The Overland Track

Sometimes it only takes a chance remark to spark a mission. Someone asked at Christmas time, was I doing the Overland Track, when I said I was doing a big walk this year. No, no I said I am doing the Larapinta. Hmmm, but wait a minute, the Overland track might be a good warm up walk. I needed to do a 6 or 7 day walk to be sure in my head that I could do a much longer walk.

I tried to find some people to come with me but everyone was busy or had no leave from work, so I decided that I was big enough and confident enough to do it myself. I got leave from work, figured out the buses, booked the track, the plane tickets and the motel in Launceston. I would fly down on Saturday, get the bus to Cradle Mountain on Sunday and start walking on Monday.  The timing of the buses to and from the walk meant that I would only have 6 days. So I would have to be at the ferry by 1pm at the end of the walk on the Saturday, to make the bus, to make the plane the next day, to make it back to home and work on Monday.

I had spent a lot of time looking at the weather because that is the special thing about this area, beautiful one day, crap the next, or from one hour to the next. There seemed to be a pattern of two days sun, two days rain, that would be OK as long as it didn’t rain every day. But the week before I was to set off, the forecast was 2 days rain followed by 2 days snow, followed by 2 more days of rain. This was not sounding like fun.

I got my gear together. I will be carrying this pack for a week, so I don’t want it to be too heavy. Hah. A week’s worth of food and lots of warm, dry clothes and a stove and tent and sleeping bag and mat and water so on. It never sounds like much until you add in all the other little bits and pieces like a head torch and map and toiletries and the snacks and first aid kit and I hired an EPIRB just in case and wet weather gear, the phone to take pictures and a little bit of wine. I packed and repacked and packed again to see if it would get any lighter, no it didn’t. I couldn’t believe the scales when I weighed it, surely it doesn’t weigh 20kg, anyway off I go.

The alarm went off early and I jumped out of bed, the first step in my grand adventure. By car, train and plane.

 

It was a great feeling to be flying in the sun above the clouds until we went down and then, grey. Launceston is a great place. There were so many great cafes to eat at, a fantastic butcher to buy my steak, a pub on every corner and a drive through Mexican restaurant! I found a lovely old place to stay in, the Old Bakery Inn filled with olde world furniture, much nicer than a sterile modern motel. I bought more food and fuel supplies and tried to fit them into my pack. How much does it weigh now?

Sunday morning I was first on the bus and it was full of people heading out the Cradle Mountain, mostly to walk the Overland Track. The day was rainy as predicted but not too cold. I checked out my cabin and walked around some of the little walks as there was not much point going anywhere too far as you couldn’t see anything through the mist and rain. I saw the huge King Billy Pine and the enchanted walk, lots of green moss and fungi eating the trees alive it seemed.

I checked in with National Parks and they said there was a search team out looking for a woman lost from one of the huts, so don’t be alarmed at the helicopters etc. The thought of the headlines always makes me keep very safe, something like “Stupid middle aged woman loses herself in the wilderness and falls down a cliff”. I don’t want to see that.

It rained off and on during the night and at this point it didn’t worry me at all. I am here now and this is what I am going to do so that is it, good night. I set off early as everyone said the first day is the hardest up to Marion’s Lookout with a full pack. Didn’t matter at all as there was nothing to see when you got there.

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Walking around Crater Lake was magic though with the Fagus turning its autumn colours, the water cascading down the rocks and all cloaked in mist. At the top the wind was blowing and cold, then to Kitchener’s Hut for a lunch stop. I was super organised with my thermos of hot water for a cup of miso and I started to meet some of the people I would spend the next week or so bumping into.

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The rain had turned the track into a creek and the good thing was that my boots were the only piece of waterproof gear I had. At least it was not too cold. The clouds did start to break up and I could see a ghostly Barn Bluff in the distance still in the mist.

I could see all around me hills and valleys that I had never seen pictures of before. Then the track started to descend to Waterfall Valley Hut through Pandani and more Fagus, just the most gorgeous place.

I really didn’t know what to expect of the huts I would be staying at each night. This one was quite small, two tables and benches, a covered verandah for all the wet smelly stuff to dry and four big sleeping platforms, the more the merrier and cosier it got as the night went on and more people arrived. We were all keen to cook our dinner while it was light and so by 6 o’clock we were all ready for bed.

