Our time on the Overland Track in Tasmania was flawless. A couple blisters, a few leeches, but the rest was a cakewalk. Getting back to our car at Cradle Mountain Visitor Center though… Now that was a challenge!
When planning the trip, I wrote several bus companies from the Tasmania Parks website, inquiring about transportation from Lake St. Clair to Cradle Mountain visitor centers- both part of the same park, the “Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. You’d think they’d have some kind of service for through hikers, right?? I received numerous emails stating that if we weren’t in a group, it wasn’t really worth it to arrange a shuttle. One company quoted an outrageous $400 to get us back to our car at the north end of the park. Granted, it’s a 200km drive, as there are no roads within the park itself. Still, it was a shockingly high figure, so we took the loose advice of the Parks website, which suggested hitchhiking as an option. In talking to a park ranger at the visitor center, I found out that transportation is an ongoing problem they’re trying to address. Apparently the bus companies are fighting a dedicated daily shuttle because it will “hurt their earnings”, preferring to gouge hikers instead, or leave them stranded.
Upon arriving at Lake St. Clair 6 days after setting off from Cradle Mountain, we asked around for an hour to see if anyone had current news about shuttles. With no luck, we hitched a ride from an elderly English couple into the nearest town, Derwent Bridge, 5km away. I quickly booked a “Bushwalker’s Room” for $70 at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel. Sounds kind of fancy, doesn’t it? Eco-resortesque maybe? The pictures looked nice, and I was looking forward to a hot shower. I didn’t mind that the room would probably be modest and sparse. It was going to be great just having a real bed.
We were fairly surprised to be pointed “out back” to a trailer park with tiny rooms, stained beds covered in large dirt particles and hair, with mildewy dark showers a 100 feet away through the rain. We asked for a different room and were given something just as bad with a “boy, I’m surprised the room is dirty- our cleaning lady is usually pretty good”. Right. The place was a dump. A depressing, disgusting shit-hole. We sat around in the dining room wondering what to do as the rain pounded the asphalt outside on the Lyell Highway. An executive decision finally made, we begged for a refund under the pretense that we’d have better luck hitchhiking from the park itself, and walked 5km back to the visitor center in subsiding drizzle. At least the weather was on our side.
We spent another night camping and being thoroughly disappointed with the amenities for hikers at the end of the Overland Track (no showers, except for the one I illegally snuck into, no shelter, hardly a flat spot in the free Overland Track campground). They put all their money into the track itself, but left hikers to fend for themselves once they reached the end. We had to walk 15 minutes from camp to find a picnic shelter, and the saving grace of the place: free firewood! Stringing up a clothes line in front of our new hearth, we spent the evening eating the rest of our food stores and watching our clothes dry, and only singeing one pair of socks on my “sock drying stick”. It’s like a marshmallow stick, but with a sock on the end.
The next day, we poached the restaurant facilities for all they were worth, claiming a table with a fellow Spanish hiker, and waiting out the morning hours over coffee, eggs and toast. I made friends with the only waitress, who had a recent hitchhiking story of her own and thus took pity on us.
Tom and I took turns asking everyone we saw whether or not they were heading to Cradle Mountain, a natural next tourist destination. They all said no. Some nicely, some not so nicely, hurrying away. At midday, I finally struck my luck: 3 young college guys with two spare seats. I neglected to mention I was traveling with a man, and just left it at “me and another person are trying to get to Cradle Mountain. Any chance you have room for two more?”. The only caveat is they were stopping for the night at a town called Strahan, but at least it gave us an opportunity to shower and wash our clothes in a proper washing machine.
You know you’re a dirty, stinky hiker when you use natural bug repellent as deodorant, like this guy–>
We eventually made it back to our car, and immediately set our sights for Hobart. Just before leaving I ran into an older dour-looking couple I had spoken with the day before at Lake St. Clair. They had told me they’d already been to Cradle Mountain, or weren’t going there, or some other similar fib. Upon seeing them, I smiled and said, “Hi! Well, we finally made it back to our car!” They were in a massive van all by themselves.
Next time you see someone hitchhiking who doesn’t look like a psycho, please consider picking them up. You never know who they are or what their story is. Hitchhiking is a real lesson in humility, and you’re at the mercy of other’s good will.
We’re now recuperating with world travelers Dann and Rosann and their labradores Patty and Moby near Hobart, a motorcycling duo and all around wonderful couple I met at the beginning of my Wayward Roll motorcycle trip, at the Horizons Unlimited Cavendish meet-up. Another example of motorcyclists taking care of fellow bikers. A big thank you to these two for providing us with much needed rest and relaxation, and the chance to post this missive!