10 Winter Walks on the Cradle Coast
The weather may have cooled off now it’s officially winter but that doesn’t mean you have to spend the whole season rugged up indoors – there are plenty of options for hitting the walking tracks in the Cradle Coast region during the coming months.
On your way to the prime winter walking destination of Cradle Mountain be sure to make a stop at Lemonthyme Lodge, only 35 minutes from the national park at Moina.
One of Tasmania’s hidden treasures, Lemonthyme Lodge is nestled amongst the native wilderness of the Cradle Valley, the perfect place for those seeking peace and quiet, bushwalking, and family time. It also boasts a romantic, peaceful and serene atmosphere for a honeymoon escape.
The lodge’s bush trails allow you to explore a marvellous example of Tasmania’s tranquil temperate rain forest. From 30 minutes to two hours duration the highlights include Champagne Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, the Big Tree and Lake Cethana. You’ll be truly enchanted by the inspiring variety of flora and, if you are alert, the native wildlife and birdlife.
Then after stretching your legs you can head to the Whispering Woods a-la-carte restaurant, where fresh, local Tasmanian produce is the key ingredients to their meals. Choose from a range of accommodation options including luxury spa suites, two-bedroom self-contained family cabins, or romantic tree-top hideaways for couples. All featuring views of the surrounding Tasmanian wilderness.
There’s no disputing the fact that Cradle Mountain is the jewel in Tasmania’s crown and what better time to visit than when it is covered in a coating of sparkling white snow. There are plenty of options to explore the beautiful wilderness of the national park, from short walks to internationally-renowned multi-day hikes. Be sure to treat yourself with a stay at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, the Cradle Mountain Hotel or Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village.
For an easy introduction start with the Enchanted Walk, a 20-minute 1.1km circuit. A walk to suit all age groups, it will take you through buttongrass moorland before entering cool temperate rainforest along the edges of Pencil Pine Creek. Along the track are three interpretive tunnels that kids and kids at heart will find fun to crawl through. Along the western bank of the Pencil Pine Creek you will come across several wombat burrows just on the edge of the track. You are most likely to spot wombats around dusk and dawn.
One of the state’s premier walks is the two-hour Dove Lake Circuit. This 6km track will take you right around Dove Lake and beneath the towering spires of Cradle Mountain. The track is boardwalked for much of the way. One of the highlights of the walk is the aptly named Glacier Rock, which bears testimony to the action of glaciers in this region during the past Ice Age. Towards the southern end of Dove Lake you will enter a magnificent cool temperate rainforest known as the Ballroom Forest. Ancient myrtle-beech trees festooned in moss tower majestically from a moss strewn forest floor. You will pass the often-photographed boatshed on the northwestern shores of Dove Lake, which was built in 1940 by the first ranger at Cradle Mountain, Lionell Connell. Although the boatshed is now vacant, boating was popular on the lake up until the 1960s.
Another fantastic short-walk option is the Crater Lake Circuit. This two-hour circuit track is at a lower altitude than many others in the Cradle Mountain area so it’s a better option for days when the higher altitude tracks are being lashed by cold winds and heavy rain. Crater Lake itself, despite its name, is not a crater. It was formed by the action of ice during previous ice ages. In autumn, the steep slopes that surround this beautiful lake are ablaze with the glorious colours of fagus. Crater Falls is in a gully filled with species typical of Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforests, such as sasafrass and myrtle-beech.
Australia’s premier alpine walk is the Overland Track, with about 8000 people from all over the world taking on the challenge each year. A 65km, six-day trek through the heart of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, part of the magnificent Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, it’s not one for the inexperienced. The stunning scenery and the physical challenge of the Overland Track have assured it a national and international reputation as one of the great wilderness bushwalks. The walk starts at Ronny Creek, beside Cradle Mountain. Over the next six days, walkers journey through a landscape of spectacular glacially-carved valleys, ancient rainforests, fragrant eucalypt forest, golden buttongrass moorlands and beautiful alpine meadows. Extra bonuses include a variety of side-trips to breathtaking waterfalls and mountain summits, including Mt Ossa (1617m) – Tasmania’s highest peak. To top it off, the walk concludes at Australia’s deepest lake – Lake St Clair. Most walkers finish their walk at Narcissus Hut at the head of Lake St Clair. Here you can board a small privately run ferry which takes you to the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre at Cynthia Bay. Some walkers, however, choose to walk the length of the lake through the rainforest, which extends the walk a further 17.5 km and requires another day. Tassielink buses service both ends of the track; see tassielink.com.au.
