Overland Track: Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair NP

The Overland Track

The Overland is a 65km track (+side tracks) through the alpine highlands of Tasmania and is considered to be amongst the Worlds best multi-day hikes.

We’re going to walk this track over the next 6 days with the Tasmanian Walking Company. We’ve chosen to do it with this well-respected company as the Track is notorious for having unpredictable weather at any time of year (a young adult died in a February blizzard some years ago) and we’re not familiar with walking in such conditions. Also our hut accommodation and food is provided allowing us to reduce our pack weights, still carrying 10kg. There are no shortcuts to the distance walked though!

Tuesday 13th February

Day 1: Hadspen to Cradle Mountain (vehicle transfer)
Waldheim Chalet to Barn Bluff Hut (7 hours walking)

Guide Sam doing the briefing before we left Hadspen.

At 7am we met the other 9 hikers and 2 guides who make up our group. Before leaving Hadspen Guide Sam and Guide Milo checked our gear, ensuring we had everything we needed for whatever weather we might encounter, and gave us a briefing on the walk ahead of us – not a word of which I recall! Too nervous!

To break the drive to Cradle Mountain we stopped at Sheffield, the town of murals, and parked beside the Gustav Weindorfer mural. Gustav was instrumental in getting Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair declared a National Park.

Gustav Weindorfer at Waldheim Chalet – mural.

The mural depicts Gustav in winter at Waldheim Chalet, accommodation he built for his guests. He’d light a fire to warm the room then open the door and sit quietly writing up his journal. The animals would slowly come inside for the warmth.
The bus dropped us at Waldheim Chalet for a brief look around before commencing the hike.

Waldheim Chalet
This became a favourite quote on our hike!

With no more delays we began our first day of hiking at 11am. Today is the longest and hardest day of the hike and will take us about 7 hours before we arrive at Barn Bluff Hut.

And so we begin …

The track is initially an easy, though narrow boardwalk through buttongrass plains. A gradual ascent brought us to temperate rainforest, which I didn’t expect to find here. A lovely waterfall cascades into Cradle Lake – a glacial cirque. We walked alongside this beautiful lake until it was time to start climbing. Along with dolerite peaks, glacial cirques are a feature of the walk, the largest and deepest being Lake St Clair.

Beautiful Crater Lake Waterfall cascading between us.
Cradle Lake and the boat shed Weindorfer used for his chalet guests.

For the next two kilometers we’ll continue to climb culminating in the steep ascent to Marions Lookout at 1,250m high. The path is now irregular stone steps.

Looking back on our track past Cradle Lake as we climbed higher
Lakes amongst the heathlands

The final ascent of Marions Lookout is brutal. The stone ‘steps’ are very irregular, some being more than knee height above the last. A loose chain ‘handrail’ is a godsend to help pull yourself upward as well as preventing a fall backwards.

Marions Lookout ascent. Note the step I’m climbing and how much higher the person just ahead of me is.

Thankfully we all arrived at the top unscathed to be met with fantastic views in every direction, not the least being Cradle Mountain.
I had been particularly anxious about this section of the hike and was greatly relieved to have done it without a problem and have it behind me now.

How’s that for a fabulous view! Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake

Our hungry group rested at Kitchen Hut for lunch. Kitchen Hut is one of the older historical huts along the Track, and like the other huts is not to be used as an overnight hut except in an emergency.

Kitchen Hut. Steve’s just finished his lunch. Note the spade and the upper level door! The snow can get pretty deep in these parts.

Sam (guide) is a wealth of information about the geology and plants of this region.

Creeping strawberry pine. (Yes, it’s a ground cover pine!) The fruit is delicious.
Eucalypts growing on rich Dolerite soils on the other side of the Fury Gorge fault line while low growing heaths growing in poorer soil are seen on this side of the Gorge.
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium). Bees make the healing Manuka honey from these flowers.
Cushion plant.

After a fair amount of walking I asked Guide Milo how much further, “Not far – just there at the base of Barn Bluff”.


Yeah, see – not far to Barn Bluff where our hut is!!


Chocolate break – hey, a lovely surprise on our first day that was repeated every afternoon about an hour before reaching the hut. (Note the rocky path)
Referred to by the guides as the ‘Brussel sprout’ you’d really need to be desperate to spend time in this emergency shelter. This section of the hike is quite exposed, hence the need for emergency shelters.
There were so many times on this hike that I found the scenery to be awe-inspiring.
This type of duckboard is more like a sobriety test. At times narrow boards like this would be 1/4 metre above the ground.


