Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Overland Track (TAS) - Pine Valley to Echo Point


Day seven of an eight day hike on the Overland Track, the journey to Narcissus hut takes walkers back to the Overland Track and to the ferry most hikers take to finish their Overland adventure. Continuing on along Lake St Clair from Narcissus through lush rainforest, the charming hut at Echo Point and the beautiful beach nearby served as a lovely final night for those looking to complete the full Overland Track.

Distance: 14.6 km (one way - 8.9 km to Narcissus + 5.7 km to Echo Point)
Gradient: Very gentle over the entire day due to very little change in elevation.
Quality of Path: Clear and largely well maintained, but occasionally muddy and tangled in roots around Lake St Clair.
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with red painted markers to guide the way through the rainforest along Lake St Clair. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 5 Hours
Steps: Few steps, though the ground for much of the walk is very uneven.
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply and an Overland Pass is required to walk the entire track during the hiking season
Getting There: Pine Valley can be accessed from Lake St Clair by either taking the ferry of following the Overland Track from the Cynthia Bay trailhead. Lake St Clair is at the end of Lake St Clair Rd, off Lyell Hwy.



With a lovely cool breeze blowing through the rainforest, Alissa and I woke up for our penultimate morning on the Overland Track. Up until this point, Alissa and I had been largely following John Chapman's suggested itinerary, however with Alissa still recovering from a cold and the weather looking increasingly gloomy, we had scrapped plans for a morning side trip to the Acropolis and instead vowed to return to explore Pine Valley and the Du Cane Range on a future trip to Tasmania. Facing a very short 8.9 kilometre day to Narcissus hut, Alissa and I decided that we would make today a bit longer by heading to the less visited Echo Point. By overnighting at Echo Point instead of Narcissus, our last day would be a nice and easy 10.1 kilometres to Cymthia Bay, which would allow us more time to enjoy our accommodation at the luxurious Pumphouse Point. With the family of five catching the ferry later that day, we exchanged contact details before Alissa and I bid them a fond farewell and headed back out of Pine Valley. 



The walk out of Pine Valley was much the same as the previous day, save for the fact that I was less cautious with my footing and ended up shin deep in a mud. Comically, it was an area I remember feeling out the depth of with my trekking poles the day before and had known was a bit on the deep side. Having head tales from locals the previous night about the chest deep mud walking through the 'Sodden Loddons' along the old track to Frenchman's Cap, shin deep suddenly seemed rather trivial in comparison. 





The journey from Pine Valley back to the Overland Track sped by fairly quickly and after about an hour and a half of walking, Alissa and I were at the Pine Valley junction.



The walking from Pine Valley to Narcissus is very similar in appearance to what we had seen the previous day from Bert Nichols to the Pine Valley turn off, being typically Australian Eucalypt forest that reminded Alissa and I of the Wandoo-dominated sections of the Bibbulmun Track



The Eucalypt forest was however interspersed by pockets of native Pines and the odd short section of rainforest. The variety of scenery kept things interesting, while the long stretches of boardwalk made for quick and easy walking. 



Coming into a clearing of Button-grass, Alissa and I could see that the mountain peaks of Mt Olympus (left) and Mt Byron (right) were completely engulfed in clouds. Although I had been disappointed by the fact we didn't tackle the Acropolis, the sight of the cloud-covered peaks reinforced the wisdom of our decision as we wouldn't have seen very much from the summit. 



1.4 kilometres from Narcissus hut, the Overland Track crosses the only suspension bridge along the main track. This bridge cross the Narcissus River as it makes it way to Lake St Clair. 



From the suspension bridge, the Overland Track continues along the banks of the Narcissus River. There are numerous excellent vantage points from which to view the river, and we became increasingly excited by the occasional glimpses of Lake St Clair. 



It only took us just over an hour to get from the Pine Valley junction to Narcissus, which would have made it a particularly short 2.5 hour day had we decided to stay at Narcissus for the night. 



