Walking the Overland Track in Tasmania

If you were looking for a description of the Overland Track walking experience in Tasmania you could easily find many written and photographic books on the subject. And while in this account, I will not attempt to write a blow-by-blow (step by step) description, it must be emphasized that any second-hand account will fail to provide you with the actual experience. You must immerse all of your physical body and senses into the scene in order to appreciate it fully.

Overland Track signpost March 2015

Overland Track signpost March 2015

From a distance the landscape can appear grey, dull, olive green, and even boring. Up close the colour and diversity of plants, flowers, rocks, mosses, bark, fungi, water, etc., arrest the eye continually. Just when you relax thinking you have seen all there is to see, suddenly a new intricate variety appears and stops you in your tracks. I was amazed to see a toadstool I’d never seen before – pale red and green with a frilly white skirt. I only saw one.

The sights are awesome. Towering mountain crags where eagles dive for fun. Tolkeinesque mossy green forest paths that wind around the roots of 800 year old trees. Vast alpine plateaus where yellow button grass hide tiger snakes and shy furry animals. Waterfalls in full flight. Lakes too cold to dip a toe. Rocks, trees and flowers arranged by The Master Landscape Gardener, and then dusted with fresh falling snowflakes.

The fragrances were intense. The nutmeg aroma of wet wild Sassafras. The gin and tonic spritz of the celery top bush. Eucalypts, Myrtles, Banksia, King Billy Pine, Beech and more.

The tiresome experience of pushing your body along paths full of rocks, mud, water, tree roots, steps, streams, and leeches, in driving rain was a challenge experienced by all in the group.

The Overland Track Tasmania March 2015

The Overland Track Tasmania March 2015

We signed up for the ‘chardonnay version’ with Cradle Mountain Huts. We had a bed in a warm hut at the end of every day. Our packs did not need to carry food, or bedding or tents or cooking gear. Our guides led us, cajoled us, cooked for us, and cleaned the huts after we left. Our guides were awesome and extraordinary individuals proud and passionate about this unique environment and Tasmania in general. The huts were warm, had hot showers, drying rooms for our wet muddy boots and clothes. We had three course dinners with local wines. It felt like the privilege that it was.

I wrote a haiku for each day in my mind. I took photographs galore. We were touched by a tragic incident halfway along the trail reminding us of the need to be careful in this remote wilderness. Out of network range the guides used the satellite phones to call in the Air Ambulance helicopters.


Jetty at Lake St. Clair Tasmania March 2015

We pushed on. My knees struggled to complete the journey and did so with tape strapping and walking poles. At last we arrived at our destination all too soon – Lake St. Clair on Day Six. Lunch on the jetty waiting for the boat to pick us up, we basked in the warm sun, appreciating the journey.

I recommend this experience BUT be prepared for a difficult walk where EVERY footfall must be decided before it is actually taken.

Off the grid

The first time I heard about “earth ships” was while watching an episode of Grand Designs where a couple built an alternative style house in Brittany France. Whilst passive solar house design, water catchment and recycling, and thermal mass walls were not new ideas to me, this particular construction method using car tyres rammed with earth and aluminium cans and bottles was something I hadn’t seen before.

Not long after that I was searching the web and inadvertently came across the DVD Garbage Warrior. It sounded interesting so I ordered it for the library collection. I was enthralled by this documentary. It is about architect Michael Reynolds and the story of his quest to build fully sustainable dwellings. He has been doing this since the 1970’s. The rammed earth tyre thermal walls, and aluminium can and plastic and glass bottle walls are his ideas.

I can’t believe I’d never heard about Michael Reynolds and his Earth ships. I have been interested in sustainable housing construction and development since the late 1970’s. One of my final year projects for Industrial Design was about “energy’’. I investigated the history and evolution of energy supplies to industry and society. Back then it was forecast that our oil reserves would run out in 2010!!. I soon realised the saving potential of passive solar house construction.

Garbage Warriors traces the story of Michael Reynolds and his work in New Mexico. He experiments with his ideas and invites others to join him there. He soon builds a crew and a community. This community is totally off the grid. The houses are fully sustainable providing the residents with power, heating, water, and food.

One crew member and resident, Phil, says when referring to his young daughter who has grown up in their house there:

“She doesn’t know the difference between this house and a normal house like I grew up in. It’s just part of her, that the house takes care of her and supplies power and heats itself and has plants that provide food and the water comes from the roof. She knows all that and she thinks that’s the way it is and that’s the way everyone needs to think.”

After many years of this development Michael Reynolds was stopped by local authorities and lost his architectural licence. He laments:

 “I had lost the freedom to fail.”

 And this is his point. Phil explains further:

 “You’ve got to be able to make mistakes otherwise you never evolve housing type…Everyone’s so stressed about getting sued that they can’t make a single mistake so there is no evolution in design.” Michael goes on to say, “New Mexico is the state where [we] tested the atomic bomb. They designated several thousand acres of land to be just absolutely destroyed with something they just didn’t even know if it would keep on exploding or not. They took extreme risks in the interests of national security. So what I’m saying is, can’t we make a few hundred acres test sites with no holds barred to test methods of living for the future? It’s a test site. They allow it for bombs. They test automobiles. They test airplanes. They should allow it for housing.”

The buildings in this documentary are interesting and inspiring. The work these people take on is amazing. If you are at all interested in sustainable living, self-sufficiency, saving the world, or even self-preservation, you must watch this documentary. You will come to admire the determination and tenacity of Michael Reynolds – Garbage Warrior.

“Hubba hubba hubba.”

Be sure to watch the Special Features to see their biodiesel production and Denis Weaver’s earthship.

Here are some more links: earthship.net earthships.com greenhomebuilding.com Earthships 101 Part 1 and Earthships 101 Part 2.