Perfect cushion plant. Stunning country! Barn Bluff is getting closer.
This is what Guide Milo called “Tassie Flat” – ie any ascent or descent that wasn’t a mountain (my interpretation). Nice duckboards here.


First sight of the hut was a thrill, which just got better. Guide Milo had gone on ahead and made afternoon tea for us, soon to be followed by wine and cheese while dinner was fresh grilled salmon and salad. Can’t remember dessert, but it was delicious too. Each of the five huts we would stay in had six 2-bed rooms, toilets and hot showers in the hut, a drying room for wet clothes, big lounges in a lovely community room, yoga mats, a library with the same books in each hut so you could pick up where you left off, and outside was the helipad – always with an amazing view. This was the spot to take the yoga mats each afternoon for stretching, yoga and wine drinking.
Day 1 was exciting, daunting, awe-inspiring, surprising and exhausting. Guide Sam commented on how much he loved the Overland because every 20 minutes it changed – so true. It’s been a great start to our Overland Track adventure and there’s still 5 days to go.

Wednesday 14th February

Day 2: Barn Bluff Hut to Pine Forest Moor Hut (6 hours walking)

Great excitement this morning over breakfast – it’s snowing! WOW it was lovely to view through the plate glass windows of our lovely warm hut. Realisation soon struck that we’d have to start walking soon. Fortunately it was only light and soon melted, though light rain and wind hung around most of the morning.


The crew all ready to leave! Rain jackets, rain pants, gaiters, waterproof boots, beanies and gloves and pack covers. (And yes, that is me – the only one not looking at camera)

It’s not far from our hut to the turnoff to Lake Will. The path through alpine heathlands is duckboard and made for easy walking.


Lots of water lying around

Note the warning sign about protecting your pack. At each of the side trips there’s somewhere you can leave your big pack and take only a light pack in with you. However – the currawongs (a bird) have learnt how to open zips and will make quite a mess of your pack searching for food. The solution is to put the pack rain cover on covering all the zips, then mound the packs up together all facing inward.

Joseph Will in 1890 mined a seam of coal that runs near to our path to the lake. Apparently there is still evidence of his mines, but I didn’t go looking for it. The lake is quite beautiful with its sandy quartzite beach lined with pencil pines and Barn Bluff as a magnificent backdrop. Today there’s snow to be seen on the Bluff.


First glimpses of Lake Will. Barn Bluff not yet showing us her snow.
At Lake Will. Barn Bluff in background.


The Lake Will track. The colours and textures of the alpine heath are so restorative.


Leaving Barn Bluff crossing alpine heathlands on a rocky path.
Lots of lakes and tarns in this area

12.15 pm

Walking alongside Lake Windermere. This is a popular spot for Overlanders to swim, but not today even though the skies are clearing and the rain gear has been stowed.


Steve on boardwalk through buttongrass plains, admiring the emerging mountain range.
Descending into a gully with Mt Oakleigh in background.

2.30 pm

In the forest. A muddy path!


Out of the forest and admiring the views once again. Notice the stark white tree trucks. These trees probably died as a result of a bushfire 50 or so years ago. Because there are no termites in Tasmania they persist. They’re known as ‘stags’.


Pine Forest Moor. More rocks and roots and mud.
So beautiful.


Oh dear. Look at that path. Waterproof boots for the win. Also note the pandanus.

Once more one of our wonderful guides had skipped on ahead to bake scones for our afternoon tea and get dinner underway.


Freshly baked lemon myrtle scones with jam and cream and a coffee. What a reward! Pine Forest Moor Hut


A cheeky Tasmanian red out on the helipad.
Enjoying a glass of wine with Mt Oakleigh as the backdrop. Pine Forest Moor Hut
Looking across Pine Forest Moor to Mt Oakleigh

Thursday 15th February

Day 3: Pine Forest Moor Hut to Pelion Hut
(5 hours walking)

Breakfast every day has been freshly baked bread made the afternoon before and left to rise overnight, hot porridge, cereals, local jams, etc. Large containers at each hut contain all sorts of nuts and dried fruits for us to make up our own scroggin packs for walking, and the guides fill our lunch boxes while we eat breakfast. We carry our own snacks and lunch.

We left the hut about 9am. Today’s track begins by descending through myrtle beech rainforest to skirt around the base of Mt Pelion West. While forest walking is my favourite bushwalking the muddy track made this one a challenge.


