Our main destination in Tasmania is the famed Overland Track. It’s one of the best hiking tracks in the world. Flight from Melbourne to Launceston is just over 1 hour. We arrived at Launceston airport after dusk. This is the second largest city in Tas, and home to about 100,000 people. Taxi is $30 to CBD (central business district). We checked into the Batman Fawkner Inn at 7pm and headed to our room on the 2nd floor.
We booked an ensuite double room, meaning a double with private bath and shower. It costs $60 a night so it’s no Ritz, and no Best Western either. The room is about 6×9 (feet) with a bunk bed, a small shelf and just enough space to walk around the furniture. Fortunately the bed is clean and comfortable, the shower works and water is hot. We can’t ask for more than that.
Launceston Post Office Building
After putting down our bags, we set out to the local Coles supermarket to do some grocery shopping for the trip. Since this is our very first multi-day backpacking trip, neither of us had any idea how much food to buy, so we err on the safe side and bought a lot. Turned out that would have been enough for 4 people, and we had to carry the extra pounds all through the 5-day trip. Here is a rough list of food stuff we bought:
- 12 bags of instant noodle
- mixed nuts, M&M, dry fruits
- a bag of milk power
- oats meal
- 2 large bars of chocolate
- assortment of cookies
- a bottle of peanut butter
- energy bars
We had TassieLink, the local bus company transport a bag of stuff that we would not need on the trail directly to our destination. This was a life saver as it shaved 20lbs from our packs.
We woke up to a beautiful morning well rested. The bus leaves town at 8:45 and it’s not yet 7, so we have some time to explore. The city is very peaceful, even at supposedly rush hour on a Tuesday. There are few people or cars on the street. It felt more like a Sunday morning.
A traditional iron-face building
Our bus is much smaller than the one shown here. It’s the size of a large van with a luggage trailer. Because there aren’t that many bushwalkers (Australian term for hikers) this time of the year. This is early Spring in the southern hemisphere, and it could snow in the mountains at any time.
Launceston Bus Station
The bus stopped at a few places on the way to pick up additional hikers. One of these stops is Devonport. If you take the ferry to Tasmania, you would end up here. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry runs on a regular basis from Melbourne and Sydney. A group of 9 hikers were picked up here. From what little Spanish Tracy and I learned in preparation for our South America trip, we were able to pick out a few Spanish words in their conversations.
The bus stopped at a few other towns before heading for Cradle Mountain. The ride took just under 4 hours.
Yup, these are actual place names in Tasmania
We were dropped off at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Center in light drizzle. We didn’t expect this as it was sunny in the morning, and the elevation isn’t that high where we were. Never the less, we came prepared, so we donned our brand new hard shell jacket and rain pants, and got on the shuttle bus that would take us to the trail start.
By the time the shuttle bus finished the 15-minute trip to Ronny Creek, the drizzle has turned into a steady rain, and the wind started to pick up. When we put rain covers on our backpacks, it turns out that since we tied our mattress pad on the outside of the packs, the rain covers don’t fit very well. Oh well, how bad can it be. We put on our packs and started on the trail.
We saw a Wallaby less than 100m into the trail. It didn’t appear to be afraid of people. As long as we kept our distance (maybe 2m) it happily ignored us. It was raining hard so we didn’t get a picture of it. You could just imagine a smaller, fuzzier kangaroo.
The trail went uphill for much of the first stretch to Marion’s lookout. Both wind and rain grew stronger as we ascend the mountain. On some of the mountain ridges, the wind is so strong that from time to time we had to stop and brace ourselves so as not to be blown off balance.
A section of the trail is very steep. You clime up rocks here with the help of iron chains. It’s treacherous under the weather condition with icy rain making the rocks slippery, and strong wind making balancing difficult. We lost a rain cover to the wind here (lesson #1, buy rain covers that cover more than just your pack).
By the time we got to Kitchen Hut it was close to 4pm. This hut is just a emergency shelter and did not have the facilities of a standard hut. We tried to push on to the next hut but had to turn back because the trail is flooded and it’s getting darker. We were also worried that our gears will get wet in the rain. It turned out to be a good decision. The rain and wind picked up even more. We didn’t sleep much that night huddled in our damp sleeping bags and listening to the howling wind outside. At times it feels that the wind was going to uproot this old hut, but it held.
Two young Australians were already in the hut and made the same decision to stay for the night. We would become hut-mates for the rest of the trip.
Kitchen Hut, our humble shelter for the first night on the track
The sky cleared up by dawn. We got up around 6:30 and decided to get an early start. The track was a bit muddy from the rain, but was not flooded like the previous day. We reached the Waterfall Valley Hut, our intended destination for Day 1 by noon. The Spanish group spent last night here because they couldn’t fit into the Kitchen Hut (capacity 5). I showed off my Spanish with “El Humbre bebe leche” (The man drinks milk). They laughed and seemed happy. I take it that they were duly impressed.
After having a quick lunch and refilling our water, we pressed on to the Windermere Hut about 8km away. We were exhausted when we got there. But seeing this little fella kept our spirits up. This is a Pademelon, a small marsupial like a miniature kangaroo. We saw several that ranged from less than 10 lbs to maybe 20 lbs. They were not afraid of people, but would hop away if you got within a meter. The Australians ignored them, but we foreigners got a kick out of watching them.
Every hut has one or more of these guys
We had a brief discussion with the two young Aussies we met in the kitchen hut. They are brother and sister both studying in University of Melbourne. Sarah majored in Immunology. Tom is still a first year student, but seems interested in following his sister’s footsteps and choose the same major.
Sleep came easily after a long day of hiking. I was completely oblivious to all the snoring in the hut. Tracy used earmuffs and slept well also.
We woke up to snow on the ground. Fortunately it’s pretty light. We had some oats meal and headed out. Today we are going to hike 16.5km to New Pelion Hut.
In front of Windermere Hut where we spent the second night
The weather alternated between sleet, cloudy sky and rain. This section of hike involved lots of slippery tree roots and ankle deep mud. We were too busy finding our footings to take any photos. Other than discovering two leeches on our pants on arrival, the day’s journey was long, tiring, and uneventful.
Lesson #2: Bring more salty food and less sweet stuff. I would gladly trade all my chocolate and chocolate cookies for a can of spam.
Night was interesting though. The cacophony of snoring started to get to me (TM guys will remember Montauk). At any one time there’s at least 3 people snoring at different pitch and frequency. I may have contributed as well :). I used earmuffs also that night.
Finally a dry day!! I got my camera out for the first time. Before this we were using Tracy’s little point-and-shoot. We have just now started to really enjoy this track.
We reached Pelion Gap at noon. The view was incredible. Several people and one lone currawong were resting here. Currawongs looked like ravens, but with larger curved beaks and yellow eyes. They are very smart and are know to open zippers on backpacks to steal food. Later on at the visitor center, we saw on swoop down and snatch a piece of bread from a girl’s plate when she turned on her seat to get some butter.
Currawong watching us closely
Yup, we are heading south
A section of trail covered with planks. Majority of the trail are mud, tree root, rocks and creek bed.
The trail’s all downhill from Pelion Gap. It didn’t take too long for us to reach Kia Ora Hut.
Tracy negotiating around a fallen tree
There’s still plenty of daylight. We were taking pictures of the hut’s resident pademelon when we spotted this bird pecking on the back of the animal. First we thought it was looking for pests, it soon turned out that it was plucking hair from the poor pademelon, probably for building a nest. If you looked carefully you can see the strand of hair it’s holding in its beak.
The evil "Hair Collector"
Cold, hungry, and tired, Tracy plays the role of 杨白劳
Back in the hut, the Spanish group was jovial as usual. They got the fires going and are roasting sausages in the stove. They shared some with us. It tasted heavenly after 4 days of trail food.
We have decided to skip a hut tomorrow and go all the way out so we can have one day to wash up and rest before flying to Sydney. So the bunch of us who shared huts for the past few days got together and took a few pictures.
Sarah and Tom are on the right. In the middle are the group from Spain. Somehow one of them is missing. 3rd from the left are their intrepid leader, who speaks the loudest and snores the loudest.
Today we are walking 19km all the way to the end of the track – Lake St. Clair. After a few miles of uphill, the trail is mostly downhill and flat terrain. Only regret is that the hut (Windy Ridge Hut) we passed up was the newest and best hut on this track. We did have lunch there though.
Tracy crossing the suspension bridge
We reached Narcissus Hut at 4:30pm. At night we caught this possum scavenging around the hut. Like most animals we encountered here, it’s not alarmed by people.
A possum in the night
Yeah! We are taking the ferry out today. Ferry comes at 9:45, we are on the jetty waiting at 8. The prospect of a hot shower and real food is driving us. I believe a fair percentage of the enjoyment of multi-day backpacking comes AFTER the trip, when satisfaction from food, hot shower, and clean cloths are greatly enhanced.
In front of Narcissus Hut
Waiting for ferry on the jetty
Ferry comes on time and we are out of here. 25 minutes later, we are at the other side of Lake St Clair.
Fast and furious
Lake St Clair Visitor Center
Yes! Back to civilization
After spending some time in the camp’s coin operated shower (6 min for $1), we were reborn. We did laundry and ate at the center’s cafeteria. The owner’s also a good chef, but at this point anything tastes good.
In the morning we met up with our hut-mates, who took different routes out. The TassieLink bus took us to Hobart, capital of Tasmania with population of 200,000. We bid farewell to our friends, quickly wolfed down a sandwich, and took a shuttle to Hobart Airport. It’s on to Sydney from here.