Unlike the summer season, which runs from October to May, winter walks require no bookings and incur no fees, but there are more compelling reasons to come in the colder months. In summer, up to 60 walkers begin the Overland Track every day, but in winter it can feel as though you have it to yourself. You only need to pay the park entry fee and you can walk the track in either direction.
There are two ways of hiking the Overland Track. One is independently, where you organise your own permits and national parks fees, carry everything you need on your back and sleep in national parks huts each night. The other is to join a guided walk with an experienced company that eliminates the need to cart a week’s worth of dehydrated food packs in your backpack. Even better is that some packages include gourmet meals washed down by Tassie wines each night. You also bunk down in their exclusive gas-heated huts and there are hot showers to soak in at the end of each day.
Check out taswalkingco.com.au, tasmanianexpeditions.com.au, wildernessexpeditions.net.au, tasmanianhikes.com.au
The Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service has more details on the Overland Track.
Lake St Clair
If you’ve completed your Overland Track walk at Lake St Clair and feel up to exploring the area further, or you are just visiting independently, there are plenty of walking options.
There are three short walks at Lake St Clair. The shortest is 2.4 km return and this can be extended by combining it with either one or two additional walks. At their longest, these walks combine to form a 4.7km figure-of-eight loop. Watersmeet is a short, easy walk, which will take you about 45 minutes return. The track follows an old road that was constructed to allow for limited logging after bushfires in the area in the 1960s. It is 1.7 km each way, and culminates at Watersmeet, where the Hugel and Cuvier Rivers meet. Larmairremener tabelti is an Aboriginal cultural heritage walk using creative interpretation panels to introduce the Larmairremener, the indigenous people of this region. After reaching a viewpoint above the Hugel River, the track descends gently to the rainforest area and rejoins the Watersmeet Track. The track to Platypus Bay is a 30-minute return walk from Watersmeet Bridge. This track follows the Cuvier River to its mouth at the lake. The track then curves around the edge of the lake.
For something a little harder there is the four to five-hour, 11.5km Shadow Lake Circuit. From Lake St Clair, this walk will take you through rainforest, sub-alpine moorland and highland eucalypt forest on this circuit walk via Shadow Lake. Clear weather allows splendid views of Mt Hugel. Near Shadow Lake the vegetation changes to sub-alpine forest. Here snow gums, buttongrass and sedges flourish. Pencil pines fringe the lake edge. The lake contains the introduced brown and rainbow trout. These can be fished if you have a licence. Picnic spots can be found around the lake edge but please remember that campfires are not permitted.
For a more challenging option, try the seven-hour 18km Mt Rufus circuit. This easily accessible mountain walk gives outstanding views of Lake St Clair, Mt Olympus, Frenchmans Cap and the headwaters of the Franklin River. As the altitude increases, vegetation changes from eucalypt forest to patches of cool temperate rainforest to sub-alpine forest. Below the summit is an area of wind and rain sculptured 300 million-year-old sandstone blocks that forms many weird and fascinating shapes. Below the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel the track winds through Richea Valley, named for the pandani and scoparia plants that grow here.
After your exertions reward yourself with a relaxing stay at the Lake St Clair Lodge or the luxurious five-star Pumphouse Point.
Words of warning
Tasmania’s weather can be unpredictable and in alpine environments it can change rapidly. Winter days are short and heavy snow should be expected in some places, which can linger through to mid-spring. Check the forecast and if the weather deteriorates or the walk is more difficult than expected, be prepared to turn back or change your plans. Multi-day winter walking should only be attempted by experienced bushwalkers and snow shoes are recommended. Carry a tent or emergency shelter in case huts are full or injury or weather prevents you from reaching a hut before nightfall. Ensure you have all of the correct gear – warm, wet-weather clothing, good hiking boots, water, food and a first aid kit. Make sure you notify someone of where you are going and record your trip intentions in the log books. For longer treks consider taking a personal locator beacon for extra security. They can be hired (subject to availability) from Parks and Wildlife Service at Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair.