How to Hike Tasmania’s Epic Overland Track
It’s one of the greatest walks in the world: the Overland Track in Tasmania. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or novice hiker, this epic 65-kilometre, six-day trek through the alpine wilderness, from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, rewards walkers with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To help you prepare for the journey, we’ve pulled together the ultimate guide to walking the Overland Track, from essential tips and practical packing advice to what to expect.
Booking your walking pass
Walking passes cost $200 each in summer (October to May) and are free in winter. Only 34 independent walkers are permitted to join the track each day. Passes are released at the start of July each year, and you’ll have to be quick off the mark to be sure of getting the date you want – especially if you’re planning on tackling the walk during summer, which is a popular time for the trek. If it’s sold out, keep checking the website as quite a few people cancel closer to the time.
Do your research
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife provides useful and important information for Overland Track walkers, including detailed packing lists that will make preparing for the walk a breeze.
The starting point
Your experience begins at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, where you’ll pick up your Overland passes, catch the shuttle bus to the start of the walk, and then you’re off…
Prepare for the weather
No matter what time of year you go, be prepared for it to snow. Brace yourself for cold temperatures and pack plenty of thermals. Some days will bring perfect weather, while others could bring storms, rain, hail, wind and sun.
What are the Overland Track huts and campgrounds like?
The trail is dotted with wooden huts that vary in age and amenities. The huts can house 16-36 guests at a time, depending on which stage of the walk you’re at. There are also a number of historic huts along the trail that you will not be able to sleep in. Inside you’ll find wooden bunks for sleeping, communal areas for food preparation and eating (there are no stoves available for cooking), a heater (that can only be used once the mercury sinks to 10 degrees or lower).
You should ensure that you have all the gear to set up camp if you can’t reach a hut or if the huts are at maximum capacity. The campgrounds usually adjoin the huts, with separate areas for guided groups and self-guided walkers. At some of the campgrounds you’ll find raised wooden platforms to set up your tent. Even if you’re camping, you’ll be able to make use of the facilities within the huts to cook and dry your gear.
Book the ferry home
The Overland Track officially finishes up at Narcissus Hut, but more adventurous hikers may choose to take the 17 kilometre trek down Lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay (where you’ll be ferried home) at the end, adding another day to the walk.
If an additional day of hiking isn’t your thing, catch the 30-minute ferry from Narcissus to the Bay instead. This service is run by a private company, and should be booked before you arrange your separate transport that takes you from Cynthia Bay to Hobart.
Ferry seating is limited and the service can be affected by bad weather. When booking your return trip, be aware that the Overland’s guided walking company claims a number of spots on the 1pm service so it can be more challenging to get a seat.
For transport from Cynthia Bay back to Hobart, try Overland Track Transport (0474 172 012) or Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences (0477 480 383).
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Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service advises, “the lighter you pack, the more you’ll enjoy the walk”, but there are a number of key essentials to carry with you that might make that a challenging task. To pack right, make space for a compulsory tent (in case you can’t snag an overnight spot in a hut), sleeping bag and mat, clothes for every kind of weather, a camping stove and food for six days. Be ruthless when packing to avoid carrying things you can do without.
There’s plenty of water along the track and at the huts, so you only need to carry enough for the day. Tip: the running water from streams is fine to drink once you get around the back of Cradle Mountain, away from most of the day visitors.
Is it waterproof?
Before you leave, test your pack cover, rain jacket and pants in the rain, or get someone to hose you down while wearing them. If they’re not waterproof, get better ones. “Your feet will get wet,” states the official guidebook. If it rains a lot your boots will get waterlogged. Bring waterproof gloves for the rainy days, especially if you’re using walking poles.
Use proper waterproof dry bags or sacks in your pack to keep your sleeping bag, mat and camp clothes dry. Even with a pack cover, rain jacket and rain pants, after a day of walking in a downpour, the wet gets in. If you get drenched on the track, you’ll need warm, dry clothes to change into when you reach the hut, and a dry sleeping bag.
Prepare to use walking poles
On a big pack walk, poles are life-savers, not a weakness. They help haul you up steep slopes, jump across huge puddles, balance on slippery logs, negotiate tangled roots and, most importantly, save your knees when going downhill.
Read the map
Buy the official Overland topographic map and guide when you book your passes, and check it each day before setting out – it has handy notes on the back including side trips you may consider tackling. Once you start your journey, have a copy of that day’s walk notes in your pocket so you can access them easily without taking your pack off.
Be aware that signposts are minimal, with no distance markers between huts, and signposting for side trips up peaks such as Cradle Mountain and Mount Ossa is not always clear. It’s easy to lose the track even if you’re an experienced walker.
Make your bed
When you get to the hut at the end of each day, no matter how knackered you feel, do not sit down and relax! If you’re sleeping inside, find a spot on the open-plan bunks, blow up your sleeping mat and unroll your sleeping bag, so it’s all ready when you go to bed later. The huts don’t have lights and trying to set yourself up by torchlight is more difficult and annoying than you might think.
If you are camping outside on a tent platform, the same advice applies: set it up and get everything ready for bed before you do anything else. Whether you’re sleeping inside or outside, make sure your torch works and that your ear plugs are nearby in case of snorers.
There are no showers on the track outside of standing under a waterfall, so if the weather and temperature allow, swim when you can in the lakes and streams such as Lake Windermere.
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Keep your eyes peeled for rare birds
If you’re into birds, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the calls before you go. Often Overland birds can be heard but not seen, unless you stop walking, stay quiet and wait for them to come to you, which they often do. On the wildlife front, keep an eye out for wallabies, wombats, possums, pademelons, echidnas and perhaps even the elusive Tasmanian devil.
Just be wary of Overland currawongs: the tales of them removing pack covers and undoing zips are real. Bring a key ring or wire twists to secure the zips on your big pack when you leave it unattended or you may find your food spread everywhere when you get back.
There be snakes
The last person to die on the Overland from a snakebite was in the 1940s, but large tiger snakes have been spotted by more recent travellers. Wear full ankle gaiters, carry a snakebite bandage and read up on how to use it before you go.
Going to the loo
Pack your toilet paper and hand sanitiser in a plastic bag together, with some smaller plastic bags for used toilet paper. Only toilet paper and food scraps can go down the drop toilets at the huts; everything else must be carried out in your pack. Don’t skimp on toilet paper; use it after eating to wipe out bowls and cups before you wash them. Don’t forget your toilet trowel for when you need to do your business on the track, but try to hold on in places known for leeches.
If you’re using your phone as a camera, keep it on flight mode to save its battery. There’s a bit of Telstra coverage in some spots, but part of the wilderness experience is being out of range.
Know your limits
Yes, a lot of people do the Overland Track every year, but it’s still important to respect the wilderness, avoid putting yourself in unnecessary danger and know your limits. The climb up Cradle Mountain on the first day is difficult and can be quite scary at times and some stretches require a little bit of rock climbing more than rock hopping. Feel free to sit out some of the more challenging elements – just because everyone else is climbing Mount Ossa, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
The guided option
Prefer to travel with a little more comfort? It’s worth looking into embarking on a fully guided walk with the Tasmanian Walking Company, which follows the same route and includes nice meals made just for you and comfier huts to sleep in – you’ll also get to carry a much smaller pack.
SEE ALSO: A Practical Guide to the Larapinta Trail
Image credit: Tayla Gentle, Jess Bonde, Tourism Australia, Sarajayne Lada, Emilie Ristevski.