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Old Waterfall Hut

Day two started misty with the sun trying to shine through and I was lucky to get glimpses of the view sometimes. I didn’t bother with the side trip to Lake Will as you couldn’t see 6 feet in front of you at that point. Besides Lake Holmes that was right beside the track was very scenic, so I just imagined the other lake was the same.

The walk was across quite flat, open moors with some waterfalls you could hear but not see, off to the left. It was only a short walk today, 8km but quite cold and it didn’t take long to reach Lake Windemere and the hut.

Then the sun came out and some girls decided to go for a swim. We warned them about hypothermia and found a sunny spot to enjoy a relaxing afternoon out of the wind and enjoying the view. This place was just magic, hills all around and water.

Barn Bluff was in full view and out of the mist today. It looks like Pigeon House mountain down the south coast but much bigger.

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As soon as the sun started to get lower, the temperature dropped and before we knew it, there were little flakes floating down, what a treat.

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It was quite snug in the hut and tonight there were separate bunks so we didn’t have to sleep quite so close together. It might have only been a very short walk today but I was hungry. I had a late lunch, then an early dinner so I could be away fairly early in the morning as it was a longer walk tomorrow, 16km to New Pelion Hut and through the mud at Frog Flat. The sky was only half clear tonight but there still plenty of stars.

In the morning, I put plastic bags over my socks, sprayed my boots with DEET and put on gaiters and then wet weather pants as it was likely to rain, or snow. That should keep the leeches out too. This was the part I had been dreading, walking through the mud, leech city I was imagining…eeek.

The boardwalk was lightly covered in snow and was really slippery in patches where they hadn’t finished putting wire over the top. I started walking across more open moor country which was not too cold while the sun was trying to shine, but then a big cold cloud would come over and blow more snowy stuff in, then it got cold and I quickly layered up again.

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I had planned to be at New Pelion by 3pm and was right on time. Keeping ahead of a school group was my motivation to keep going. When I arrived, it was starting to get really cold and I was tired and while cooking my dinner, I was annoyed that I hadn’t finished setting up my bed so I could just crawl in and eat dinner there and then fall asleep. This hut sleeps 60 people and from here you can access lots of different walks, so there were plenty of hard core bushwalkers, staying up all night and disappearing very early in the morning. It was too cold to sit outside and watch the sun go down over Mt Oakleigh.

In the morning there was a very light snow covering and I was in no hurry to get going.

Today’s walk was up through lots more forest and roots and not quite so much mud with the added bonus of waterfalls.

I was living my Hobbit fantasy! We were heading up to Pelion Gap and there had been lots of discussion as to which side trips people were going to do. To the left for East Pelion or to the right to Mt Doris and Mt Ossa.

When I was nearing the end of the forest, I could hear the wind and knew it was going to be really cold and probably snowing, so got some more layers on. At the Gap, some people were having lunch and you couldn’t see the top of Mt Ossa through cloud or snow, so I just kept heading on until I had descended enough that it was warmer and out of the wind for a lunch stop.

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I spent the next couple of hours just wandering along enjoying myself and thinking that it was time I put up my tent. I really wanted to camp out, even though it was such an enjoyable experience in the huts. I was hoping for some clear nights and star gazing, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. So as soon as I arrived at KiaOra hut, I put up my tent before I could change my mind. It was rainy/misty weather and I am always paranoid about leeches but the timber platforms are a great way to keep off the ground.

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The next day was the last full day of walking. There was the last bit of up to the Du Cane Gap and then it was all downhill to the end. I finally got to see some of the hills which had been hiding in the mist, like Mt Ossa and the Cathedral. Then over the other side of Du Cane Gap there was a whole lot more. Bert Nichols hut is a brand-spanking new hut and huge, but I was going to sleep in my tent again.

During the night, I also remembered that this hut was called Windy Ridge when my tent was getting battered by the occasional blast. We had arrived in good time to watch the sunset behind the Acropolis and other peaks in front of us, but the weather closed in and that was the end of that. It was still a spectacular sight and I was getting jealous of other people’s planning of their walks up the side track to Pine Valley, behind these peaks. Maybe another time?

Day 6 I was up early for a brisk walk to meet the ferry and then the bus and so the end of my walk. It was easy going and sadly it was the last of the lush green forest and back into the usual Australian eucalyptus bush. Also, the last of the many creeks. I had stopped at every creek crossing to say hello and admire and listen.

