Preparing for the Great Tasmanian Traverse

Sue Farley, Great Tasmanian Traverse participant
Sue Farley, Great Tasmanian Traverse participant

The Great Tasmanian Traverse is Tasmania's most challenging multi-day adventure.

This epic 39-day odyssey will see those tough enough to sign up for it traverse the length of the Island State from the quiet, rural communities of the North to the wild and isolated South. 

So, how does one prepare for such an experience? We spoke to two people about to embark on this Tasmanian adventure of a lifetime, Sue Farley from Australia and Canadian Don Schell.

What inspired you to want to be part of the Great Tasmanian Traverse?

Sue: I remember watching a CD about the Tasmanian wilderness that came with Australian Geographic magazine, and I was mesmerised by the landscape. It whet my appetite to walk in Tasmania, and I signed up to do my first multi-day walk there with Tasmanian Expeditions in 2009. It was the South Coast Track and I absolutely loved everything about it—the landscape, the history and just being immersed in wild nature.

Don: Long distance travel can be onerous and expensive, so I often link together a couple of expedition-style treks. Tasmania had risen to the top of my bucket list, and it offered so many trekking options, but the logistics such as transportation and accommodations would have been a handful. The Great Tasmanian Traverse was an elegant solution that maximised the adventure and transferred the logistical arrangements to local specialists.

How will you be training for the 39-day trip?

Sue: I'm an active person and a regular gym goer, so I have good baseline fitness. My main preparation for the trip will be just getting used to carrying the extra weight of a backpack over different terrain. I want to get used to the routine of putting my backpack on first thing in the morning and doing a couple of kilometres walking. Gradually, I’ll introduce longer walks of 6 or 7 kms on the weekends and will then start including some hills and go from there.

Don: During the Covid-19 lockdown, my local fitness centre closed and I expanded my home gym to include a treadmill, stationary cycle, rower and free weights. Having fitness equipment close at hand allows me to spend a couple of hours a day on cardio, strength, and stretching. Two or three times a week, I hike on the treadmill at high incline with a 15kg weight vest.   

With mountains at my doorstep, I hike at least once a week with a 15kg pack in a variety of terrain to give the ankles and balance a good workout by walking off camber, which a treadmill can’t do. As a Search and Rescue volunteer, I occasionally get a second daily workout in, carrying 25kg of medical and rope rescue gear up a mountain side to aid an injured or lost hiker.

Don Schell

What is it about the Great Tasmania Traverse that most appeals to you?

Sue: Hmmm – lots! I’m really looking forward to being in Tasmania for an extended stretch of time. I love the idea of getting into a rhythm of being active in nature and taking a complete break from my normal routine. I’m really looking forward to walking the South Coast and the Overland Tracks again. I’m probably most excited to raft the Franklin River.

Don: Tasmania is known for some of the best scenery, unique wildlife, and friendly people, so this makes Tasmania a must-visit. Solo hiking was an option, but hiking with like-minded people always make the experience much richer. The Great Tasmanian Traverse Tasmania neatly combines some of Tasmania’s best hikes, and when rafting is thrown in it makes for an awesome adventure.             

What do you think will be the biggest challenge?

Sue: I’m not looking forward to walking in driving rain, but I know it will happen. I know there’ll be times I’ll be cold, uncomfortable, footsore and tired, but it's like anything: you just start and keep going. It’s about breaking it down—about taking one step at a time. I know we’ll have everything we need in our packs. One of the guides will be cooking dinner and I’ll have a lovely sleeping bag to crawl into at night.

Don: Dealing with jet lag will be the initial challenge, but I know from experience that it will quickly pass.

I have spent several years preparing for physical challenges such as this, but one never knows when the body can’t adjust to the rigors of the adventure, or a poorly placed footstep. In that case, I trust my mental fortitude, analgesics, and the support of the group members and leaders will surmount any of those challenges.

Have you always been an active adventurer?

Sue: I’ve always been an active person and have enjoyed being outdoors and bushwalking, but I’ve never done anything as long as the Great Tasmanian Traverse before. 

Don: I grew up playing in the woods, and during 33 years in the Canadian military, I continued to “play” in the woods, although it wasn’t as enjoyable when you do it for work. The military experience instilled a curiosity of the world’s places and people, and a desire for adventure and a wanderlust which has carried over into my later years and retirement. 

I have had the benefit of doing some fairly extreme treks with inspirational people who remain active and adventurous into their late 70s. I hope to follow their lead and to spend many more years chiseling away at my travel bucket list, which seems to grow longer after every trip.

Sue on the South Coast Track

What other multi-day walks have you done?

Sue: I got the chance to do the South Coast Track with Tasmanian Expeditions a second time a couple of years after the first time and I jumped at it. In the following years, I also walked the Overland Track with TasEx. I love having all the logistical planning taken care of and I really love going with professional guides because the experience is so much richer because you learn so much from them.

Don: Expedition-style treks have comprised the majority of my travels over the past dozen years. Often, the best scenery is well off the beaten path and the effort getting there makes the experience sweeter.

Over the past 12 years, I have completed 17 expedition-style treks over five continents, ranging from 8 to 27 days in length. Some examples are: Kilimanjaro, Patagonia, Huayhuash Circuit, Annapurna Circuit, K2 Base Camp, Everest Basecamp, Tour de Mont Blanc/Haute Route/Alta Via 1 in the Alps and the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. I liked the Snowman so much I am going back to do it again in a couple of weeks.

Many treks have been long distance, high altitude; some with a full pack, some with a day pack. The pandemic slowed my adventures a little, but Vancouver Island has some awesome coastal treks such as the West Coast Trail, so I wasn’t just sitting around.

What's the reaction of your friends and family to you taking on this adventure?

Sue: They know how much I love this kind of thing, so they’ve all been very supportive. In fact, my husband and daughter thought it sounded like so much fun that they’ll be joining me to raft the Franklin midway through the journey. I’m absolutely thrilled because 39 days is a long time away from family and I know we’ll get to reconnect and share an amazing adventure.

Don: Some are envious, some think I should be committed. Some just don’t understand why I would fly halfway around the world to hike all day and sleep in a tent when I could take a cruise in comfort.

Regardless of their reactions, my travels enrich my life and hopefully they serve as an example of how an active retirement can be lived. Adventures such as the Great Tasmanian Traverse will yield photos and stories I can relate to my friends, but my memories will be much more vibrant. To get the full picture, they will have to experience it for themselves!

Think you have what it takes to traverse Tasmania? Check out the full Great Tasmanian Traverse trip details.

Great Tasmanian Traverse, Franklin Rafting, Cradle Mountain, South Coast Track

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