x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A walk on the edge

Into the wild Beating a path along Tasmania's Overland Track is for hardy souls.

A climber takes a break during an ascent of Mount Ossa, the highest mountain in Tasmania.
A climber takes a break during an ascent of Mount Ossa, the highest mountain in Tasmania.

There is a stretch of Tasmania's Overland Track where the path rises steeply up a rocky hillside. Blue-winged parrots and rosellas squawk in the low trees, dust rises underfoot and the air is still in the lee of the hill. A hundred steps further up, past gum trees and lemon-scented boronia plants, the wind begins to rise, the temperature drops and the path crests a saddleback ridge. The view is breathtaking, not only for its beauty and the fact that you can gaze for at least 10km in every direction, but because there is nothing man-made to be seen. No roads, railways, buildings or electricity pylons; no planes in the sky or telltale vapour trails. Walkers are surrounded by wilderness.

Central and southern Tasmania are one of the last temperate wildernesses on earth, along with areas of southern New Zealand and the Los Glaciares region of Argentina. The entire Overland Track, which is situated in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, forms the northernmost part of a 14,000 sq km World Heritage Area stretching down to the south coast - the next nlyndmass is Antarctica.

The track is long - 85km - but not arduous and takes between five and seven days to complete. Days are spent drinking in the Antipodean scenery as the track passes through buttongrass meadows, across ice-water creeks, over mountain ridges and through scented forests of eucalyptus and deciduous beech, the latter being one of Tasmania's ancient species dating back 100 million years to Gondwana, a prehistoric supercontinent.

At night, walkers bed down in basic wooden survival huts, where spaces in bunks or on the floor are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. A more private option is to bed down in your own tent with the Southern Cross blazing in the clear night sky - it is a good idea to carry an inflatable mattress. Nature throws all it can at you on the Overland. On my first adventure, two fighting possums fell on my tent in the middle of the night tearing each other's fur out, a wedge-tailed eagle woke me at dawn with blood-curdling cries and I had to navigate cautiously around several large and venomous tiger snakes lying across the path. And then, there is the famous Tasmanian weather, which changes in a heartbeat: sunshine in the morning, a howling gale by lunchtime and snow flurries in the afternoon. Even in summer: famously the track was snowed under one midsummer December. The walk requires more rapid changes of clothes than a runway model at Milan Fashion Week.

If you get lucky, as I did on my second Overland walk one late summer in March, you will take this wild and remote journey in brilliant sunlight with clear skies and light breezes. The final morning was most memorable. I walked at dawn along the western shore of Lake St Clair over which hung an ethereal mist. The morning dew had transformed the forest into an intoxicating Body Shop of scents - lemon, eucalyptus and myrtle filled the air. Wallabies lurked half-hidden in the drenched undergrowth, fern trees towered overhead and everything felt distinctly Gondwanan.

It is rare for adventure-seekers to be able to access such pristine places, yet walking the Overland Track is remarkably easy. You don't need a helicopter or a 4x4; nor do you have to join a tour or hire a guide. All you need is a bus ticket to one end of the trail from either Launceston in the north or Hobart in the south, a map (1:100 000 scale), a strong tent, all-weather clothing, food and water and a good pair of boots.