By Steve Jones
Driving. Lots of it. It’s an integral part of the Big Lap. And, of course, navigating many of Australia’s off-the-beaten track roads can be a wonderfully rewarding (and bumpy!) experience.
Equally, it can be gruelling and stressful. So what better antidote to the thousands of kilometres behind or next to the wheel than donning the walking boots, dusting off the trekking poles and hiking 65 kilometres through some of the most pristine landscape Australia has to offer.
Tasmania’s Overland Track is one of the nation’s most celebrated journeys by foot. Starting at wombat-strewn Ronny Creek, 6km past the entrance of Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, the route take hikers through a variety of terrains including button grass plains, heathland, alpine lakes and rainforests, before finishing at Lake St Clair to the south.
Most hikers take around six days to complete the route, with many venturing further into the mountains on the various side trips which branch off from the main track. They include a two or three hour hike up to the summit of 1545m Cradle Mountain – a tough climb which includes a degree of scrambling towards the top – and an equally challenging excursion to Barn Bluff, at 1559m.
Other notable side trips include a climb to the summit of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak at 1617m, which again is a steep ascent and requires some boulder hopping. Those who accept the challenge are rewarded at all three summits with, on clear days, spectacular views across the national park and beyond.
If scrambling to the top of such peaks is not for you, there are several easier side trips which also offer wonderful panoramas and secluded spots, including an easy 2/3km round trip to Lake Will and its small sandy beaches.
There are also easily accessible, and stunning waterfalls, which cement the Overland’s great walk reputation. As for accommodation, there are the six overnight sites which dot the route, with two sleeping options: in huts or under canvas. It’s a requirement to carry a tent, and huts are offered on a first come, first served basis, but campers can use the huts to cook.
The Overland costs $200 per hiker between October 1 and May 31 which goes towards the upkeep of the track, and maintenance of the huts. And to ensure the environment is protected, the number of hikers starting the track each day is limited to 34. It must also be traversed in a north to south direction.
None of the above rules apply during winter although the track is often impassable due to snow.