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The Many Faces of Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain is one of the most well-known mountains in all of Australia (which, granted, doesn’t exactly have its fair share of tall mountains). Its unique craggy shape, reflected in Dove Lake below, features on plenty of postcards and seeing/climbing it has been high on my to-do list from the minute I set foot in Australia.

Cradle Mountain at Dusk

Our first view of Cradle Mountain, just as dusk fell on our first night in the region.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that it was the first stop to be added to our Tasmanian itinerary. We knew that we were probably asking for it by visiting a spot renowned for its rainy weather in the middle of winter, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to go there — even if I wouldn’t be able to do the Overland Track like I’d always imagined.

Unfortunately, when we first arrived at Cradle (at a time that felt very late but was actually only just past 5pm) the weather was just as we’d feared it would be: cold and rainy. In the fading light, we stood in the Dove Lake carpark looking out at a blue-tinged landscape shrouded in low clouds. Combined with the low scrub and the whistling wind, it had the feel of true wilderness.

Cradle Mountain Wilderness

Scrub and forest dominate Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park.

Unperturbed by this, we planned to climb to Marion’s Lookout (marked as a 2.5-3hr return trip), the following morning. Our goal was to beat the crowds and give ourselves as much time as possible to do the walk in what would probably be adverse conditions.

Even though we were there in what is considered the low season (winter), we were right to try to beat the crowds. When we arrived at the entrance to Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park, the gate immediately rose to let us in. By the time we left less than two hours later, people were parked at that same gate, waiting for a car to come out so the gate would open and let in one car in return.

Cradle Mountain Nearly Peeking Out

This was the closest we got to seeing the snowy peak of Cradle Mountain.

I’m sure many others were avoiding this long wait and driving a kilometer back to the visitor’s centre, where they run free shuttles for those with National Parks Passes (something you should have if you’re trying to drive into the park anyway).

Why did we end up leaving less than two hours later? Well, as soon as we got out of the car, we knew that we’d probably been a bit too ambitious. The sun was peeking out of the clouds on occasion, but those clouds were full of freezing cold sleet, which was flying almost sideways and began pelting us in the face as soon as we got out of the car. Sounds fun, right?

A Rainbow at Cradle

Even if we had to walk down there in sleet, we couldn’t have had better timing if we tried.

We’d barely left the carpark before we abandoned the idea of climbing to Marion’s Lookout. Not only would we get a fantastic view of a wall of cloud from the top, but we’d be miserable getting there. Instead, we set our sights on something more achievable: the 15-minute walk to the famous Dove Lake boathouse.

It was a hands-in-pockets, head down sort of walk. Occasionally we looked up to see if Cradle had peeked through the clouds before we crouched over again, trying to shield our faces from the rain of ice. By the time we clambered down the side path from the Dove Lake Circuit (which we only did a tiny part of but is a 5.7km or 2hr total walk) to the lakeshore and the boathouse, James had had enough and turned back towards the car.

It was then that the weather suddenly decided to play nice. Almost as soon as James had turned his back on Dove Lake, a rainbow materialised over the centre of the lake, forming an almost perfect arc over the boathouse; at the same time, the sleet gradually gave way to muted sunshine.

Cradle Mountain Panorama

A panorama of Cradle Mountain from the Dove Lake Circuit.

Having previously been reluctant to get our cameras wet, we were now frantically digging through our packs to get setup before it disappeared. We were in luck, though, because the rainbow stuck around in varying degrees for the next 30 minutes. It made up for the fact that Cradle Mountain stubbornly refused to come out from behind the clouds!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the sleet drove us back to the car again. We wouldn’t see Cradle again until early the next morning, and what we saw then was so far removed from what we’d just experienced that it was hard to believe it was the same place.

The Beginning of the Overland Track

The start of the Overland Track at Waldheim Cabin, about 1km down the road from Dove Lake. It looked slightly different from the scene the day before (seen in the second photo in this post).

We’d planned on getting up as early as possible to head into the National Park for sunrise. It had been lightly snowing the night before, but when we woke up, we could hear the drizzle of rain on the rooftop. It was only when we walked outside into the subzero morning that we realised that drizzle was actually the sound of very wet snow — snow that had completely coated everything around us in a gorgeous sugar coating. Even in pre-dawn light, the lush green forest around us took on that magical feeling that only snow can add.

Empty Boardwalk

Fresh snow coats the wooden boardwalk of the Overland Track.

There was only one set of tyre tracks — from a park ranger’s ute — on the winding 6km road to Waldheim Chalet, where the Overland Track begins. Not a single person had walked on the wooden boardwalk leading south through the flats; only the distinctive claws of a wallaby had left any mark in the fresh snow.

As the snow fell thickly around us, there was not a sound, only the sheer silence of snow. It was a feeling I would never forget from my month in Lapland, and I couldn’t believe I was experiencing it in Australia as well.

Footprints in the Snow

Ok, we couldn’t help ourselves. We put the first footprints on the boardwalk.

The feeling was largely the same at Dove Lake as well. Footprints on the path down to the lakeshore told us that a few people had beaten us, but we could not see or hear them; all we could hear was the crunch of our boots in the snow (and there’s not many better sounds than that).

Footprints at Dove Lake

Footprints leading down to the shore of Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain is usually visible in the background.

As we turned off the main track, retracing our steps down to the boathouse, the overcast sky briefly lit up in a brilliant pink from the sunrise behind; less than a minute later, it was gone. Yet it was enough to show us yet another face of the Cradle Mountain region, a place that continued to amaze me with its sheer variability and outstanding beauty.

Pink Skies

Pink skies over Cradle Mountain. I captured this right as the colour was disappearing so it took some post-processing to pull out the colour we saw for such a brief time.

Even though I was never able to see it under clear blue skies and I never saw the entirety of the namesake mountain, I still left feeling enchanted by the place. I also knew that I could come back as many times as I wanted and experience something completely different every time. Hopefully I’ll get that chance.

Silent Sunrise in the Snow

Reflections seen in Dove Lake as everything around us stays completely still in the falling snow.

Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in northwest Tasmania. It is accessible from the north via Sheffield and from the south via Derwent River. The Overland Track, which takes roughly 6 days to walk, covers this entire distance. There are plenty of shorter walks in the area as well — and you might even get to see a wombat or platypus as you walk them!

National Park passes are required for all vehicles entering National Parks in Tasmania. These can be purchased for $24 per car per day (or $16.50 if you are just visiting Cradle Mountain). Holiday passes that last 8 weeks can be purchased for $60 per car.

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2 Responses to The Many Faces of Cradle Mountain

  1. Megan September 19, 2014 at 10:45 am Reply

    Despite growing up an hour or so away from here I’ve hardly spent much time at Cradle. Your photos are telling me it’s time to change that.

    • Kristin September 21, 2014 at 10:46 am Reply

      Yes, I think it is definitely time to change that Megan! I have to say, I’m just a bit jealous that you’re so closeby. Can’t wait to see your photos!

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