The possum is trying to get into my tent. The Sydney siders have poured water on it and the Melburnians have actually slapped it one. The possum cares not. Though he has just realised my tent zips are at the top; a trick I learnt after a currawong (a fucking huge raven) opened my backpack, ripped open my ziplocks and just littered the mountain side with my “don’t lose stuff”. The fourth time I’ve nearly lost my passport.
I’m at Lake St Clair in Tasmania. The finish line of the +80km Overland Track, perhaps the great bushwalk of Australia.
I finished yesterday, exactly six days after starting. The bus to Hobart only runs on a Thursday and so I am forced to spend a day and a half swimming, eating, writing, hunting platypus and fighting possums.
But before the memories rust and warp.
How it began
“Deep in the Great Tasmanian Wilderness there’s this place right, called the labyrinth. You have to walk for six days to get there, no roads at all! Anyway, my friend went and he said it was another world of little lakes and channels that make some kind of crazy ass maze”
This was two months ago when I was cycling round Taz. I was penguin spotting by accident and came across a local called Joseph and his troupe. Above is an approximation of one of his many recommendations. He had me at “Great Tasmanian Wilderness”.
Yeah Joe, tell us about what a fucking lousy job you did preparing.
I’ve never been hiking mind, I don’t count DoE because it was a peace of piss, cadets don’t count it because they had proof I used my phone. Either way I should of done more research.
I bought $30 worth of cereal bars, apricot and roll mats. I spent the same again on socks, a compass and a map and to be truthful it would have been better for me to spend the $60 solely on food. On tinned food, cold food, raw fish anything. Just not cereal bars and apricot. Apricot… Fuck you Joe.
The bus ticket was $50 from Launceston to Cradle Mountain and then eight days later from Lake St Clair to Hobart. (Half price as I lied and said I was a student)
So far so gravy. However on arriving at Cradle I was informed in quick succession that:
1. I had to book a walk.
2. I could only leave the next day.
3. I would be “stupid indeed” to go it alone.
4. I needed a $30 pass.
5. The booking would cost $200.
To put it into slight perspective $200 is only ten hours of Sydney fundraising, of which I still had some saved. But it’s also a return flight to NZ.
The lady on the desk instantly knew I would try and scam my way out of it and gleefully showed me how it was impossible. The number of rangers and the fact that there is physically only one path to follow make fare evasion impossible. I still got the map out and looked for sneaky by-ways onto the track for all of 30 seconds. Wilderness means wilderness.
So I paid it and was worth every cent. Setting up camp and examining the map by torch was like some Christmas morning. Knowing I’d walk past the walls of Jericho, through the Acropolis, Kia Ora, the Forgotten Lake and onto the Labyrinth. I couldn’t sleep for excitement. The weather was forecasted fine and I had all I needed for the next 8 days in my pack. I was ready?
Ronny Creek car park to Lake Windermere
The bus to the official registration form at the base of Cradle Mountain is full of pros. The packs are huge, maybe 25kg compared to my 13. They have boots with ankle support, crampons, poles, gaitors, and stoves. They also seem a fair bit older and stronger than me. Their hilarity turns to incredulity then actual concern as they keep listing things I couldn’t afford to buy. Doesn’t bother me, I could get special mosquito repellant sunscreen but I have a K-mart hat and a Bruce Lee pinch. These thoughts come to pass after scalp burn and at least a pint lost to the droning hordes.
I sign my life away and the walk begins.
A steep ascent up the side of Cradle Mountain, the only part of the trek where cable is needed and given for walkers to pull themselves up the rocks. The majority of the track is natural surfaces: roots, rocks and generally anything you can sprain your ankle on. The rest is wooden boards to protect the flora underneath, every time the springy, forgiving wooden boards come as a godsend and the first day mountain side was all board. I can see the simply vast Mt Ossa in the distance, top hidden under clouds. Knowing I’ll be all those miles away in 3 days is a little far to comprehend but also a little awesome. Crossing over button grass moorland, not a soul in sight, no phone signal, no sign of civilisation and no worries, I started to feel unwell. It may have been the lake water I drunk, it may have been the solid kilo of apricots I’d been incessantly snacking on or it may have just been coming to me. But I got gastro. Pretty bad.
Nature shits, “bushies” in Straya, are part of the big hiking experience so I’d borrowed a friend’s trowel. I needed a spade going on earth mover. Imagine a cloud of flies so dense you have to breathe through your nose, imagine spending two hours in a bush with ants crawling up your legs and helicopters taking tourists for a scenic view circling overhead. Imagine running out of eight days worth of toilet roll on the first day. I made it to Windermere hut before dark some how, set up tent next to the toilet block and suffered through the night.
The huts are wood shacks with no power and the toilets are pits full of rice husks. The heating fuel for the huts gets helicoptered in and the waste from the dunny gets helicoptered out. Each hut has a different character and each toilet a different family of rats.
Windermere to New Pelion
If bitten lie down and do not move
Most deaths on the Overland are due to exposure. Still… The warnings are at every hut and today was a day spent walking solely on the twisting, sun dappled black roots of the trees in the rainforest.
