All you need to know to hike the Overland Track

Aaron/ August 28, 2019/ Hiking, Oceania/ 0 comments

A compilation of information I had found regarding completing the Overland Track, as well as nuggets from my experience on the trail in May 2019. If you’re considering the Overland Track or have decided to do it, hope this comes in useful!

What is the Overland Track

The Overland Track is a one-way, 65km (40 mile) hike across the Tasmanian Wilderness in Australia, from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. It is often a contender in top hikes/treks in the world lists. The Overland Track will take you on a journey through diverse terrains where you’ll get up close with the exotic plants and wildlife of Tasmania.

Cradle Mountain
Cradle Mountain.

Why the Overland Track

Tasmania is best known for its wilderness and nature, and the Overland Track is probably one of the best ways to allow you to experience it for yourself, in a very personal way. From mountains, lakes, plants, animals and fungi, there’s no shortage of things to marvel at over the this 6 day hike.

Moreover, for all its accolades of superlatives, the Overland Track is quite a manageable hike with sufficient preparation. It’s no walk in the park (figuratively, but literally it is) but neither a very technical or strenuous one, and is suitable for first timers (again, with sufficient preparation).

Just a couple of places the Overland track appeared in …

Need I say more?

Pelion Plains and Mt Oakleigh.
Pelion Plains and Mt Oakleigh.

When to do the Overland Track

The official hiking season is from October to May. Outside of that period weather is harsh and snowfall can be high. If that’s what you’re looking for, June to August will be a good pick. This is really for advanced hikers only. And since it is outside of hiking season you will not need to book an Overland Track Pass and will not be bound by direction.

For the most comfortable weather, summer will be your best pick (December to February). And given that this is Tasmania anything outside this might be considered cold. It’s also when the track is the most crowded. Weather is still nonetheless unpredictable and snowstorms do occur, so preparation is same as other periods. If you don’t have much experience hiking best to stick to this period and book as early as you can as slots run out.

At the fringes of hiking season (October to November/ April to May) the weather is less friendly. More wet days, less visibility, shorter daylight hours and arranging transport can be tricky. However crowds are thinner, and the different landscape during this period might be what you’re looking for. One thing to take note, is that transport service to the start and from the end may be less frequent. For the ferry service there’s a chance that you’ll fork out more than the usual A$50 if there are less than 6 passengers, and in the worst case without anyone else for the trip and you really need the ferry it’ll be A$300.

How much does it cost to do the Overland Track

The Overland Track is the priciest hike I’ve done, but it’s Australia after all, and much of it goes to the Parks and Wildlife Service to maintain the track as well as to regulate the number of hikers. This really puts the point that hiking is not a cheap activity but a once in a lifetime experience.

Fees and transport, excluding food and other consumables:

  • Overland Track fee:
    • A$200 per person
  • National Park pass:
    • Holiday Person Pass for individual hikers, or Holiday Vehicle Pass for up to 8 people in a group and a vehicle, both valid for 8 weeks
    • Before 1 May 2020: A$30 per person / A$60 per group
    • After 1 May 2020: A$40 per person / A$80 per group
  • Transport to start of Overland Track (Ronny Creek):
    • A$77.50 from Launceston with Overland Track Transport
  • Ferry across Lake St Clair (Optional):
    • A$50 per person or A$300 per trip, whichever higher
  • Transport from end of Overland Track (Cynthia Bay):
    • A$77.50 to Launceston with Overland Track Transport or
    • A$87.50 to Hobart with Overland Track Transport
  • Personal Locator Beacon (Optional but recommended, one per group):
    • A$40 for 7 days
  • Guidebook and map (Optional but recommended, one per group):
    • A$31.50 from the visitor center, or add postage fee if bought when booking passes
  • Total per person for the essentials, if hiking alone:
    • Min A$385 before 1 May 2020, A$395 after 1 May 2020
    • Max A$516.50 before 1 May 2020, A$526.50 after 1 May 2020 ( assuming at least 6 passengers on the ferry)
  • Total per person for the essentials, for group of 4:
    • Min A$370 before 1 May 2020, A$375 after 1 May 2020
    • Max A$452.90 before 1 May 2020, A$457.90 after 1 May 2020 (assuming at least 6 passengers on the ferry)

How long do I need to complete the Overland Track

At a comfortable pace, doing a hut’s distance a day, you can finish the Overland Track in 6 days, taking the ferry out on the last. It’s possible to complete it in a a day or two shorter if you’re fast and there’s sufficient daylight but usually not recommended, both for safety and to immerse yourself in the Tasmanian wilderness.

