Taking a relaxed approach to hiking is where its at. Between drinking hot chocolate in a cozy cabin, go for a walk amongst the snowfall on Cradle Mountain, and you might just spot some fagus, fungi, and if you’re lucky, a wombat or two.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the Big River Nation, the traditional land of the Big River people who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Cradle Mountain without the crowds
- Spotting wombats in the snow
- Taking a breather from Type 2 fun in favour of some wholesome Type 1 fun
- Staying in a (heated) cabin in the snow… and we didn’t even have to hike there!
- Searching for and attempting to identify fungi in the rainforest
The allure of the Cradle Mountain summit
Although I’ve visited Cradle Mountain on numerous occasions, and even ran the Overland Track during the 2020 Cradle Mountain Run, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to summit Cradle Mountain itself. Nor had I witnessed the turning of the fagus at its peak.
My partner and I snagged a mid-Autumn booking in one of the Waldheim Cabins for a couple of nights, and my aspirations to summit Cradle and see the deciduous beech in its golden glory seemed in sight at last.
Type 2 fun? Nah, not this time
A week before the trip, we checked the weather and discovered that snow was forecast. My desire to attempt to climb Cradle Mountain vanished almost instantly. I was exhausted from a busy season of guiding, and most of my experiences of snow and winter hiking have involved a bit of Type 2 fun.
I was eager to take a step back and indulge in a weekend spent in a toasty cabin, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall outside. Oh, and I supposed we might as well head out for a short walk or two.
We arrived at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre just as the first flakes of snow were beginning to fall in the late afternoon. By the time we collected our keys and reached the cabin, a soft blanket of snow had well and truly settled.
We were lucky enough to arrive just before the road closed, so the only visitors to the park over the next couple of days were the dozen or so people already staying at Waldheim.
The original Waldheim Chalet was built by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer in 1912, but today a replica stands in its place after the original was damaged by fire. Before settling into our cabin for the evening, we took a quick look around the chalet, reading about the history of Waldheim and the role the Weindorfers played in the establishment of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Crater Lake Circuit
The next morning, I woke early and delighted in being the first, aside from a wallaby or two, to leave fresh footprints in the snow. After breakfast, we set out towards Crater Lake, with a vague plan to walk the Crater Lake circuit and potentially the Dove Lake circuit as well.
Although we’d long since abandoned our plans to summit Cradle Mountain, we did see some fagus! The poor deciduous beech trees were so weighed down with snow that we had to crawl and climb our way through the snow-laden branches with their distinctive orange leaves.
As we descended Wombat Pool track to Lake Lilla, we saw occasional glimpses of Cradle Mountain through the clouds, but I was too stoked spotting wombats bulldozing through the snow to be disappointed that we weren’t heading up there.
After a quick lunch in the temporary shelter at Dove Lake, we decided to head back to Waldheim via the Lake Lilla Track. The lure of the heated, cosy cabin was too tempting, and we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking hot choccy and playing board games.
Pencil Pine Track
The road was open again the following morning, so we decided to drive back to the Ranger Station and hike the Pencil Pine Track. The trailhead is tucked away behind a fallen tree halfway along the short Enchanted Walk.
The start of the track meanders through lush rainforest alongside Pencil Pine Creek, and we soon began spotting fungi of all kinds bursting through the moss and logs all around us. Our plans to complete the circuit were abandoned as the track gained elevation and left the rainforest.
We’d become fascinated with searching for and photographing fungi, and the rainforest was teeming with decaying myrtle oranges that had fallen from their homes on the myrtle beech trees, along with dozens of other species I was hoping to later identify from the photos. So we turned back and took twice as long to walk back down, lingering over every mildly interesting mushroom.
The summit still beckons…
I returned home feeling content and satisfied, but without the tired body I have come to expect, and even relish, after a few days in the bush. After so much focus on goal-oriented, high-energy adventures, it was refreshing to spend a weekend without a set distance to cover or campsite to reach each day.
Type 1 fun is, after all, fun! But I’m still hungry for those Type 2 adventures that make for even more exciting and memorable stories. Maybe next time it could be a double summit mission… perhaps Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff in a day…
- Waterproof hiking boots or shoes
- Waterproof jacket and pants
- Lunch and snacks
- Layers of warm clothing – thermals are a must.
- Gloves, beanie, buff… all the warm things for your extremities!
- Parks pass
If you’re staying in one of the accommodation options nearby, bring along all the little luxuries you would usually leave behind on a multi-day hike. Think board games, fresh food, a hot water bottle… spoil yourself!
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
How To Get There
- From Hobart: Google Maps says it takes 4 hours, but you should allow 5-6 hours to allow for winding roads and coffee stops.
- From Launceston: 2-3 hours
- From Devonport: 1.5-2 hour
A National Parks Pass is required, and it is recommended to take the shuttle bus from the Visitor Centre. If you are driving into Waldheim you will need to follow a bus if you arrive or depart during shuttle operating hours.
Beginner – Intermediate
There are a range of walks suitable for all experience levels, but the snow and alpine weather adds an extra challenge.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gain / Duration
Day 1: Crater Lake Circuit: Waldheim – Crater Lake – Wombat Pool Track – Lake Lilla Track – Waldheim / 6km
Day 2: The Pencil Pine Track is a 9km, Grade 4 walk, but we became fixated on searching for fungi in the rainforest and ran out of time to complete the circuit, so we turned back after 2-3km.