I’d seen the bored and listless fellows at London Zoo and I’d nearly hit a brown on my bike in NSW. But this was the first time I’d seen a snake. Like truly seen a snake. Shared its territory.
Fucking horrible. Dread and sweat and fear. Through day after after day of spiders everywhere in Liffey I’d lost my arachnophobia only to replace it for these legless freaks. Silent syringes. Ugly slit nose bastards.
It was a sunny day and I just bumped into snake after damn snake. Because I’m walking alone I make nowhere near the amount of vibration a group would, I also didn’t realise that snakes feared heavy footsteps so I walked slower and slower hoping not to surprise them; I just ended up surprising more. I regretted not buying gaitors, fancy leg shields, until I came face to face with a serpent at head height.
When I got out of the rainforest and into New Pelion I described the black 5ft slow movers to a ranger who happily informed me they were all Tiger snakes. “Oh he’ll kill you alright”.
If a tiger snake bites you you will die. If you suck out the poison you will die. If you lie still on your back you will die. If you compress the bite you will die.
They strike a third of their body length and the venom causes extreme pain before death. Is anything with hollow fangs really more scared of a human? I don’t think so.
I made it to glaciated Pelion eventually, a gorgeous hut, and finished all my cereal bars in some kind of snake induced choc chip frenzy. I made firm friends with a group of Melburnians. These guys are true Australians, quick in talk and laughter. Apparently we’re all cunts but it’s a good thing.
Tonight for fear of snakes I sleep in the hut on the bare wooden boards, the Australians do it and they seem to have no problems. We tied a dead rat I found to a tree and then played crazy 500 by torch until real late. When dark eventually came… Tasmanian dusks are both gorgeous and protracted, we put on red lights and sought devils in the darkness. When we came to it, the dead rat was swinging on the string, a pair of eyes flash in the light before hurtling into the scrub. We can hear the rawr rawr rawr of devils in the distance but did I actually see one? I think so.
Yeah it could of been the quoll (jumpy long cat) that leapt out at us a minute later scaring the shit out of all present. But I think I saw a devil. Which is pretty damn cool.
Pelion to Kia Ora
Today is mountain day. It’s also the day I realise I will have to walk faster due to food constraints after eating 14 muesli bars in one sitting.
My bag is full of maggots from the rat, my legs ache, my feet are a mess of cuts, bites and stings. Every step has to be analysed to avoid a sprain, consequently I go into hiker mode, head down and no time to look around at the stunning scenery, too concerned am I with angles of wet mossy rock and twisting root tendrils.
I finally reach the mountain I have been in awe of since day one. Today is the first day the top isn’t hidden in cloud. I shouldn’t climb it, I’ve never climbed a proper mountain and I don’t have nearly enough food or water. It’s a side trip, I don’t need to do it. But I do anyway.
It’s the tallest mountain in Tasmania at 1600 meters. A good 200 of those are scrambling on hands and knees up near sheer rockfalls. I get cut a little. I get out of breath a lot. But I did it and I felt good. From the rooftop of Tasmania you can see the whole Overland trek, mountain after mountain, valleys and lakes and just so many pretty things. Words really fail me for this view. I’ll add a picture at the bottom but trust me you can’t imagine the glory.
I slide back down taking great delight in telling each sweat drenched hiker they’re nearly there when in reality they still have an hour of scrambling left. The currawong has right royally ransacked my bag but my precious little food is somehow safe. It’s while repacking my bag I notice I have no water left.
It’s an hour to the rainwater tank at the hut and I’d sweated myself dry on the mount. The temperature is about 400C.
I don’t remember walking to Kia Ora I just knew it sucked and I ran the last 10 minutes.
After near internally drowning myself in rainwater I spot a note on the hut for
Joe from England.
it was from the guys from Melbourne and I can’t describe how much it made me smile. They hadn’t bothered with Ossa and had just staunched on in a haze of creatine and conversation.
Kia Ora’s redeeming feature was a small creek with a few waterfalls. I had a swim and made some friends, it was one of those almost so good it’s cliche picture perfect postcard moments. Waterfalls always help with those.
Kia Ora to
Bert Nichols Pine Valley
No more solo hiking. No more stops every 5 minutes or talking to myself or singing the same bit of song again and again. I have hiking buddies. From West Ryde. In Sydney. In Australia.
I learn about politics, war, schools, and they even oblige by singing me the anthem. Hot chocolate is given gratis and “scroggin” is always on offer. Scroggin is trail mix, just fruits and nuts and chocolate, whatever get you through the day. The fact I don’t have a little bag of scroggin highlights me as a hiking novice. That and the sweaty excuse of a shamble of a hobble of a gait.
The Terra Nullians are actual outdoorsy people too. They walk faster and with more conviction than my pale weedy English feet. No more breaks every 20 minutes or at a pretty vista… Whichever comes sooner. There’s one break at Bert Nichols for Vegemite wraps and scroggin. At this point I only have muesli and peanuts. No milk.