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There was one last sweet moment. After a very fast drive back in the bus along a dirt road past the Great Lake in the highlands, we were cruising down the twisty, windy road that I remembered Grandpa and I riding up when we rode around Tassie 10 years ago. There was a fabulous view, the sun was setting, I hadn’t seen a sunset all week, there was a new moon, we were looking out over the plain to other hills and ranges, and there was a Paul Kelly song playing, ‘My winter coat’. What a special moment to finish off a fantastic adventure.

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Around Australia – Heading East (and home)

We left the south west corner of Western Australia on a very wet and miserable day. When the sun did come out, the glare on the road was really bad, but we got to see rainbows in the rear view mirrors. The next thing on our list was to visit some big trees. We passed through lots of towns ending in ‘up’, which means place, like Nannup and Manjimup and they all had great food and coffee, too bad we weren’t working up an appetite sitting on the bike.

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Now that’s a wagon wheel

A few towns along the way had been yarn-bombed, but Bridgetown was the best so far.

I found the big Diamond Tree which you could climb and had a fire lookout at the top. It was 53 metres up a dodgy set of spikes going around the tree. Grandpa didn’t believe me that I was going to climb it. It did look a long way up and the spikes were a long way apart and cold. No matter, off I went. It didn’t take long and the view once you popped out above the surrounding forest made it worthwhile.

Then there was the tree-top walkway to get a really close look at the Karri trees for those not into climbing.

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Our next camp was at Denmark where we could see the full moon rising over the sea. Much more private than the “Staircase to the moon” at Broome.

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The next day the rainy weather continued, we knew the weather would be like this in these parts. It really was winter but we were getting used to it now, 2 pairs of gloves, thermals and plastic bags in the boots helped to keep us warm and dry. Albany was an interesting place but wet so we continued to Hopetoun on the coast. The rain had eased a bit but the wind was blowing so hard it blew me and the bike over when I foolishly parked side onto it down by the water. The pub had a fantastic fire box which could have kept us warm all night though.

Next stop was Norseman and then off across the Nullabor and the big, long straight. The weather had cleared by then so we made camp at a roadside stop just past Madura (which had THE most expensive fuel of the trip $1.99/l) and had a lovely fire, the best camp of all. We came across this ingenious way of getting water in the middle of the desert. A big roof and some tanks, probably only catches the dew, but it was enough for us. The Roadhouses along the way will not let you have any water, you have to buy it in a bottle.

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The next day we were back in South Australia and it got slightly warmer. This is where the cliffs start along the Great Australian Bight and we had to stop at all of the lookouts. It is amazing scenery and you get the sense of what a big island Australia is surrounded by all that ocean. The last one at the Head of the Bight was where the whales come to calve and play with their babies. The new viewing platforms meant that you could see them closer than if you were on a boat. If you look close you can see a tail! (the phone doesn’t zoom very well).

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Still cold, wet and windy so we stayed at a dodgy Motel/Roadhouse. Where the German manager did a fantastic job of keeping the locals in line. A big day’s ride to Port Augusta the next day and the highlight for me was seeing the setting sun on the Flinders Range coming into Port Augusta. One day I am coming back for a walk. We set up camp and then found the best old pub by the water, Hotel Augusta with good food and beer and ambience. We nearly ended up spending the night. Somewhere along the road today, there was a town claiming to be the halfway point across Australia but all we saw was a bloody big galah!

So cold, cold, cold that when we stopped at a little place called Orroroo we bought thermal socks and had the very best pie of the trip at the Gum Tree Café if you are ever passing through. This was also home to a gigantic gum tree.

We wanted to see Broken Hill on our way home but in typical fashion, we only had time for a brief drive-by and then on our way the next day. The winter rain had been heavy all over and some of the roads we wanted to take were dirt and we didn’t fancy riding on mud, so we headed south to Wentworth  where the Darling flows into the Murray and then along the Hay plain. Our last stop was at the Bland Hotel in Quandialla and a quick hello to Daniel.

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And so back home again. My first thought when going inside was “What is this place? Oh yeah this is a house”. It felt very strange to be inside after being outside for all that time but gee it felt good to have a shower and find some other clothes that I hadn’t been wearing for the last 6 weeks.

We had such a great time, yes it was tiring and yes we would do it again, sometime later and maybe in the car with a kayak. The next day Kevin hopped on the bike and did the remaining 40km so we topped 16 000kms!! The bikes were really great even if they did cost a fortune to service and of course we have already started talking about where our next adventure will be too.

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