Although an older hut, Narcissus is fairly large and spacious with several tables in the dining room...



... and a decent sized bunk room. It felt like a smaller version of Windermere, but a definite step up from the huts without separate dining and bunks rooms at Waterfall Valley, Kia Ora and Pine Valley.



Unique to Narcissus hut is a radio system that allows hikers to call for a ferry to pick them up from Narcissus hut and take them to Cynthia Bay on the other side of Lake St Clair. An interesting fact about the Overland Track is that the vast majority of hikers do not actually finish the Overland Track in its entirety, and instead opt to cut out the last day by taking a pleasant boat ride to the trailhead near the Lake St Clair Visitors Centre.



I certainly understand the appeal of catching the ferry, and if I were doing the track with children it would be a great, fun way to finish the journey. However, this blog is called The Long Way's Better and not Shortcuts are Acceptable!, so it was paramount that we actually finish the Overland Track on foot by walking in along Lake St Clair to the southern trailhead. 



With plenty of time on our hands, Alissa and I decided to have an early lunch at Narcissus hut. As we sat out under the hut's verandah, we watched as a fairly brazen Currawong casually walked around the front of the hut as it eyed off any opportunity for a feed. Although we had seen and heard these very intelligent birds all along the track, it occurred to me that I hadn't photographed one over our entire Overland Track journey, and I quickly pulled my camera out to capture an image of this intelligent and opportunistic regular of the track. 



After lunch, Alissa and I continued on from Narcissus. With the area around Narcissus very busy with hikers coming and going, we were both glad to be continuing on to the much quieter and less visited Echo Point. The area immediately after Narcissus is low and swampy, with a boardwalk passing through as it leaves the shores of Lake St Clair by initially heading inland. 



The boardwalk continued through Button-grass plains as the track slowly turned left back towards the lake's shore. 



This grassy sections looked like the kind of place that snakes would love to be hanging out in, and Alissa spotted second and last Tiger Snake of the trip coiled up just to the right of the track. As she called me to have a look, the snake promptly slithered off with no harm done to either party. 



It was not long before we were once again in dense rainforest as we followed the track as it circumnavigated Lake St Clair. The rainforest walking was the tangle of roots we had become quite accustomed to, however the flat terrain made for relatively easy walking. 



Although much of the track is right by the lake itself, Alissa and I only had occasional glimpes of the lake through the forest. It was with some excitement that we reached one of several beaches just off the track, allowing us to look out over the deepest lake in Australia. With the cloudy, overcast weather the mountains of the Du Cane Range and beyond were largely obscured, however photographs taken on clearer days show that the area can be impressively beautiful. 





This less travelled section of the Overland Track is marked by red paint along the trees that presumably were arrows a long time ago. Most of these red paint splodges have been taken over by moss and undergrowth, however they are still easy enough to follow. The most interesting marker of all was the one picture above, with a red fungus giving the old red paint a bit of support in guiding walkers to Echo Point. 



Several small streams cross the track, with the most significant being one that flows from Lake Helen further up towards Mt Olympus and into Lake St Clair below. 



Just over two hours from Narcissus Hut, Echo Point is a promontory along Lake St Clair's western shore, and is arguably a better and more picturesque campsite than the more commonly visited Narcissus. 



Echo Point's hut is a small, older hut in the style of Old Pelion and Du Cane, however unlike those two huts Overland hikers are still allowed to use Echo Point to overnight in. 



Echo Point only sleeps eight, however  the space is sufficient given that few hikers do the Narcissus to Cynthia Bay section on foot. 



Most of the other huts along the Overland have been converted to gas heating, however Echo Point still featured an old coal-fired heater, which had itself replaced an old wood fireplace that used to be at the front of the hut. 



Next to the old hut is plenty of excellent clear space for tent sites, and Michael - the ranger we had met back at Waterfall Valley - had also recommended the beach in front of the hut as a great location to pitch a tent. With rain forecast for the night and the novelty of an older style hut, Alissa and I opted to stay in Echo Point hut rather than deal with a wet tent in the morning. 



Echo Point also has its own jetty. While there is no radio system to book a ferry ride to Lake St Clair, Echo Point has excellent phone coverage, and it is possible to arrange a ferry pick up (space permitting). 



Given that Australia's deepest lake is located right next to the hut, it is unsurprising that Echo Point does not have a water tank. That being said, the best water source for hikers is a stream that runs near the hut. 



Having only a short distance to travel from somewhere up Mt Olympus, the water was clear, clean and tasted very good.



With a lovely beach right in front of the hut, Alissa and I enjoyed the afternoon hanging out at Echo Point. Over the course of the day, we met a couple who were walking from Cynthia Bay to Echo Point and back. Stopping to have lunch out the front of Echo Point, we learned that they were staying at Pumphouse Point and that they would be there when we made it off the track. One of the great things about Pumphouse Point is that they offer free fresh hot bread baked to order, and the couple kindly gave us a slice each to enjoy. Other than packet tuna, this was the first non-dehydrated food we'd had in days, and made us very excited for our stay at Pumphouse Point.

Later in that day, a boatload of tourists got off for a quick photo opportunity at the Echo Point Beach. Among this group was a hiker who did the Overland Track in the 1980s, and she was delighted to see that Echo Point looked much like she remembered it from back then. As the tourists got back on the ferry for the return journey, a family of four stayed behind and set up camp next to the hut. Later, the father took the young son to have a look inside the hut, after which the father asked if the son could stay inside the hut with us that night. Alissa and I had really hoped for a quiet night, however we of course said yes to the father's request but warned that we would be up very early. Well and truly in the 'early to bed, early to rise' mode of being out on the track, Alissa and I hoped that the kid would not be up too late given our schedule.


A few hours later, Alissa and I were surprised and delighted to see Mary, the older hiker we had met back near the first waterfall on the first day. We had not seen her since the morning of day three as she had opted to camp at Frog Flats and fallen out of sync with us. We would learn that she had done the Overland before and as such was doing all the less popular side trips that she had not done the first time, such as Barn Bluff, Mt Oakleigh and Mt Pelion East. Having another seasoned hiker sharing the hut with us was oddly comforting to Alissa and I, and we were really glad to have Mary there. 

Later in the afternoon, the boy came into the hut and told us; 'just so you know, I generally read books until 11 at night'. Although its very commendable to see children reading so voraciously, I was horrified given that we hoped to be asleep by 9 pm! As the boy ran off the play with his sister, there was a moment of silence before Mary broke it with a delightfully incredulous 'Good heavens!'

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Alissa, Mary and I were all in bed by sundown when the boy came into the room to read. Initially, it was worse that I could have imagined - the boy was clearly reading a very funny book because he was laughing a lot, and I had to ask him to turn the other way as his headlight was shining in my face. Thankfully, his father also came to sleep in the hut, and seeing that the three of us were all trying to sleep, he must have told his son to stop reading. In the end, there was nothing to worry about - we had a good final night's sleep on the track before our short final day to Cynthia Bay.

While I understand the attraction of the ferry ride from Narcissus to Cynthia Bay, Alissa and I agreed that this day from Pine Valley to Echo Point was a really lovely day of walking that should not be missed. Right on the shores of Lake St Clair, the promontory of Echo Point is a truly beautiful spot for a campsite; it is far better than Narcissus, while the old hut is one of the track's most charming. Regardless of whether you are walking in to Cynthia Bay or catching the ferry, Alissa and I would recommend Echo Point as being worth checking out -  and a lovely spot for a final night out on the track. 

2 comments:

  1. wonderful I want to go walk it right now! thanks for sharing guys

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Michelle! It has only been just over a month but I wish we were out hiking in Tassie again already!

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