In fact, it’s usually recommended to spend more days, doing side trips or spending extra time at one of the scenic huts in the mountains. Just a few ideas for additional days/nights:

  • Pelion Hut, to climb an extra mountain or two or just relax by Pelion Plains
  • Pine Valley Hut, to explore the Du Cane Range
  • Echo Point Hut, walk the way out instead of taking the ferry and spend a night and morning by Lake St Clair before completing your Overland Track adventure

Can I do the Overland Track alone

It is possible but not recommended by the Parks and Wildlife Service. We didn’t encounter any major issues along the way but I can see how it can very quickly descend into a dangerous situation out in the open wilderness. Unless you are experienced (with terrain, weather, etc), do not attempt this.

What can I get at Launceston

There’s a big Woolworths in the middle Launceston where you should be able to get most of your food supplies. What’s great about this is that it opens till 11pm daily, which makes it the only option if you’re arriving at night and leaving for the Overland Track the following morning. The address is 36 – 40 Wellington St, Launceston TAS 7250, Australia. I did not see gas and camping supplies here.

There are a couple of outdoor shops in Launceston, I did not visit any so I can’t comment on the products but here’s a few that seem decent from reviews (or from the brand), opening hours vary:

Basically, not to worry if you’ve left anything at home. If you’re going to the start with Overland Track Transport there’s also the possibility of getting stuff from them, such as camping gas or stoves.

How do I get to the start of the Overland Track

It seems that the most cost efficient way is to go from Launceston to Ronny Creek via Overland Track Transport. You can book your ticket via their website, and they’ll pick you up at your accommodation in Launceston in the morning around 7am. There’ll be a coffee stop halfway, a stop at the visitor center to pick up your passes and register, and finally they’ll bring you all the way in to Ronny Creek, where the Overland Track begins. If you’ve purchased a return ticket with them you can leave your other luggage with them here.

What can I get from the visitor center

You can also get some small items from the visitor center but I’d recommend not banking on getting necessities here as it’s really the last stop and kinda risky (and expensive). We got our guidebook and map as well as hired our PLB here. There’s also camping gear, clothes and a wide range of souvenirs.

If there’s anything you just realized you’re missing, this is the last chance to get it (no promises).

Possible side trips

There are many possible side trips. People usually leave their bags at the junction when getting on the shorter side trips, but always remember to secure your bags really, really securely, as currawongs undo zips and can create a really huge mess when you’re gone.

First day: Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff

It can be very tight to squeeze in both before reaching Waterfall Valley, especially if you’re starting on the day you arrive as it’s already around 10am at Ronny Creek, and if you’re doing in the later autumn months with less daylight hours. What may be more feasible is to do Cradle Mountain from Kitchen Hut (packs at Kitchen Hut, safe from currawongs), then Barn Bluff from Waterfall Valley Hut the next day, backtracking a little. Still fine as second day’s distance and terrain is pretty easy, about 3 hours between the huts. Either way, Barn Bluff junction is relatively close to Waterfall Valley Hut so you can make the call when you reach the junction. We didn’t go up either due to bad weather.

Barn Bluff, only appearing at sunset after a day of rain.

Second Day: Lake Will

A short side trip for the second day. Gave this a miss as visibility was poor.

Third Day: Old Pelion Hut

Another short side trip, but on a long day. Close to New Pelion Hut (the actual accommodation for the night). Again, passed this as it had been a long day and we were tired.

Fourth Day: Mt Oakleigh, Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion East

First day we did a side trip! If you’re really fast you might be able to do two of them, but three is quite a stretch. Which is why it is also suggested to spend an extra day at the beautiful Pelion Hut, climb up Mt Oakleigh and rest, before continuing. For us normal folks completing just one of them (usually Mt Ossa or Mt Pelion East) is sufficient. Mt Ossa is the highest peak in Tasmania and takes 5 hours for the return trip. Mt Pelion East on the other hand takes just 2 (at least) and offers amazing views of Mt Ossa, which you’d not get on Mt Ossa. Here’s evidence!

