Barry headed off to Australia in January 2013 for a visit to the wonderful island of Tasmania, famous to most people as the bit at the bottom nobody normally visits, bush fires and the birthplace of that archetypal Australian cricketer David Boon. Here are his thoughts…
When it comes to walking (and for a holiday generally) Tasmania is a hidden gem and the weather, at least when I went, was warm and sunny for the most part spoilt only by a couple of cloudy and wet days.
The walking is in many ways similar to Britain in the Summer and can be summarised as follows:
1 Most of the mountains can be climbed in a day or in some cases half a day but there is plenty of variation with great walking and some interesting scrambling to reach the summits.
2 As Tasmania is an island, there is plenty of excellent Coastal walking.
3 There are a few longer challenges, the best known being the “Overland Track”, a walk of up to a week taking you through the Cradle Mountain National Park from North to South.
I recommend 2 books, “100 Walks in Tasmania” by Tyrone Thomas and Andrew Close and ” Day Walks Tasmania” by John Chapman and Monica Chapman.
I have divided my notes into three sections
1 Cradle Mountain and surrounding area.
2 Mount Ossa and the Overland Track.
3 Other walks in Tasmania.
1 CRADLE MOUNTAIN AND SURROUNDING AREA
Cradle Mountain sits at the north end of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park and is the most iconic sight in Tasmania. You will enter the Park from the north end, the nearest town is Sheffield with Launceston being roughly a 2.5 hour drive and Hobart a 5 hour drive. The roads are quiet so the driving is easy although there is a risk of hitting animals in the dark.
On arriving at the National Park I recommend you head straight for the large Visitors Centre which you can’t miss. Here you can look at the various walking options in Cradle Valley and buy a map of the Cradle Mountain National Park. You will need a Park pass and assuming you are going to spend at least 3 days in the various Parks you are best off with a 4 weeks pass which cost me AUS $60 or approx £40. There is a shuttle bus from the Visitors Centre to Ronny Creek car park and Dove Lake where the walks start from.
There is plenty of accommodation in Cradle Valley. I stayed at the Cradle Mountain Chateau which was roughly £100 per night for a double room including breakfast. It was an enjoyable and convenient place to stay. The Cradle Mountain Lodge is a little more expensive but has a good reputation and there is a campsite, cabins and a caravan park
- HANSONS PEAK (3 miles return)
I decided to do a short walk up Hansons Peak on the afternoon I arrived and then climb Cradle Mountain later when the weather was clear. Other options would have included the high or low level circuit of Dove Lake or the ascent of Barn Bluff which is the most challenging one day walk from Cradle Valley.
At 1,185 metres Hansons Peak sounds high but with a start point of 900 metres, it made for a pleasant late afternoon walk in the sunshine. Drive or take the shuttle bus to Dove Lake and it is well signposted from there.
You walk for a short distance around the east side of Dove Lake passing a great lookout point on top of a rock then head up to the left following a sign to Hansons Peak and Twisted Lakes. Near the summit there is a handrail to help you over a steep section but it is not difficult. Twisted Lakes can easily be added being only a couple of hundred metres beyond the summit and if you are feeling energetic you could also add Mount Campbell at 1,248 metres. As with many of the walks in Tasmania, the paths are good.
- CRADLE MOUNTAIN (8 miles return)
Cradle Mountain is the most photographed sight in Tasmania and one of the best known sights in Australia lagging only behind Sydney Harbour and Ayers Rock in its popularity. It makes for a great walk with some interesting rock scrambling near the summit and good views down the “Overland Track” to Mount Ossa. It is best to leave the walk for a reasonable day both for the views and because the scrambling and indeed the route finding near the summit would be difficult on wet rocks and misty conditions.
I set off from Ronny Creek at about 2pm on Sunday afternoon as the weather was improving and the cloud lifting off Cradle Mountain. For the first 3 kilometres I followed the Overland Track passing Crater Falls and the boat shed on Crater Lake before climbing up to Marions Lookout where there are great views of Cradle Mountain.
From Marions Lookout I followed the track over a fairly flat section for about 2 Kilometres past Kitchen Hut which is only used for emergencies. Just past Kitchen Hut you turn left for 50 metres along the Face Track then right for the ascent of the final 1,000 feet to the summit. There is clear signposting so it is easy to find the route.
The path leads up the mountain veering right after about 450 feet of climbing. Soon after veering right you have to start scrambling over boulders with the path marked by poles. You need to keep a close lookout for the poles to prevent going off the route which would soon lead to difficulties. The route leads south then south east to the ridge between Cradle Mountain and Smithies Peak then drops down a little before the final ascent.
The view south from the top is magnificent with a bronze plaque identifying the summits. Barns Bluff is nearby but most of the summits ascended from the Overland Track can be identified. The return is by the same route to the Face Track.
