“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”
William Butler Yeats
I feel pretty lucky to live in Australia. It really is an amazing place of diversity in culture, natural environment, produce and people. Last year, I was fortunate to see a lot more of my country, travelling through seven of the eight state and territories and experiencing some beautiful contrasts that my home has to offer: from the Red Centre of Northern Territory, to the vineyards of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, to the street art of Melbourne, to the rainforest of south-east Queensland and to the iconic harbour views of my current hometown of Sydney.
Last month, I travelled to Tasmania to embark on a solo hike on the 82km Overland Track. I adore Tasmania, it is a microcosm of all the things I love: wilderness, wildlife, wine and wonderful people. I went there for the first time in 2013, experiencing a relaxed holiday in luxury eco-lodges, touring the vineyards of the Tamar Valley- with a little taste of the hiking. Back then, we hiked to Cradle Mountain Summit and I was taken aback by the amazing views, clear lakes, raw alpine vegetation and the jagged, mountainous rock that surrounded me.
On the shuttle bus from Cradle Mountain Lodge to the Dove Lake, we spoke to a man in his 60s that was undertaking the Overland Track for the sixth consecutive year. His description was remarkable, but something that I thought was beyond my capabilities, particularly solo. Sure, I had hiked alone and had hiked consecutive days, but back then I had never hiked alone carrying all my supplies with me- least of all for a week. I knew I wanted to go back to tackle the Overland Track and in my case, fortune had it that I would, in fact, do it alone.
Over recent years I have started to tackle a lot more hikes alone. That’s not to say I prefer this, I am just impulsive. If I want to do something, I generally just do it. Of course, I love sharing an experience with someone else; but being alone generally won’t stop me from doing something. And in any case, this is a story about those chance meetings you have- those moments when you get to know a stranger’s story, and open up about yours; the realisation that even though you may set out to do something alone, you find solidarity amongst a person or group of people you just met, and share some of the most amazing experiences with them.
So that’s how it started with the Overland Track: an idea, cheap flights and a perfect time of year- so I booked it. My friend Colin decided to fly down to join me for some of the trip but wanted to hike Frenchman’s Cap (another area on the island) instead. We were to meet in Launceston and then drive out to Cradle Mountain, where he would drop me off, walk with me to a lookout and then would go our separate ways. We planned to meet six days later around Lake St Clair, at the end of the Overland Track.
The lead-up was a bit nerve racking. Not only hadn’t I walked solo for more than three days, but the thought of the physical challenge of carrying almost 20kg on my back for that period of time (as well as through unpredictable weather) worried me. I was meticulous in my planning (I am super-organised anyway), making sure that every gram of weight was well accounted for (I am almost ashamed to admit that I weighed each item clothing to choose lighter items and cut back my toothbrush handle to save a few grams) and learning from mistakes of previous walks with regards to keeping warm, dry and safe.
Here is what I packed:
- Hiking Pack x 1 (Osprey Ariel, 62L)
- Daypack x 1 (Osprey Daylight, 13L)
- Hydration bladder (Osprey)
- Waterproof pack cover x 1 (Sea To Summit)
- Waterproof compression sacks x 2 (Sea to Summit)
- Sleeping Bag x 1 (Big Agnes)
- Sleeping Pad (Exped)
- Tent x 1 (Mont Moondance II)
- Trekking Pole x 1 (Exped)
- Waterproof Jacket (Patagonia)
- Waterproof Pants x 1 (Quechua)
- Gaiters x 1 (Kathmandu)
- Down Vest (Patagonia)
- Short sleeve quick-dry t-shirt x2 (Lululemon)
- Long sleeve quick dry t-shirt (Lululemon)
- Sports Crop-tops x 2
- Underwear x 6 (I chose to change my underwear everyday- perhaps a luxury, as you could wash them to lighten the load)
- Compression pants x 1 (2XU)
- Quick dry shirt (The North Face)
- Convertible pants x 2 (The North Face)
- Hiking boots x 1 (Scarpa Nganpa)
- Hiking socks x 2
- Toe socks x 2 (Injinji- great for wearing around the campsite with thongs after a day’s walk)
- Thongs/flip-flops x 1
- Buff x 1 (I love these things- great to use when you don’t have the luxury of washing your hair properly)
- Wilderness Wash x 1 small bottle
- Cooking Pot (Sea to Summit X-Pot- best product to buy!)
