“I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed open spaces until I was bouncing across a boardwalk, button-grass as far as the eye could see.” For travel writer Tayla Gentle, a trip on Tasmania’s Overland Track was just what she needed to shake off those pandemic cobwebs.
At the end of February, I officially conquered Tasmania’s Overland Track with Intrepid Travel.
I traversed the windy peaks of Cradle Valley, trekked brutally barren alpine heath, ambled through dense eucalypt forest and made it to the sun-drenched Lake St Clair. It was an odyssey spanning six-days, 65 kilometers, one blister and several mid-trek epiphanies.
When Hippocrates said ‘walking is a man’s best medicine’, he was definitely onto something. After the year we’ve had, getting out into Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park made me feel more alive, recharged and energized than sinking three espressos at my local Melbourne cafe ever could.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed open spaces until I was bouncing across a boardwalk, button-grass as far as the eye could see. I had forgotten how joyous it can be to meet new people until I was introduced to my Intrepid Travel trekking group. I’d overlooked what a day spent walking in nature can do to quiet a busy city brain.
And while I’m not the first writer to go on a really long walk and return with a few life lessons tucked into their hiking belt, I’d be doing the track a disservice if I pretended that it’s magnificent wilderness didn’t inspire at least a little bit of introspection.
I’m not saying you should break up with your therapist but I do believe there’s something to be said for mulling things over on the trail. Maybe it’s the quiet time in nature or the act of disconnecting from the ‘real world’; perhaps it’s the perspective you get when you’re sitting on the roof of Tasmania, just a speck against a sea of summits.
Whatever it is, I found that six days spent in outdoorsy reflection helped me shape what was a jumble of post-pandemic desires, goals and fears into some semblance of conscious thought. It gave me the space to follow an idea from start to finish. It gave me the courage to return home and put a few of those plans into action.
For more than a decade I’ve been saving my pretty pennies for international airfares. I’ve been forking out cash for visas, renewing my passport whenever it got close to full and paying obscene ATM fees in foreign countries. I thought I had to leave the country to get my adventure fix. But as it turns out, adventure is only a short domestic flight away.
A week spent plodding through alpine moorlands and sleeping under a blanket of southern stars gave me a new perspective on Australia; a renewed appreciation for my own backyard. I’d forgotten how breathtakingly limitless this country is. I mean, the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is over 1600 square kilometers of pristine, protected land—that’s a lot of wild waiting to be explored. Who wants to wait in a customs queue when you’ve got heritage wilderness just over the Bass Strait?
Like, take your normal hiking packing prep and double it. Trust me. The Overland Track region is known for its extremely unpredictable weather patterns and Stan, our Intrepid Travel guide, made sure we packed for every possible season.
At first, I was a little skeptical. I didn’t pack this many thermals when I hiked to Everest Base Camp, let alone on a Tasmanian jaunt in the middle of February. But when it proceeded to rain, non-stop, for the first 24 hours on the trail I was exceptionally grateful for that extra thermal. And that beanie, and the gloves. So invest in your gear, you’ll be thanking me later. I certainly was thanking Stan.
Don’t agree? Hear me out. Group hiking is the rare social activity that manages to perfectly blend extroversion with introversion. It gives you the opportunity to make new friends but it also gives you an excuse to spend five hours a day walking in silence.
For the most part, the Overland Track is a single file march. You’d be hard pressed to fit two trekkers abreast the boardwalk and the forested trails are narrow and thick with tree roots. So there’s no pressure to make small talk when you’re concentrating on scrambling a granite boulder or zig-zagging through a glacially-carved valley.
But when you make camp in the evening you can debrief with your trekking mates over hot chocolate and compare the day’s blisters. Group hiking gives you a lot of ‘me time’ and enough camp banter to make it a fulfilling social experience. It’s the best of both worlds.
I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve never leaned into a cliché more than I did this week. Like, when I was hauling ass up Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak, and my legs were shaky with lactic acid—this too shall pass. Or when I could feel a blister brewing after a 10 kilometer downhill through eucalypt forest —this too shall pass (so long as you deal with the hotspot as soon as you get to camp). Or when it was so windy atop Marion’s Lookout that I thought it would slice right through my windbreaker—this too shall pass.
But this cliché wasn’t just reserved for the strenuous moments. It applied to the good stuff too. Like, when I was eating the best salad sanga of my life and looking out over vast Lake Windermere—this too shall pass. Or when I was sitting underneath the biggest and brightest milky way I’ve ever seen— this too shall pass. The cliché reminded me to stop and be grateful for those moments, because those, too, shall pass.
Okay, did you know that possums don’t like tea bags but they will happily spend two hours trying to open your backpack to get at your scroggin mix? Neither did I until I was laying in my single tent listening to a furry fella scratching at my pack at 3am.
But possums aren’t the only pack predators on the track. Tiny little field mice are known for chewing holes through your pack in search of snacks, and the crafty currawong birds have even taught themselves how to use a zipper. So when Stan tells you to put your snacks in the communal screw cap tubs (or in an impenetrable pack with a pack liner) at night— just do it. Besides ‘people food’ not being good for animals, feeding them can make these wild animals lose their innate fear of humans and risk becoming both a nuisance and a safety issue.
Life is not a race. I repeat, life is not a race. Everything’s better when you slow the heck down and you stop to smell the eucalyptus; when you let yourself tackle the big hill slowly and wake up to birdsong instead of your alarm.
The joy of the Overland Track is that you’re journeying across 65 kilometers of ever-changing landscape. The end of the road might be Lake St Clair, but that’s not your destination. By slowing down the pace, whether you’re hiking a trail or moving through life, it’s much easier to take in everything that’s going on around you. And if we’re not doing that, then what are we even doing?
Experience your own epiphanies on the Overland Track with Intrepid Travel.
The writer traveled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.
Tayla Gentle is a freelance writer and producer specializing in adventure travel. Her work has featured in outlets such as Lonely Planet, AFAR, AWOL and Red Bull Australia. Her spirit country is Myanmar.