Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Dove Lake Circuit (Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park)

One of the most iconic daywalks in Tasmania, the Dove Lake Circuit loops around the eponymous Dove Lake. Heading in a clockwise direction, the trail is anchored by a continuous parade of viewpoints to take in Cradle Mountain on a clear day as well as the beautiful flora of the area. Ending with the famous boat shed located along the lake, this is a must do walk that is accessible for most levels of fitness

Distance: 6 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of a relatively flat sections and some mild undulations
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and boardwalks
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow signage, with an informative trailhead. No markers along the way but very easy to follow as it is the main track around the lake
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 1-2 Hours
Steps: Several throughout the walk; while not steep this is not wheelchair accessible
Best Time to Visit: All year for different experiences, except on very hot days or during severe snow or storms
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply. 
Getting There: The trail starts at Dove Lake. If arriving early, it is possible to drive right to the Dove Lake car park, however for most of the day access is restricted to a shuttle bus service. Take the C132 to Cradle Mountain Rd and either drive into the park via Cradle Mountain Rd and then Dove Lake Rd if arriving early enough, or park at the visitors centre for the shuttle bus. 

2018 was a year filled with many of Australia's best circuit day walks, ranging from the Coomera and Warrie Circuits in South East Queensland, the Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mt Field National Park and a number of rougher but just as good circuits in Western Australia (the Four Ways to Z-Bend Loop in Kalbarri Gorge, the William Bay Circuit and the Boyagin Rock Walk), so when Alissa suggested that we revisit Cradle Mountain I knew that we had to add the Dove Lake Circuit to the list. Located in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the Dove Lake Circuit is one of Australia's classic walks but is not a part of the Overland Track, and was an area Alissa had been wanting to see since we did the Overland back in 2016.

Arriving before the tourist hordes descended, Alissa and I were at the National Park early enough that we were able to drive all the way to the Dove Lake car park rather than taking the shuttle bus that starts at 8:00 am, and we were actually the first people of the day to walk the Dove Lake Circuit.

A trailhead is located right next to the lake, indicating the way to go to explore a number of walk tracks in the area. Like Mt Field National Park, Cradle Mountain's trail network allows for a bit of a choose your own adventure mix and match, with a number of define route options.

While the summit of Cradle Mountain was partly obscured by cloud, the glassy stillness of the lake was such a peaceful and beautiful start to the walk.

Alissa and I followed the trail clockwise, which allowed us to save the famous boat shed for last. This was a strategic decision as we were hoping for a bit less cloud over the mountain by the time made our way around.

While the Dove Lake Circuit is named after the beautiful lake it circles, the focal point for just about the entire walk is Cradle Mountain, which looms mightily overhead. While I've certainly come to love many other mountains in Tasmania and rate Frenchmans Cap as an even better climb than Cradle Mountain, the mountain's international fame is entirely justified.

While Cradle is the star of the show, the lake is surrounded by a circle of smaller mountains. Marions Lookout rises to the west while Hansons Peak rises to the east.

While the Dove Lake Circuit is a pretty flat and easy going, it is not so flat that it is wheelchair accessible. Although rated as a Class 2 walk with a gentle gradient, there are quite a number of steps along the way.

The first major feature of the walk is encountered within the first kilometre via a short side track. Glacier Rock is a large formation that is covered in scrape marks from the glaciers that carved out Dove Lake and many of the cirque lakes and valleys of Tasmania. This provides a fascinating insight into how glaciation shaped the Tasmanian landscape into what it is today.

From Glacier Rock, Alissa and I could see that the clouds were really beginning to clear, with Little Horn's summit be clearly visible. Things were definitely looking good for a clear view and a later summit of the mountain.

While the trail circles the lake, a number of side tracks lead to several outstanding viewpoints from which to view Cradle Mountain.

These viewpoints allow for the kind of great but somewhat contrived 'I just stumbled upon this place' shots that are really popular on Instagram. They make it appear like you've just walked through some serious wilderness to reach the lake's shore while in reality the walk is very easy going.

That being said, as much as I may joke about how the viewpoint is ripe for some fairly contrived photo opportunities, one cannot argue with the view while you standing on the lake shore taking it all in.

From the first view point side track, the circuit passes through an area filled with tall pines on either side of the track while the trail follows a boardwalk.

The board walk leads to another viewpoint side track to one of the lake's beaches.

This another good vantage point of Cradle Mountain as it is framed by the trees growing along the shore.

This allows for another contrived shot, this time one that says 'I'm standing on a dead tree and am an adventurer!'

