It all started with trepidation on my part. Hiking 70km through a remote mountain range, carrying all food, camping gear, clothes and cameras for six days, could be a nightmare. What if it’s too hard? What if one of us gets injured? These, and a hundred other possibilities were racing through my mind.
Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, is known for its spectacular scenery, but also rapidly changing weather conditions. Snow blizzards can hit the mountains even in summer. The Overland Track winds 70km through moorland, rainforest, and traverses steep valleys. It rambles around dramatic mountain ranges including Cradle Mountain and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mount Ossa, before finishing at the beautiful Lake St Clair.
We prepared well, with our weather-proof gear, carefully rationed food, first aid kit, and a satellite phone in case of emergency. As soon as we set foot on the track, with wombats grazing the moorland either side of us and the unmistakable shape of Cradle Mountain looming ahead, I had to admit, my fear started to turn to excitement.
After a short but steep climb to the first lookout of the track, Marion’s Lookout, we took in the views over Cradle Mountain and its surrounding lakes. Absolutely phenomenal, no regrets now.
Along our journey we saw wallabies, pademelons, rosellas and a variety of birds, but the stand-out wildlife encounter was one very active little echidna. Scott spotted him on the edge of the path, and we watched quietly, expecting him to run away once he saw us. But no, he did the opposite, and waddled over the track towards us, nose in the dirt, sucking up ants. It was clear he was just a little curious as he gave my backpack and leg a sniff, before getting back to his primary focus, ants. This was almost too good to be true, and as he waddled over to a fallen tree trunk, we joked that if he climbed it, that would make for great photos. Maybe the echidna listened, or maybe it was our lucky day, but either way, he obligingly climbed that tree trunk. Sometimes, very rarely, wildlife does exactly what you want it to do!
As if to compensate for the lucky echidna encounter, the leeches were prolific and bloodthirsty in that area. We were constantly flicking them off ourselves. At one stage I noticed my neck was covered in my own blood, like a vampire had attacked! I’d somehow missed a leech there, and it had taken its fill. Leeches inject an anti-coagulant when they bite, meaning you keep bleeding for a while even after they drop off. Luckily, apart form making a mess, their bites are unlikely to cause harm.
Evenings were spent in the warm, dark, wooden huts that are spaced out along the trail. You have the option of pitching your tent along the way, or staying in these basic shared huts. We chose the huts, as although they lack the luxuries of electricity, running water, or privacy, they do provide warmth and shelter from the elements.
One evening, something incredible happened. We had retired to our bunk, thinking we’d had the last of the light as the sun dipped below the mountains, when a fellow hiker shouted “Get outside NOW! The sunset!”. We grabbed our cameras and ran out, to see a mountain peak glowing the most vivid red, with a brightness like we have never seen before. The glowing lasted for only a minute before fading to black. A reminder of how lucky we were to be in this dramatic landscape that few people get to see.
As we neared the end of our 70km journey, I felt proud of our achievement, grateful for arriving healthy, happy, and injury-free, and privileged to have spent time in this beautiful wilderness. Getting out of my comfort zone, and taking a risk despite my fears at the outset, was well worth it. We were feeling fit, strong and had lost a few kilos in body weight due to our possibly overly-strict rations! The next questions was, how quickly can we undo all this good work in the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre café?