Friday, 23 December 2016

Overland Track (TAS) - Windermere to New Pelion


Day three of an eight day hike on the Overland Track, the journey from Windermere to New Pelion takes walkers to the track's lowest elevation level, as well as the first long sections of Myrtle Beech rainforest. Although muddy and tangled in roots, this will be favourite day for fans of forest walking, with the view of Mt Oakleigh from New Pelion Hut being the finest verandah view of the entire track.

Distance: 15.1 km (one way - 14.2 km for the main track + 900m for both side trips)
Gradient: Relatively gentle, with a moderately steep descent and ascent to and from Frog Flats
Quality of Path: Clear and largely well maintained, but very muddy. The Rainforest sections are slow going due to a constant tangle of roots. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with clear signage at the side trip junctions
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 5.5 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: Although there is access to New Pelion Hut via the Arm River Track, this day must be done with the previous day as part of the Overland Track in season. 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. 



With everyone getting along so well in the evening as we enjoyed the lazy day from Waterfall Valley to Windermere, nothing could have prepared us for the drama that unfolded that night. 

The fine weather had led to most hikers choosing to sleep out in tents. As a result there was plenty of space in the hut, with Alissa and I joined by Shirley and ST (the Malaysian/Singaporean girls we met at the bottom of Cradle Mountain), two of the kids from the family of five, a fit young Frenchman who was powering through a lot of the side trips and the Old German Man we met on the first day who stayed the night at the emergency shelter of Kitchen Hut. We had worried for the Old German Man when he only went as far as Kitchen Hut, and we had been glad to see that he arrived safely at Windermere.

With only eight people in the hut, the bunk room was fairly echoey, and Alissa and I were surprised to find that our Sea to Summit Ultralight sleeping mats were noisier than usual as a result. A slight crinkly noise when turning had been our only criticism of the otherwise excellent mats whenever we've used them in the past, however they've never been excessively problematic in our tent or in the more open design of the Bibbulmun Track huts, and most people we've bunked with when hiking have had earplugs in anyway. With the closed space amplifying the reverberations, the noise proved too much for Old German Man, and he retaliated in the most aggressive way we've ever encountered while out hiking. Grabbing his torch and shining it in Alissa's face, he yelled at her; 'STOP MAKING ALL THAT BLOODY NOISE!' before taking all his gear, chucking it across the room and sleeping on the other side.

With earplugs in, I hadn't realised what happened, so I was surprised to wake up and find Alissa was not in the room and to see Old German Man glaring at me as he noisily made a point of packing his bag. When I went out to the dining room, I found out Alissa had been so rattled by Old German Man that she moved her gear out and slept there. We both agreed that the mats had seemed noisier than usual, and that we could understand if he had come to us in the morning and said; 'Look guys, I couldn't sleep because you're mats were very noisy... would you mind perhaps setting up your tent instead?'
Had that occurred we probably would have felt really bad and agreed to do so, but due to the poor way he handled things I was absolutely furious that someone had been so rude, and I told Alissa that we were not going to tent at New Pelion out of principle. Old German Man eventually came to confront us and ranted about the noise. I fired back that shining torches in people's faces and yelling at them is unacceptable behaviour, however he didn't seem to see what he did was wrong.
"You need to sleep in a tent!" he demanded.
"Why don't you sleep in a tent?!?" I countered.
"I'm not the one with a noisy mattress!"
"Well, you're the one shining torches at people's faces and yelling at them in the middle of the night!"

With that he left in a huff to continue packing in the bunk room. Alissa and I got our gear and packed in the dining room, ate breakfast and said goodbye to Michael the ranger before heading on our way. Being the setting out from Windermere, I was determined that we would be the first to arrive at New Pelion. Knowing New Pelion was a massive hut with four separate bunk rooms, I wanted to make sure we claimed one of the rooms so we didn't have to share space with Old German Man again.



The track out of Windermere passes through more of the same mix of heathlands, Eucalypts and native pines while travelling along double board.



As we bid farewell to Lake Windermere, we had one final glimpse of the beautiful lake with Barn Bluff towering over in the distance.



Shortly after, the terrain transitioned to a large clearing of Button-grass Moorland. As we dipped down and back up a small valley and admired the views, Alissa pointed out; 'Look who's behind us!'.
Much to our horror, it was the Old German Man. While I'm definitely the faster walker of the two us, Alissa and I both walk at a faster than average pace and were confident that we would eventually outrun him. Still, with no desire to have him catch up to us, we decided to press on as best we could to our agreed upon rest point at Frog Flats.



After sighting Old German Man, we entered the first short pocket of rainforest for the day.



Up to this point, Alissa and I had not found the Overland Track any muddier than the wet sections of the Karri forest in Western Australia during Winter and Spring, and we had wondered what all the fuss was about. This short stretch of rainforest made us realise that we had spoken too soon, as we would be walking through a lot of mud over the course of the day.



