Some say it’s in danger of being loved to death, but most hikers will agree the Overland Track remains Australia’s greatest extended bushwalk: 65km, unbroken by roads and passing through buttongrass plains, fields of wild flowers, and forests of deciduous beech, Tasmanian myrtle, pandanus and King Billy pine, with side-walks leading to views of waterfalls and lakes, and starting points for climbs of the various mountain peaks. Most of the track is well-maintained boardwalk but you may still end up ankle-deep in mud. Along the route are six basic coal-stove- or gas-heated huts (not for cooking – bring your own stove), with composting toilets outside. There’s no guarantee there’ll be space, so you need a good tent – they’re usually warmer than huts, too – and a warm sleeping bag even in summer.
The direct walk generally takes six days – five, if you catch a boat from Narcissus Hut across Lake St Clair, or up to ten if you want to go on some of the side-walks – and demands that walkers carry enough food and fuel for the duration, plus extra supplies in case you have an accident or bad weather sets in. All water en route is potable. Around eight thousand people walk the track each year, most between November and April. While the track is at its most crowded from Christmas to the end of January, it is at its best during February and March when the weather has stabilized. Such is the route’s popoularity, a quota system has been introduced to regulate numbers in season and relieve pressure at overnight stops. Walkers must book their place to walk (wwww.overlandtrack.com.au) and pay an Overland Track fee in addition to the park entry fee; if it softens the outlay, all money goes to the park’s conservation. The walk is north to south only, a good idea at any rate since it’s more downhill than up. Tasmap’s Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair map is an essential purchase, and several guidebooks are useful for novice walkers. Once you arrive at Derwent Bridge, mud-encrusted but hopefully happy, there are hot showers at the campsite.