- Collapsible cup (Light My Fire)
- Gas Can x 1 medium
- Hiking gas stove burner x 1
- Swiss army knife x 1
- Flint x 1
- Waterproof matches x 1 pack
- Rain poncho x 1
- Spork x 1 (Light My Fire)
- Quick dry towel x 1
- Garmin Fenix x 1
- Compass x 1
- Topographic map x 1
- Spot Gen3 Tracker x1
- Headtorch x 1 (Petzl)
- First Aid Kit x 1 basic
- Water purification tablets (MicroPur)
- Toilet paper x 1 roll
- Soap leaves x 1 small packet (Sea to Summit)
- Tissues x 1 small packet
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Insect repellant
- Nikon SLR Camera x 1
- Tripod x 1 (My luxury item)
- Cliff Bars x 7 (To keep the weight down I removed a lot of food packaging and bundled in zip lock bags)
- Homemade Muesli Bars x 7 (Click here for the recipe)
- 4 x Backcountry cuisine meals (each provides two serves)
- Breakfast mix (7 days worth): Quick cooking oats + milk powder (in my case, I used soy milk powder due to slight lactose intolerance) + sugar + sultanas
- Instant Coffee Mix: Instant coffee + milk powder + sugar (I chose instant coffee over tea to not reduce the weight of food- once you consume you didn’t need to carry the packaging)
I flew out of Sydney during the early morning of a tornado which ravaged some of Sydney’s south and closed the airport for much of the day. Mother Nature was thankfully on my side that day (and for most of my trip in Tasmania) with beautiful blue skies and warm weather. I touched down in Launceston, in the early morning and had most of the day to myself to explore before meeting up with Colin, who was flying in from the Gold Coast i the late afternoon.
After leaving my luggage at our hotel and getting some final camping supplies from Anaconda (the flammable stuff not allowed on the plane), I walked over to Cataract Gorge Reserve for a wander and a warm-up jaunt on the Duck Reach Trail (6km track).
The last time I had visited Cataract Gorge it was a little windy, cold and cloudy, but this time it was just perfect: clear weather, calm water and beautiful colours. I hadn’t walked right around the reserve in the past, so it was great to explore the further reaches that not many people visit and walk further up the gorge.
Click here to find out more about:
After discovering the local history of Cataract Gorge, I then headed to James Boags Brewery for a tour, which still sits in it’s original location where it was established in 1881. While James Boags is a well-known name in the Australian beer game, it was nice to feel welcomed into part of a local secret, where the inner workings of the brewery are free from photography and two of the four beers for tasting were only available in Tasmania.
Boags XXX Ale (full-flavoured, clean, crispy, with a little ‘hoppy’ bitterness) and Wizard Smith’s Ale (a pale ale with clean, malty and fruity tones) are both ones to enjoy if you are in Tasmania, especially in Launceston.
With the beer tasting involving about 3 Standard Drinks in half an hour, I was starting to feel lightheaded (it doesn’t take me much). Tipsy from the beer and a little tired from my 4:30am wake-up, I headed back to the hotel to check in and take a nap before Colin arrived – which happened about 15 minutes later. So, while I was excited to see him, I was a bit delirious in my conversation (which he may argue is a usual occurance…). We headed out, unfamiliar to the local haunts of Launceston, looking to find a place to catch up. On our travels, we ended up finding Saint John Craft Beer Bar – which, if you’re a wannabe hipster like me (or perhaps someone who is actually cool), is a place filled with craft beer and a street food van that makes some great burgers and other snacks. As with what usually happens on a holiday, you realise how small the world is when you see someone that you know. This time, it was Colin who ran into Ben, a hilarious guy that he went to uni with many years ago, who wore an AJ Hackett Bungee Jumping souvenir t-shirt (an interesting observation for me, as I don’t tend to notice clothing)and spoke of his intriguing travelling life doing aerial surveying, amongst other things. After a few beers and burgers, we realised it was quite late and we needed (or at least I needed) some sleep before heading out on a three hour drive to Cradle Mountain to start the Overland Track the next day. Sleep of course, eluded me, as I was wired for the walk- thinking about the luggage that I needed to leave with Colin and what I could sacrifice to lighten my load.