Mud puddles
The track as we descend towards Pelion Creek
The trick is to use the walking poles to find not-so-deep, firmer spots in the mud. This lesson was learnt the hard way by some.


Now that’s a happy hiker!

Avoiding a muddy path by walking around it is frowned upon as it continues to widen and destroy the path.
Gaiters + waterproof boots = walk straight through. No chance of me doing anything else with Guide Milo standing beside me.
Yes, that is the path! Great care taken on roots as they can be slippery when they’re wet and a trip hazard all the time.
The forest canopy doesn’t allow much light in, so there’s very little understory growth, but lichens and fungi thrive.


We’re now at the lowest point on the Overland, though at 740metres it isn’t that low. The Forth River is where several of our party saw a platypus.
A frog, at Frog Flats!

We now begin the climb Overlanders have dubbed ‘Heartbreak Hill’, from 740m to 840m, emerging out of the forest into buttongrass plains – and duck boards.


Steve, and Mt Oakleigh.


Old Pelion Hut is a place of significance for Guide Sam – his grandmother walked the Track in the 1950’s and stayed here one night, signing the log book.

A page from the log book. This entry is dated 1951.
Lunch at Old Pelion Hut. Note Guide Milo standing at the hut has the stove out having just boiled the water for us for coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Inside Old Pelion Hut
Steve, enjoying his hot coffee and lunch break at Old Pelion Hut.


Guide Milo with the huge pack follows Steve as they skirt around the buttongrass plains.
Pademelons on the path.
Douglas Creek
One of hundreds of fossils found in and around the creek.
The fossil hunters of Douglas Creek.
Posing on the bridge crossing Douglas Creek
Crossing the swing bridge over Douglas Creek
Signage on the Track is very good. This one looks like it’s been here a long time. The Arm River Track joins the Overland here.
Mt Oakleigh across the river, over the buttongrass plains and through the forest.


Yoga on the helipad.
A moment of zen on the helipad


Guide Milo looking sheepish because Sam didn’t make him an apple crumble, so we all donated a spoonful of ours to him. Can’t complain though, Sam had made us the most delicious wattle seed muffins for afternoon tea.
Sam and Milo briefing us on tomorrow’s walk, with the aid of a mud map.

Friday 16th February

Day 4: Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut
(5 hours walking)

Today there are options of two side trips – one to Mt Doris and the Japanese Gardens and the other to the highest peak in Tasmania, Mt Ossa at 1617m. But first we have about 100 meters of climbing through rainforest over 4km to reach Pelion Gap. Starting a hike with a climb is not my favourite!


Gaiters and poles hanging up in the mud room.
Steve getting the boots on ready to leave.


What do you mean that isn’t a path? Of course it is!!
Striding on through the rainforest – tangles of roots won’t stop me.


Douglas Cascades. We followed Douglas Creek for a while. This is where it meets the Forth River.
Morning sunshine through the rainforest.


These duck boards have seen many pairs of boots.
And from the other end. It’s been a relentless climb to this point.

Pelion Gap is where you choose whether to climb Mt Ossa or not. If it’s clouded over there’s not much point. As you can see today is magnificent weather. However Steve and I and several others decided not to climb it – we’ll climb Mt Doris to the Japanese Gardens instead.


Note the dropped packs while their owners carry only day packs on the side trips.
The track is pretty good. Though some sections are very steep.


On the left is Mt Pelion East (referred to as ‘the nipple’) and Mt Ossa on the right. You’ll note we’re only carrying day packs now having dropped our big packs at Pelion Gap – except for Guide Milo, I think his pack has grown onto his back.


DuCane Range
Opportunistic plants – filling a crack in the rock
Magnificent cushion plant.
The Japanese Gardens on Mt Doris
Japanese Gardens. Mt Pelion East in background.
Japanese Gardens with Mt Ossa in background.


Winding our way back down. The Nipple (aka Mt Pelion East) front and centre.
Descending the ‘stairway to heaven’


Leaving Pelion Gap it’s a gentle descent across Pinestone Valley with only one small range before we reach Cathedral Hut.

Heading towards our hut at the base of Cathedral Mtn (on left). DuCane Range on right.


Guide Milo filling water bottles at the spring. “Best water I’ve ever had” said Steve


Wow! Look at that! Our hut with Cathedral Mtn right behind it.
View out of the big glass windows. These windows are what the Guides call the Cathedral Television.


Enjoying my cuppa at Cathedral Hut.
Guide Milo making the bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. He’ll leave it to rise overnight.
None of the huts so far have had refrigeration. This is a very effective way to chill the wine.