Mt Ossa, from Mt Pelion East.
Mt Ossa, from Mt Pelion East.

Day 5: D’Alton Falls, Fergusson Falls and Hartnett Falls

Even with our relatively slow pace we were able to complete all the three waterfall side trips. D’Alton Falls and Fergusson Falls branch out from the same junction, splitting only at the end so they’re very close. There wasn’t much to see at Fergusson Falls though. Hartnett is probably the most impressive one but also takes slightly more time to get to, and is the only one you can see from the bottom.

D’Alton Falls.

Day 6: Pine Valley Hut

Pine Valley Hut is a full day/2 day side trip that usually necessitates an extra night at Pine Valley Hut. From Pine Valley Hut you can explore the Du Cane Range, checking out places like the Acropolis and the Labyrinth. If you still have time and energy at this point this side trip seems highly recommended! We had neither. Just not one of those where you can leave your packs at the junction though.

Sleeping along the Overland Track

There are huts spaced out comfortably for about a day’s worth of walking. These huts cannot be booked, may not be manned, are are by first come first serve basis, free of charge (well the track pass covers it). More details on their capacity can be found in the Walk Notes, and details on sleeping in the hut are in the next section.

Since space in the huts is not guaranteed, tents are required on the Overland Track. However, pitching your tent is only allowed at the camping platforms, usually found in abundance near huts. If you’re sleeping in a tent it is recommended to still do your cooking in the hut, and leave everything you don’t need for the night in the hut too (especially food), as possums have been known to tear their way into tents, making a mess of everything.

What are huts along the Overland Track like

Huts along the trail are equipped with heaters, toilets and rainwater tanks. Each hut comes with one heater at the dining area. The heaters do take some practice to turn on, and do not always work. They were my favorite feature in the hut as it was cold when I did the hike in May.

Composting toilets are also found at each hut. They didn’t smell as bad as I thought they would, and were generally clean. Usually a short walk from the hut, towards the helipad. The compost bins are taken out via helicopter, which is one of the major costs of maintaining the trail. I found the helipads to be perfect spots for astrophotography, given the clearing around it.

Milky Way from one of the helipads along the Overland Track. Not visible with the naked eye though, needed long exposure, but this is straight from the camera.
Milky Way from one of the helipads along the Overland Track. Not visible with the naked eye though, needed long exposure, but this is straight from the camera.

Separate rainwater tanks are available for washing and drinking. The drinking ones are found nearer to the huts, and washing ones (for washing hands) nearer to the toilet. For the drinking ones it’s still recommended to use purification tablets or boil the water before drinking.

Outside the hut there are usually hooks for hanging up muddy/ wet outer layers. Some of these drying areas are enclosed as a separate section of the hut, while some are not enclosed. For the non-enclosed ones it’s best not to leave too much outside, as possums will go through your stuff and may mistake socks for food.

Brushtail Possom
Possums were outside the huts almost every night.

Inside the huts, there are tables, benches and wooden sleeping platforms, with each hut differing in configuration. For the larger huts (Pelion, Bert Nichols) the sleeping platforms are in rooms away from the heater, and get really cold at night and good sleeping bags are going to make a difference. There are also information boards in the huts for you to read up about what to expect for the following day, similar information found in the guidebook.

One of the more modern and spacious huts, Bert Nichols Hut.
One of the more modern and spacious huts, Bert Nichols Hut. Others were old and smaller but cosier.

Ferry service across Lake St Clair

Officially the Overland Track ends at Narcissus Hut, and you can choose to either take the ferry to Cynthia Bay, or hike another 17.5 inside forests along Lake St Clair to get there. There was a debate in the Overland Track Facebook group over whether one should take the ferry or walk out, with some comments getting less than nice, but at the end of the way, hike your own hike. Enjoy the walk and decide what’s best for yourself.

It is a little pricey, at A$50 per person or A$300 per trip, whichever higher. We had to take it as it was low season (in May) and there was no transport out from Cynthia Bay to the city for the next few days and taking another day to walk out would leave us stranded at Cynthia Bay.

To take the ferry, you can call/ email the operator beforehand, or upon reaching Narcissus Hut, head in and follow the instructions on the radio to arrange for a ferry. Regardless of whether you had booked, are following the scheduled trip, or making a separate run, remember to radio the Ferry Base to confirm/ check that someone’s coming to pick you up.