The next day I filled myself with an all-you-can-eat breakfast at our hotel (where I tragically always choose muesli, fruit and yoghurt, rather than some delicious cooked breakfast) before spending a morning waiting for the rental car place to open, picking up fly-fishing supplies for Colin and trying to decide whether I wanted a bag of Original or Salt and Vinegar Smith’s crinkle-cut crisps to greet me at the end of the hike (this probably took the longest time, but I chose Original- always the best!).
Once we arrived at Cradle Mountain and collected my track pass and paid for the National Parks pass, we took the shuttle bus to Ronny Creek for the start of the walk. This was the bus that I had met that man hiking just two years prior and I couldn’t believe that I was going to be doing the exact the same thing. Once Col and I got off the bus and started walking, I remember looking at my watch: it was 1:11pm. I crazily thought that this could be some sort of lucky omen for my trip ahead. While it was a little later than anticipated (the ranger at the Visitor Centre had told me that I was the last to sign in for that day), thankfully the weather was incredible and sunset at that time of year wasn’t until around 8:30pm.
Colin and I walked up to Marion’s Lookout together, although I lagged behind a lot because of the weight of my pack and the steepness of the stairs. This section is the steepest of the Overland Track, but is over relatively quickly and we reached Marion’s Lookout about 1.5 hours into the walk. Once we got to the lookout, an Overland Track group were having a rest there and we stopped for a snack and said our goodbyes. It was good to have Colin there in a tough section but I was mentally ready to get out there and walk on my own. Once reaching Kitchen Hut (the point where people continue on the Cradle Mountain Summit), I only saw a group of three people for the rest of the day on the Overland Track. It was wonderful to experience the beautiful views of Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff, gorgeous wildflowers and the warm afternoon sun, in solitude. I reached Waterfall Valley Hut (usually the first night’s camping spot) just after 4:30pm and decided to continue. I didn’t feel tired, the views were amazing, and the sun wasn’t due to set for some time: so the conditions were perfect to continue for another 7 or 8 kilometres of fairly flat walking.
It was the campsite of Windemere Hut where I would meet some of the people that I would continue to cross paths with for the remainder of the hike. Being the last one to camp at about 7:00pm, I mostly kept to myself that night, preparing my tent and my dinner and heading out for a walk to try to get some good night sky shots. I was, it seemed, the only solo hiker.
The next morning, I chatted to the couple camping next to me (Max and Rita) and met a few more people at the next campsite that afternoon at Pelion Hut. If you’ve read narratives on hiking, you’ll often notice that fellow hikers represent a good chunk of the storylines and often inherit strange nicknames because the time you spend with each is so brief. Usually the names are related to where people come from, their profession, or their relationship with the other members of their groups and on the Overland Track, it wasn’t any different.
Along the way I met:
The Outdoor Eds: three female outdoor education teachers from Victoria (who I would find out, gave me my nickname on track).
Mum, Dad and Stu: A couple from Melbourne with their 15 year old son. While I spoke to these guys quite a bit, I can’t for the life of me remember Mum and Dad’s name. They were so friendly and nurturing and ‘Dad’ fulfilled every foreigner’s dream of a typical Aussie man with his laid-back ocker awesomeness.
Nature Mum and her three kids: Who was this incredible mum from the Blue Mountains, who hiked with her 12yo twin daughters and 15 year old son- all of which were superfit and had the most amazing camping food (which I envied as I ate, yet again, another muesli/Cliff bar of sorts).
