Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair. “The Overland Track”

Posted December 16th 2013 by


Last week I completed the trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, or better know as “The Overland Track”.  We completed a total of 75km in 8 days, which included side trips to waterfalls and mountain hikes.

Rated as one of the best walks in Australia, it is certainly not an easy track to complete.  But it is certainly one of the most rewarding things I have done.

The track is broken down into an average of 8-10km between huts that you can sleep in, as well as mingle with other people from all walks of life, eat dinner and talk about to the next day’s leg.  Each hut has detailed elevations and what to expect on the track.  But they make it sound easy in the writing on the walls.  Trust me, it is far from easy at all.  In this blog post, I will give detailed accounts of what to expect, good and bad, as well as any hazards along the way.

First and foremost, before you even start the walk you will need to get a pass to walk the track.  These cost about $200 in the peak season, and each day is limited to 40 people to help curb overcrowding along the track and the huts along the way.  The smallest hut sleeps 20 and the largest sleeps 26.  Also you will need a parks pass, which can be purchased at the visitors center on the day you leave.  Another logistic to consider is at the other end there is a ferry, which is a small boat that holds 21 and costs $40.  Book this before you leave the visitors centre because if there is no room you have to walk the last leg around the lake, which is 16km.  We didn’t book and didn’t have any issues, but we made sure we left really early to get a seat.  The only other part you will have to organize is transport back to either Cradle Mountain to get your car, or a bus to the airport.

There are also many ways you can complete the hike.  One of the easiest ways is to hike with guides.  When you travel with guides, they take care of everything, including supplying meals, beds and in some cases hot showers each night.  Another perk is that you are away from the general public doing the hike. The cost for that will range from $1800 – $3000.

“ROONEY CREEK – WATERFALL VALLEY HUT” – We began our Overland Track journey from Rooney Creek, crossing the button grass valley and heading toward the looming mountains in the distance. Following Crater Creek up the gentle foothills, we appeared at the almost hidden Crater Lake, with its historic boatshed much like the one on the shores of Dove Lake.  From there the hills became steeper and the packs began to feel heavier.  Emerging onto Wombat saddle for a spell gave us views over to Dove Lake and the peaks on the opposite side.  But the track continued upwards.  After some very steep sections of rock with both stairs and safety-chains, we made it to Marion’s Lookout, where the views really began to open up, revealing Cradle Mountain with its classic swept spires.

Crossing Cradle Plateau on boardwalk was a pleasant relief after the grueling climb up to Marion’s Lookout.  We passed numerous small tarns surrounded by vibrant green cushion plants as we watched Cradle Mountain grow closer with each step.  Before the turnoff to climb Cradle Mountain stood a small hut called Kitchen Hut, an emergency shelter and a great spot to stop for lunch.

After leaving Kitchen Hut, the track followed around the base of Cradle Mountain and crossed the head of the Fury Gorge, which is Australia’s deepest gorge.   Twisted windswept snow gums hang onto the steep slopes with determination in the face of Tassie’s wild westerly winds. Here, the boardwalk ended, leading us along a narrow, rocky track under Benson’s Peak and out onto the Cradle Cirque.  The boardwalk returned, bitumen-covered as well, and Barn Bluff dominated the view as we enjoyed the easy going along Cradle Cirque until Waterfall Valley emerged beneath us.


WATERFALL VALLEY HUT – WINDEMERE – After leaving Waterfall Valley we crossed the valley floor, crossing over sedimentary escarpments, which are actually the tops of waterfalls after it rains.  This whole valley was carved out by glaciers, pushing their way out and down toward the Forth River.

Barn Bluff stood guard over our shoulder as we climbed up and out of the valley, threading through the multi-colored flowering scoparia bushes and alpine eucalyptus trees.  Soon after, we crested the rise and the view opened up in all directions to reveal the button grass plains, dotted with tarns and rocky outcrops.  It was easy walking and we were actually bored most of the walk.

After leaving Lake Will Junction, we crossed the button grass plains and the vista of mountains appeared up ahead.  Geology changed to craggy quartz underfoot as we approached the ridge overlooking Lake Windermere and tonight’s destination, and revealing tomorrow’s journey over Pine Forest Moor.  Then we climbed down to the lake using some very clever stone step-work, surrounded by flowering Waratahs and heath plants. The track work is a testament to the talented track crews who spend their summers out there.  The track skirts Lake Windermere and climbs the last bit to the hut and much needed rest.

If there is one thing I would be aware of that we found along most of the track after Waterfall Valley, was tree roots are all over the track.  Tree roots can be ankle breakers if you are not careful. I fell over twice as I was being lazy once I knew that huts were close.

