The first day began at the idyllic Red Feather Inn on a cold autumn day. The group meet and gathered their belonging ready for the Overland. On the bus ride we talked about Austrian botanist Gustav Weindorfer and Kate Cowle who together helped establish and protect the national park.
“This should be a national park for the people for all time”. Gustav
Once we pass Kate and Gustave’s forest home Waldheim, we set on our way, stopping soon at the first buttongrass moorland of our journey to Acknowledge the true custodians of this incredible land we are about to embark on.
“I would like to take the time before beginning our journey to acknowledge the Palawa people past present and emerging of Lutrawita Tasmania, and in particular the big river tribe who lived in the area.
This land has been cared for and carefully managed by the aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. They were an intrinsic part of the ecosystem, instead of trying to control and manipulate it without consideration. They always considered the future generations and the health of the land. Something we should learn from.
From this point all the way to Leeawulenna Lake St. Clair, much of the track we will be walking on this week has been carved out originally by aboriginals.
So please keep them in your mind as we explore this beautiful landscape which was forcibly taken from them. This land was never ceded.”
We pass Pandani (Richea pandanifolia) which aboriginals used to make baskets out of, native currents (Coprosma nitida) which would have been foraged and eaten, and melaleuca which is named after its close relationship to aboriginals. Much like many of the plants we see along the way they all have a story, woven through different times, evolving like the plant itself. Some stories dating back millennia.
At Crater Falls we stop and instantly feel the temperature drop amongst the mossy temperate rainforest. As we take some time to absorb the ancient beauty that surrounds us, we fill up from the waterfall and learn just how old some of the King Billy pines (Athrotaxis selaginoides) and myrtles trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii) are. To understand deeper, we go back in time to understand how ancient these species are that we see along the Overland, and how they have evolved over time some alongside humans. We glimpse some larger, more protected deciduous beach (Nothofagus gunnii) with green and yellow leaves, with growing anticipation to see more.
As we climb out of the forest and up towards Crater Lake, we are greeted by a rainbow arching over the deep glaciated lake with quartzite shist rising hundreds of meters into the sky, native vegetation clinging to any part it can. The contorted and bonsaied deciduous beech is the main star of the show, especially at this time of the year. They prefer the boundary between the alpine and forest. Within the tree line there is a sea of orange leaves.
We talk about the history and evolution of this relic of a plant. The earliest fossil was found dating back again to the Oligocene 33m years ago - this is before megafauna roamed the earth.
Once we reached Marion look out, we are greeted by an abundance of alpine plants including pines - Cupressaceae and Podocarpus, even some which you can eat. And further along the Cradle Mountain cirque, cushion plants.
To understand how these plants have evolved in such harsh environments we all take some time to lay down in the boundary layer and feel protection from the elements much like the plants.
After a delicious lunch at kitchen hut, we make our way to Fury gorge the deepest gorge in Australia. We stop and marvel at the spectacle of Cradle Mountain’s dolerite spires touring behind us and the deep gorge in front. The deciduous beech brightly showing off and almost taking the spotlight over the insane landscape in the background. Many photos were taken!
While filling up our water from a river flowing directly from Cradle Mountain, we talk about how Cradle valley was formed by glacial activity over millions of years, with at least 4 of the five know ice ages shaping the dramatic landscape we see today!
We learn about pencil pines (Athrotaxis cupressoides) and get introduced to the endemic snow peppermint (Eucalyptus coccifera) as we continue along the breathtaking Cradle Mountain cirque. We find fossils of Permian shells and mollusc as we make our way down waterfall valley and along sub-alpine heathland filled with citrus smelling Boronia and Baeckea. On our way to our hut for the night, we are led by brightly changing yellow and orange deciduous beech leaves and greeted by a warm hut with dinner cooking, a cosy fire, library, hot tea and treats.
The guests are welcomed with the beautiful deciduous beach scattered along the driveway, soon shifting to the biodiverse sub-alpine heath lands. The rolling hills, wrapped in flowers and berries of varying colours, lead us to the first side trip. The picturesque Lake Will is home to some very ancient plants which live within its waters. We are lucky enough to have a quillwort washed up on the shore. We also reflect on the rich minerals which were mined centuries ago by settlers and thank the dolerite mountains which made it very difficult to mine through breaking apart the seams of various rock and minerals.
The day continues to through button grass moorlands and towards a beautiful look out, capturing the mountain scape we are soon to wander through. Lunch is spent at on the banks of lake Windemere with the mountainous landscape ahead looking closer. We get to know the local galaxias, endemic highland fish that evolved before scales. The day is complete with two more lookouts framing the mountains and valleys carved out from at least many glaciers over many millions of years.
