Russell Pirie and his son, Robert, completed the Overland Trek in Tasmania earlier this year, which is an experience they’ll never forget. From magnificent gorges, to majestic mountain peaks, Russ says the scenery was spectacular …
Hi Russ. You and your son, Robert, recently completed an epic trek in Tasmania, along the Overland Track. What inspired you to take this journey?
Both of my sons and I had earlier done other treks together, like the Milford Track in New Zealand and BlackCat/Bulldog in New Guinea. We had often heard that the Cradle Mountain/Overland Trek in Tassie was one of Australia’s most scenic and “must do ” treks – so it was planned as one not to miss.
How long did the trek take?
The Overland Trek in Tassie takes five or six nights, depending where you stay, but we took six nights – starting at the Cradle Mountain (northern) end and finishing at Lake St Clair on the southern end. We stayed at Cradle Mountain National Park Lodge the first night – then five more nights out on the trail.
We chose to take the week from 12th to 19th April, because we had calculated the weather would not be too hot for walking then, but also before any bleak, cold winter weather would set in.
Describe the trek and the territory it covered; where did the track start and end, and what types of scenery did you encounter?
We flew to Launceston, then had a driver take us to Cradle Mountain National Park – which was several hours by car through very scenic country – including the back road near Walls of Jerusalem. Essentially, the National Park is on a high plateau with steep gorges cutting through it, then these majestic big domes like Cradle Mountain stick up above the plateau like a third level of scenery. Just near the start of the trek lies beautiful Dove Lake – where there is a scenic day walk around those shores, with Cradle Mountain in the background.
The trek itself starts along a boardwalk across marshes at Ronny Creek, but soon rises up steep rocky hills to Marion’s Lookout, past very scenic outlooks back over Dove Lake and Crater Lake. From then on, you traverse rocky plateau country past the majestic Barn Bluff and down into Waterfall valley. That day’s walk is about 11 km.
The next day’s walk is about 8 km through to Lake Windermere, with scenic valley outlooks and past waterfalls. The third day was nearly 17 km down through a steep gorge and back up the other side to Pelion Hut.
Day four was another 9 km from Pelion to Kia Ora – this time ascending up through the rocky Ducane Gap past Mt Pelion East and Mt Ossa – two of Tasmania’s highest mountains. Day five was another 10 km through to Windy Ridge, where we did some extra side trips to look at D‘Alton and Fergusson Waterfalls – similar to those up near Dorrigo – with plenty of water pouring over them due to Tassie’s high rainfall.
The final day we walked the last 12 kilometres through to Lake St Clair past Pine Valley, which is a scenic walk from the Lake St Clair southern entrance to the park.
Over the seven days total, I was surprised just how spectacular the scenery was – including many rocky peaks and deep gorges that we do not see in mainland Australia. There were plenty of creeks to cross and beautiful lakes with mountain backdrops. The vegetation varied from mossy, slippery forests through to open heathland.
What was the most challenging part of your journey?
The trek was rockier and rougher than I thought, and Robert’s boots actually lost their soles on the first day into the trek, so we had to improvise with duct tape, shoelaces and wire holding them together for the rest of the walk. So, good solid boots are critical!
For me, the hardest thing was carrying all our equipment, including tents, cookery gear and food. That made a pack weight of about 20 kg each – which was quite challenging, going up those steep rocky slopes for about 80 kilometres.
What did you most love about the trip – what is it about the experience you’ll never forget?
It was wonderful to share that exhilarating walk with my son – as it was just the two of us walking independently, with plenty of time to talk and share the unique scenery. The views from the top of Marion’s Lookout and from Mt Pelion East were spectacular and well worth the climb.
Give us some more detail about the various mountain peaks you encountered. What was the highest altitude you reached – and what was the most arduous climb?
Each day there is a separate mountain peak off to the side that is a challenge to climb. Generally, in each case you would leave the main pack on the track and divert off for a few hours to climb these peaks. They are very rocky, steep and dangerous, but exhilarating as well.
The very nature of these peaks are sharp, broken rocky outcrops which have vertical cliffs and gaps like crevasses. Cradle Mountain top is 1,545 m, Barn Bluff is 1,559 m. We climbed to the peak of Mt Pelion East, which was 1,443 m. We were lucky with the weather that we could see 50 km back to Cradle Mountain in the north, as well as a further
30 km south to Lake St Clair.
Others we encountered on the trek climbed up Mt Ossa, which is the highest peak in Tassie at 1,617 m. Obviously these peaks are often covered in cloud, rain and snow in winter, so we were very happy to have experienced the views.
Was the entire trip organised by a tour company, or individually arranged?
We chose to do the trek independently – just the two of us, but still had to pay a National Park fee and make a booking, so they knew roughly where we were each day. It is a lot cheaper to do it that way, but there’s a lot more gear to carry.
How was the weather while you were away? Tasmania’s renowned for some pretty nippy conditions!
The weather was pretty good considering, and we had four sunny days out of six to take in the fantastic views of mountains and valleys 20 km away, where we could see where we had been or still to go. Some days we were walking in just shirtsleeves – other days we walked in heavy rain or cold, sleety conditions. The maximum temperature a couple of days was only around 8 degrees.
How did you fend for yourselves on the trek, food and shelter-wise?
We carried our own food packs all the way, as well as our own cooking gear and utensils. All that adds to the weight – particularly when the National Parks do not want you to leave ANY rubbish behind, so you still carry leftovers/scrap with you to the finish. There are shelter huts along the way at the end of each day’s walk, but they only sleep around 16 – all laying side by side – for independent walkers like ourselves. If you get to the huts before dark, there is a good chance of room to sleep, but otherwise you have to pitch your tent outside in a designated area. It is interesting to bunk down six at a time sleeping beside total strangers – with all the associated noises during the night – but you also make some good friends along the way as you come across others on the walk.
If you ever did the trek again, what would you do differently next time?
If I did it again I would book through a guide company where the food and shelter is waiting ahead for you and you only have less than 10 kg day packs with just day food and spare clothing/sleeping bag etc. Because we did it independently, we also had to organise our own transport from Launceston to Cradle Mountain – which was an extra cost – then also had to organise someone to pick us up at the other end at Lake St Clair and get back again to Launceston.
We realised later it would have been easier to have booked a flight back out from Hobart, which was closer to the Lake St Clair finishing point.
Interview by Jo Atkins.