Classic Trek: The Labyrinth

3+ days

The best side trip on the Overland Track is a fantastic destination in its own right for a hiking expedition that can last anywhere from three to five days. A wild and beautiful plateau studded with picturesque lakes and surrounded by rugged mountains, the Labyrinth is a great place to visit on a day trip from Pine Valley Hut and as a base for further exploration. Be aware that the environment in this area is extrememly fragile – take care where you step and pitch a tent – and the terrain and navigation can be challenging, so an overnight trip is recommended for experienced walkers only. And be prepared for any kind of weather.

DAY 1: LAKE ST CLAIR TO LAKE ELYSIA (16.9km, 6-7 hours)

The southern end of Lake St Clair can be reached via the Lyell Highway from Hobart (about a two-and-a-half hour drive). To access the Labyrinth and the Du Cane Range book a spot on the ferry that leaves here at 9am (there are three crossings a day but you want to give yourself as many hours for walking as possible). It takes 45 minutes to reach the jetty at the northern end of the lake – disembark (the friendly crew will give you a hand with a heavy pack), suit up and head north on the boardwalk.

After a few minutes you’ll pass Narcissus Hut – a good spot for any last-minute checks (and a toilet stop) before heading into the wild. It’s also where you’ll radio the boat to get you back across the lake after the hike. From here the track is easy to follow – you’re on the Overland Track, at least for an hour or so (OT walkers are supposed to head from north to south but if you’re heading into Pine Valley you can go against the traffic). Initially walking is through buttongrass and open bush before the forest closes in. A couple of streams and some short rainforest sections make for interesting diversions on the way to a major track junction 4.3km from the hut. This is where you’ll leave the Overald Track – head left following signs to Pine Valley.

Overland Track sign, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

Cross Cephissus Creek on a swing bridge (one hiker at a time) and walk through eucalypt forest for 1.5km to another swing bridge. From this point the forest becomes cooler and more beautiful as it nears Pine Valley Hut, 3.7km from the track junction. Close to the hut the wooden boardwalk follows the creek through stunning cool temperate rainforest – tree trunks are covered in thick green moss and the whole area has a fairytale quality to it. The hut itself is surrounded by forest and has room for 24 guests. If the weather turns this is a good spot to base yourself for a night or two; at the least it’s worth setting aside some time to explore the incredible forest nearby – follow the signs to the Acropolis to visit Cephissus Falls, a small waterfall deep in the forest – about a 10-minute walk from the hut.

Pine Valley track, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

If the weather is favourable continue past, initially following the Acropolis track but taking the marked turnoff to the Labyrinth after about 40 metres (the Acropolis is also a spectacular destination and can also be visited as part of this trip, but it’s a 4-5-hour return walk so it’s best to reserve a full day for the excursion). The track climbs through forest – including a unique section that heads straight up a waterfall (about a 20-metre near-vertical scramble) – before eventually attaining a saddle between the Parthenon and the Minotaur. From here the pointed summit of Mount Gould to the south can be seen through the trees but the views really open up as the track levels off and swings north, tracking beside the bulk of the Parthenon.

Pine Valley Hut, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

At the end of this 800-metre section the track reaches the top of a steep descent – it’s worth pausing here to soak in the view over the Labyrinth below, encompassing several lakes and the wild peaks beyond – the three-headed summit of Mount Geryon and the bulk of the Acropolis to the north-east will dominate the skyline for the next few days.

Hikers descend to the Labyrinth from the Parthenon, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

The steep drop leads to the Cyane Lake – follow rock cairns to navigate the southern end of the lake leading to a small wooden sign that indicates the side track to Labyrinth Lookout. If you have time it’s worth leaving packs here for the 400-metre climb up a rocky track to the top for more grandstand views. Returning to the junction, pick up your pack and continue north, following an increasingly rough path along the western shore of Cyane Lake and then Lake Ophion before swinging north on an unmarked but well-worn path through pandanis and boulders to the southern edge of Lake Elysia. There are several spots here to pitch a tent; if you’re camping on the Labyrinth this is the preferred camping location, try to find a spot that has already been used by other hikers to avoid any further damage to the environment.

Lake Elysia campsite on the Labyrinth, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

The lake is famous for its reflections of Mount Geryon and the Acropolis, which rise steeply on the other side of Pine Valley. Several large boulders on the edge of the lake provide an excellent camp kitchen and vantage point to watch the cliffs change colour as the sun goes down to end a wonderful day on the trail.

Lake Elysia sunset, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

DAY 2: EXPLORING THE LABYRINTH

The next day (or more) is for exploring this amazing location. There are a number of options but note that most are untracked and require expert navigation skills – some people have become lost and died here so don’t take it lightly. Longer excursions include the Minotaur and Mount Gould (about 5km return from the Parthenon saddle), Walled Mountain (an easier route that takes about four hours return from Lake Ophion) and an epic walk to Mount Geryon, an 8km return trip from Lake Elysia that offers spectacular views but crosses some very exposed mountain country.

One walk that is highly recommended is the first section of the Mount Geryon track which follows a rough walking track around the northern shore of Lake Elysia, crossing some large boulders then descending steeply through forest to the Pool of Memories, a small tarn flanked by pandani plants that provides magical reflections on a clear day. Take care climbing back up the slope to return to the camp, about a one-hour return trip.

Pandani on the Labyrinth, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

A scramble up the western slopes of the Parthenon is another option that leaves the main path but is attainable for most walkers, with the lakes of the Labyrinth continually in view – in good weather. There are great views to Mount Gould and Lake St Clair from the top, but be very careful around the cliffs and on large rocks that can move under a person’s weight.

Whichever option you take, make sure you’re back at Lake Elysia for sunset – you don’t want to miss the light show.

Lake Elysia in the Labyrinth, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

DAY 3: LAKE ELYSIA TO LAKE ST CLAIR (16.9km, 6-7 hours)

The final day of walking involves retracing directions from day one to return to Lake St Clair. Heading downhill makes walking a bit quicker, allowing time to visit Cephissus Falls and enjoy the forest around Pine Valley Hut before returning to the Overland Track junction and heading south to Narcissus Hut.

Inside the hut is a radio that can be used to contact the ferry operators and book a spot on the next trip back across the lake – ferries depart at 1.15pm and 3.45pm. If you miss the boat the hut is a comfortable place to spend the night, and you might be lucky enough to spot one of the local platypuses in the river outside around dusk (remember to bring a spare meal in case you are out for an extra night).

Cephissus Creek, Pine Valley, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

NEED TO KNOW

This is a truly wild landscape – wilder than the Overland Track and you’re likely to encounter fewer other hikers. So it is essential to know what you’re doing and be prepared – as with any other Tasmanian walk conditions can change unexpectedly at any time of year, so bring warm clothing and wet weather gear plus a map (Tasmap’s 1:100,000 Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair map) and compass. It is possible to get some phone reception on high points including Labyrinth Lookout but don’t rely on it elsewhere. Carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB or EPIRB) is also a good idea – these can be hired from Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife and in limited numbers from the Lake St Clair visitor centre (phone 1300 135 513 for more information) or from many outdoor stores. Don’t forget to take it with you on any day hikes from camp.

Lake Elysia, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania

ACCOMMODATION AND SUPPLIES

There are a few options if you want to stay at Lake St Clair – which will make it a lot easier to be there for the 9am ferry – including Lake St Clair Lodge on the edge of the lake and the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel on the Lyell Highway opposite the turnoff to the lake. The hotel rooms aren’t the height of luxury but they are affordable and the hot meals are wonderful at either end of a wilderness expedition. If you’re after something more high end check out Pumphouse Point retreat.

There are limited food and supplies at Cynthia Bay but it’s best to stock up before heading out from Hobart (or whichever town you’re starting from).

MORE INFORMATION

Phone (03) 6289 1137 or email sceniccruises@lakestclairlodge.com.au for local information and to book a ferry spot.