Radioing for the ferry at Narcissus Hut.
Radioing for the ferry at Narcissus Hut.

Narcissus Hut is about 5 mins walk from the jetty. Just keep on straight along the river and you’ll reach the raised section to the jetty.

Towards the jetty at Lake St Clair.
Towards the jetty at Lake St Clair.

How do I leave from the end of the Overland Track

From the end of the Overland Track at Cynthia Bay, Overland Track Transport provides transfers to Launceston and Hobart. During peak summer season these are quite regular at 2.30pm daily, and even if you don’t make it out on your pre-arranged date, you can hop on whichever date you reach Cynthia Bay, as long as there’s space.

However, outside of the peak season services are less regular, like when we did the hike in May. There weren’t sufficient people to operate a service to Hobart, and there were no services to Launceston a day before or after the day we exited, so we were running a tight but also more pricey plan, to get to Launceston first then to Hobart (our destination). Either way, email Overland Track Transport to see how they are able to accommodate your plans. I found them to be most practical for solo/ small groups.

One more nice thing about using Overland Track Transport both for getting to and leaving from the Overland Track is that they can keep your luggage for you to pick up after your hike, saving you some weight on the hike.

Going so much in detail on Overland Track Transport not because they’re paying me, but because after going through all the research on the other alternatives I found Overland Track Transport to be the only viable one, hope to save you some trouble here! Hopefully someday there’ll be better competition for the route, as it really not cheap (though cheaper than the rest).

Staying safe on the Overland Track

Safety is something to always keep in mind while hiking, here or anywhere. Deaths happen on the Overland Track, usually due to inadequate preparation. Two of the higher profile cases occurred in:

Experienced hikers do get lost on the Overland Track too, and it’s probably their experience that kept them alive. Two cases, both from July 2019:

Not adding them here to scare you, but hope to inform everyone planning to make the trip not to take the track lightly. Check weather conditions, yet ensure you have adequate layers regardless of the forecast. Be prepared for fast changing, extreme weather, and always be ready to change plans according to the situation. Some things to consider:

  • Try to hike with a buddy, and ensure someone reliable knows of your plans
  • Get a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and keep it on you at all times to raise the alarm should an emergency occur
  • Record your arrival and plans in the log books provided at all huts, and sign out at Cynthia Bay
  • Stick to the designated trail
  • Be prepared to make changes to your plan, according to the weather conditions, trail conditions and your body condition.
  • Plan a buffer of food supplies in case you get lost on the trail or stuck at one of the huts due to bad weather.
  • Ensure you have at least all that is listed in the Walker Safety Checklist.
  • Secure your packs whenever you need to leave them unattended (for side trips). Lock/ tie all zips as currawongs (like nasty crows) will undo your zips and the last thing you’d want on the first day is the food for the rest of your trip ruined. Try not to leave anything outside the hut overnight as possums may take them away.
Low visibility around Marion's Lookout/ Kitchen Hut.
Low visibility around Marion’s Lookout/ Kitchen Hut.

To-do Checklist

  • Purchase your Overland Track Pass. Early! these do run out during the peak summer months. You’ll need to fix a start date when making the purchase.
  • Purchase your National Park Pass.
  • Book transport to the start of the walk. More on this above.
  • For cooking gas, a safe bet would be to pre-purchase it with transport from Overland Track Transport
  • Arrange transport from the end of the walk. More on this above.
  • Make sure you have everything in the packing list, and that your gear is working
  • Make sure you have enough food, adding in a day or two buffer
  • Enjoy your hike!

Additional information for hiking in 2019-2020 season

Waterfall Valley Hut will be undergoing reconstruction from November 2019 to May 2020. For this period hikers will be accommodated at Scott Kilvert Hut, a short detour away. More information of this arrangement here.

Useful links

Final thoughts

I enjoyed my time on the Overland Track. Though among those I’ve been on not the most spectacular (Kyrgyzstan’s snow capped peaks are too mind blowing), still a very beautiful hike, a pretty comfortable one, and for me the first time coming this close to so much wildlife on a hike. Hope this compilation of resources and thoughts helped, and if there’s anything else I can help with, or anything I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below!

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