Don and Alex: The most quirky, hilarious hipster couple you could meet from Fitzroy in Melbourne (of course).
The Flying Scotsmen: A Qantas pilot (of Scottish heritage) with his three sons who ranged from mid-teen to mid-twenties (two of which flew planes or planned to).
The Khaki Couple: A couple of teachers from just out of Brisbane that wore matching khaki outfits, just like the Irwins. While they kept to themselves a bit, they were very interesting, laid back and friendly once we started talking.
And my favourites:
JP- who I named ‘Fast Guy’ after I found out that the Outdoor Eds had named me ‘Fast Lady’ on the track, for my apparent speed: JP was a French Canadian guy who was even faster and left me in the dust when we were descending Mt Ossa. He was also the only other Overland Track hiker that appeared to be solo during my walk. I remember seeing him power into the campsite at Pelion Hut, set up his tent next to mine, and start doing yoga. It was interesting to discover that both of us have Iceland and Mongolia as our top two bucket list destinations- perhaps he was my male alter-ego of the Overland Track.
JP or “Fast Man”- King of the Mountain, Mt Ossa (I Love Lucy below)
I Love Lucy and Vegan Harry: Two English cousins in their early 20’s. Harry, who was studying at Monash University (where I had studied my undergrad) had just recently became vegan and was interested in knowing how to have a nutritious vegan diet and talked about “Wholefoods” cafe at the uni (a student run, vegan enterprise which sounds like it hasn’t really changed since I was there over ten years ago). Lucy was this open, honest and just a fabulously ‘real’ girl who was so fun to talk with.
Max and Rita: The beautiful and generous couple from Brisbane- the first ones I would meet on the trail, the ones that would help me along the way and the last people I would see at the end.
This isn’t a exhaustive list of the people that were on the trail, there were many others that I got to know along the way. The incredible thing about the conversations you have when you’re hiking, is that it steers away from banal social pretence. Of course you talk about your life, but when you’re armed with only a backpack of supplies, and no form of contact with the outside world, everyone is the same. And with this absence of pretence, you really get into the most amazing conversations- not only about the most basic existential things (the hiking we have done, the food we were eating, our opinions on different hiking equipment, our relationship status and dating, the books that we took on the hike, our bodies and what hurt ), but also the bigger ideologies on life (travel and why we choose the type of travel we do; the ethics of what we eat and the reasons behind our dietary choices; technologies such as Tinder and it’s impact on social interaction and finding love; why we chose our book to take on the hike; the importance of our bodies and our health).
My time on the Overland Track involved more than just walking alone for a few days. Hiking is much more than a physical feat, but a mental exercise as well. I have to say, it was much easier than I expected: possibly as a result of mental preparedness, flexibility to the unknown that lay ahead, the sheer beauty of where I was and of course, the people I met along the way. Perhaps just as life presents itself.
On the top of Mt Ossa, I had met a local Tasmanian man who encouraged me to climb the final part the mountain, despite my fear and uncertainty. After I came down, bewildered as to why I just followed the orders of a stranger, he asked me what my favourite part of the hike had been. I didn’t know what it was. I had just climbed to the top of the mountain that gave me 360 degree views of the Tasmanian wilderness but that wasn’t necessarily it. I said to him something along the lines of loving the feeling of being out in a expansive area of the world, the beauty of things such as the wildflowers and the warm afternoon sun, and the camaraderie and trust you have with people that you just met (perhaps I said that last point a bit cheekily).
Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” and on reflection, this sums up my time on the trek and in Tasmania perfectly.
It was a great end to a year of discovering new corners of the country, as well as new people. All-in-all, 2015 showed me that sometimes the most impulsive decisions turn out to be the most remarkable ones, being alone doesn’t mean that you will feel lonely, and the top of a mountain isn’t necessarily the destination you’re looking for. In time, I may forget the details of the trees, the people I met on the hike, the mountain ranges but I will never forget how each of them made me feel and why Tasmania became the Apple (Isle) of my eye.
Check out the wineries that Colin and I visited around Launceston: