Monday, 26 December 2016

Overland Track (TAS) - Bert Nichols to Pine Valley

Day six of an eight day hike on the Overland Track, the overnight side trip option to Pine Valley extends the Overland Track adventure by taking walkers into the Du Cane Range. Heading through some of the finest rainforest scenery to Pine Valley hut, a further side trip along the Labyrinth trail leads to one of the most impressive and beautiful vistas of the entire hike. Definitely worth the detour.

Distance: 14.8 km (one way - 9.8 km to Pine Valley + 5 km to Cyane Lake viewpoint)
Gradient: Gently downhill to Pine Valley turn-off, then gently uphill to Pine Valley. Extremely steep to the top of the Labyrinth ascent then gentle to the Cyane Lake viewpoint.
Quality of Path: Clear and largely well maintained, but occasionally muddy. The Labyrinth ascent is rough and occasionally rocky, literally going straight up a rocky stream.
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with clear signage at the side trip junctions. The trail can be indistinct in parts, however trail markers provide important navigational information. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 6 Hours, including Labyrinth side trip to the Cyane Lake viewpoint.
Steps: Many steps, both formal and informal
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply and an Overland Pass is required to walk the entire track during the hiking season
Getting There: No direct access north from Bert Nichols. Pine Valley can be accessed from Lake St Clair by either taking the ferry of following the Overland Track from the Cynthia Bay trailhead. Lake St Clair is that the end of Lake St Clair Rd, off Lyell Hwy.

Morning at Bert Nichols was a series of farewells. Although George (who climbed Mt Ossa with us) and a handful of other hikers had double hutted from Bert Nichols to Narcissus to catch the ferry the night before, most of the people we had been hiking with since our first day from Ronny Creek would be heading to Narcissus and would be catching the ferry back to Lake St Clair, thus ending their Overland Track adventure. 

Alissa and I on the other hand had three more days of hiking ahead of us as we would be taking the side trip to Pine Valley. Recommended in Overland Track guidebooks by Warwick Sprawson and John Chapman, most hikers don't bother exploring the side trip to Pine Valley as its not technically part of the Overland and means an extra night on the track, however a further two side trips can be reached from Pine Valley that are generally considered some of the very best. 

Of our group, the family of five were the only others who were also going to Pine Valley, however our nemesis Old German Man had expressed strong interest in going to Pine Valley as far back as New Pelion hut. Wanting to discourage him from following us, Alissa found an opportunity at Kia Ora to casually bring up in conversation that we were going to Pine Valley within earshot of Old German Man, however we had no way of knowing if our plan had worked. 

After taking one final look at the Du Cane Range from the lookout near the hut, saying goodbye to hikers heading to Narcissus and asking the family of five to say goodbye toa still sleeping ST and Shirley for us, Alissa and I were on our way; bright and early as had been our custom. The walking immediately after Bert Nichols passed through Eucalypt forest that had a typically Australian appearance; if not for some specific endemic species it could easily have been a seen along the Bibbulmun Track

Being a very gentle downhill, the walking was pretty easy going, with occasion shallow creek crossings proving to be easier than on some of the earlier days. 

One of the larger creeks had a bridge over it, however an alternate crossing point was visible just to the left of the track marked with some intricate cairns, with some having the appearance of tiny pebble people. 

The cloudy skies made for much nicer walking that the previous day, and we could really appreciate the beauty of the more open Eucalypt forest without feeling the burning heat of the Sun. The pale, smooth bark of the trees made Alissa and I think of Wandoo in the Darling Scarp, particularly recalling some of the excellent bushwalking on the Bibbulmun Track between Waalegh and the Hills Discovery Centre

An hour and a half in to the day's walking, Alissa and I reached the turn off for Pine Valley, clearly marked at a junction with the main track. 

Within five minutes of the turn off, walkers reach the first suspension bridge of the day as the trail crosses the Narcissus River. Up until this point, hikers will not have encountered suspension bridges along the Overland Track (apart from the one leading to Mt Oakleigh from New Pelion). When Steven and Bernadette arrived at Pine Valley later in the day, they revealed to us that their three kids had initially wanted to keep going to Narcissus instead of taking the side trip, however seeing the suspension bridge lifted their spirits and made them more excited about the journey to Pine Valley. 

The view along the river is really very beautiful, with a mixed forest of Pines and Eucalypts giving the area a very unique appearance. 

Considering that Pine Valley is less commonly visited by Overland Track hikers, Alissa and I were surprised to find that quite a lot of it was along boardwalks. Given how muddy many of the sections without boardwalks were, it makes sense that they would have spent some money to make the walking a more enjoyable experience. 

Although well constructed wooden bridges are now in place, the crossing at Cephissus Creek also features an old, rustic crossing made from an old tree. Up for a bit of fun, Alissa and I decided to take the older bridge instead, which still served its purpose well. 

The track crosses the Narcissus River again over another suspension bridge as it takes walkers deeper into the Pine Valley rainforest. 

A beautiful mix of Myrtle Beech, Pandani and Pines, the Pine Valley rainforest was easily our favourite section of rainforest over the entire trip. Alissa, who had been feeling pretty down due to he cold over the last few days, was very excited by the truly stunning forest walking we were now in the midst of. With a fairly open forest floor, it was sometimes unclear where the path was meant to go, however orange markers along the way provided very helpful navigational information. 

By this stage we had our first light showers since the heavy rain walking towards Waterfall Valley on our first day, and after so many days of hot weather we were enjoying the rain. As we were walking, Alissa spoke to a couple of groups who had just come from Pine Valley and were heading to Narcissus. Both groups had said that the side trips to the Labyrinth and the Acropolis had been very challenging, and that with the wet weather they would probably advise against the Acropolis. One group even said that they thought the climb up to the Labyrinth had been steeper than the Acropolis and that the track was already flowing as a stream the day before and imagined it would only be worse today. As such, I resigned myself to not doing either the Labyrinth or Acropolis side trips. 

Even without doing the highly recommended side trips, the forest walking in Pine Valley was so impressive that I would consider it worth the price of admission alone and Alissa and I even declared this was one of our favourite days so far. 

The moss was so thick, green and occasionally shaggy that it almost looked fake. With streams running through the forest, Alissa and I were constantly stopping to take photos in spite of the rain. 

Just over one and a half hours after the Pine Valley turn off, Alissa and I arrived at Pine Valley hut - a structure with a similar appearance to Waterfall Valley and Kia Ora, although it featured a verandah instead of a mud room. Surrounded by spectacular rainforest and very close to several streams, the location of Pine Valley hut was easily one of the most magical of the trip, and was better than many of the huts along the official Overland Track!

Clear campsites were a bit limited at Pine Valley, however there is a prime position just across from the hut near the signs pointing towards the Labyrinth and Acropolis side trips. There are however many spots throughout the forest that are nevertheless suitable, and by the end of the evening many locals who had come up to Pine Valley from Lake St Clair had set up throughout the forest. 

Having a look inside the hut, Alissa and I discussed what to do about the sleeping situation. I was not keen on setting up a tent due to the rain, and the sleeping shelves inside the hut didn't appeal to either of us due to the potential noise problems with our mats and the possibility of Old German Man showing up. In the end the hut's broad verandah provided us with the best compromise; we would set up our tent inner under the verandah, thus keeping us dry while allowing us to still camp outside. We referred to this as 'Bibbulmun Track-Style Hutting', as it is our standard practice to set up the inner of our tent within the open shelters of the Bibbulmun back in Western Australia. 

With Steven, Bernadette, Kobie, Harriett and Charlotte arriving a few hours later, we spent most of the early afternoon playing cards in the hut. The night before, Alissa and I had learned to play Big Two from ST and Shirley, and we passed it on to the kids. Another hiker had kindly given the kids his copy of the card game Love Letter as a Christmas present. Alissa and I had played the game before, and it proved to be a perfect game to pass the time. 

Alissa and I wondered if Old German Man would be coming our way, however we were relieved to learn from the family that he had decided not to go to Pine Valley and had instead continued on to Narcissus. Although this wouldn't be the last we'd see of Old German Man - he was on the bus with us to Hobart - we at least didn't have to worry about him any further.