WINDERMERE – PELION HUT. This leg of the journey is the longest day of the trip, covering a wide range of terrain and vegetation types.

After leaving Windermere, the track meandered through forested valleys and button grass hills. Behind us, Barn Bluff still dominated the scene, with the gentler side of Cradle Mountain receding in the distance.
The impressive bulk of  Mt.Pelion West grew closer as we climbed up to meet Pine Forest Moor. After stopping for break at the Forth Valley Lookout, we crossed the plains between Pelion West and Mt.Oakleigh before dropping down through more sheltered forest to Pelion Creek…..(some people might have mistaken this for the days’ destination…..but its really just a pleasant spot for lunch!! )
The track followed the contour of the hillside for a couple of hours through tangled rain forest and became difficult underfoot, dodging the numerous roots and mudholes was hard work. This is a very old section of track, where the deep side-cuts are still visible, made by the explorers and used as a route through to the West Coast.
The track sloped down to cross Frog Flats and then the Forth River, before immediately climbing over the last ridge before Pelion Plains. Those last couple of kilometers were taxing on weary legs, especially when the pack didn’t seem to feel any lighter!  It was a relief to see the plains unfold ahead and the huge hut come into view.

MT. OAKLEIGH CLIMB – Today for us was a rest day, but in saying that we still did an 8km return hike to the top of Mt. Oakleigh, but it was well worth the effort.  This was a pretty easy climb with about 1/3 of the climb being a massive steep grade.  The views are nothing short of spectacular.


PELION HUT  – KIA ORA –  Pelion Hut was the perfect place to rest on the wide verandahs, enjoy the sunshine and gaze across the plains to the jagged crest of Mt. Oakleigh.

But onwards we went, tackling the long steady climb up from the plains through the deep green forests to Pelion Gap.  On a sunny day from Pelion Gap almost every peak along the Overland Track can be seen. From here, Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt. Ossa, can be climbed.  This is best done in fine weather though. 
The track from here to Kia Ora Hut ambled gently downwards across Pinestone Valley, through alpine heathland and remnant pencil pine trees. The track was easy underfoot, apart from the deep mud holes and squelching boards that laid across the puddles of thick black mud.

Kia Ora Hut was in a sheltered clearing, nestled between the imposing cliffs of Cathedral Mountain to the east and Falling Mountain to the west.

KIA ORA HUT – WINDY RIDGE – This day’s walking was pleasant and varied, as the track wound around the foot of Castle Crag and headed for the DuCane Gap.  From the historic hand-built DuCane Hut, the track headed straight into the deep forests of Middle Earth.  Everything here was shades of green, from the ancient King Billy pine forest and towering eucalyptus trees, down to delicate ferns, mosses and fungi growing by the old hand-hewn boards underfoot.

After the previous nights rain, D’Alton and Fergusson Falls were spectacular, and well worth the steep climb down. 
The track down to Hartnett Falls wasn’t very exciting.  It was narrow and overgrown, making it difficult to push through the scrub with the pack on.

Leaving the waterfalls, the track climbed up toward the DuCane Gap. After the heavy rain this was like walking up a river. 
From the Gap, the track to Windy Ridge lead steeply downhill through more rich green forests.  The bubbling streams followed the track in places, cascading over mossy rocks and wet logs, making it a tempting spot for setting up the camera. 
Bert Nichols’ Hut was a short distance on, and this newer, spacious hut overlooked the dramatic cliff tops of Mt. Geryon and the Acropolis.


WINDY RIDGE – NARCISUSS.  Upon leaving Windy Ridge, we noticed the difference in the surrounding vegetation compared to the previous days walking. We were now surrounded by sub-alpine forest trees and shrubs and everything was flowering prolifically.
The track was easy underfoot, following the contours, until we emerged onto the last bit of boardwalk crossing the button grass plain, overlooked by Mt. Olympus.
After crossing the Narcissus River on the suspension bridge, the track followed the river the short but pleasant distance where it flows into  Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake.

The last leg to the ferry was a short and very quick trip of just 8km.  It is here at Narcussus Hut where you call and confirm the ferry ride back to the visitors centre at Lake St Clair.

Also, you take off your pack with relief knowing that you are so close to never carrying such a heavy weight like this for a long time.  But it’s also the time where you get across the other side and spend 20 bucks on a coke and a burger, use a toilet that flushes and feel the hot water on your hands and face again.

To say this is not a hard trip would be lying.  It’s difficult for a person like myself who is not that fit.   I didn’t struggle too much other than with the weight of my pack.

But it was one of the most rewarding challenges for me that I have done and one I am sure I will do again in winter.