From here you can return along the Face Track and over Hansons Peak which is probably the most spectacular route but it will take an hour or so longer. Alternatively you can return via the Horse Track and over Crater Peak which was the route I used or you can return the way you came via the Overland Track. Although the markers suggest the Horse Track will take 30 minutes longer there is very little difference in terms of length and difficulty between this and the Overland Track.
2. MOUNT OSSA AND THE OVERLAND TRACK
Mount Ossa is the highest mountain in Tasmania at 1,617 metres or just over 5,300 feet. It is hard to reach being near the Pelion Gap which is halfway along the Overland Track so it is usually climbed when doing the Overland Track. However I didn’t have time to complete the Overland Track so I climbed Mount Ossa using the Arm River Track. I have therefore divided this section into 2 parts. Part 1 covers Mount Ossa via the Arm River Track and part 2 covers the Overland Track in particular the parts of the trek that I walked and my thoughts on the best ways to walk the route.
- MOUNT OSSA VIA THE ARM RIVER TRACK (22 miles return)
The Arm River Track is the shortest way to Mount Ossa but at nearly 40 kilometres for the round trip it is a long day and most people using this track stay one or two nights at New Pelion Hut or camp which allows more time to enjoy the route and the potential to climb other mountains nearby notably Mount Oakleigh and Mount Pelion East.
I had decided to do a one day trip and also to try to avoid driving in the dark because of the risk of hitting Wallabies and the like on the road. I was based at the Cradle Mountain resort but in fact this walk could just as easily be done from Launceston with Sheffield probably being the nearest town from which to drive to the start.
The drive to the start point at the end of Arm Road from Cradle Mountain Chateau took about 1 hour 40 minutes. The last 10 miles is on an unsealed road and therefore 40 kilometres per hour is about the maximum speed. There was signposting from the start of Arm Road to the Arm River track so I was able to get to the start point without difficulty. There were 3 cars in the car park but no sign of anyone.
I set off in a westerly direction and in just over 10 minutes the track turned south west and started climbing out of the valley, a climb of just under 1,000 feet to the Plateau where you enter the National Park. The track mainly goes through woods, initially a rain forest but then more alpine woods on the plateau. There are occasional sightings of wallabies, small lakes and Mount Pillinger to the south. There were a couple of places where the track is difficult to follow and you have to concentrate to detect the markers which are placed about 20/30 yards apart.
After I had been going over an hour the track started to drop down slowly in height and I met the first person I had seen all day coming the other way and struggling with a heavy pack. After another hour I reached the eastern tip of Lake Ayr and the route started to open out with views of Mount Oakleigh in front of me. Eventually after crossing a small wire bridge I reached the new Pelion Hut, 2 hours 45 minutes after setting out.
The Hut Ranger told me that the annual Overland Track run was taking place and I would need to watch out for runners on the track. The run takes place on the first Saturday in February starting at Ronny Creek and covering the full distance of the Overland Track (75k) finishing at the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre. The runners take between 7.5 hours and 15 hours.
After walking for a further hour and walking into a wallaby, as well as being overtaken by a number of runners, I arrived at the Pelion Gap. This is a great spot with Mount Ossa and Mount Doris to the west and Mount Pelion East to the east. There were a number of walkers resting at the Gap and others had left their packs there to go up Mount Ossa. After some pictures I followed the walkers climbing Mount Ossa passing just below Mount Doris on the way. I regretted not ‘ticking off’ Mount Doris afterwards!
Unfortunately Ossa was in cloud so there were no views for the last 500 feet of the climb. The path led me up steep slopes then round the south side of the mountain before an awkward scramble up rocks to a ridge. The path led down about 30 feet before the final climb to the summit which was a rock pillar some 5 metres high. It was just after 1pm, I had been going just over 5 hours. For a further 15 minutes I tried to find a way up the rock pillar before giving up. I was reassured to hear that only one person had managed to get up it all day and he had appeared to be a proficient rock climber.
So Ossa is difficult to access, not the easiest mountain to climb with an awkward scramble to reach the ridge (although this section can be climbed by anyone with scrambling experience) and finally a 5 metre summit pillar which is just about impossible for the average walker!
I returned by the same route stopping to refill my water bottles at the new Pelion Hut. I had met a number of walkers on the section between the Hut and Mount Ossa. They were all doing the Overland Track and seemed to be enjoying it. In contrast the Arm River track was deserted. I met 2 ladies on my way back along the Arm River Track who were doing a 3 day trip climbing Mount Ossa on the Monday as the weather forecast was good.
I arrived back at the car at 6.20pm, nearly 10.5 hours after setting out. It had been a memorable day, great walking along the Arm River and Overland Tracks and an interesting climb up Mount Ossa. I enjoyed a few drinks and dinner back at the Cradle Mountain Chateau.
THE OVERLAND TRACK
The Overland Track is Tasmania’s best known walk going through the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (probably the most scenic National Park in Australia) from north to south as well as giving the opportunity to climb some great mountains on side trips.
