Thursday, 22 December 2016

Overland Track (TAS) - Waterfall Valley to Windermere


Day two of an eight day hike on the Overland Track, this short day explores the lakes between Waterfall Valley and Windermere Hut. A side trip to Lake Will provides an excellent view of Barn Bluff, while Lake Windermere provides walkers with an opportunity for a chilly swim. An easy day of walking, Waterfall Valley to Windermere allows for relaxation after the more demanding first day .

Distance: 9.6 km (one way - 7 km for the main track + 2.6 km Lake Will side trip)
Gradient: Relatively gentle, with only minor ascents and descents over the day
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained. Much of this section is under boardwalk, however some stretches along rocky paths are highly uneven. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with clear signage at the side trip junction
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 3 Hours
Steps: Many steps, both formal and informal
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: No direct access to this section - must be done with the previous day as part of the Overland Track. Access to the Overland Track is via Cradle Mountain Rd (Route C132). Regular shuttle buses run from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to the Ronny Creek trailhead. 



Although Waterfall Valley Hut had been packed to the rafters, our comfortable Sea to Summit sleep systems and a good set of earplugs made for a fairly decent night's sleep. Waking up around 5 am, Alissa and I were not the first people up as a French family had packed their bags and eaten breakfast for a very early departure. As we would not see them again for our entire walk, we were not sure whether they had simply walked in from Ronny Creek and had headed back, or if they kept going after Windermere to New Pelion. Neither would have surprised me, however after they departed Alissa and I were the next two on our way.



Although the rain had stopped, Waterfall Valley was still largely engulfed in cloud when we woke up. When planning which side trips we would attempt, we had considered backtracking to Barn Bluff and doing another mountain climb, however the mountain being engulfed in cloud and the several steps we'd have to climb to backtrack made the decision to skip it a fairly easy one. Before leaving Waterfall Valley however, Alissa and I decided to check out the charming older hut.



Right near the older hut is one of the small waterfalls that gave the valley its name. This is really beautiful and idyllic spot, and if I were doing the Overland again I would consider leaving early from Ronny Creek and trying to get a place on the smaller hut instead. 



After saying goodbye to the hut warden and Michael the ranger, Alissa and I went back along the spur from Waterfall Valley and onto the Overland Track proper. Barn Bluff was still partially covered by cloud, and would remain intermittently so for the rest of the morning. 



Much is often made about how busy the Overland Track can be during peak season, and being used to the quiet huts and campsites of the Bibbulmun Track there is definitely some merit to this. However, as Alissa and I were always organised and packed up early, we ostensibly had the track to ourselves during the day and only saw people on the way back from side trips, on the rare occasion that they passed us and at the end of the day. 



From Waterfall Valley, the track initially passes through buttongrass moorlands before it gently rises up and out, providing views across and back towards Cradle Mountain (if it wasn't enshrouded in clouds). The other side of the valley was where Alissa and I had walked the previous day, and it gave us an idea of what we had missed out on during the last four kilometres walking in the sideways rain. 



Walking across the top, the Overland Track crosses a gentle waterfall as it flows down into the valley below. I turned to Alissa and said, "yep, just casually crossing a waterfall". This was just one of the many small, scenic touches that make the Overland Track such a great walk. 





After following the edge of the valley for a few kilometres, the track descends to the next valley along, passing through a mix of native pines and deciduous beech. 



Returning once again to buttongrass moorland, the track follows boardwalks alongside small lakes before reaching the junction with the Lake Will side trip. Unlike at Cradle Mountain, there is no conveniently located hut nearby to store your bag however a large platform is provided for walkers to leave their main pack while exploring the side trip. When leaving packs at side trips, walkers are advised to tie up all zips or put a pack cover over their bag as Currawongs have cleverly worked out how to open bags and will make a mess of your gear in their quest to steal food. Being a short and flat side trip on an overall short and flat day, Alissa and I decided we would simply keep our packs on for our visit to Lake Will. 



Some of the side trips are less well maintained than the main Overland Track, however we were impressed to findhe entire trail to Lake Will to be decked in double board. The board was in great condition - better even then some section of the main track itself!



The scenery approaching the lake was really stunning, with many wildflowers in bloom. With the odd native Pencil Pine growing along the lake's banks and with few Eucalypts to be seen, the landscape looked like it almost didn't belong in Australia - undoubtedly a throwback to Tasmania's Gondwanan past. 