Steven had really wanted to do either the Acropolis or Labyrinth side trip, and we had talked about potentially doing it together as far back as New Pelion. Since we had been advised not to do either of them, I had given up on doing a side trip until Steven approached me about doing the Labyrinth. Having been chilling out for a while, I was feeling a bit lazy to tackle a challenging climb, however with the weather having improved and with the safety of having each other being a big plus I took Steven up on his offer, and we both got our boots back on and day packs ready. 

Before heading up to the Labyrinth, we stopped to check out Cephissus Falls with Alissa and Bernadette, as it was only a short walk from the hut near the start of the Acropolis track. Less impressive than the waterfalls along the Mersey Valley the day before, the area around the falls was nevertheless very pretty and we agreed it would make a lovely swimming spot - if not for the fact that there are 'No Swimming' signs located adjacent to the pool below the falls. 

After leaving Alissa and Bernadette behind at the track junction, Steven and I started the Labyrinth's ascent up to the east side of the mountain known as the Parthenon. The ascent was already pretty steep, however the moss covered boulders and rainforest trees created a beautiful scene. 

The track got even steeper as we continued on, reaching the stream we had been warned about. It was one of those incredulous 'the track goes where?!?!?' moments, as we had to keep going up the waterway and occasionally scramble up slippery boulders to reach the top. 

Beyond the rocky stream, the track continues relentlessly climbing to the left. To put it into perspective, we climbed 300 metres in 2 kilometres on the first day to reach Marion's Lookout while the ascent of the Labyrinth was almost 300 metres in 1.5 kilometres!

The steep climb was short but sharp however, and once the ascent is complete there is a section of fairly easy walking following cairns across a ridge to the viewpoint overlooking Cyane Lake. 

The ridge was truly magical, with pine trees and mallee-heath growing as a beautiful secret garden. Like the lower levels of Mt Ossa, its a scene that almost doesn't seem like Australia at all - it is as if the area exists in an alternate reality. 

As we reached the end of the ridge, Steven and I were absolutely taken aback by the beauty of the Labyrinth below and the surrounding mountains of the Du Cane Range. We agreed that the Cyane Lake viewpoint alone was worth the steep climb. It is said that upon climbing Cradle Mountain, Gustav Weindorfer - a John Muir-like character who fought to make the area a national park - stretched his arms out and declared 'this must be a national park for the people for all time. It is magnificent and people must know about it and enjoy it'. The same could easily have been said of the Labyrinth and the Du Cane Range surrounding it, and I thanked Steven for spurring me on to tackle it with him. 

To our right, we we could see Mt Geryon (left) and The Acropolis (right) - the same two mountains we could see from the other side at Bert Nichols. From here, the steep ascent to get to the top of the Acropolis looked absolutely crazy, and we both thought it was probably better that we had tackled the Labyrinth given some of the rocks would definitely have been wet from the rain. Mt Geryon is considered an even more difficult mountain to climb as it requires actual climbing best done with rope, and some rock climbers we met at Pine Valley even said that Mt Geryon is a bit too intense for them in places. 

Looking south, we could see the proud peak of Mt Gould, with the Minotaur just in front of it to the right. At this point, Steven and I mistakenly thought we had reached the end of the trail, however we could have continued on to actually enter the Labyrinth and even reach the shores of Lake Elysia. We wouldn't realise our mistake until we got back down to the hut, however the view from the ridge was so impressive that it remains one of my absolute favourite sights along the track. 

Back at Pine Valley hut, the area around the hut was now filled with tents. Being Boxing Day, a lot of the locals apparently come out for adventures in the Pine Valley area after Christmas, and we even saw people will full packs heading up to the Labyrinth to do some wild camping. In spite of how busy it was, the fact most people were in tents meant that there was still plenty of space to cook in the hut and continue playing card games until it got dark and we all went to sleep.

All in all, the side trip to Pine Valley was entirely worthwhile, and Alissa and I consider it to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. The pine-studded rainforest of Pine Valley was easily the most beautiful rainforest of our eight days of walking, and will be a treat for fans of forest walking. Taking the side trip to the Labyrinth however was even more magical, with the walk across the ridge and the view down to Cyane Lake right up there as one of the absolute best side trips on the Overland Track, and we would consider coming back here again to do more exploring of the Du Cane Range in the future. If you're tossing up whether or not to do an extra day on the Overland Track, seriously consider going to Pine Valley; it might well be one of your favourites too!


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