They are easy to miss, those delicate purple petals rising from the mud. But they are beautiful and made more so by their filthy surroundings. They come with an equally adorable name – fairy aprons. I don’t know how many I walked past before I spotted them on the side of the track, but from then on I looked for them.
“You don’t do something like this for six days of great times,” I wrote in my notebook at the end of day two. “It’s the littlest moments that make this so amazing.”
At that point I had walked almost 22 kilometres along the Overland Track and great times had been in short supply. The first day of the hike from Cradle Mountain had brought rain, fog, sleet and dangerous winds. Water gushed down the steps as I walked up the track, the wind threatened to knock me over if I didn’t have both feet on the ground, and the view was mostly non-existent. The following morning wasn’t much better. I detoured out to Lake Will, one of the side trips along the track, walking straight into wind and rain pelting my face. Barn Bluff, which sits at the north end of the lake and in good weather dominates the landscape, was invisible. In the middle of summer it was frustrating to be confronted with such conditions.
I walked another 50 kilometres over four days to reach the end of the Overland Track at Lake St Clair. Even as the weather improved, it was often hard going. My pack was heavy and didn’t feel any lighter no matter how much of my food supply I ate. Each day I was a little more exhausted than the one before. Sometimes I took my boots off at the end of the day and couldn’t imagine ever putting them back on my feet. I got a leech on my stomach after washing in a river, mosquito bites on my bum through my leggings while having lunch, and a very impressive bruise on my thigh after an confrontation with a rock. There were times when the experience really wasn’t pleasant.
But there were moments when it was magic.
At lunch on the first day I’d jumped on the spot inside Kitchen Hut to keep warm. Physically, I was freezing. Mentally, I was wondering if I was up for this whole Overland thing and almost wishing someone in our group would decide to call it quits. But no one did, however much we all might have wanted to have just head for home instead of deeper into the Tasmanian wilderness. At the time I was unaware Cradle Mountain was towering over us. The cloud kept it out of sight. The track continued around the side of the mountain, which I still didn’t realise was there until the clouds lifted to reveal the west face of Tasmania’s most iconic peak. The clouds didn’t stay up for long, but the sight was enough to remind me that rain, hail, or shine (or all three) I was going to see some beautiful things on this adventure.
The scenery along the Overland Track echoes the conditions – it can change in the blink of an eye. I never knew what lay around the corner. Occasionally it was a not-so-great surprise, such as particularly boggy stretch of track, but most of time the surprises were good, if not amazing.
On the third day of the walk I left Windermere hut on my own, knowing I’d either catch the members of my group ahead of me, or be caught by those who had yet to leave. I walked in sunshine for the first time on the trek. A climb came early. It wasn’t a huge incline, but steep enough to take me out of the small trees and shrubs and show me this:
It was breathtaking, and there wasn’t another person in sight. I was alone in middle of Tasmania surrounded by mountains.
These moments made the trip for me. They were always unexpected: arriving at Lake Will to see the mist rolling across the water and a wallaby grazing by a small beach; getting out of my tent in the middle of the night and seeing lightening crack over the mountains in the distance; watching the clouds finally clear from a summit; the changing colours in the landscape when the sun came out; the reflections across Lake Windermere in the early morning; white petals scattered like snowflakes on the ground; a cup of fresh water from a waterfall; an echidna – head down, bum up while feeding on ants on the side of the track; a colourful flower among the scrub.
However brief they may have been, these moments turned a long, tough hike into a beautiful adventure.