The Lake Will side trip leads to a small beach along the lakeside. This would have been a really lovely and idyllic spot if not for the mosquitoes that were buzzing around, so after taking our photos Alissa and I headed back towards the junction. A less maintained trail continues on from the beach to a waterfall called Innes Falls, however with an entire day dedicated to waterfalls later in the trip we decided to give it a miss, especially since our guidebook didn't really sell it us as anything particularly amazing. 



As we walked back from the lake, the clouds that had obscured Barn Bluff finally cleared, providing us with a spectacular view of this less visited mountain. Although I was a bit sad that we had not decided to climb Barn Bluff earlier in the day, I was hopeful that the weather would hold out for us to be able to summit Mt Ossa in two days time. 



Back along the track and with the weather having cleared up nicely, we were able to see both Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain on the horizon. This is one of the cool things about the Overland Track - you can see Cradle Mountain all the way up to Mt Ossa so you really get a sense of how far you've travelled.



Heading south as we were, more mountains became visible as we continued to Lake Windermere, with the Mt Pelions being the most obvious landmarks, and one of which we assumed to be Mt Ossa itself. 



The track descends once more, with Lake Windermere finally coming into view. Not long before taking this photo, Alissa and I encountered an Echidna just to the right of the track. Less spiky than the ones we'd seen in the Dryandra Woodlands near Perth, it hid itself in the bushes before I could take its photo. 



Continuing on along the lake, Alissa and I couldn't see the hut anywhere nearby, however we came across an area with a stone path leading to the water, as well as a few wooden logs placed as a seating area alongside it. 



Continuing along boardwalks past an obvious Wombat burrow and a few poetically twisted Eucalypts, it definitely felt like Windermere Hut would not be too far away. 



Under 10 minutes from the lake access point, Windermere Hut was hidden behind a screen of trees. With the French family no where to be seen, Alissa and I were the first ones to arrive to stay the night at Windermere. 



Although it actually sleeps two less than Waterfall Valley, Windermere Hut is a significant improvement on the previous day's hut as it featured a larger dining area and a door separating it from the bunk room. 



Rather than simple sleeping shelves, the room was divided into a series of bunks. This was preferable to the row of sardines feel of sleeping in Waterfall Valley, and we were pretty convinced that we would probably have a good night's sleep. 



Mind you, the tent grounds surrounding the hut were really quite special too, and we were somewhat tempted to set up our tent and sleep out under the stars. Not wanting the hassle of packing up a tent in the morning, Alissa and I decided that sleeping in the hut was more beneficial. Besides, with so many people tenting it instead of staying in the hut, Windermere was no where near as crowded as it had been inside the main Waterfall Valley Hut the night before. 



Being a very short day, Alissa and I had most of the afternoon to explore the area around Windermere, looking on at the excellent views of Barn Bluff beyond the lake and going back to the lake access point. We ran into the family of five that we passed the previous day at Crater Lake, and we had a laugh as the son talked up swimming to an island in the middle of the lake, only to find the waters of Lake Windermere to be freezing cold. It was too cold for my liking to really have a swim, however it was nice to be able to dip my head in and wash my face and arms. On the way back, we checked out the Wombat burrow in hopes of seeing one of the adorable, barrel-shaped marsupials in action, however if there was one in the area it remained elusive. 



We did however see quite a few other marsupials around the hut. Right near the hut's verandah, we saw Pademelons cautiously grazing nearby. Being from Western Australia, we had never seen a Pademelon before, and they seemed to be quite similar in appearance to a Quokka - albeit a bit bigger.



We also had the good fortune of spotting two Bennett's Wallabies around by the water tanks at the back of the hut. More cautious than the Pademelons, the Wallabies seemed a lot more skittish and hopped off not long after I approached them to take this photograph. The rest of the afternoon was spent talking to our other fellow hikers and Michael the ranger, who provided us with a lot of excellent information about the Overland, the Pine Valley side trip and other walks worth checking out in Tasmania. 

Even at a leisurely pace, this second day of the Overland Track was a very easy 10 kilometres/3 hours of walking in relatively gentle terrain. While quite slight, the easiness of the day was a welcome change from the more difficult first day, which was good for Alissa as she was worried about pulling a muscle in her back again. Besides - although we could easily have thrown in the Barn Bluff side trip to make the day more substantial, we actually quite enjoyed the free, relaxing afternoon that the short day provided, as well the opportunity to get to know some of our fellow hikers. Although we didn't encounter anything as epic as Cradle Mountain on this day, the serene lakes of Will and Windermere had their own beauty, providing even more variety of scenery to savour. 

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