For my thirtieth birthday I wanted to visit somewhere in Australia I’d never been before. A destination not too far, not too close and with some serious mountains to conquer. From the title, I think you can guess where Moo and I ended up in February this year. Check out my tips for trekking the beautiful mountain range that is, Cradle Mountain.
There are many trail options for those wishing to trek or simply just visit Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. Not that we knew that before arriving, in fact if I had my time again, I would have researched a little better about Cradle and the surrounding area. Let this be my gift to you, all the things I guess I wished I’d known before arriving. Moo and I ended up doing a five-hour day walk along a few of the tracks in and around the National Park. Those wishing to trek the Overland Track might not find this useful, but hey! Read on and find out!
Firstly, let’s talk about accommodation! You have a few options (five) and it was my birthday so Moo decided to splurge and we stayed at the Wilderness Village in a premium cabin, complete with spa bath, kitchenette and brilliant central heating. Plus! It’s just a hop, skip and jump to the Visitor Centre. Being so close to Cradle Mountain is great for many reasons for starters, it’s close to the track and shuttle bus’ delivering walkers to various drop off points along the way and it’s in the heart of the wilderness which means a remote and peaceful stay. Something I wish I had known about Cradle Mountain Village before visiting is the obvious down side to being remote, that is, if you want to buy your own food for trekking snacks, breakfast or maybe even lunch you’re going to have to buy it from the local ‘shop’ which is somewhat limited for choice and obviously more expensive for the convenience. Finding out our hotel didn’t provided breakfast added an extra stress to go out and buy goods to ensure a quick start to the following trekking day. The closest supermarket is 45 minutes away.
I guess you could say this oversight was our first mistake, the second so eloquently was the weather (yep, even in February temperatures can get as low as freezing in a mere moment) coming from Sydney we really didn’t expect to find any temperatures cooler that 15 degrees this time of year. Annnnd, that would be very wrong to assume.
On arrival into Cradle Mountain you’ll need to drop into the Visitors Centre. I should hand it to the staff here, dealing with idiots like us all day who haven’t researched a thing and who haven’t brought nearly enough warm clothing or planned their trek in the slightest. We picked up a map and are told straight up, we won’t be able to summit Cradle Mountain. Our shoulders slump a little. In fact, we should be careful at any altitude over a thousand meters because it’s already snowing and it can make the trek slippery/hard to follow. Sorry? Snow? Huh? Urrmmm, there must be a mistake.
The morning of our trek we cook our own bacon and egg combo much to both our delight and get on the road. We stop into the Visitors Centre one more time to purchase our National Park Permits and a neck buff for me (saviour of the day) and a rain jacket for Moo (bigger saviour). Whilst I’m overall reasonably happy with what I’d brought to wear (Leggings, rain jacket, thermal t-shirt and Merino socks) I’m kicking myself I brought Nike trainers instead of my sturdy Merrell trail walkers, the grip alone would have been helpful, let alone the waterproof technology. Lesson learnt.
We park the car at Ronny Creek car park, sign into the walkers’ logbook and get started along the Waldheim Track for about 10 minutes before the path forks and we veered left onto the Overland Track. I really liked the purpose of the logbook, the idea is that you detail your intentions for the day by signing in and then detail on signing out whether you achieved your goals or not. Overall this section is a beautifully modern boardwalk along low shrubbery and babbling brooks. To be honest, we were surprised how well kept the track was and expected more of a challenge straight off the cusp. It’s a flat and smooth walk until you reach Crater Falls as you experience a more gradual incline all the way around Wombat Peak (1,105m).
I couldn’t say whether it was divine ‘cloud’ timing or simply because Crater Lake is in fact more breathtaking than Dove Lake but both Moo and I were much more impressed by the exposed view of the former lake. The depth of the lake in contrast to the sky-high mountains, the dark navy syrupy water was mysterious and the track looped around to reveal limited glimpses. It’s no surprise that Crater Lake is of course the feature image to this blog.
Upon reaching Marions Lookout we could finally take in the scale of these mountain ranges and while the clouds and rain were threatening to take the view from right under our noses, we did get a hide and seek snap shot of Dove Lake & Lake Lilla. Mind you, to get here involved some pretty serious boulder scrambling, not for the inexperienced hiker. From here we continued onto the Overland Track over the hill, along boardwalks to Kitchens Hut (1,256m). Between these two sections felt very doable, almost surprisingly easy.
