As anyone brought up in a cool climate will tell you, there’s no such thing as the cold. Feeling the chill? Then you simply chose the wrong clothes to wear. So it is in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park in August. Cradle Mountain has some great accommodation in and around the area also.
Temperatures dip below zero, ice needs scraping from car windscreens and trails of breath momentarily linger as you exhale the freezing air. Is it cold? You bet if you’re wearing a thin jumper and canvas-style shoes.
But if you’re wrapped up in a fleece, beany, gloves, and wearing sturdy walking boots, well, can there be any better time of year to go hiking in one of Australia’s most pristine natural environments? Tourist numbers are lower, prices likewise, yet the scenery in the icy grip of winter is just as stunning as the traditionally warmer months, perhaps more so, with hard frosts lending an air of serenity to the landscape.
Located two hours west of Launceston, Cradle Mountain offers a fine array of walking trails, most within the national park itself but others just outside meaning it is possible to enjoy the area without paying to enter the park. But in truth, it’s within the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area where some of the most rewarding hiking experiences can be found.
Among the more challenging hikes is to Marions Lookout, which, at 1220m, is one of the highest points along the famous multi-day Overland Track which finishes at Lake St Clair, 65km away. Starting 6km into the national park at Ronny Creek, the Marions Lookout route takes trekkers along a boardwalk through wombat-inhabited heathland before climbing steadily through a bewitching moss-strewn rainforest alongside Crater Falls.
The first signs of snow emerge as the track reaches the partially-frozen Crater Lake, surrounded by 200m cliffs, and climbs further to reveal wonderful panoramic views. The final section is a steep ascent, first up steps, then a scramble over rocks to the lookout.
There is no doubt the weather is unpredictable in winter (as well as in summer) so, as far as you’re able, it’s best to pick a fine day to truly appreciate the spectacular views to the snow-covered peaks of Cradle Mountain and down to Dove Lake. Snow on the plateau is plentiful, and, if you’re lucky, the winter sunshine will make for a magical experience.
The return from Marions Lookout takes a different route, passing Wombat Pool and Lake Lilla before the final stretch back to Ronny Creek through Wombat territory. There are easier hikes, ranging from 20 minutes to the two-three hour circuit of Dove Lake where Cradle Mountain is rarely out of sight.
Meanwhile, just outside the park opposite Cradle Mountain Lodge, is a 45-minute walk that descends to the base of Pencil Pine Falls before climbing to the top of the impressive Kynvet Falls. Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park really is a national treasure – whatever season you go there in.