A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

The last of my wild water swims in Tasmania was at Dove Lake, in the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park.

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The path down to the shore from which I swam. There was no sand, but there were clean flat rocks with a carpet of hardy moss in and around them on which to change (quickly) into my wetsuit.  Cradle mountain is at the far end of the lake, covered in snow and with its summit in the clouds.

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Moments of sunlight would come and go.  But this was a generally cloudy day with only grey winter light – not necessarily a photographer’s delight. But such light does contribute to the cold and wintry mood of the place.

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Dove Lake is 940m above sea level, and 157m (515 feet) deep at its deepest point.  Its shore length is 6.6kms. The surrounding mountains all had a good covering of snow. I spoke to a solo hiker who tackled Cradle Mountain this day and ended up turning around after climbing to an elevation where the snow was waist deep.

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Marions Lookout beside Dove Lake.

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Cradle Mountain

The Swim

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The ‘beach’ from which I swam at the northern end of Dove Lake. In the shallows the bottom was covered in small smooth pebbles. A little further out there were larger round rocks. Visibility in the water was only around 3-4 metres. The water was a dark yellowy colour. From about 50m offshore I was just looking down into blackness.  Nothing like the ocean at the Bay of Fires. There was no swell and none was forecast. The tide was pretty much the same as it was when I last visited here 10 years or so ago.

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The water temperature in waist deep water was measured at just a whisker under +4C. Just as a single degree drop in sea temperature in the 12-18°C range to which I am accustomed at Apollo Bay can be clearly felt, I think that below 5°C each one tenth of a degree must have the same effect.  So having immersed myself in this water, and upon close examination of the thermometer reading, I am calling it 3.9°C. It certainly felt like it. The air temperature was around 6C.

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I can imagine no place (save perhaps for Antarctica) where walking slowly out into deepening water feels more wild and isolated. I waded around in the shallows for a while before heading out for my swim, to avoid the shock of sudden transition from very warm to very cold. An interesting result of this was that my legs below my knees were noticeably colder than the rest of me when I got out of the water. For an hour or so after the swim even though I was warmly dressed and not feeling at all cold in my core, my lower legs felt as if coldness was radiating out from my bones. It brought back memories of this same feeling, but as a whole of body experience, when driving home in the late 1960s after a winter surf at Torquay in board shorts and a sleeveless woollen footy jumper.

Offshore, unable to see anything but darkness in the water, I paused to take a few shots with the GoPro of Cradle Mountain and Marions Lookout from water level.

It was very interesting water to be in. With ocean swimming things like currents, creatures and waves need to be considered in deciding when, where, or indeed whether to go. Water temperature is also to be considered, but in winter at Apollo Bay with suitable wetsuits and swims of less than an hour we don’t really get close to the threshold of any issue with hypothermia. I was conscious that this water had only one significant risk factor, the 4°C temperature. I am not accustomed to swimming in such cold water. I entered the water slowly and in stages, wetting my face and neck and hands (the only skin I had exposed) and pausing to allow the coldness to penetrate my wetsuit evenly and slowly. The pauses also allowed the light wind to do its refrigeration work on my wet face, neck and hands in preparation for the coldness of immersion. A bit of deep breathing as I adjusted to the temperature seemed to assist. Not sure if I imagined that benefit, but it felt real.

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Given my slow entry into the water, it was not a shock when I started swimming. It was exhilarating. The first part of me to protest was my hands, which experienced what I can only describe as a burning sensation.  The next was the back of my neck, which had the same burning sensation. My face did not experience this, but went through the usual relatively comfortable numbing process that occurs in say 13°C water. There was no ice-cream headache, which I attribute to wearing a swim cap under my Patagonia lined neoprene cap. There was no face-ache. One big difference to commencing a swim in winter at Apollo Bay was that my entire body was noticeably cooling the longer I swam in Dove Lake. My arms and core and legs were slowly getting colder. This doesn’t happen in warmer cold water at Apollo Bay, where my core stays cosy for the whole swim. For the record, I wore my Patagonia R3 wetsuit (designed for  8°-13°C water temperatures), with a Rip Curl lined neoprene sleeveless vest under it. I also wore Patagonia booties – my feet remained toasty. I wore earplugs, as always.

A pause before returning to shore. All things considered, I felt pretty acclimatised at this point. But by time I swam back to shore I could feel that the cold was steadily sapping my body heat.

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I stopped swimming in waist deep water, and was captured in this photo just after I stood up. I think that water dripping from my moustache must be melting ice. I felt a good sense of achievement at this point.

