There are very few parts of Australia that get snowflakes, and if you're from one of those places that never sees the whites of their ice, arriving to a surprise fall can be quite a thrill.
Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge in the snow, seen from one of the Pencil Pine cabins
On our trips to the Cradle Mountain area we have seen a variety of weather conditions. This last one, in early September, had steady snow fall during the first night, then fine conditions as the ice and snow slowly melted over the following days.
Cradle Mountain itself is... well, it's a mountain, so it has all kinds of weather up there, especially towards the summit. Conditions can and do change very quickly. The rule is simple: prepare for cold and wear removable layers in case it's warm. Quick-dry clothing is a good idea too, in case it rains.
Now you see it...
...now you don't. Changing weather conditions on the mountain.
Don't be put off by the possibility of poor conditions. If you are prepared for it, there is no problem. This includes decent hiking boots, by the way. Often people drive through to Dove Lake and do some walking in fairly unsuitable shoes, although there are some short walks around there where you can get away with it. There can be some sludge on some parts of the natural trails if it's wet.
On this trip we decided to go upmarket and stayed at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge
at the edge of the Lake St. Clair National Park, a short walk to the Ranger Station and Interpretation Centre with its boom-gated park entrance for vehicles.
There is a boardwalk from the entrance which can be taken all the way to Dove Lake nestled below the famous peak. A shuttle bus service starts at the visitor centre and transit terminal situated about two kilometres back, with stops at the information centre, Snake Hill, Ronny Creek and Dove Lake.
The snowfall added a new dimension to the normally easy-going Boardwalk
The boardwalk is well worth it, although the thick layer of snow made it harder work than usual. It's about eight kilometres of gradual ascent to the lake, but you can do parts of it and grab a shuttle if you need to. They run about every fifteen to twenty minutes, but from May to September this moves out to half an hour as there are fewer visitors.
Once you have purchased a park entrance pass which includes the bus you can hop on / hop off the shuttle service as you please. You need a park pass even if you are walking in. There are a variety of passes available so it is best to check the website
. A common purchase is a holiday pass
which is valid for two months and allows you to take a car in or use the shuttle service.
The reflections in Crater Lake are amazing.
There are some things to note. Strangely, you can't buy a pass from the park entrance, that's only an information centre. They can't be purchased on board a bus either. You need to get one from the visitors centre, or you can get them from Cradle Mountain Lodge reception if you've already driven past that. Check what time the last shuttle leaves Dove Lake, unless you are planning to walk back. There is a limit of 15 cars allowed into the park at any one time, so the bus is a great option at busy times.
Some of the signs can be optimistic; allow more time especially in adverse conditions.
It is a requirement to register for all walks. This is a safety measure; if you don't turn up at your hotel they know where to start looking for you – this is a wilderness area after all.
Ronny Creek is a small registration point, from where you can start the Overland Track – this is hiking on a different scale that requires careful planning, 65 kms over six days, but there are a great many challenging and satisfying walks in the area, some of which encompass parts of this track. From here, the boardwalk continues and further on you will have a choice of directions to take.
At Dove Lake there is a circuit of the lake itself and tracks lead off this to other, more challenging walks. While the bigger the challenge, the better the views, there is plenty of magnificent scenery to be taken in from the circuit too. From here there are views of seemingly unassailable craggy heights, such as the summit, Marion's Lookout, and Hanson's Peak, but there are tracks which lead up to most of them.
How will we ever get up there? On the way to Marion's Lookout
Getting closer to the base of Marion's, looking back down to Wombat Pool
Sometimes, of course, the view from high up is marred by low cloud and sometimes where you want to get to is not worth the risk in bad conditions. I've never reached the summit, due to poor weather high up despite good conditions below, but people certainly get there. All you can do is pick a time of year that may produce the best conditions, but there are no guarantees on a mountain – that's part of the attraction.
Water crashes down past a track hidden in moss-covered trees
In the end it doesn't matter, as there is so much beauty to take in from very early into most of the tracks. As you climb higher, you can take in a different perspective of where you've just been, or where you may have walked the previous day, or the panorama of the surrounding area.
One of the fabulous things about this area is you can walk for a long time without seeing anyone else, even at busy times. Some people might not like that. If so, stick to places like Dove Lake Circuit which can get a lot of people on it – although there is still plenty of room; you might just occasionally need to squeeze past someone travelling in the opposite direction.
Information about Cradle Mountain can be found on the Tasmanian Government website
This will give you lots of information about the area, including costs of entry, weather conditions, and track closures. It's worth exploring this website a bit, as there are a number of other wilderness areas in Tassie covered there.
At Cradle Mountain Lodge, or at any of the accommodation in the area, you will be able to get maps and hiking information. The maps are good and you should always carry one when walking. The other items you will need to carry are food and water. Take plenty of water even if it is cold out.
If you like bushwalking and scenery, you will be astounded by the variety in this area, even if you stick to lower altitudes, you will experience everything from alpine conditions to rainforest.
Spend all day walking and, if you're staying at the Lodge, your nights will be comfortable, with plenty of good food, wine and cheese tasting, and the sensational Waldheim Alpine Spa – I heartily recommend spending some downtime in The Sanctuary, indulging in one of the packages with chocolates and champagne, in an area to yourselves, where you can sit in the spa or use the steam room or sauna, or just laze about on the chairs overlooking the river. Make sure you book a time before dark, or you'll miss the view.
One of the locals
Give yourself plenty of time to see the place. Even then, you'll probably want to go back again one day.