Classic Trek: Cradle Mountain circuit

25km, 3 days

Cradle Mountain is one of Australia’s best loved natural areas, and the view of the mountain from the northern end of Dove Lake is one of the nation’s iconic vistas. But as magnificent as it is, it sells the mountain short. The cliffs on the mountain’s southern face are just one perspective of a peak that extends for more than a kilometre from north to south – and many of the others are just as spectacular, if not more, than the version seen on so many postcards and motivational posters.

Fortunately, there is a fantastic network of walking tracks that allow exploration of the full glory of Cradle Mountain. These tracks can be combined in any number of ways, the version described here caters for two nights in the wilderness, camping at Scott Kilvert Hut next to Lake Rodway in the shadows of the mountain. It includes a complete circuit of Cradle Mountain allowing a full appreciation from every angle, plus a visit to nearby Barn Bluff and numerous delightful tarns. This is also one of the best places in the state to see deciduous beech in full colour for a few weeks every autumn.

DAY 1: DOVE LAKE TO SCOTT KILVERT HUT

Fill out the walker intention book in the shelter at Dove Lake and head left. The path crosses Dove River then starts a steady climb along the eastern side of Dove Lake towards Hanson Peak, ignoring a side track to Glacier Rock. At the top of the slope a metal chain provides assistance up a steep gully to reach a junction – a rough track from here leads to the top of Mount Campbell, but that steep climb is not part of this walk (like a number of possible side-trips, you can add it to the itinerary but be aware of the extra time and energy required on top of an already exhausting trip).

From the junction continue south as the track winds across the saddle between Mount Campbell and Hansons Peak, eventually reaching the top about 1.5 hours from the walk start. From here Cradle Mountain looms ahead and the view also encompasses Lake Hanson and Dove Lake far below.

The track descends from the peak to another track junction – a path to the left leads to Twisted Lakes, which are well worth exploring either today or on one of the next two days. The small tarns are a very tranquil setting and provide reflections of Cradle Mountains on a calm day. Allow half an hour for the detour. About 300 metres past the Twisted Lakes turnoff another major junction is reached just past an emergency rangers’ hut and under the spires of Little Horn, the eastern peak of Cradle Mountain. We will return to this spot – for now, turn left here following the signs to Lake Rodway, which is about one hour away via one of the under-appreciated gems of the national park.

Walking tracks to Cradle Mountain

The track, which follows wooden boardwalks for extended sections, passes through brilliant stands of deciduous beech then passes two beautiful lakes, Artists Pool and Flynns Tarn, that are both flanked by ancient pencil pines and reflect the jagged peak soaring above. There are also some creeks and small cascades and sweeping views to the south-east to add further interest on the gentle descent to Lake Rodway, 2km from the junction.

Turn left here and follow the path through the forest for five minutes to reach Scott Kilvert Memorial hut. The hut was built as a memorial to David Kilvert and Ewan Scott, who died of exposure near here in May 1965. Scott was a teacher who tried to rescue young Scott from a blizzard by carrying him on his back. Sadly, neither made it out alive. To help prevent future tragedies, an A-frame hut was built in this wild and spectacular location with a coal stove, several tables and room upstairs for a dozen sleeping bags. There are also several tent platforms (and a helipad) outside. This is your base for the next two nights.

Scott Kilvert Memorial Hut, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

DAY 2: EXPLORING CRADLE MOUNTAIN AND BARN BLUFF

An early start is recommended for a long and exhilarating day of walking. Hiking packs can be left in the hut – you will be returning here at the end of the day – but take a day pack with a lunch, snacks and plenty of water – there is no shortage in this part of the world, but this particular route doesn’t cross many streams.

Conveniently, the day’s walking starts from the water tank at the back of the hut. The path climbs steadily through the forest for about 45 minutes before emerging on top of Cradle Cirque, the glacial plateau lifted by natural forces about 100 million years ago. From here there is a great view of the eastern face of Cradle Mountain.

Track to Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

The track swings right and 500 metres later hits a T-intersection with the Overland Track. Turn left to head towards Barn Bluff, a three-hour return trip from here. The track strikes out south-east across the cirque; on a clear day this is some of the best walking you’ll find anywhere. Much of the route is on duckboards and the track heads almost directly towards the bluff so you can just enjoy the flat terrain and sensational views in all directions. To the south are all the major peaks of the Overland Track including Mount Ossa and the Pelions (East and West), to the north is Fury Gorge, Barn Bluff dominates the skyline ahead and Cradle Mountain is directly behind you.