At this yeast extract fuelled pace we make Bert Nichols in fine time and so it’s decided to push on the distance off the Overland Tack to Pine Valley hut. It’s on the map but not listed as a side trip, it also looks slightly trickier to reach; however the labyrinth lies on the other side. We help each other put out packs on full up water bottles out the rainwater tanks and it begins to rain.
Team Straya pulls out the pack liners and covers as I put my phone in the pocket of the waterproof jacket my landlord in Sydney gave me. Long since has Mr iPhone had any battery let alone signal but my pocket will be the only dry part of Joe Stuttle for the next few hours. The bronzed ex cons give me a bin bag for my roll mat. I still have nothing bad to say about Australians… Well not much. Not about those guys.
Hail followed the rain and thunder the hail. The jacket withstood the challenge as did group morale. Suspension bridges over the river are actually useful as for once the water runs white and wild. They sway and flex underfoot and I could almost be crossing the Thames on the Millennium bridge if the world were overtaken by pines, moss and rock. The landscape of this walk is pure Jurassic, the spreading ferns and mighty pines are relics of the supercontinent Gondwana. Expect Raptors at every turn.
Hour after hour of sodden rainforest and we arrive at Pine Valley hut. Maybe slightly ramshackle compared to the others but certainly the most “hutty” of all the accommodation. It also differs in the warnings on the walls. Quite recent plaques to those whom the forest have taken, notices about recent deaths in the area, “sudden changes in temperature at this altitude”.
Cards and coal fires push everything to the back of the mind. I run out of peanuts.
Unknown kilometres, 20?
I rise late and curse myself at having lost the locals, I wanted to borrow the radio beacon they had just in case.
My fears cease, my three “cunts” are just waiting for me… Eating Vegemite wraps. I won’t be travelling to the labyrinth alone.
Me and my mum breath a sigh of relief.
It takes an eternity to reach the labyrinth. Signs are missed and (thankfully) dry waterfalls are clambered up… And up. And then up.
Until we reach 1200 metres.
We find the labyrinth as a cool, fragrant assortment of lanes and alleys running through rocks and alongside pools. Alpine flowers tinge the borders and the air is thin but sweeter than Splenda.
At this point I confirm to myself that Tasmania is thus far the place I’ll probably call home, when the time comes for me to call that is. I may change my mind when I return to the power and violent beauty of Hong Kong, or when I realise I want to settle down everywhere I have ever been to with the exception of Kettering and Newark. I say everywhere is a ten out of ten, every town/city/park I visit is “pretty” and “gorgeous”. But standing in the sunshine, skimming stones on lakes in the Labyrinth with new friends…. It’s hard to beat.
We fall back to Pine Valley, I’m spectacularly sunburnt however I find this funnier than the Australians who know what skin cancer means. Dry muesli for tea.
We play hearts until dark and then we play hearts under torchlight until our eyes strain and sleep comes.
Again unknown km… 10K?
Pine Valley to Narcissus to Lake St Clair
Today is the last real day and only really involves a slow stroll to the fringes of Lake St Clair, a ferry ride and a plate of something hot with a knife on one side and a fork on another.
I’d like to think we wandered slowly making the most of our last time hiking in the UNESCO Tasmanian Wilderness. But I’ll be damned if we didn’t power through over root, rock and stream. Which was probably a wise choice. If I was walking by myself I would have tarried, grazed then starved in quick succession. I had 100gram of muesli left at this point and the sheer onslaught of fibre was beginning to break me.
We made Narcissus in time to radio in and miss a seat on the next ferry and so we waited. Waiting in Tasmania has never in my experience been the same as waiting in England. Waiting for a bus in Queensgate I’m thankful of the shelter but now I think I’ll be frustrated at the lack of lake.
Some fish are bothered.
The ferry arrives and our trek somehow ends somewhere between spinning the boat around the lake and staring at a platypus.
I make new friends, bump into old friends and say goodbye to some great friends whilst waiting for the bus. I finally swap the book I’ve re-read 5 times on the walk.
I get the feeling I’ll do this walk again and so I’m not sad it’s over. A few of us are meeting up in Hobart and I’ve new friends in Sydney and Melbourne. Walking through pristine virgin wilderness has made me wish for the sudden demise of all mankind it’s true… But finding a pursuit I not only enjoy but am kinda good at is seconded but by the warmth of kinship of the hiking community I’ve stumbled into.
Some distance measured in kilometres instead of the more logical and understandable mile.
I go and eat some bloody tuna don’t I?! Out of a bloody tin!!!
Tuna is the last food I can’t eat, the last smell I can’t stand. After the bastion of olives, pesto, garlic, hummus and pickle fell, tuna was the only barcode in the path of me being able to annihilate anything in a supermarket.
Tuna bake, tuna and sweetcorn, tuna panini. The world is mine!
Do the overland track, each day is worth $200. But take 7kg of food and only drink running water.
Scores on the doors…
10 OUT OF A POSSIBLE 10