Some moan it’s in danger of being loved to death, but most hikers agree the Overland Track remains Australia’s greatest extended bushwalk: 65km, unbroken by roads and passing through 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. But 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.
Overland Track practicalities
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 popularity, a quota system has been introduced to regulate numbers to 60 departures a day between October and May. Walkers must book their place to walk (overlandtrack.com.au) and pay $200 per person in addition to the park entry fee; if it softens the pain of the outlay, your money goes to the park’s conservation. During this period, the walk is north to south only, a good idea at any rate since it’s more downhill than up.
During other months you can register in the national park offices at Cradle Mountain or Lake St Clair, where you receive an obligatory briefing and have your gear checked over. At either end you can purchase Tasmap’s Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair map – an essential purchase despite the boardwalks – and pick up one of several guidebooks that are useful for novice walkers.
With moderate fitness and experience, appropriate gear and a fair reserve of stamina, most walkers can tackle the track. However, guided tours will share the loads of tents and food, provide a richer appreciation of the wilderness and get someone else to do the cooking. Both of these depart from Launceston.
Tasmanian Expeditions tasmanianexpeditions.com.au. Runs trips from the standard six to nine days, including trips that divert into Pine Valley and winter treks that require the use of snowshoes.
Cradle Mountain Huts cradlehuts.com.au. Provides wilderness without the wild thanks to accommodation in private lodges – you’ll have hot showers and a delicious meal before a proper bed each night.