Cradle Mountain

November 26, 2013

The tent was nice and cosy last night and we slept quite well. After packing up and having breakfast, we were on the road by 9 am. Our destination today was Cradle Mountain National Park, where we would be staying for two nights in one of the Waldheim cabins. But our first stop was at Rocky Cape National Park, which was not far down the A2 from Stanley. The unsealed park road ended at the lighthouse at Rocky Cape, which had been built in 1968 so it wasn’t very historic. There wasn’t much else to the park either, no visitor centre, so we headed back to the main road.

At Wynyard we turned south, eventually following the A10 which took us towards Cradle Mountain. We stopped briefly at Hellyer Gorge, which was a pretty spot with lots of birds singing in the trees, and then carried on. On the side road which led to Cradle Mountain we made a good sighting, an echidna crossing the road. Luckily there was a partial shoulder so we stopped to get some photos. And shortly after that sighting we saw another echidna by the road, and then another.

At the visitor centre we stopped in to get the key to our cabin. The car park was surprisingly full and there was a lineup for service at the visitor centre. But after a few minutes we had the key, which was attached to a keycard which would let us through the “authorized visitors” boom gate. Once past that gate we drove up the narrow park road and then turned on to the even narrower road to the cabins. Soon we found our little cabin, whose name was Amarina, and parked beside it. It was a cute cabin with two sets of bunk beds, a stove, fridge, eating table, and benches. All you needed for a stay. We brought everything in from the car and made ourselves at home.

After lunch we headed out for a walk. It was already 2:30 pm but we had time for a half-day walk. The trail system had a spur leading to our cabins, so we didn’t have to drive anywhere. We started out along the boardwalk to the Cradle Valley trail. Not far along we saw our first wombat in the buttongrass field, but that was the only one we saw on our walk. Our route continued onto the Lake Lilla track and then onto the Dove Lake circuit. Dove Lake is the centrepiece of the Cradle Mountain area and the trail around it is a well-known attraction. So the trail was easy to walk on, with a lot of it being boardwalk covered with chicken wire.

The first part of the trail went up and down through forest, including some thick rainforest with King Billy pines growing. With their stringy bark they looked a bit like our western red cedar, but apparently they are good building material. Then the trail went around the end of the lake on a cantilevered boardwalk before returning on a more conventional path. We had had clouds all day, but now the sky was getting bluer and the sun was getting lower in the sky, a good combination for photographs. There had been a lot of people on the Dove Lake loop, but now as we retraced our steps to Waldheim there were few and then none, except for wombats roaming in the buttongrass.

We finally got back to the cabin at about 6:15 pm, so we had a late dinner. After cleaning up, we decided to go out for an evening walk along the boardwalk by Ronny Creek. The lady at the visitor centre had said that Ronny Creek was a good place to see platypus, so we hoped to finally find one. It was hard to see into the creek from the boardwalk, but we followed it down to the car park. Along the way we saw several wombats, pademelons, and Bennett’s wallabies, but no platypus. We walked back along the road to the cabin, using our headlamps to scan the darkening forest, but didn’t see much until we were nearly back, when a mother bushy-tailed possum with a baby on her back ran across the parking lot. After having hot chocolate and writing our journals we finally got to bed at 11 pm.

November 27, 2013

Our little cabin was warm and cosy last night, thanks to the electric heater. We didn’t need to get up early, so it was after 8 am when we got up and had a leisurely breakfast. By 10 am we had decided where we wanted to walk to, and by 10:20 am we had packed up our lunch and were heading out on the trail. The weather was slightly grey, but there was no rain and we hoped it would stay like that.

Again we followed the boardwalk from our trailhead, across the buttongrass meadow. Today there was no wombat to greet us, though. Our plan today was to walk to Crater Lake and Marion’s Lookout, and then return by some route to be decided later. Our path followed the creek at first, through a beech forest which we recognized from our trips to the Patagonian Andes. Unlike yesterday’s trail, today’s was less boardwalk and more rocks and dirt. It didn’t take very long to reach the end of Crater Lake, where there was an old wooden boathouse.

Crater Lake isn’t really a crater; it is an amphitheatre with high walls around most of the lake. Nearing the end of the lake we started climbing quite steeply up one of these walls to a small plateau. It levelled off somewhat until we climbed very steeply up to Marion’s Lookout. Part of the trail was so steep that the parks people had installed chains to help. This route is part of the Overland Track, so people carrying large backpacks would have to climb this section as well. The lookout had a view over Dove Lake, where we had hiked yesterday, and there was a large group of Germans who were having their lunch there. Rather than finding somewhere to sit, we consulted our map and decided to continue to the Kitchen Hut for lunch. It didn’t take long to get there, so we were having our lunch by 12:30 pm. There were a lot of flies outside the hut, but they weren’t the normal Aussie flies which want to crawl on your face. These flies just buzzed around your head at a respectful distance.

Now we had some choices to make about routes. We had passed a Japanese couple while walking, and the woman said she had been told it was only half an hour to the summit using the easy route. Our map made no mention of any “easy route” and said it would take two hours round trip to the summit. They carried on up the trail so we decided if they thought they could do it, then we could do it too. We could see the route up the face, with a lot of people on it, and it looked steep but doable. So off we went. Initially the going was quite good, steep but with good footing, and then we came to an even steeper section incorporating steps. Looking around we noticed that the Japanese couple had already given up, but we carried on.

It was after that section that the going got tough. Following metal poles at route markers we had to cross a field of large dolerite boulders. They were mostly sharp and pointed rather than round, so they were a bit difficult to negotiate. It wasn’t too bad at the beginning but as we got higher the route became more difficult. Everybody who we met coming down had some advice for us about what we were in for, so we had a general idea of what lay ahead. Eventually about 10 meters below the col, which we had been told wasn’t the end of the hard part, the steps started to require hand-holds to climb up. At this point we decided to call it a day, and we descended with care back down the large boulders.

Finally back at the Kitchen Hut we stopped and ate our apples. We decided that our route back to the cabin would be via the Horse Track. The sign told us it should take two and a half hours, so off we went. This trail was not as widely used as the others, so the boardwalk was old and in a state of disrepair. It was a nice walk which took us across the Cradle Plateau to Crater Peak and then down a very long ridge to the valley below. As we passed Cradle Peak three Black Currawongs suddenly started shrieking. It turned out that there was a Wedge-tailed Eagle passing by! Even after the eagle had departed they carried on chattering for quite a while.

There was a lot of downhill on the Horse Track, but after all we had done a lot of uphill this morning, so that was to be expected. We were quite weary when we got back to the Ronny Creek junction, but it had only taken us an hour and a half instead of two and half hours. It was great to take off the boots—this was the first real hike we had done in Australia after five weeks of not much exercise—and felt even better to have a hot shower. We finally ate our dinner at 6:30 pm and then had a relaxing evening.

Next: Strahan

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