Given the muddiness, Alissa and I were grateful to return to a long stretch of duck boards on the other side of the rainforest. Looking back in the direction we had just come from, Alissa and I could see Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain - and thankfully no Old German Man in sight. 



We were also heading towards many new mountains. Immediately in front of us and just to the right of the track, Mt Pelion West was the most dominant peak with Mt Thetis, Mt Ossa and Mt Pelion East lying beyond.



Around 4.5 kilometres into the day's walking is the shortest side trip of the entire track - the River Forth Lookout. With only two short side trips over the entire day, it was an easy decision to walk the 100 metres there and back to take in the lookout's views.



Peering down into the valley below, the lookout is a nice enough vantage point to warrant the short detour. This area was apparently a battleground between loggers and conservationists in 1986, with protesters keeping loggers out until the Federal Government determined that the area should come under an expanded World Heritage Area. As such, the River Forth Lookout stands as an important reminder of how conservation can so precariously hang in the balance, even in a world class national park like Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair.



Just beyond the lookout, the Overland heads into its first long section of walking within the twisted roots of the Myrtle Beech rainforest.  



Coming from Western Australia, our experience of walking in temperate rainforests prior to the Overland Track had been limited to a single trip up to the Blue Mountains to do the Grand Canyon Walk. It was interesting to see how different the Myrtle Beech rainforest was even in comparison to the Blue Mountains as it lacked the ferns that dominated much of the Grand Canyon Walk. In fact, with the trees blocking most of the light, there was very little growing in the understorey at all except for moss and fungi. 



Occasionally large Dolerite boulders can be seen along the walk, and we inferred that they may have been left there by the movement of glaciers in previous ice ages. 



In some of the more open areas of the rainforest, Pandani became fairly common. With no grass trees at all along the Overland Track, it was interesting to see Pandani seemingly taking up the Grass Tree's niche, in particular having a similar silhouette to the tall Kingia Australis found in Western Australia (compare with the Kingia seen on the Bibbulmun Track here).



Out of the rainforest again, Mt Pelion West was now even closer. It is often said that there are so many excellent peaks in Tasmania that many would be highlights in other states, and Mt Pelion West is one of them. The state's third highest peak, Pelion West does not feature a marked trail due to being considerably more difficult to climb than Mt Ossa or Pelion East, however it is an impressive looking mountain that towers over the tallest mountains in South Australia (Mt Woodroffe), Western Australia (Mt Meharry) and the Northern Territory (Mt Zeil). 



Walking through Button-grass Moorland, sections of the track leading to the next rainforest pocket were inundated. A clear alternate track ran right beside it, however this track was extremely muddy, with some sections being shin deep. Although we initially tried our best to find the least muddy spots, we eventually gave in and just accepted that there was no avoiding a very muddy day. 



While walking through the Button-grass Moorlands, the Overland crosses several creeks and gullies over foot bridges, and these night shady spots often featured small waterfalls cascading down the rocks. 



Clearing the Moorlands, the track once again enters rainforest as it descends to Pelion Creek, rises up the other side of the valley and then descends down to Frog Flats. Although muddy and a constant tangle of roots, this section proved to be really lovely forest walking and a definite highlight of the day. Heading through the rainforest, we also saw our first snake of the walk as a Tiger Snake was stretched across the track. Being used to Tiger Snakes in Western Australia, Alissa and I simply gave it some space and it promptly slithered away. 



In spite of the terrain slowing us down, Alissa and I had made good time and had overtaken the guided group of walkers who were staying at the private huts. Upon crossing the bridge over the Forth River and entering the area of Frog Flats, Alissa and I agreed that we had definitely put enough distance between us and Old German Man to have our lunch break. 



A lush and beautiful spot, Frog Flats is unusual insofar as it is a designated camping spot along the track that does not have a hut or other facilities. Mary, the older lady we had passed on the first day in the rainforest leading to Marion's Lookout, was the only hiker who departed on the same day as us who chose to stay at Frog Flats, and we would not run into her again until our last night on the track. 



Alissa and I found a comfortable log on the eastern bank of the Forth River and had our lunch while enjoying the gentle flow of the water downstream. This is the lowest elevation level of the entire Overland Track. It should be noted that this is still over 700 metres above sea level, and is higher than Mt Cooke on the Bibbulmun Track!



After Frog Flats, the track enters an area of tall Eucalypts over an understorey of Button-grass and heathland as it ascends back up the other side of the river valley. 



Entering rainforest once again, there was a notable difference in vegetation from earlier section of rainforest as we passed a profusion of Mother Shield Ferns as we continued the ascent. At times the ascent was fairly steep and stepped, however we didn't find it to be relentlessly so. 



