Elephant trekking. Photo: Leisa TylerAndrew Bain veers off the beaten Overland Track to discover places and features regularly missed by walkers.
Tasmania’s Overland Track is the most famous bushwalk in Australia, hiked by about 8000 people every year.
Prominent sights abound along its 65-kilometre length, from the bowed figure of Cradle Mountain to the heights of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak, and the depths of Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake.
The track itself might be no secret, but it’s full of little secrets – places and features most people stroll past, barely realising they exist.
The Overland Track is bookended by well-known waterfalls. As the track climbs in the first hour from Cradle Valley towards Marion’s Lookout, it enters a pocket of rainforest split by Crater Falls. At the other end, nearing Lake St Clair, side trails descend into the Mersey Valley to viewpoints around the impressive D’Alton, Fergusson and Hartnett falls.
In between are waterfalls that tumble mostly unheard and unseen through valleys around the track.
For most walkers, the first day on the Overland Track ends at Waterfall Valley, where a public hut sits at the edge of an alpine meadow. By virtue of its name, it seems obvious there are waterfalls here, but they’re not readily visible. Unmarked trails lead east from the main track, descending beside creeks to a series of waterfalls.
The most spectacular of these is Branigan Falls, about a five-minute walk from the Overland Track, down a steep and slippery bank that requires caution. These falls spill over an overhang, creating a ledge that allows you to walk in behind the waterfall, something you can’t do at any other waterfall along the track.
Take the side trail to Lake Will and you’ll find a muddy track heads along its shores to Bluff River and Innes Falls, a few steps downstream from the lake outlet. These falls squeeze through a chute in the conglomerate escarpment, and are particularly beautiful around April, when the banks of Bluff River turn golden with autumnal deciduous beech.
While at Lake Will, it’s worth resting for a while on its shores. The lake is little more than one kilometre from the main track, across flat ground, and provides an almost coastal scene at the heart of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in Australia.
The trail arrives at the lake and straight onto a beach, but it’s worth continuing a short distance south along the shores to the next beach, which is larger and more protected. On the tiny headlands along the lake, pencil pines stand like bones, and the dolerite dome of Barn Bluff, by now one of the most familiar shapes of the Overland Track, rises from the opposite shore.
Walk on and this day typically ends at Lake Windermere, where a small platform has been created on its shores for anyone willing to brave an alpine swim. The base of Hartnett Falls and beside the track’s end in the Narcissus River are other good swimming spots.
On the side trail to Lake Will, just a few metres from the main Overland Track, you’ll step through an exposed deposit of coal, a lingering reminder that mining was partly responsible for first opening up this remote and wild area.
When the Overland Track was created in the early 1930s, it followed in part a web of existing stock routes and mining tracks. Coal was mined here, as evidenced by this seam of coal, but copper was the main resource.
Part-way along the Overland Track, Old Pelion Hut – the oldest hut near the Overland Track – was built in 1919 to house workers toiling in the nearby copper mines.
From behind the hut, an unmarked trail heads high along the bank of Douglas Creek for a few minutes to emerge at the entrance to one of the copper mines, where a tall heap of crushed rock, excavated from the mine, spills down to the edge of the creek. The mine is cut horizontally into the cliffs, and extends for about 50 metres.
Bring a torch to explore inside the mine, where the walls are stained with copper and inhabited by strange cricket-like creatures.
When you return from the copper mine to New Pelion Hut – the third night’s stop for most walkers – the Overland Track’s ultimate fossil experience beckons.
From the hut, a short walk along the banks of Douglas Creek leads to a stony beach known to many simply as Fossil Beach for reasons that become obvious quickly.
Among the stones are hundreds imprinted with Permian-era marine fossils. It’s easy to lose an hour or two turning over stones in search of fossils – the soft sandstones are the best bet – or you can simply admire the collection along the fallen tree. Along its trunk and branches, walkers have created a virtual gallery of fossils, lining up stones in an ad hoc outdoor museum.
The days of spying Tasmanian devils along the Overland Track are pretty much gone, due to the decline in the devil population, but this is still a walk that affords excellent chances to see a range of animal life.
In the alpine meadow out front of Waterfall Valley Hut, wildlife traffic gets heavy with approaching dusk. Wallabies graze the lawns alongside wombats, while Tasmanian native hens strut about on their matchstick legs.
Most appealing of all is the prospect of an appearance by quolls. One night I camped here, a pair of quolls wandered between tents just on darkness.
The next day, as the track rounds Lake Windermere, it winds between wombat burrows before rising to Lake Windermere Hut. Wander back towards the lake in the early evening and the prospects are good that you’ll find the burrows’ residents foraging through the buttongrass.
FIVE OTHER GREAT TASSIE WALKS FREYCINET PENINSULA CIRCUIT
Two or three days looping around Freycinet Peninsula, seeing the famous — Wineglass Bay, the Hazards — and the often forgotten. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=2258.
SOUTH COAST TRACK
A rugged 85-kilometre, camping-only challenge, beach-hopping and rising over the exposed Ironbound Range. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=2265.
WALLS OF JERUSALEM
The Walls of Jerusalem provide relatively easy walking around beautifully shaped peaks and tarns. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=27104.
An extended day out along a chain of glacial lakes little more than an hour’s drive from Hobart. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=3589.
MARIA ISLAND WALK
The Maria Island Walk follows the coastline for four days, with the option to venture onto Mt Maria or the dolerite towers of Bishop and Clerk. See mariaislandwalk杭州夜生活m.au.
Cradle Mountain, at the start of the Overland Track, is a 2½-hour drive from Launceston. The finish at Lake St Clair is 2½ hours from Launceston and Hobart. Tassielink buses service both ends of the track. See www.tassielink杭州夜生活m.au.
Between October and May, permits are required from the Parks and Wildlife Service. Tasmanian Expeditions operates camping trips, while Cradle Mountain Huts has a series of private huts. See tasmanianexpeditions杭州夜生活m.au; cradlehuts杭州夜生活m.au.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.