After passing a turnoff to Waterfall Valley and negotiating a small hill, the track climbs steadily to a large boulder field at the base of Barn Bluff. From here you need to look for cairns that mark the route to the top. The first section is across the boulder field then a series of sharp gullies are negotiated before a final scramble to the summit, where you can take a well-earned break (the top of Barn Bluff is 14 metres higher than Cradle Mountain) and enjoy the sweeping views. Take care on the steep descent then follow the duckboards back to the junction.

Lake Will from Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

Another rest is in order before embarking on the next section of the hike – if you’re really tired or the weather has closed in, you can turn right here to follow the forest track back to the hut. If you have time and energy, turn left to follow the Overland Track along the western flank of Cradle Mountain – prepare to step aside for oncoming traffic. Walking is easy, the views are fantastic and fagus and pandanis are abundant. It takes about an hour to reach Kitchen Hut, another emergency shelter that provides a good spot for a snack and a photo.

Kitchen Hut, Cradle Mountain, Overland Track

From the hut head back uphill for 100 metres to a junction with the track to Cradle Mountain summit – if you want to visit the summit add an extra two hours to the trip (that might be best left for another day). Instead, follow the face track to the left, another sensational path that is bypassed by most hikers. The first section of this track under the northern cliffs of Cradle Mountain is through open country marked by pandanis and cushion plants that provide a spectacular foreground for photos of the mountain. As with much of this route, snow poles with reflectors help mark the route, but the track is easy to follow, even if it is a bit dilapidated.

The second section of the face track is a lot rougher and involves a short, sharp climb then a steep descent under Little Horn to return to the Lake Rodway track junction, completing a circuit of Cradle Mountain. Turn right here to descend to Scott Kilvert Hut via Artists Pool and Flynns Tarn.

Face Track, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

DAY 3: SCOTT KILVERT HUT TO DOVE LAKE

The mission on the final day is to return to the Dove Lake car park. This can be achieved by retracing the same track followed on day one via Hansons Peak or, if you want something different (and have the time and energy), turning left after climbing to the Lake Rodway track junction to follow the Face Track (hard going with a full pack) to Kitchen Hut, then descending on the western side of Dove Lake via Marions Lookout. This adds 2km to the trip.

GETTING THERE

The walk starts at Cradle Valley, a 2.5-hour drive from Launceston – take the A1 then follow the signs via Sheffield. There is a large car park at the visitor centre 2km outside the park boundary. Walkers are asked to leave their vehicle here and catch the shuttle bus the next 7.5km to Dove Lake to minimise traffic and environmental impact.

Fagus, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

MAPS AND PERMITS

Tasmap Cradle Mountain-Lake St 1:100,000. The Cradle Mountain Day Walks 1:25,000 map is a better scale but doesn’t include all the described route.
A permit is required to camp in the national park; a two-night stay will cost about $60. Book online at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=914 or pay at the visitor centre.

WHERE TO STAY

Nearest accommodation: There are several very comfortable hotels and lodges in Cradle Valley, with Peppers’ Cradle Mountain Lodge the most famous. These also tend to stretch the budget. Waldheim Cabins, located just inside the national park, offers a budget alternative with heating, bunk beds and gas cookers. Bookings are required. There is no camping in Cradle Valley.

Pandanis on Face Track, Cradle Mountain

WHEN TO GO

Cradle Mountain is an alpine environment that receives many days of rain and snow each year – in all seasons (we have walked in snow here in January). For thde best chance of sunshine, visit in late summer – and keep a close eye on local forecasts (but be prepared for the worst on any trip). The deciduous fagus is at its most spectacular for a few weeks in April each year.

OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO

There is a long list of fantastic day walks around Cradle Valley and the mountain itself – CLICK HERE FOR TRACK NOTES.

And of course Australia’s most famous long-distance walking track starts in Cradle Valley – CLICK HERE FOR OVERLAND TRACK NOTES.

MORE INFORMATION

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service: Cradle Mountain page

Discover Tasmania: Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain Lodge or Phone: (03) 6289 1137