Australia's most famous walk - The Overland Track, runs for 73 km across the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. The northern start is at Waldheim in the north and the southern terminus is at Cynthia Bay beside Lake St Clair. The track crosses the highest region of Tasmania passing many of the highest peaks in the state. The scenery is glacial with many magnificent lakes, cliffs, cirques and waterfalls. One of the tracks biggest attractions is that the scenery keeps changing as you pass through the park - there is a wide variety of landforms and vegetation and every day is different.
The track can be readily walked in either direction. Most walk from north to south as this is the traditional direction. It also has the advantage of crossing the most exposed regions first and getting through the worst weather section first. If walking the other direction, expect to pass many people coming the other way - you will be walking against the traffic. Also the most exposed sections will be crossed last and occasionally snow falls and strong winds close the track for short periods in summer so carry some spare food and be prepared to wait a day or so for better conditions.
The track has been extensively repaired and has bridges over the streams and boardwalks across most of the muddy areas. This was once a very muddy track but is now considered to have mud of boot depth only - expect some minor mud. If you walk this track and think it is muddy then you will be in for a real shock when you visit other areas of Tasmania.
Along the track is a series of free open huts for use by anyone. No booking system operates for the huts and tents must be carried as huts are often full by mid-day in busy periods. The huts are fully enclosed with sleeping platforms and tables. The newer huts have covered balconies to hang wet equipment in and gas fired heaters. The older huts have coal fired stoves but these are gradually being removed to be replaced with newer gas heaters. The heaters are designed to make the hut only mildly warm.
The entire park is a fuel stove only area - the heaters in the huts are not suitable to cook on so bring your fuel stove. The Overland Track is considered to be a 5 day walk but there are a large number of side trails and it is suggested to take 7 to 9 days and walk several of these side tracks.
The Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair Park is located almost in the centre of Tasmania. It is directly south of Devonport which is the closest airport to the park. As Tasmania is fairly small, the larger airports at Launceston and Hobart are also popular access points to Tasmania. A highway runs from Devonport past the northern end of the park towards the west coast and Queenstown. The Lyell Highway runs from Hobart to Queenstown and passes close to the southern end of the park.
Both ends of the park are close to major highways and there are daily buses to both ends of the track during summer. There are a variety of daily services from Hobart, Queenstown, Launceston and Devonport. For the rest of the year, access is still good with services several days a week. For current timetables check the TWT timetables on my external links page.
The track is open all year. The best period for walking is from December to March - the summer period. It is possible to walk the track in other seasons but expect rain most days and few views. Study the weather charts for the track before planning an out of season walk.
While the track is never officially closed, it can become impassable for short periods. Heavy rainfall can result in floods making Frog Flats and the crossing of Kia-Ora Creek just south of Kia-ora Hut impassable for short periods. The safest is to wait until next day when there is usually no problem. Cradle Cirque can be effectively impassable in windy weather as the winds are funnelled through a deep gorge then over the cirque, which increases wind speeds. The other main problem is deep snow on the Cradle Plateau making walking impossible. This is normally only a problem during winter.
Personally I have walked the Overland Track multiple times in every season. Summer is definitely the best time for your first trip. It has the best chance of fine weather and good views and you normally get to see what you are walking past. Autumn can be very beautiful with the fagus changing colour (well it's not as sensational as America or Europe but it’s the best we have) but is usually very cold and frosty, or, damp and miserable. It depends on whether it’s a dry or wet autumn.
Winter can provide an exciting trip, take snowshoes as they can help at times and while the weather is rarely fine, the odd few hours of sunshine are well worth the effort. Considerable experience at wading through deep snow and following snow buried tracks is advised as there are no snow poles and few other markers to show the way. It helps to have prior experience on the track in other seasons as it helps to guess which way to try and skis are fairly useless as snow only covers about 30% of the tracks length. Lastly, spring is often the stormy season in Tasmania with strong winds and heavy rainfall. On the good side, the lush green spring growth does make the park look quite different. If you have been in the other seasons then this will provide a different perspective. If it's your first trip then I suggest avoiding spring as the weather is usually less attractive compared to other times of the year.
Australian walkers will understand what there is – nothing between both ends of the track. Overseas visitors - particularly from Europe - have trouble with the concept of wilderness in Australia. First the huts should NOT be relied upon. They can be full in any season so you MUST carry a tent. Next the huts are just bare boards - no mattresses - you will need some sort of sleeping mat. There are no fires or cooking facilities in the huts - you will need to carry your own fuel stove. Lastly and most important - there are no food resupply points between the two ends of the track. You must carry all your own food for the entire trip and also carry out your rubbish. There are no hut wardens, hot meals in lodges etc such as are found in Europe. I have received multiple emails from overseas walkers which in most cases ask the above questions.
The 1:100,000 'Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park' map is published by TASMAP and is excellent. Alternatively there is a series of 1:25,000 maps produced by TASMAP which are also excellent but you need 7 maps in total and they are mainly used by those walking off-track. Track notes are available from several sources, the main guide is Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park by John Chapman and John Siseman. This guide includes more than just the Overland Track covering the Walls of Jerusalem National Park and routes between the two parks. Notes for the Overland Track are also available in the special guide Overland Track, Bushwalking In Australia and 100 Walks In Tasmania by Tyrone Thomas.
||Lake Dove to Waterfall Valley, sidetrip to Cradle Mountain summit|
||To Lake Windermere, sidetrip to Lake Will & Innes Falls|
||To Pelion Hut|
||To Kia-Ora Hut, sidetrip to Mt Ossa, the states highest peak|
||To Windy Ridge Hut, sidetrips to waterfalls on Mersey River|
||To Pine Valley, sidetrip to the Acropolis|
||Morning, sidetrip to The Labyrinth, walk to Narcissus Hut|
||Walk down Lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay or take the boat|
The profile is displayed for the most common direction the track is walked - from north to south.
A general entry permit to a Tasmanian National Park is required. The best value for bushwalkers is the 2 month Backpacker Pass for $30 which provides entry to all national parks. Bookings or quotas on numbers of bushwalkers following the Overland Track will apply from November 2005 and is basically $100 per person - its also best to reserve yoru place in advance.