Wednesday January 6, 2016
Day 0 – Overland Track: Queenstown to Cradle Mountain
Bus driver from casting central picked us up from Queenstown for transfer to Cradle Mountain National Park. Almost all of us on the bus were hikers except one local lady going to a funeral in Launceston. The driver was the same one we had yesterday – seems to treat speed limits as suggestions only. He went around corners at uncomfortably fast speed and at one stage while he was passing a logging truck going in the opposite direction I had to hide my head. I could not stand to look out of the window. All the while playing Pink Floyd and promising to put Neil Diamond on. If only he did I am sure the sound of Sweet Caroline may have distracted me just a little. We were relieved to reach Cradle Mountain NP and get off the bus. He picked up another lot of victims and was on his way.
The distance between Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain NP by road is only 220km. It took the bus five and a half hours but it was over two days. Frustrating but cheaper then the alternative, a private shuttle bus. But on the upside we did get to spend an afternoon in Queenstown.
It was lunchtime and we were keen to get on the trail but our permit to hike did not start till tomorrow. To hike the Overland Track between October and May requires a permit from National Parks. To avoid crowding only 60 permits are issued per day: 34 individual permits, 13 for groups and 13 for commercial operators. I thought we would be able to hike-into the park part of the way and start our hike tomorrow. But I was not prepared for how regulated the permitting and camping options are in the park. No way were we going to be allowed to start any earlier…the parks officer refused to give me the permit until tomorrow. I went back later in the afternoon and a friendlier officer was happy to oblige and issued our permits. By this stage it was too late to start and as there are no official National Parks camp areas in the Cradle Valley so we ended up camping at Discovery Village, a commercial campground near the Visitors Centre. It was busy and noisy.
To make good use of our time in the Valley we hiked around Dove Lake, a huge glacial lake fringed to the south by the dominant spires of Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff. It was a good opportunity for us to get our bearings in the park. The walk around the lake is on boardwalks for many sections, something I was not expecting. Our traveling companion Lou-Seal went for her first swim in Cradle Mountain NP. A glacial lake, it was very special. Later that evening we walked out towards the park entrance and saw a pademelon wallaby and a wombat. So all happy we went to bed excited about tomorrow’s adventure.