Steve stretching on the helipad.


Mushroom and pea risotto for dinner tonight.
Crème brûlée for dessert

Saturday 17th February

Day 5: Kia Ora Hut to Windy Ridge Hut
(4 hours walking)


Sunrise over Cathedral Mountain. Note the helipad amongst the buttongrass.


Icy cold Kia Ora Creek


Duckboards through the forest


Du Cane Hut was built around 1910 by Paddy Hartnett. During winter he snared Bennett’s wallabies and possums for their skins which his wife Lucy and their children dried out in the hut. Today this is another ‘emergency use only’ hut.

Du Cane Hut
Packs off at Du Cane Hut
Guide Sam giving us the good guff on this hut.
Steve ready to go!
Just rest a little longer. Du Cane Hut
Guide Milo, contemplating the next 3 hours.
Flowering leatherwood near Du Cane Hut. Just waiting for some bees to make the honey unique to Tasmania.

From here the Guides sent us off one at a time to enjoy the solitude and peace of walking alone through the oldest forest of the National Park, with King Billy pines up to 2000 years old. This was a favourite time for me.

And so begins a beautiful, solitary walk through the forest.
Strawberry bracken on a tree trunk.
Mossy creek during silent walk.


We regrouped here to enjoy some waterfalls on the Mersey River.

Albert Fergusson, the first Ranger in the southern section of the park honoured by bushwalkers. He was also the first ferryman on Lake St Claire with his boat Lady Velocity.


Lunch and a swim at Hartnett Falls
Swimming spot at Hartnett Falls on the Mersey River.
Hartnett Falls


Haha, yes that half-log IS the track.


A steep climb, the last one on the Overland, took us to Du Cane Gap sitting atop a layer of dolerite.

Rest time after the final climb of the Overland at Du Cane Gap
Start of the Du Cane Range
So many fungi and lichen


Water bottle fill-up time.

Sunday 18th February

Day 6: Windy Ridge Hut to Lake St Clair (3 hours walking)

We began our last day of walking with mixed feelings – it’s been such an amazing trail that has tested our physical capacities (and, during Guide Sam’s trivia competition, our mental capacity!) but fed our souls through many days of pure nature. Today we’ll be heading for Narcissus Hut then a little further on to Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest natural lake, shaped by glacial action millions of years ago. Here we’ll catch the ferry back to the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre.


Breakfast was a community occasion as we refuelled ready for the day ahead.

Banksias. Still walking through forest for a while – dry sclerophyll.
And big trees …
And fungi.
And Jack Jumpers!
“Jack Jumper Ants do not bite. Rather, they grasp the victim in their jaws, then bend and sting them. Their sting is in the tail. They are aggressive, typically walk with a hopping motion, and can sometimes jump from surrounding vegetation. The stings of Jack Jumper Ants can be very painful and local swellings are common. Large local swellings can also occur, which may last a few days at a time.” (taken from allergy.com). Our guides did warn us about these little critters and both carry epipens, an anaphylactic reaction being a possibility. Fortunately, despite seeing many of them on the track no one was stung.


The end is in sight.
Not wanting it to end the temptation was to turn around and walk back again – but that feeling only lasted a second or two!!


The last day of walking was easy – either a good path through the forest or good duckboards through the buttongrass plains.


Crossing the Narcissus River on the swing bridge.


Enjoying our last ‘on track’ lunch beside Lake St Clair.
A swim in Lake St Claire is the Overlanders rite of passage for completing such an epic hike. Yes that’s me about to join several others of our party who took the plunge in the freezing cold waters.
Our ferry that will take us the 17km length of the lake to the Information Centre.
The whole crew at the end.
With thanks to Tasmanian Walking Company for this opportunity, the other 9 hikers whose friendship and positivity made the hike so enjoyable and special mention to Guides Sam and Milo whose knowledge, patience, care, support and great cooking made this the best hike ever.
Yay us!!
Track profile with exceptions – those aren’t the positions of our huts and we did several side tracks not noted for a total walk of 72km.

And so ended one of the most wonderful adventures we’ve have. Our goals for this hike, other than to finish it with no injuries, were to be challenged (Steve) and to be awestruck (Denise). Without doubt both goals were achieved time and time again.

(With thanks to my walking friends who so generously shared their photos.)

One thought on “Overland Track: Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair NP

  1. Epic hike. great writeup. Almost felt I was on the hike with you – but missed out on wilderness scones and aching bones. What an achievement!!!!

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