Tasmania: Hikers' heaven

By William Mackesy

Crossing forests, moorland, hillsides and deep valleys, William Mackesy finds trekking in Tasmania blissful.

Australia's best known trail is not too tough, if you are prepared: think Scotland rather than the Himalayas.
Australia's best known trail is not too tough, if you are prepared: think Scotland rather than the Himalayas.

At last we are tramping western Tasmania's Overland Track, entering a World Heritage wilderness packed with natural wonders. Mountains and rocky outcrops brood above tarn-sprinkled moorland and deep valleys. Vivid and varied grass, shrub and forest harbour wallabies, echidnas and Tasmanian devils.

Even better, Australia's best known trail is not too tough, if you are prepared: think Scotland rather than the Himalayas. It is a walkers' heaven and I have wanted to come here for years. But it is a long journey, and an effort to get a permit, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime hike.

There is another small issue: Tasmania sits square in the Roaring Forties. Even the summer weather is fickle and today a gale is hurling rain into our faces: I feel like King Lear in boots.

After a long meander, we find our lodge up a hidden path. Most walkers bunk up in the simple, eco-friendly huts along the way, or camp nearby. We are travelling the "other" way, staying in the superbly sited Cradle Mountain Huts, which have the benefit of hot showers.

Spirits are high, despite the weather, as we attack the three courses produced by our guides, Food is helicoptered in twice a year and all waste is flown back out, so our packs are light for such a remote week's walking.

After the rain clears on the second day, we enjoy four days in a bright new world of ridges, cliffs and Monument Valley-style outcrops separated by deep valleys, the trail winding through sculpted and subtly tinted shrubs and button grass. It is exceptionally beautiful.

One night we sip whisky, taking in gorgeous views; we have a lunch surrounded by wallabies; elated, we skirt around Mounts Achilles, Thetis and Pelion before climbing Mt Ossa - Tasmania's highest peak at 5305ft.

We stand at the heart of a wilderness of world importance and have walked there. We feel good.

Top walks

The Great Walks of Australia, comprises seven of the country's top guided adventures.

Ranging between four and seven days, the trips include some well-known and lesser known tracks including The Bay of Fires Lodge Walk, the Cradle Mountain Huts Walk, the Maria Island Walk and the Freycinet Experience Walk all based in Tasmania, the Great Ocean Walk accessed from Melbourne, the Arkaba Walk in South Australia's Flinders Ranges and the Larapinta Trail, accessed from Alice Springs.

The walks all cater for small groups of 10 walkers accompanied by up to two guides.

Most walks offer seasonal pricing for shoulder season travel and group discounts.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Sydney with local connections to Hobart.

Where to walk: Summer (from December to February) offers the best weather, though early autumn is lovely and spring is good for wild flowers - and both get fewer visitors. Try to start midweek. In high season (October to May), hikers must book before their journey at parks.tas.gov.au.

Accommodation: Sportsman's Hall Hotel (Phone 0061 3 63313968).

Further information: See greatwalksof australia.com.au.

IF YOU GO

Fly there with: Air New Zealand.

Explore more at: myaustraliapassion.co.nz.

Find out more at Australia.com

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