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When Is The Best Time To Walk The Overland Track?

Warwick Sprawson is our guest blogger. He is the author of  Overland Track which is available for purchase in our bookshop. Here, he asks the question – “When is the best time to walk the Overland Track?”

The ‘best’ season for hiking Tasmania’s Overland Track is as personal as your scroggin mix. Some thrive on the cold and solitude of winter, others on the long days and bustling huts of summer. Each season has its pros and cons.

Summer
Summer is the most popular season to walk the track. Many wildflowers are in bloom, carpeting the plains in vivid colours. The days are long, providing more daylight hours in which to tackle the track’s interesting side routes – trails off the route’s main spine. The average maximum temperature is a relatively warm 16.3°C, with temperatures in the 30s not uncommon. Summer also has the least rain, about as half as much as winter.

Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff
Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff

The downside of hiking in summer is that the huts and campsites are often busy, although the booking system – which runs from 1 October to 31 May – ensures the track is never overrun. If you want to hike in summer make a reservation early; the track is often fully booked from December to late January. In peak season you have to walk the track from north to south (Cradle Valley to Lake St Clair).

Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer
Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer

Autumn
Autumn on the Overland is under-rated. Hikers can enjoy the spectacular golds and reds of the deciduous beech trees, usually at their best around Anzac Day. Apart from the Easter period, the track is less crowded than summer, and there can still be fairly good weather, especially in March. The first significant snow often falls in May (but snow can fall anytime on the Overland, even during the height of summer).

sign at Kia Ora Creek, April
sign at Kia Ora Creek, April
Deciduous beech
Deciduous beech
Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor
Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor

One of the best things about autumn hiking is the variety of fungi. You’ll see a huge range of shapes and sizes, the bright reds, oranges and yellows lighting up the dim rainforest.

Fungi near D'Alton falls
Fungi near D’Alton falls
Autumn fungi
Autumn fungi

Winter
Winter on the Overland is only for the hardcore. It snows frequently enough that the route can be hard to discern, especially in white-out conditions. Taking snow-shoes is advisable. The days get dark by 5pm, so there is less time to do sidetrips. Overnight temperatures can be as low as minus 9°C. Winter also has the most rain, making the track even wetter and muddier than usual.

Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.
Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.

On the other hand, in winter it’s likely that you’ll have the huts along the track to yourself, and be reasonably snug thanks to the coal or gas heater. You also have the freedom to walk the track in either direction and don’t have to pay the $200 Overland Track booking fee which is required during peak season. Winter also provides the occasional crisp, clear day which reveals the full majesty of the snowy landscape.

Spring
September and October are usually the windiest months, with the conditions becoming more stable in November.

Tasmanian Waratah
Tasmanian Waratah

Some flowers, such as the Tasmanian waratah, begin to flower in late spring. In September you can walk the track in either direction and save yourself the booking fee.

As you can see, every season has its advantages and disadvantages. So what’s your favourite season to hike? Why?

Warwick Sprawson’s Overland Track guide is available from the OSP bookshop for $19.95. The full-colour guidebook includes track notes, maps, flora, fauna, history and geology.

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Pioneers of Adventure

The current issue (March/April 2010) of Australian Geographic Outdoor has an article on Australian Pioneers. One of those pioneers featured was our very own Glenn Tempest. Australian photojournalist James McCormack (http://actiongoat.com)  interviewed him here at our Melbourne office late last spring. In the interview Glenn recounts his first ascent of Kachoong at Mt Arapiles with his then climbing partner Kevin Lindorff. Glenn had just turned 19 at the time and led it without much of the modern equipment most climbers today rely upon. Today Kachoong is regarded as one of Australia’s most famous and iconic rockclimbs. You can grab a copy of the mag at the newsagent or order it from www.magshop.com.au/Australian-Geographic.



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Wild Magazine: An Epic Walk Through the Chewings Range

Wild Magazine
Wild magazine March-April 2010

Those following this blog may have read my short piece on the three week, 250km walk we did across the Chewings Range in the Northern Territory last winter (chewings-range-traverse). The current edition of Wild magazine, March-April 2010,  (wild.com.au)  includes a six-page feature I wrote on this same trip. The cover image is a shot I took above 45 Degree Gorge. Michael Hampton and I were checking out this cave (which directly overlooks the gorge) with the view to using it as a bivy cave in the future. Great spot. The images in this feature help convey something of the rugged nature of what is arguably one of the most serious and remote long-distance walks in Australia. The Chewings Range stretches 180km west from Alice Springs and is composed of many of the highest and most spectacular mountains within the semi-arid West MacDonnell National Park. The first seven days of the range follows the famous Larapinta Trail but leaves it at Hugh Gorge. The next two weeks are devoid of walking trails and sections of the Chewings Range are not covered by any detailed maps. Instead, we relied on our GPS and the experience we have built up from previous remote walks in the area. Despite a fairly dry year we had no real problems finding drinking water (although a number of waterholes and springs had been badly fouled by cattle).

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Chewings Range Traverse

Karen and I recently spent 18 days and 250km walking across the Chewings Range in the Northern Territory. Two old friends, Stuart Imer and Michael Hampton, joined us for what turned out to be one of the best long distance walks we have ever done. We started out of Alice Springs and followed the first seven days of the Larapinta Trail to Hugh Gorge. The next nine days were spent off-trail, weaving our way among the incredible gorges and mountains that stretched across the Chewings. We rejoined the Larapinta Trail at Ormiston Gorge and walked the final couple of days along to our finish at Redbank Gorge. It was an amazing experience. There are no worthwhile maps to the more remote sections of the Chewings and so we relied heavily on our Garmin GPS. Only a few of the gorges are named and there is no information as to the whereabouts of reliable drinking water. Karen and I have managed to notch up a fair few kilometres over the years walking in the Western MacDonnell’s (which is where the Chewings Range resides) and have become quite good at searching out water in the most unlikely of places. Here is a valuable tip for anyone considering an off-trail walk in Central Australia. Watch out for finches. These delicate little birds don’t venture far from water and as soon as you spot one, you can be sure that water is very close by.

A southerly storm across the Chewings Range
A southerly storm across the Chewings Range
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Werribee Gorge & The Island

I visited Werribee Gorge State Park on Wednesday. It turned out to be one of those perfect spring days that  Melbourne is justifiably famous for. My friend, Ian, had never been to ‘the gorge’ before and I took the opportunity to show him around what I consider to be one of the most underrated parks near to Melbourne. It was also a good excuse to check out the new W. James Whyte Island Reserve (known simply as The Island). A new trail links the top carpark to The Island via some wonderful yellow box woodland. There are excellent views across Junction Pool and the trail allows walkers to experience a refreshingly new aspect of the park . It’s a steep climb to the top of The Island. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. It’s a BLOODY steep climb to the top. This massive basalt hill is part of the lava flow which originated from Mt Bullangarook near Gisborne. The views overlooking the gorge are arguably the best in the district.

The 204 hectare W. James Whyte Island Reserve was gifted to Conservation Volunteers in August 2006. There has been an enormous amount of work planting native trees and shrubs,  as well as a concerted effort at controlling weeds. It really is an big task. If you are interested in donating a bit of your time to Conservation Volunteers in their revegetation of The Island, check out www.conservationvolunteers.com.au or contact 1800 032 501.

The Island, overlooking Junction Pool. Werribee Gorge State Park.
The Island, overlooking Junction Pool. Werribee Gorge State Park.