At this point, the fork in the road separates the day walkers from the six-day Overland Track hikers. As the Overlanders’ veer right, we turn left. Our inner mountaineer selves are keen to ‘attempt’ the summit (1,545m). We take the right hand turn up the mountain for a steep and stern mouthful of rock scrambling. Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t favourable to us in the slightest, and the snow-covered rocks were slippery beyond belief. At one point, I thought about those news stories you hear about hikers who have gone out against the advice of others and imagined my own picture on the news feed. I quickly shook that image out of my head and focused on each rock; it’s shape, texture, snow quantity and angle. We wrap around the face of the beast and as I look up, the mountains look back at us as if to say ‘boulderer beware’. The daunting fog lifts of the mountain at any given time without notice and we notice we’re among the clouds within moments. There are plentiful snow poles to lead you in the right direction and we’d use them as ‘reassessment moments’ knowing we would have to turn back soon, but our egos were delaying that moment for as long as possible. I predict we made it half way up (well up and over the gigantic dolerite boulders) before the snow started to fall more and more gradually. It’s not like me to turn my back on a challenge, but my inner conscious was nagging me to turn back. Once we finally made it back to Kitchen’s Hut, it started to snow and then rain. We looked back up the mountain and were glad to be back down again. All I know is that I felt defeated by the weather and I will be back to conquer you mountain!!
Knowing we didn’t want to go back the same way we came up (I have a real life-long problem with going backwards) we opted to take the Face Track past Weindorfers Tower and Little Horn. We got about 30minutes into the trail before it started to snow, hard! We couldn’t see any further than five meters in front, behind, up and down. I kept thinking to myself. It’s Summer, in Australia, how is it snowing!!?? We continue and my Nike shoes are completely soaked, consequently, so are my toes, arches and heels. I use my rain jacket to hold onto anything I can to avoid stepping in puddles but eventually I do by accident anyway and so it feels rather pointless even trying to stay dry. By the time the left-hand turn for Lake Wilks Track arrives we are completely disoriented. We slowly start to descend and as we do, the snow eases, the clouds lift and the fog drifts into oblivion. We finally see the view and it is spectacular! Lake Willis is absolutely beautiful and I almost feel sorry for the people doing the Dove Lake Circuit as they scurry beneath us, completely unaware this lake is here. The earthy red tannin on the edge of the lake give a natural discolouration to the stream as it rushes to the next set of waterfalls. Blue sky emerges as we slowly make our way along and my first thought is “Should we go back and try to summit again?” but we opt for a photo instead and keep on going on. Before too long, after we’ve used chains to scurry down rock faces we’re immersed in rainforest. My next thought “Please no leeches!” The moss lays a dreamy carpet along the way and we’re conscious not to hit our head over the low hanging branches that take over the track.
We hear other voices before we see the Dove Lake Circuit and we’re immediately reminded of how quiet it was before reaching lake level (934m). In fact, we really only passed a handful of people before reaching Dove Lake, so if you’re like us and enjoy minimal crowds, follow our route! The view from Dove Lake Circuit is pretty darn great too though, as you can see.
We crawled along the circuit piece by piece until finally reaching the car park. Much of the terrain was man made steps, board walks or smooth surfaces for the nature-newbies. Just as we arrived, the rain cam pelting down, but this time, we got hail! Oh Joy! We hurry into the walker logbook hut and await the next shuttle to take us back to Ronny Creek, just eight minutes or so. I’d like to think I would have walked it if the weather were better – but to be honest, I really don’t know if that is true. It took us 5 hours in total to get back to Ronny Creek with very minimal rest breaks. Overall the track was a beautiful change of pace, four seasons in one day experience and a tempting adrenaline rush along the way. Certainly a trek to experience firsthand… but check the weather first!
- BYO food, don’t rely on the restaurants for all your meals during your stay.
- If you are keen to eat out for each meal, there are three restaurants. The top tip is: Make a reservation. Trust me.
- Pack right! Waterproof clothing, gloves and a beanie all would have made our trek that much more enjoyable.
- Know your capabilities (we knew when to turn back, but I’m sure others don’t)
- Mix it up! There are so many more tracks to experience (I think there are 20 in total! All with varying degrees of difficulty)
- Walk around the national park at dawn/dusk to sight some very happy wombats.
- Leave no trace! As always, take your rubbish with you, it’s honestly not that hard!
Want to do the walk some justice? When you get back to your hotel: thinly slice up some cheese, lay out some crackers accompanied by local Tasmanian tomato chutney and sip on a lightly chilled glass of Devils Corner Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Superb. That’s something we did do right.