A few weeks ago I found myself standing on the highest point in Ireland after hiking to the summit of Carrauntoohil for the first time. Then, two weeks ago, I made the ascent again. When Steve and I did the hike the first time, heading up the Devil’s Ladder and down the ZigZag route, we had gotten talking to a gentleman near the summit who, it sounded, had done just about every trail on the mountain. He recommended that next time we give the mountain a go, we head via Beenkeragh and Caher, the second and third highest mountains in Ireland, for a more difficult but equally rewarding hike. When we had a string of sunny, summery days, we did just that.
I know that the weather in Tasmania, especially in its many wilderness areas, is famously unpredictable, but when I saw “snow” on the forecast for Steve and my recent hike on the Overland Track that runs between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair in the island’s centre, I imagined we might be encountering a few flurries, maybe even walking through a dusting of settled snow along the path.
… it was a bit more than a dusting.
One of the things I love most about hiking is the solitude. For the most part, give me a peaceful trail with nobody else on it over a crowd any day. However, there is one big plus to doing a hike at the same time as a bunch of other people, and it’s that you’ll always find out about more hikes. When we hiked the Milford Track last year, a group of Australians in the huts at the same time as us offered heaps of recommendations when we said our next stop would be Melbourne. It’s because of them that we hiked Mount Kosciuszko, and it’s because of them that a hike I had never even heard of shot to the top of my hiking bucket list.
The Overland Track is a 65-km, 6-7 day trek through the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness. While there are basic huts along the way, you have to carry everything from food to fuel to camping gear, meaning it’s a strenuous but rewarding undertaking. Steve and I have booked in to do it in early November just before we wrap up our time in Australia. Thanks to a Jetstar sale, we scored a great deal on our flights last week, and since then I’ve been both eagerly anticipating the hike just a few months away, and also thinking about other “dream hikes” I’d like to do in the future.
I love to hike in the shoulder season. The temperature is cooler, so you’re not dripping with sweat while you tote around your pack. There are fewer people, so it’s less likely that you’ll be stuck 10 feet behind some asshole who thinks everyone else on the trail wants to listen their shitty EDM playlist. And there’s just something about the misty, transitional weather that accompanies spring and autumn that makes hiking during that time feel like an otherworldly adventure.
Of course, sometimes that adventure is more like a walk through Mordor than a trip into fairyland. A few weeks ago Steve and I went hiking in the Grampians, a national park about three hours’ drive from Melbourne. The weather during the week was decent but as the weekend approached the forecast looked worse and worse. 80%+ chance of rain is never what you want to see when you’re preparing to spend a few days in the great outdoors. Moreover, this would be our first time tent camping during a hike, spoiled as we’ve been with New Zealand’s amazing hut system.
The Milford Track has often been called one of the finest walks in the world. One of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, it consists of 53.3km of waterfalls, swing bridges, and some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Being a four-day, three-night hike in which you stay at Department of Conservation huts and have to pack in and out most of your necessities (although the huts do have some amenities like gas cookers and even flush toilets), it’s a pretty big undertaking and therefore it’s good to have some guidance if you’re planning on doing the walk. Here are my dos and don’ts for a successful tramp along the Milford Track:
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the busiest spots in New Zealand, with upwards of a quarter of a million visitors per year spending at least a day in the park in recent years. However, the vast majority of these visitors come in summer, to enjoy the beautiful golden sand beaches and warm water for kayaking and swimming. Last week, in late autumn, it was nearly empty, and it was a wonderfully peaceful way to experience one of New Zealand’s most stunning regions.
Our trip started with a water taxi from Marahau to Totaranui Bay. We decided to go from north to south because it offered more flexibility; we could take the morning boat and when we got back to Marahau three and a half days later, we’d be back at our rental car and ready to return to Nelson. The water taxi trip was great, taking us to the famous Split Apple rock as well as to see baby seals playing in rock pools near an island just offshore.
I already wrote plenty about our experience between Totaranui and Awaroa hut, but even though the rest of the trip wasn’t as dramatic, there was still so much to see and do. Abel Tasman is full of flora and fauna, beautiful vistas and lush forest, and to be there in such a quiet time (there were days when we didn’t see anyone from the time we left the first hut until the time we reached the next) was amazing.
Our second day in the park took us 13.5km from Awaroa to Bark Bay. Unlike the previous afternoon, day two was warm and sunny. The trails in Abel Tasman are well-marked and don’t have much elevation climb, so the hike itself is not difficult and leaves plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. There are also a couple of fun bridges to cross over estuaries and streams.
We arrived in Bark Bay to find a family had already arrived at the Bark Bay hut and started a fire in the stove, making the lovely space extra nice and cozy. After sunset, we walked out to the beach at Bark Bay to take some photos of the night sky using my camera and tripod. Across the Tasman Bay, in the distance, there was a thunderstorm and with a little luck and a lot of mistimed shots, I managed to capture it in one photo.
The start of our third day in the park was a bit grey and drizzly, but as the morning went on the weather cleared up and the sun hitting the last of the raindrops made for some beautiful rainbows.
Day three featured a couple of side trips as we hiked from Bark Bay to Anchorage. We climbed up a steep and less-traversed trail to visit Cascade Falls, as well as taking a much more leisurely ten-minute detour to Cleopatra’s Pool (which must be an amazing place to take a cool dip in the summer).
Anchorage Hut was the busiest and most well-outfitted of the locations we spent the night. Although none of the huts have cooking facilities, they do have flush toilets (although usually a short walk from the huts themselves) and Bark Bay and Anchorage both had a few solar-powered lights). This hut even had solar-powered mobile phone charging cables, which is something I never expected to see.
The final day, from Anchorage back to Marahau, was quick and easy, and we enjoyed burgers at The Fat Tui before heading off to Nelson for the night. A couple of weka, a kiwi-like bird that we had seen throughout the trip, tried very hard to steal our sandwiches.
Having previously done an overnight hike only once before, four days and three nights in Abel Tasman was definitely a new adventure. And so worth it. If you’re okay with chilly weather and love tranquil solitude, I definitely recommend exploring a national park in the offseason. Not only is it easier to do (we booked our huts a few weeks ahead of time, whereas in the summer they fill up months in advance; on other trips such as our road trip we were able to take advantage of first-come-first-serve campsites in parks like Yosemite that become highly in-demand book-ahead sites during peak season), but it’s a great way to enjoy the beauty and power of the site without crowds of other people. And if you choose to go to Abel Tasman, you’ll surely be in awe of the wonder of the world that you encounter.