A final wander through the enchanted forest, where we learn more deeply about moss, club moss and fungi, with countless examples of species on display in an array of shades and colours. The deciduous beach is once again present and on show! The hut is nestled between a beautiful and rare Athrotaxis rainforest and expansive Buttongrass-moreland, the beautiful and instantly recognisable Mount Oakleigh showing off in the background. The night is wrapped up with botanical drawing class accompanied by local Tasmanian wines.
Morning begins with more expansive views, allowing yourself to gradually get to know the mountains better with each step. Making our way towards Pelion West the temperature change is as drastic as the changing scenery. We walk along the side of a beautiful old growth rainforest with some particularly large Eucalyptus species dotted about the damp green mountain side. Yellow gums are found in pockets where landslides have given way maybe a little less than a century years ago, allowing for different species to flourish in a space created from destruction.
We continue to the lowest geographical point on the Overland. Frog Flatts is home to very small and ancient ferns understandingly known as filmy ferns, which are only one single cell thick. We talk about the Gondwana trees surrounding us while waiting for the delicious aniseed taste of sassafras tea to boil.
We finish the day with a beautiful stroll to Old Pelion Hut with an option to see an old Coppermine which is home to Gondwana species of cave spider along with large cave crickets. On our way to the hut for the night we visit fossil beach, home to Permian fossils of fish, crustations and some very ancient ferns dating back 280 million years ago. An option to sketch some of the beautiful scenery and flora captured from todays walk is on offer at the hut.
The day begins with cascades and pencil pines. We come across our first hybrid plant of the day, a relatively new evolution of species combing two we have gotten to know along the way. After crossing beautiful rivers and creeks we soon make our way into a very special Athrotaxis rainforest. This ancient forest of Gondwana conifers hold a very special hybrid species of tree, along with cider gums and a King Billy pine which is most likely around 2000 years old judging by the girth.
We spend some time in amongst this incredibly special place, getting to know the old relics surrounding us in a sea of deep green. As we walk higher in elevation towards Pelion Gap, we are suddenly welcomed by the mountains we have been slowly walking towards over the last four days. The option to climb Doris and Ossa (the tallest mountain in Tasmania) is on offer and highly recommend. Doris is well known as the Japanese bonsai garden, and for good reason. The marsupial manicured lawns are surrounding perfectly placed bonsaied pencil pines and wind sculped scoparia. We talk about the nature of cushion plants in more detail, focusing on the small herbs and orchids and panning out to the large vista of dolerite and glacier scored valley in the background.
Those who get the chance to climb Ossa have never been anything less than blown away by the sheer beauty and countless mountain that are on display from the highest point in Tasmania. On a clear day it is say that you can view over one third of the entire state.
After making it down from the mountains and back into Pine Stone Valley the stroll home is equally as spectacular. The prehistoric valleys mountain ranges change colour as the evening sun dips below the dolerite. The hut tonight is a showstopper, with a meal that contains a plant we have walked past during the day.
Today we wake up walking in between mountain ranges, with old growth rainforest leading the way. Fungi is everywhere, in all shapes, in all colours. Many hidden and inconspicuous or perhaps just overshadowed by the bright and showy species claiming attention against the deep green backdrop. We come to Du Cane hut and learn some of the more recent history of this area.
A silent walk is held in the most spectacular rainforest, a place where time can completely feel as if it slows to a halt and all that matters in the moment, and that all that matters in nature.
We regroup and share experiences of the transformative past hour and continue to waterfalls. We talk about nursery logs, the importance of soil and decomposition.
Hartnett fall is a spectacular 80m waterfall that plunges into a tight dolerite valley. We have lunch and hot tea at its feat, in awe. Some brave souls soak their sore muscles in close to the beginning of the Mersey River. Drawing material has been carried down for guest to opt for a drier and more creative afternoon.
The walk home is one of my favourites, Du Cane range is as wild as it is beautiful. Colour, sounds and scents are in abundance with dry sclerophyll forests and Alpine yellow gum forests putting on a show in any weather.
The last night is bittersweet, shearing stories of transformation and achievement with a group that has become not only friend but family.
The final day is focused on taking in the last of the journey, savouring each moment and taking your time (so long as you make the boat on time). The varied forests we walk through on this day helps wrap up the entire walk so perfectly. The slight undulations caused from the outwards pushing nature of the glaciers have created many different microclimates. These highlight the variety of species and environmental communities experienced throughout the entre walk.
The 30-minute ferry ride over the deepest lake in Australia marks the beginning of the end of our journey. We celebrate and share stories, emails, photos, numbers so we can continue to keep this weeklong dream alive. The memories, lessons and deep appreciation for mother nature is deep within all of us long after departing and saying our goodbyes.