Tasmania: Bushwalking the Overland Track
Tasmania, the large island just off Australia's southern coast, has been called "The Alaska of Australia"--remote, wild, wet, cold, a bit forbidding. It is also the site of Australia's best-known long-distance hiking trail, which extends 71 miles from the base of 5,100-foot Cradle Mountain through rugged alpine moorlands to shimmering Lake St. Clair. With its jagged peaks, solitary stone ramparts, undulating lush green landscape, waterfalls, and lakes, the Overland Track is a microcosm of the wild beauty of Tasmania. Along the route are numerous side trails to various peaks, waterfalls, hidden lakes, and rock-climbing walls. For Americans, there's the added bonus of exotic Aussie wildlife: wallabies, echidnas, quolls, tiger cats, and, yes, the occasional Tasmanian devil.
Lying entirely within a national park, the Overland Track is a true wilderness trail. You'll be carrying a substantial pack with sleeping bag and a week's worth of food. (Although there are huts along the route, they may be full during peak season, so plan to carry a tent as well.) But for all the ruggedness of the surroundings, the trail itself is easy to follow and very well-maintained, with bridges over large streams and boardwalks over boggy areas. And it's fairly level. Walking-wise, the Overland Track is a piece of cake.
But watch out for the weather. The Tasmanian highlands are known for wildly unpredictable and severe conditions, with sunny 80-degree days suddenly giving way to blizzardseven in summer. Average rainfall is about six inches per month during the peak hiking season. Some high, exposed sections of the trail should not be attempted in bad weather.
Allow five-ten days for the full Overland Track, depending on your energy level and propensity for dawdling and exploring. (A day of walking can be eliminated by taking a ferry along Lake St. Clair.) You must be entirely self-sufficient in food and stove fuel (campfires are not permitted), but there is plenty of good water along the way. Both ends of the track are readily accessible by public transportation. For practical details about the Overland Track, check in at the Backpacker's Barn in nearby Devonport.
A couple of Aussie outfitters offer organized group treks along the Overland Track. (The best U.S. booking agent for these trips is Down Under Answers, email@example.com.) They take seven-eight days and cost $100-$120 per day, including food, equipment, guide, and transportation to and from the trailheads. You'll still be carrying a 30-35-pound backpack, however. An option for the somewhat less intrepid is to stay at one of two rustic but very comfortable lodges near the trailhead and make day hikes or brief out- and-back overnight forays along the Overland Track. Rooms go for about $80-100 a night, cabins for about $130-170.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication