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Cradle Mountain: Great Expecations

Blast from the past Adventure issue 137

The adventures of an intrepid explorer…..

Despite working for a major outdoor clothing and equipment retailer, I’m a bit of an armchair explorer. But one Easter I decided it was time to take in “the Spirit of Tasmania” and spend a week in the Apple Isle.

“It’s freezing down there – you’ll need thermals.”

“You know it’s really cold in Tassie – hope you’ve got some polypros.”

“You’re going to Tassie – by yourself – are you mad?”

“Don’t forget your raincoat – you’ll need it.”

“Be careful – I have two words for you – Peter Falconio.”

“Do you know how cold it is there? You better take lots of warm clothes.”

Despite these dire warnings I took my car over on the ferry and stayed in Devonport overnight.  The next morning was beautifully sunny and warm (!) and I headed off on the Great Expedition. Ten minutes later I was in the countryside and admiring the alpacas. I’d never seen real live alpacas before. I also noted with concern the many long drives that were stacked completely up to the top of the fence with chopped firewood… Hmm.

The Tasmanian countryside was green and lovely and, yes, did remind me a lot of NZ. A couple of hours driving and the distinctive outline of Cradle Mountain came into view. I was booked to stay at some cabins nearby. Once I had settled in I wandered into the kitchen to make my dinner. I got some very odd looks from families when I whipped out my replica US Marine Corp knife to chop up the vegetables – I have learned from experience that there is never a sharp knife in a shared kitchen. Once I started cooking though, people were intrigued – “what are you making?” “Chicken satay.” “Wow, that looks great – we’re just having sausages”. I figure just because you’re “roughing it” doesn’t mean you can’t have yummy food.

As I was very unfit, I decided to take a few short hikes to toughen up before I hiked from my lodge down to Dove Lake, which was about 8km away. At one stage on the first short walk I was too hot (!) so stepped off the path to take off my jumper. When I bent down to pick up my pack I noticed these odd black wormy things swarming up over my runners. Yeuch! What are they! Oh no – they must be  – leeches! (I’d never seen real live leeches before either). All those darned warnings about Tassie and no-one thought to tell me they have leeches! Yuck!

 

Came the day for the Major Expedition of the trip – a visit to Dove Lake. Despite it being both warm AND sunny, I donned my thermals. “Cap, shirt, Bata bullets” – I was prepared! Off I set on the bitumen road down to Dove Lake. I was a little surprised by how many cars passed me. Eventually (after having to step into the bush to remove my thermals as it was too hot!), I arrived at the Dove Lake Information center. This was remarkably large building with lots of information inside and lots and lots of filled car-parking spaces outside.

I grew up in a small NZ town only an hour from the beautiful Urewera National Park. Entry to our side of Te Urewera was via a dirt road that peters out once you enter the park. The only facility was outside the start of the Park, a 2-dormitory lodge built by the local Lions and rented out to school hiking parties. There are no other facilities – no ranger station, no info center, no milk bar, no tarmac, fords not bridges etc. Lots of rivers run through the park, some dangerous to cross such as the Waimana (“Mighty waters”). Despite having some reasonably clearly marked hiking tracks (and some more obscure ones), the bush is very dense, with many tall trees and almost impenetrable undergrowth. If you step away from your group you can get lost in three minutes. People (mostly unprepared tourists) die of exposure. Sometimes, depending on the season, you can hike for a whole day without seeing any other group.

Since Cradle Mountain is such a hardcore hiking mecca, I was expecting something similar.

I entered the Visitors Information center to get my park entry permit. On chatting with the ranger I commented on how pleasantly warm it was, and that if I got too hot, once I got down to the lake I would “strip off and go for a swim”.  She gave me an odd look. I wondered why – maybe she was opposed to skinny dipping? It’s not like there would be anyone else around.

 

Once I had all the necessary bits of paper, I set off for the lake. More cars passed me. I felt a bit like Brad and Janet in “the Rocky Horror Picture Show” when they constantly get passed by bikers. Finally I got to the bottom of the road, to find in the lovely Tasmanian “wilderness” an enormous car park chock-a-block with cars, and some even parked along the roadside. Here was the entry to the lake proper.

The lake was pretty, with hills and light bush around it. I decided to circumnavigate the lake, and set off to find the start of the path. To my surprise, the path turned out to be a boardwalk – this went right around the whole lake. There were people everywhere, literally hundreds of them  – hikers, teenagers, grey nomads, families, kids in strollers. One kid right on the opposite side of the lake wasn’t happy about something  – everyone there that day could hear him telling his folks about it. Luckily he wasn’t old enough to swear, unluckily he was still young enough to have a hugely carrying wail.

I quickly decided that circumnavigating the lake wasn’t such an enticing idea after all. Skinny-dipping was completely out of the picture. I settled instead for dipping my toes in the shallows to cool them down after the long walk. It only took a few seconds – the lake was freezing! At last, the climate that Tassie is (in)famous for.

I ate my lunch and then hitched a lift back up to the top of the road. It was a pleasant walk from there back to my cabin. The Lone Explorer had returned – safe and sound!

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