichols was realising that I am not the grumpiest person alive. Sure I like to complain a lot but this conversation with a random Taswegian put things in perspective:
Bretto: This is a great hut isn’t it?
Grumpy old woman: It’s a terrible hut.
Bretto: Really? Can I ask what it is you don’t like about the hut?
Grumpy old woman: The toilet is too far away and there is not enough natural light in the sleeping rooms.
So I then realised that some people would never be happy. Keep in mind that we were in the middle of nowhere and it had been drizzling most of the day and the Grumpy old woman and her seniors group were warming themselves by the gas heater in this modern, clean, dry and free hut (in contravention of the rules to only use the heater when it is below 10 degrees inside the hut). Also keep in mind that the hut is built on the side of a hill and the toilet is about 100 metres away on a nice boardwalk – presumably located on the flat land near the helicopter pad so the parks people can fly out the toilet waste. I mean if you can’t walk 100 metres to the toilet why are you doing a multi-day bushwalk?
Day 4. Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut 10km
We had plenty of time to finish the walk so we decided to do a side trip to Pine Valley for a night or two. It was quite an interesting walk from Bert Nichols hut and there are fewer people up there as it’s not on the main OT route. I cooked up some lunch in the hut which included the creation of my new low carb salami calzone (you should seek medical advice before eating anything this greasy).
We decided to go for a leisurely walk and check out the impressive looking Acropolis. We got about halfway there but had no appetite for a late afternoon mission on a steep, snow covered peak in this remote location so we cruised back to the hut – enjoying the time without our packs on.
We shared the hut with a few interesting characters who we had to got to know over the previous few days. The lowlight of the night was being defeated in a game of miniature chess in three moves. Why would I bother carrying a tiny chess set when I don’t even know how to play? Why would I play someone who has a PhD in Molecular Biology and was clearly smarter than me? Having your arse handed to you by a stranger isn’t the best way to learn the finer points of chess.
Day 5. Pine Valley Hut to Cynthia Bay 26km
Let me get it out there…..if you catch the ferry back to Cynthia Bay you really haven’t walked the whole Overland Track. So if it is your first time on the OT make sure you do the full length.
We decided that one night at Pine Valley was enough and decided to continue our journey down south. We got to Narcissus hut (which didn’t look that enticing) so we had some lunch and decided to continue on. We managed to get some mobile service (Optus is better than Telstra near Lake St Clair) so we called up our champion driver and arranged a 6pm pick up at Cynthia Bay.
The walk along the lake was nice enough with Echo Point providing a nice spot for a welcome break. It was a pretty long day and we got to the visitor centre just as it got dark. Although she hadn’t missed us, our daughter had come out to meet us and we had a well earned feed at the restaurant at the visitor centre.
Now I can cross the Overland Track off my list. It was a good walk with some fantastic scenery but I think it is over rated. As we walked along I couldn’t help but feel there are many other spots to walk (in Tassie and Victoria at least) that are just as good but would have fewer people. If you are walking alone but like the security of having other people around it is ideal. If you are keen for an outdoor challenge and you like to meet people from all over the world it would be a great experience. But if you are like me and your time in the bush is about getting away from the crowds I suggest digging out some maps and finding somewhere a little less iconic.
Would I do it again? No….but I would like to do the northern section again so I can tick off Mt Ossa and Barn Bluff. It would be a very different journey in summer and the middle of winter.
Would I go hiking with my wife again? Definitely. I wasn’t sure it would work out too well because she didn’t pay much attention to my pre-trip Jetboil usage tutorial and she insisted on bringing her stupid earmuffs – but it was great to spend some time together away from our normal suburban life. It was quite disturbing that she was faster than me on most terrain and I considered loading her pack with rocks to slow her down.
So you are wondering what the huts are like along the Overland Track? Here is how I rate them:
Deluxe – Bert Nichols Hut, New Pelion Hut. These are both large and modern with the sleeping areas separated from the communal kitchen areas.
Good – Waterfall Valley Hut, Windermere Hut, Kia Ora Hut. Windermere has a separate sleeping room but apart from that these 3 huts are pretty similar. Comfortable and nice enough but if they is plenty of other people and the weather is OK you would consider setting up the tent.
Average – Pine Valley Hut, Narcissus Hut.
Any port in a storm – Old Waterfall Valley Hut, Du Kane Hut, Kitchen Hut. If the weather was horrible I would consider sleeping in these huts but under normal conditions I reckon you would be more comfortable in your tent. Note that Kitchen Hut and Du Kane Hut are for emergency use only. But all of these huts would provide welcome shelter from a storm if you needed a break for lunch.
Didn’t see it – Old Pelion Hut
There is no need to carry much water because there is plenty around. All the huts have drinking water tanks and there are lakes, streams and waterfalls all over the place. Maybe it is a different story in the middle of summer – but I don’t think you need to carry more than 1 litre. We only treated the water on one occasion (Katadyn Micropur tablet) when we took water from a creek that at time looked a bit dodgy but in hindsight I am sure it would have been OK. We never treated the water from the hut tanks and we never got sick.
Not as much as I had expected. We saw some wallabies and possums hanging around the huts, 1 wallaby and quite a lot of birds. We didn’t encounter any rats or mice in the huts.
Navigation & Safety
Unless you are walking in a blizzard or at night or the track is covered in snow it would be very difficult to get lost. The track is well signposted and you will likely see plenty of other people. Taking a map is essential but I never used my GPS. If you are walking alone off season or doing side trips I would suggest taking a PLB.
Gear and stuff
Bretto’s Tips for the Overland Track
1. Be flexible and go with the flow. Make sure you have plenty of time but don’t have a firm plan in terms of where you want to go each day.
2. Don’t be afraid to set up your tent. If there are lots of people around you would get a better night sleep in your tent and some of the tent platforms are in really nice spots. You can still cook and hang out in the huts if the weather is bad and then retreat to your own private space.