Before long the rainforest transitioned to Eucalypts and grassland, with the track levelling out as it reached a junction in the track. Continuing straight ahead would keep us on the Overland Track and on to our next hut at New Pelion, while the path to the left takes walkers on a side trip to Old Pelion Hut. Initially, our goal had been to get to New Pelion as fast as possible to avoid any bunk room conflict with Old German Man and then go back to check out Old Pelion, however we were pretty confident we'd beat him to the hut even with the 15-20 minute detour along the side trip. 



Walking across the Pelion Plains, the side trip follows well maintained duck boards to the old hut with towering Eucalypts and Mt Oakleigh completing the lovely landscape. 



Like Kitchen Hut, Old Pelion is no longer to be used by hikers except in emergency situations and is maintained for its heritage value. The original hut in the area dates back to the 1890s, however the current Old Pelion was built in the 1930s.



Inside, Old Pelion features a separate dining/sitting area with old noticeboards still on display from when it was decommissioned.



The bunk room looked fairly cramped, and fitting eight people in here would be quite a struggle; it would probably only really sleep four people comfortably!



This was in sharp contrast to our final destination for the day. Back on the main track, New Pelion Hut is 20 minutes away from Old Pelion and is a thoroughly modern and enormous structure that can house as many as 60 hikers in the bunk rooms if the larger bunks were shared, as well as many more if they decided to sleep in the dining areas. 



The dining area is absolutely massive, with plenty of tables and even counters along the walls for cooking if all the tables are taken. There are even counters outside and metal plates on the verandah for people to cook their meals outside as well! Having arrived first to the hut, Alissa and I had our pick of the bunk rooms. There are two large rooms on either side and two smaller rooms in the middle, and we decided to set up in one of the smaller rooms. As other hikers arrived, Alissa and I heard a few other perspectives on Old German Man and events that occurred after we had left. The fit French hiker arrived not long after us, and we asked him if our mats had been a problem. Although he had heard them, he said it was not a problem as he had earplugs in, and that in fact Old German Man's outburst at night and his noisy packing in the morning caused him more annoyance than the mats.

When the family of five arrived, we learned that Old German Man had complained to Michael the ranger, saying; "what are you going to do about these noisy mattresses?!?"
Completely perplexed, Michael asked him what he was talking about, and then said he wasn't going to do anything about it and than Old German Man might want to sleep in a tent instead. Upon hearing Michael's solution, Old German Man apparently threw his hands up and shook his head while storming off. When Old German Man finally arrived, we would have thought that he would set up as far away from us as possible, but he instead decided to claim the room right next to us! Wanting to avoid any conflict (and a bit more tactful with nasty people than I am), Alissa kindly and calmly informed him that we would be in the room next door. Instead of trying to repair the relationship, he just started ranting again about how the noise was like a 'freight train' and how he couldn't sleep, so we left it at that. 



With most of the afternoon free, Alissa and I enjoyed the spectacular view of Mt Oakleigh from New Pelion's broad balcony as pictured above. Pademelons and Wallabies could be seen grazing near the hut, and we joined the family of five for a walk to the nearby Douglas Creek for a quick dip. While Alissa and I didn't get in all the way as the water was icy cold, it was nice to have a bit of a wash off. While walking with the family, we finally learned that their named were Steven, Bernadette, Kobie, Harriett and Charlotte, and that they would also be going to Pine Valley after Bert Nichols.

In spite of the negative start to the day with the Old German Man, the third day of the Overland was another excellent day of walking. While the first day was largely in alpine conditions and the second focused on lakes and grasslands, the third day provided us with a lot of excellent rainforest walking. Forest walking is Alissa's favourite kind of walk, so this day remained one of her favourite days of the entire track. With the stunning views of Mt Oakleigh from its verandah and four separate bunk rooms, New Pelion Hut was probably our favourite as well. Thankfully, it was also the hut that we had our best sleep in too, as the next day - Mt Ossa day - was gonna be a big one. 

2 comments:

  1. Hi Guys, I'm really enjoying re-living the OT through your posts. Sorry to hear about the grumpy old bloke, I hope he didn't ruin it for you. Huts are always a bit of a calculated risk in my experience, but having said that I've never come across anyone near as rude as this bloke. New Pelion Hut is huge isn't it, we even managed a game of indoor cricket in the communal area one winter, it was a good way of keeping warm when the heater wasn't working! Cheers Kevin

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kevin,
      Glad you are enjoying the journey! It was really interesting reading your multiple Overland Track walks on Goin' Feral and seeing how different the trail can be depending on the season. Cool that you got stay in some of the huts that are now emergency only!

      The old grump was a bit of a bummer at the time, but we got over it. It makes a great story now - everyone we've told about has agreed they've never encountered anyone that rude themselves.

      That would have been hilarious to see indoor cricket played in there. I imagine New Pelion and Bert Nichols would be pretty cold in winter given how cavernous they are!

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