Perfect swimming hole at Hartnett Falls

Hiking the Overland Track (days 5 & 6): Kia Ora to Narcissus & across Lake St Clair

Nearing the end of our Overland Track journey and beginning to consider our return to civilisation (specifically, our return to our car at Cradle Mountain NP), we wisely combine the final two stages of our walk into a single slog on the penultimate day. Even though this amounts to more trail hours than some of our blisters would prefer, we still manage to visit beautiful Hartnett Falls and make it to Narcissus Hut in time for an arctic river swim, the perfect finish to what has been a wonderful adventure in Tasmania’s Cradle Country. All that’s left is a scenic boat ride across Lake St Clair and the editing of several thousand photos, which should keep me busy well into the following weeks.

Trail stats: Kia Ora to Narcissus & across Lake St Clair

Distance: 20.1km including sidetrip to Hartnett Falls

Trail hours: 7.5hrs

Highlights: beautiful Hartnett Falls

Lunch spot: Bert Nichols Hut

Campsite: Narcissus Hut (bunks in the hut)

Crossing the much-awaited suspension bridge

After what was without a doubt our coldest night on the Overland Track, we awake this morning to more freezing temperatures. Even though I hate the cold, I am actually very pleased to be wearing all the warm layers that I packed; hauling these fleece pants around would have felt like such an enormous waste if I didn’t need to use them over my tights at least once. And I actually slept beautifully through the cold night with my new -20C bag, but Cal, who has been making fun of my bag nonstop for being overkill on an Australian hike, was so cold last night in his own sleeping bag that he hardly slept. Sweet vindication.

After some Cup-of-Soup for brekky, Cal and I hit the trail, enjoying a relatively quick walk with Eileen to the old Du Cane Hut. She rests a while here to wait for dad, who has been lagging behind due to his collection of blisters, but we motor on ahead another hour to reach the little side track leading out to Hartnett Falls. The trail all morning has been full of rocks and roots, and our side trip down to the base of the waterfall is no exception. Still, we arrive in about 15 minutes to enjoy the thundering falls. If it were later in the day or at least a little warmer, this would make the most beautiful swimming spot, and I’m rather disappointed not to be hopping in and paddling around the deep water hole.

Back at our packs on the main trail, exactly an hour after we set out for the falls, Cal and I continue towards Windy Ridge, which I estimate to be within 90 minutes. We are surprised at not having run into dad and Eileen either coming up from the falls or resting back at our bags, but we suppose that they would have detoured towards the first set of waterfalls this morning, D’Alton and Fergusson.

As always seems to happen on the final stretch of the day’s hike, time drags slowly until we finally spot the new Bert Nichols Hut coming into view. We excitedly head inside and find that we are the first ones there, meaning we have our pick of all the bunks. Since we are booked on a 9.45am ferry across Lake St Clair tomorrow morning and still have a 3-4 hour walk to the jetty at Narcissus, we figure sleeping inside will help save the time of packing up our tent in the dark hours of the morning. Just as we are claiming the perfect bunk, a ranger saunters in and informs us that we won’t be staying— he’s made friends with dad and Eileen, who are eating lunch outside before pushing on all the way to Narcissus.

Sure enough, we see them spread out on a sunny balcony around the other side of the hut where they’ve been waiting for us for about 15 minutes. Dad’s blisters have been giving him such trouble that they skipped the waterfalls entirely and made the call to finish all the hiking today so his poor feet can start to recover a day sooner. Even though I was excited to be finished for the day, it’s only 1.45pm and it probably makes more sense to just finish the track now, saving ourselves the unnecessary stress of waking up at 4am to catch the ferry tomorrow (which has already been paid for and which connects to a remarkably expensive private shuttle on the other side that is carting us all the way back to our car at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre). Basically, not worth the risk.

We snack in the sun, rest our feet, I help dad re-bandage his blisters (I have become the unofficial blister queen after hiking the TMB in 2017 with what can only be described as more blister than foot), and we chat with Ranger Mitchell, who apparently picked dad’s accent in a matter of minutes as “PNW” because he’s been dating a girl from Seattle for the last 4 years. It’s 3pm before we set out as a family, me leading the convoy of limping hikers (save for Cal, who is aggravatingly injury free). From here onwards, we are completing day 6 of the Overland Track, which is meant to be the easiest day. Our trail notes even say no more uphill, which is not exactly true, but there are no substantial climbs, thankfully.

Over the next 3 hours, we move at a brisk pace, everyone looking forward to just getting to the hut and getting off their feet. Still, we have two sizeable rests for dad to air out his blisters and for snacks to be passed around. During one of these, I discover my first blister of the trip, which has to be lanced and bandaged before I can keep walking. It’s practically unheard of that I would walk even a single day without developing a family of blisters, so I credit my new liner toe socks with this revelation. Unfortunately, I already developed a rather severe sweat rash on my ankles from wearing the socks too many days in a row, so I was forced back into my standard liners and back to my usual blister ways. There is absolutely no winning.

The last hour drags out over the trail (we are still waiting for our boardwalks!), but the end is finally in sight as we come to the infamous suspension bridge. By my estimate, we are 15min from the hut, but Eileen’s GPS indicates 30min. Horrified by the thought that we could still be a half hour away, I pick up the pace and we practically sprint into camp, 17min flat. The first order of business is jumping straight into the freezing Narcissus River, even though it’s nearly 7pm and the heat of the day is long gone. Cal makes it up to his ankles, Eileen sits on the edge and gives herself a splash, dad gets in a little farther to bathe, but I run straight in and spend a good 30 minutes flapping around, determined to get a good mountain swim in before we leave. When I do eventually haul myself out, I can’t feel my fingers and my whole body is convulsing, but it was entirely worth it.

We spend the rest of the evening in the tiny hut eating our final dinner, lancing more blisters, and finally trudging off to bed for our last sleep on the Overland Track, me and Cal inside, dad and Eileen in their tent. Cozy in my bag knowing that we only have to walk about 5 minutes to the ferry jetty in the morning, I am extremely relieved that we bit the bullet and walked days 5 and 6 today. Future Brooke will undoubtedly thank me for that.

By the next morning, we only have a few things to shove back into our bags (not having set up the tent) before we head off for the ferry. John and Jackie from QLD, whom we had met previously along the trail, also hiked in last night for the ferry, but there are a few parties who arrive this morning for the boat. When they tell us they had to set an alarm for 4.30am, I am only further convinced that we made the right call. It’s a 5 minute walk along a level path to the jetty, and the ferry arrives after only a few minutes of waiting around. After all the groups who reserved a spot (including us) are completely loaded onto the boat, the captain allows a few stragglers to pay onboard and join us as we zip across Lake St Clair and over to Cynthia Bay.

The fam at the end of the amazing Overland Track

When we arrive, we take the requisite photo next to the Overland Track sign and then head out to the car park to look for our private shuttle. After a few minutes of unsuccessful searching, I ring up the shuttle company, only to find that they’ve mis-transcribed our booking as 2pm and the driver has only just left to make the 3-4hr drive just now. More than a little irritated at having paid $900 to sit around and wait (we could have taken the afternoon ferry!), we head into the Visitor Centre restaurant and drown our frustrations in burgers and cider. By the time our shuttle arrives, we have forgotten why we were angry in the first place.

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A comprehensive guide to hiking the Overland Track coming soon!