A damp day in Cradle Valley
Any visit to The Land Down Under Down-Under (Also known as Tasmania) mandates a visit to the iconic Cradle Valley. Located in the in the central-western part of the island state, Cradle Valley is THE signature landmark among the innumerable other natural wonders Tasmania somehow squeezes within its shores. Packed with hiking trails, spotted with majestic mountain lakes, home to flora and fauna native to Tasmania, all this under the constant watchful eye of the magnificent Cradle Mountain- it is a place unlike any other, a place that is uniquely Tasmania.
Cory and I had been planning our visit to Cradle Valley well before we ever arrived in Tasmania. We had seen pictures of Cradle Mountain and the surrounding crystal lakes on postcards and other promotional materials ever since we had arrived in Australia, and we agreed immediately that it was definitely a place we wanted to experience first-hand before leaving the country. Thus, half-way through our Circuit of Tasmania, we found ourselves driving along the winding Tasmanian roads that led us into Cradle Valley, anxious to arrive at our destination, and excited about what lay in store over the next few days- awesome hiking, amazing scenery, maybe even a quick dip in one of the numerous mountain lakes. Whatever we got up to, it was sure to be exhilarating and wild- just as all of our other adventures in Tasmania had seemed to be.
We pulled into Cradle Valley mid-afternoon, and headed straight down to the shores of Dove Lake- the lake that sits in the valley below Cradle Mountain. Having seen photos of the valley on the clearest of Tasmanian days, we were a little disappointed to see that much of Cradle Mountain was shrouded in grey clouds, and a light mist seemed to cast a haze throughout the valley. No matter- we were there, in a place we had be looking forward to visiting for several months- we weren’t about to let a few clouds ruin it. We walked down to the lake, noticing the various signs pointing out the countless hiking trails that diverged from the lakeshore. We dipped our feet in the lake, just to test how cold the water really was, and decided that taking a swim may have to wait. Until summer.
Back up at the lodge, we checked into our accommodation, got our hands on a trail map, and retired to the kitchen to pore over the map while we made our dinner. We had seen that the forecast for the next day called for rain, rain, rain, but were optimistic, hoping that we might get lucky and have a reasonably good day for hiking. We picked out a few different trails that looked interesting, deciding that the weather may well end up making the decisions for us, and headed back to the room, eager to get a good night’s sleep in before the big day on the trails of Cradle Valley.
My alarm went off early- VERY early. As in ‘still dark outside’ early… We clambered down to the floor, quickly getting our gear together, and headed for the kitchen, ready to get breakfast going. All it took was a step out of the room, and we knew- it was still raining. Hard. We knew that if we stayed another day, we would be giving up a day in another spot we had planned to visit during our 2 weeks in Tasmania, and didn’t really want to do that. We also knew that the forecast called for more of the same the following day, so waiting didn’t guarantee better weather. Ultimately, we decided that rain or shine, we were there, and we were going hiking. We finished up our breakfast, packed a quick trail lunch, geared up for wet conditions, and set out onto into the rain.
The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, so it didn’t seem THAT bad. We made our way across long boardwalks that stretched through the rolling grassy areas leading up to the mountains beyond. It was plain to see that the place was densely populated with wombats- evidence of their presence (Read: wombat turds) strewn all over the pathways was a dead giveaway. Stepping mindfully, we continued along the path, making our way towards the turn-off for Marion’s Lookout. We had decided that this was the trail for us- about 3 hours or so, a bit of climbing and navigating some boulders, lots of lakeside paths, culminating in a mountainside lookout that overlooked the whole valley below. We had no idea what we would be able to see when we got there- if anything- but had determined that was our destination for the day. Goal in mind, we made the turn for the lookout spot, and started climbing up.
The path was actually a great hike- quiet glades of trees along small, secluded lakes; steep stone steps clinging to the mountainside; several overflowing waterfalls cascading through the forested cliffs. We got to the point where we didn’t even mind the rain- it somehow seemed to fit with and complement the surroundings. It really was beautiful, and we were the only people crazy enough to be out in such weather, so we had the whole mountain to ourselves. We continued along at a pretty good pace, stopping here and there for a rest or a quick picture next to a waterfall, keeping our eyes out for the start of what we knew would be a pretty steep climb up to the lookout point.
Eventually, the climb began. There were stone steps cut out of the rock, wooden steps in places where the stone had broken away, and a chain rail that provided a bit of comfort as we took on the ascent. It was a bit treacherous, truth be told- wet rocks and slippery wooden planks aren’t ideal surfaces to be hiking on. Combine this with the wind that picked up as we left the protection of the forest below, and we were definitely being very cautious with each and every step. Holding onto the rail, using rock edges and hand holds to pull ourselves up, we kept climbing. The temperature began to drop as we got higher and higher, and we were thankful that the strain of the climb was helping to keep us warm. Finally, we reached the top of the cliff face, and set out on another rock path that lead across the plateau towards the lookout.
As our heart rates slowed on the level pitch, we started to feel the effects of the colder weather. Luckily, it wasn’t very long before we reached Marion’s Lookout. We were greeted with grey- a great grey blanket had fallen over the valley, totally shrouding everything below us and across the valley beyond. We had to laugh at the situation, but at least we had made it. We had taken on the elements, braved the rain and the cold, and had done some REAL Tasmanian trekking. I set up my camera on a rock, and got the requisite photo of Cory and me, arms raised in the triumph of reaching our goal, nothing but a grey mass behind us- a pretty funny photo, truth be told.
Growing colder by the minute, we started back down the trail. The descent was more treacherous than the climb up, and once again, our hearts were pounding as we navigated the ledges and uneven steps back down the mountainside. One step at at time… One step at a time… Finally, we were down, back on the valley floor, and able to relax a bit. We stopped for a quick bite of lunch before continuing on down the trail, thankful that we had reached our goal, and had survived the climb back down.
It was another hour or so back down the trail to the Visitor’s Center, so we shouldered our packs once again, and set off, anxious to get into some dry clothes and the warmth of the kitchen back at the lodge. It turned out to be a great day on the trails of Cradle Valley. True, the elements were against us, but we persevered, and in the end, felt like we had somehow accomplished more than we would have if it had been clear and sunny out. Besides, it makes for a good story, and the pictures we got are pretty hilarious. Cradle Valley- CHECK!
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