Passing the second lookout point, the track continues on boardwalk that passes through some beautifully dense forest. While lacking in mountain views, this is a really lovely section that turns the focus onto the stunning flora that is endemic to the area.

Emerging out of the dense forest, Alissa and I found ourselves near the southern end of the lake as it skirts beneath Cradle Mountain. By this time the mountain summit was completely clear of clouds. Considering we have planned our trip months earlier, we were extremely fortunate to have both Frenchmans Cap and Cradle Mountain clear just days apart!

The section of the track directly beneath Cradle Mountain features some great wildflower displays, with the Waratahs being the most impressive flowers along this stretch of the track. This is one of the added treats of walking the track around Christmas time as the wildflower bloom is excellent, even if it falls behind the high watermark of Springtime in Western Australia.

At the southern end of the lake, a number of well designed seats can be found. Given that this is the complete opposite end of the track from the Dove Lake car park, Parks and Wildlife have provided a number of seats for walkers to rest, take it all in and perhaps even have a picnic. Remembering a walker of the Bibbulmun Track who complained that their was not enough benches along the walk, Alissa and I joked that Red Pen Jase would definitely approve of this walk!

As the track leaves the southern end of the lake, it passes through more dense forest before reaching one of the track's most memorable sections.

As the track heads northwards along the western bank, the track follows a stretch of boardwalk that passes under an overhang of expose rock. The rock here features a lot of similar scrape marks to Glacier Rock, however does not seem to have a name in spite being one of the most iconic sections of the Dove Lake Circuit.

After the rock, the track enters a section that does have a name - the Ballroom Forest.

A pocket of temperate rainforest along the lake shore, the Ballroom forest had a striking resemblance to the walking we had done the day before in the Tarkine at Corinna along the Whyte River Track. From the Ballroom Forest, a very steep walk provides a linking track to the higher tracks of the Cradle Mountain area leading to Kitchen Hut and the Cradle Mountain summit.

Heading along the western shore, the track once again features some excellent side tracks leading to lookouts overlooking Cradle Mountain. Seriously - if the weather is good, you will almost never run out of vantage points to view Tasmania's most famous mountain in action.

Leading out from the first lookout on the western side, the track rises up the most sustained series of stairs of the whole walk, however the gradient remains pretty mellow.

This leads to yet another major viewpoint of Cradle Mountain from a slightly higher vantage point!

From this higher point, the track descends once again to run closer to the lake.

A lovely feature we encountered at the time of our walk was a plethora of Christmas Bells blooming profusely along the track. When we did the Overland Track Alissa and I had kept our eyes open for these stunning wildflowers but didn't see any. It was great to finally see them on this return visit to the National Park.

The penultimate trail junction of the walk is a very steep side track leading to Marions Lookout. This is an extremely steep walk lined with chains for walkers to steady themselves and would not be my recommendation for the ascent, however Alissa and I descending along this track as it is the fastest route back down from Cradle Mountain summit to the Dove Lake car park.

A short distance from the trail junction, the track leads to the famous Dove Lake boat shed, Not to be confused with the other boat house on Crater Lake, the Dove Lake boat shed is one of the most photographed places in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, most often photographed with Cradle Mountain in the background.

With no crowds to spoil my photo, I had to make the most of the opportunity and get my own version of the iconic 'boat shed and Cradle Mountain' photo. As we would discover later in the day, a clear sky is not the only thing you need to get this photo - you also need the area to be absolutely clear of the droves of tourists that crowd the area and make getting a good photo near impossible.

Reaching the last junction along the track, the Dove Lake Circuit passes a tarn along the track before turning eastwards along the northern bank towards the Dove Lake car park.

Along the last 100 metres of the walk a lookout point features a fixed pedestal to take photos of the mountain with the hashtag of #cradle365 provided as a recommended hashtag for the photo, presumably to get a capture of Cradle Mountain every day of the year. From there is a short walk back to the car park, where early risers can return to their cars and the rest of visitors can catch the bus to other parts of the park.

Relatively mellow, the Dove Lake Circuit is an excellent day walk that amply rewards walkers with views of one of the world's most famous mountains from a variety of viewpoints. Given its easy going nature, the Dove Lake Circuit is probably one of the best reward for effort day walks you can do in Tasmania, and is well worth the effort if visiting Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. That being said, Alissa and I agreed that it was not quite as good a day walk as other iconic day walks we've done like the Tarn Shelf Circuit, the Coomera Circuit and the Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains. Nevertheless, this is still a top tier trail, and one that is accessible to most visitors to this most famous park in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.


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