Tasmania Day 15: Cradle Mountain

Today David was going to start his 5-day hike along the Overland Track, and we were were going to follow him as far as Cradle Mountain, although a ‘probably’ was quickly added to that plan as soon as opened the tent to find everything dripping in the pea-soup that had engulfed us through the night. As usual our plans to start early fell foul of me being the only one who was capable of getting up before 8, but in the dreich weather even I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get going, and neither was the car. It wasn’t as bad as our Lake Burbury experience though and we were eventually heading back into the national park after our night of exile.

We decided on a circuit starting from Ronny Creek, past Crater Lake, Marions lookout, and kitchen hut, where we’d branch off up the Mountain, returning via Lake Wilks and the west shore of Dove Lake. By the time we’d cooked a load of 2-minute noodles in the hut-with-a-view at Waldheim, it was pretty much midday, but at least we could see some blue sky. The board-walk over the relatively flat moor away from Ronny Creek felt almost too easy but we slowed down soon enough when we left the comfort of that. The day stayed a bit dull as we passed some falls and hiked up around Crater Lake but by the time reached Marion’s Lookout patches of sunlight were tracking across Dove Lake and illuminating the ever-looming Cradle Mountain. From there on till Kitchen Hut it was pretty easy going with bits of board-walk over the relatively flat Cradle Plateau.

I obliterated my noodles at Kitchen Hut, leaving only a tin of spaghetti to sustain me for the other ¾ of the hike, and thought it would be a pretty cool place to be stuck at if we’d been here in winter. The ascent up Cradle Mountain was pretty well straight to the point, aiming dead middle and heading straight up the slightly shallower lower slope before giving in to a gentler climb along the side of the steep boulder field of the higher slope. Hopping up and scrambling over each boulder was pretty fun we could see the view of the valley opening up with every step, justifying photo-stops every couple of minutes. As the track neared the peak we crested a sort of saddle, dropping down the back of the hill before tackling an even steeper climb, steep enough that having the weight of my camera bag on my back worried me a bit, especially when I thought about how I’d manage to climb back down some of rocks.

At the summit the day was perfect. Calm, sunny, fluffy clouds and a view that just went on forever in all directions, and a drop off the edge of the epic rock formations that seemed almost as immeasurable. I got my usual jumping shots out of the way while Kevin and David had a few celebratory games of shit-head. I can’t remember how hard going the walk down was, apart from finding the bit I almost couldn’t climb up as difficult to climb down with my camera bag as I expected, but I’m pretty sure our knees were shot by the time we got back to Kitchen Hut.

And then it was time to leave David to continue his first day on the Overland Track. At this point I didn’t think I’d see him again so it was sad to see him go, while we started to race against the sun, our hunger, tiredness to get back to the car. Through breaks in the cloud the mountain was glowing brilliantly in the later afternoon sun so my incessant snapping slowed us down a bit, and once we reached the fork in the track, overlooking Dove Lake, we both had a stop for a few minutes to soak up the view. Down at the lake side, we ended up running on the board-walk to shave a few minutes off our return, stopping at a little beach in the now fading light to dip our roasting feet in ice cold waters. The reason for our urgency was now more apparent, we were at the Dove Lake carpark, but still possibly had to walk along the road to the car at Ronny Creek, but our luck was in, and 5 minutes after we got to the carpark the last bus came.

Back at Waldheim we found the showers, and then found they were hot – if I could only have one hot shower in Tassie, this would have been it. After all that I was pretty well knackered, but not too tired to drive so decided I’d try to find one of the rest areas on the way to the north coast instead of trying to camp at the side of the road again. Going by the map we just had to stick to the road we were on and there would be two rest areas, but, in another example of Australian road-moronity, without ever turning off the road we were on, I found myself driving through a village on a different road, with no rest areas. So, a great day was finished with yet another night sleeping with the road-trains howling past..

Tasmania Day 14: Zeehan & First Impressions of Cradle Mountain

Yesterday was Australia day. Obviously we did our bit as temporary residents of the red island continent and had a few drinks in one of Strahan’s pubs and so next morning I woke up crumpled up under a duvet in the driver’s seat of the car with David beside me. We weren’t feeling too bad, Strahan wasn’t exactly an exciting night out and the burgers we’d cooked at the beach before the pub had been a master-stroke of planning and damage-avoidance. Still, I was a bit confused, seeing as it had been Kevin who’d been in the front of the car with me when I’d fallen into a slightly drunken sleep. Wiping the dripping wet windows cleared that one up though: he’d had the raw deal last night with David sleeping in the back seat behind him and had bailed out half-way through the night to sleep on a bench overlooking the beach. Even with the view of the calm waters of Macquarie Harbour to wake up to, I still can’t say I was envious of that move.. To the humble, grubby backpacker, Strahan is a jewel though, as it’s the only place we found on the island that had free, hot showers so we basked in the glorious steamy goodness one more time before heading north towards Zeehan.

On the road up the coast we hit a viewpoint overlooking the expanse of Henty Dunes, but they were quite far away so it wasn’t all that interesting, letting us crack on to the free bbqs in Zeehan and where we tried to boil pasta for lunch. Overall it was a bit of a failure with at least one of the pans looking more like a pot of starch than spaghetti, oh well. Zeehan felt, like most of the towns in the west, very sleepy with nothing catching our attention and in little time we’d got through it, Rosebery and Tulla, leaving not much between us and Cradle Mountain.

This was more like it, heading back into the highlands of the island, with the promise of seeing some of the most stunning scenery it had to offer. Tomorrow David planned to do the Overland Track – a 6-day, 80km walking trail from Cradle Valley to Lake St Clair – and that was why we were giving him and his bike a lift to the starting point. The information centre was still open when we got to Cradle Valley so David got his bike locked up (he’d have to find a way back up here by road after doing the track). While we had some light I really wanted to get a first glimpse of Dove Lake and The Mountain and, as far as first glimpses go, rolling up to the lake side, catching the last of the low sun breaking through the dramatic and now colourful clouds was just what I needed to get me raring to climb the ominous collection of rocks that loomed in the distance.

Scoping out the place for possible camping spots for the night we realised the place was far too popular and completely devoid of secluded spots suitable for a bit of rock-bottom-budget sleeping, forcing us to drive back out of the park boundary, heading north along the main road in search of side tracks and the likes. Seemingly land-owners were on to our kind long before we arrived, as every possible track off the road had a little ‘private – no entry’ sign nailed to a tree, so we ended up finding a patch of relatively soft ground at the side of the road and made it our home for the night.