The Overland Track's summer colours (c) JP Mundy 2012
Fancy a walk? Fancy a long walk? Fancy an iconic long walk? Then think about Tasmania's Overland Track, one of the world's top long distance walks. From Cradle Mountain to Lake St Claire, this magnificent pristine sub-alpine environment takes on average 6 days and covers 65km. Apart from the first haul up from Dove Lake to the Cradle Mountain plateau on the first day, the walk is not particularly onerous or technical. About 1/3rd of it is duck-boarded in order to protect the highly fragile and unique plant life, including rare button-grasses, delicate orchids and the King Billy Pine, which is only found here. I can promise you, this walk will be a lifetime highlight and should be on any bucket list. You'll see plants, vegetation and views which you won't see anywhere else in the world. You'll get to swim in pure (and freezing) alpine waterfalls and lakes, and have the option of clambering up Tasmania's highest mountain (Mt Ossa) and its stunning neighbour, Mt Oakleigh. It's simply stunning.
The altitude profile of the Overland Track - spread over 6 days
There are a number of huts along the way, surrounded by raised wooden tent platforms, to keep you dry. Walkers must carry tents at all times for safety reasons, as the huts themselves fill up quickly and you cannot rely on a place inside. The weather can also be dramatically changeable and snow in January is not uncommon. Having said that, I walked it in January in sublimely (and unusually) perfect weather, including some stunning blue skies and only occasional drizzle.
The view from the top of Mt Oakleigh - a tough but fantastic detour (c) JP Mundy 2012
Most people walk the track from north to south, starting from Waldheim's Hut not far from the National Park headquarters. In the peak walking season, between October and May, walker numbers are restricted, and you can only walk in this direction, in order to minimise congestion on the track. During this time, there is a $200 track fee payable per person, and you are advised to book your spot online
in advance. Out of this period, you don't need to book, but must be experienced winter bushwalkers, and extremely competent at navigation in poor conditions, when the path can be entirely occluded by snow. You will also need to purchase a National Parks pass.
Delicate Button grass on the Overland Track (c) JP Mundy 2012
There are a number of options for walking the path - the first (and most affordable for experienced walkers) is fully self-supporting. Individual walkers or groups of no more than 8 walkers need to carry in all their own food and equipment, and carry out all their rubbish. This is not as daunting as it sounds if you pack light and are experienced: the week I did the trek there was a father and his 10 year old daughter practically skipping their way along. Adequate preparation is key however, as once you set off on the track, the only way out is back the way you came or at the very end - there are no roads, and rescue is either by foot or helicopter.
View up to Mt Ossa, Overland Track (c) JP Mundy 2012
There are a number of excellent local companies which guide along the trail, providing all equipment, and food and allowing you to camp just as independent walkers do. You usually don't have to carry quite so much this way. Try Wilderness Expeditions, Tasmanian Expeditions
, Adventure Seekers
or Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences
. All of these companies offer a range of options, from fully guided camping tours to helping with logistics for independent walkers. Expect to pay around $2,000 per person (all inclusive) for a fully guided and supported tour.
One of the private eco-huts (Cradle Mountain Huts) (c) JP Mundy 2012
The other option is to go on the fully guided and supported Cradle Mountain Huts
Tours, which have walkers staying at discrete, basic but beautiful private eco-huts, hidden from the main track to minimise their impact. If a hot shower, warm room, bed and incredible gourmet Tasmanian produce meal is your poison of choice, this is the option for you - and speaking from experience, I can't recommend it more highly.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service has an excellent online information and planning guide
which tells you all you need to know. They also produce the key maps and guides. Another really useful guidebook for planning the walk has just been updated: Hiking the Overland Track
, by Frank and Sue Wall, and it's an essential investment - available online as an e-book.
Now you have all the info you need to get started, what's stopping you? You'll never regret the adventure, the camaraderie and the incredible views and sense of place. Get your boots on and just go.