There are 3 options for completing the walk
1 The first and most common option is to walk the Overland Track in 4 to 7 days using the huts and/or a tent. Assuming you are doing the walk between 1 October and 31 May, you will need to book. There are 34 spaces each day (but there were still spaces free for some days when I was there in February) and it costs AUS$200 or about £140. You will need to take a tent both for emergencies or if one of the huts is full and you may want to arrange transport back from Lake St Clair. There is a free bus to Derwent Bridge and it is possible to use a bus service which goes to Queenstown and then on to Cradle Valley but this takes 2 days.
2 The second option is to book with Cradle Mountain Huts which resolves most of the problems above as there is excellent accommodation, food and transport back to the start. The costs are just over £2,000 per person. I am told the huts are luxurious and you will enjoy the walk.
3 The final option is to do the run on the first Saturday in February! I believe they provide transport back to the start.
Most people also climb some of the mountains as side trips, Mount Ossa being the most popular but other possibilities which are close to the track include Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, Mount Oakleigh and Mount Pelion East. These are all superb mountains and well worth climbing if you get the chance.
I did three sections of the track, the first 5 kms to Cradle Mountain, 5 kms in the middle from New Pelion Hut to the Pelion Gap and the final 11 kms which ran along the shore of Lake St Clair. The path is very good using boardwalks where necessary. The views are great when you are out of the trees and the sections in trees are interesting, particularly in relation to the alpine flowers and wildlife.
Most people on the Overland Track appeared to be stopping after the Narcissus Hut and taking the boat to the Lake St Clair Visitors Centre cutting the length of the walk from 74 kms to 58 kms. This is a reasonable option if you are short of time as the first 58 kms are the most varied but you will find ‘100 walks in Tasmania’ had some strong views on this!
OTHER WALKS IN TASMANIA
There is far more to Tasmania than the Overland Track or Cradle Mountain. I did 3 other half day walks but there are many others that I didn’t do and would like to do on a future visit. These include in particular Wineglass Bay, Mount Roland and Mount Field West but there are numerous others including, for the more adventurous, the classic peak called Frenchman’s Cap, a 3 day expedition.
The first walk that I did and a must do for all visitors to Hobart is Mount Wellington (1,270 metres). It is possible to drive to the summit from the centre of Hobart and indeed the receptionist at the hotel said that it only took 20 minutes…..by car.
- MOUNT WELLINGTON (6.5 miles return)
I drove to the Fern Tree Tavern which is the normal starting place at a height of 450 metres and a good spot for coffee, sandwiches and cake before setting off and for a drink on your return. I left my car in the car park and followed the Middle Track then Radfords Track through the Rain Forest to the Springs.
From the Springs I followed the Pinnacle Route which runs up the front of the mountain gradually coming out of the trees to reveal fantastic views over Hobart.
After about a mile there is a junction and the Organ Pipes track goes off to the right. Ignore this and carry on up the Pinnacle route which now zig zags up a steeper section before reaching the summit plateau. A short walk then takes you to the summit together with car park and Observatories but no cafe!
I returned by the same route and had dinner at Mures Upper Deck, a superb fish restaurant (arguably the best in the Southern Hemisphere!) on the waterfront in Hobart.
- MOUNT LEGGE (5 miles return)
Mount Legge (1,572 metres) is the second highest mountain in Tasmania and was for a long time thought to be the highest. I climbed it from Carr Villa, the normal starting point from where there is only just over 1,000 feet of climbing.
The summit was covered in cloud when I set off and by the time I returned everything was covered in cloud so it was a disappointing day and at the time I regretted not having gone to Wineglass Bay instead.
There was a good path and the route was well poled so I was able to get to the summit and back without getting lost but unfortunately there were no views. On a good day I imagine the views would be spectacular. After returning to the car I drove to Launceston. Launceston is a quiet town, more historical than Hobart and with a spectacular gorge running through it. I enjoyed spending a couple of nights there.
- BAKERS BEACH AND ARCHERS KNOB
The following day was also cloudy so I decided on a Coastal walk along Tasmania’s north coast. The walk had the added attraction of plenty of wildlife and a short climb up Archers Knob, fully 350 feet above sea level! On the drive to the north coast from Launceston, I passed a few vineyards which would be worth stopping at if you have time. Tasmanian wine is remarkably good.
I walked first to the Bird Hide hearing and seeing glimpses of Wallabies and the smaller Pademelons on the way. The Bird Hide overlooks a lake with plenty of water birds and I thought I could see a sea eagle. I then carried on along the track through Coastal trees and vegetation until about 3 kilometres after setting out I saw the sign to Archers Knob.
I followed the sign and got a great view of the surrounding area from the summit. I returned then followed the track to the beach and walked back along the beach looking out over the Tasman sea.
This is an excellent walk particularly if the weather is unsuitable for climbing.
If you could move Tasmania ‘just the way it is’ closer to the UK, I think I would be tempted to go every year. If you ever get the chance, go, it is one of the best kept walking secrets in the world.