The Walk

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The black currawong is endemic to Tasmania. It seems that they are especially prolific at Cradle Mountain.  It is a personable bird which, despite its appearance,  is more closely related to the magpie than the crow. Those yellow eyes set in jet black feathers make for a striking colour scheme. We came across these distinctive birds everywhere during our visit to Cradle Mountain.

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Despite having only eyes with which to convey attitude, I think this bird is clearly displaying some attitude. I was on the verge of getting a bit too close to him, and his first response was not to fly away, but to give me this look.

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The route of our 9.5km hike from Dove Lake to the Cradle Mountain Village. With stops for photos, drinks, anzacs and rests, it took us three hours. It was cold throughout, with  heavy rain  alternating with misty rain. As the afternoon wore on and our elevation decreased, an occasional fleeting moment of sunlight would spotlight a few trees, bushes or button grass patches. These would invariably send me diving to get my camera out of its waterproof case, but only on a few occasions did I actually succeed in switching it on, aiming it and taking a photo before the cloud and rain resumed.  I did however take a lot of photos in the rain. My camera case was soaked by the end of the walk. I kept wiping the camera down and clearing the lens cover after taking photos in the heavier rain. This worked and the camera survived nicely.
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These trees were on the banks of Crater Lake. The colours were more vivid in the rain than I suspect they would have been otherwise.

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This tree was at an elevation of around 1000m, also near Crater Lake.

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I made the mistake of asking Liz to assist with the important and potentially life saving task of Spot Satellite Messenger transmissions. I’m not sure she shared my view of the importance of this device, being apparently satisfied that the track was clearly marked, only 9kms or so long, and that we would be fine even if I dropped the Satellite Messenger in Dove Lake and never saw it again.  I didn’t get the impression that she viewed the device as a serious tool, albeit that she may have viewed me as qualifying in this regard. Or, perhaps this is her look that says, what a remarkable device, and what a privilege to hold it while it communicates with satellites and friends and family letting them know our location via a satellite photo of the very spot, and the latitude and longitude of that spot.

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Crystal clear near-freezing meltwater flowing out of Crater Lake, a tarn near Dove Lake.

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Hiking in the rain.

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Liz hiking in the rain. We took necessary but minimal equipment. The waterproof overprints Liz was wearing were very handy given the amount of wet foliage we had to brush past.

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Button grass. I did not place the dob of snow on this plant.

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Most of the walk was on excellent boardwalks like this one. Not only do they protect this fragile environment, but as walking would be impossible in the very wet and mushy ground in these button grass areas, the boardwalks give access to areas which could not otherwise be experienced.

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The fact that I have included four photos of these plants and their ancient looking environs, means I was very taken with them.  I have yet to identify them. Scenes like this evoke terms like  ‘pre-Jurassic Gondwana’ (which may or may not be a thing) in my limited vocabulary in relation to such things.

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As we stood captivated by this remarkable scene, I think we heard some dinosaurs shuffling around nearby but just out of sight. However, just as they say in relation to Tasmania Tiger ‘sightings’, if there is no photo there was no sighting. But if I were a dinosaur in Cradle Mountain, this is definitely where I’d hang out.

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Wombats regularly commute using the boardwalks. This wet but healthy looking wombat pretty much ignored us. He faithfully observed the wombat code of conduct by maintaining a facade of complete inscrutability. I’ve never seen a wombat smile.

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Creeks, rivulets, rivers and mighty rivers seem to be everywhere in Tasmania. This was a fast flowing creek. I stood very still and used a half second exposure time to achieve the silky flowing water appearance. A proper photographer would have used a tripod, a remote shutter release and a neutral density filter.

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This looked very recent to us. A week of gales in the area felled a lot of trees, but few bigger than this one. We were able to get past under the trunk on the left of the boardwalk.

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Liz did the test run crawling under the fallen trunk to make sure it was safe. I followed.

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I imagine there would have been some warning as this tree collapsed. But this would’ve been a prime few metres of the boardwalk to avoid at that moment it did fall. We seem to have come across a lot of fallen trees in recent days.

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Wombats were positioned to provide photo opportunities for the the entire 9.5 kms of our walk.

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The same creek photographed earlier, but a little further downstream with a lot more water in it. Again, the hand-held half second exposure method was used.

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To permit comparison, this is the same scene but at a much higher shutter speed, which effectively freezes the motion of the water.

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9.5kms of this was no hardship. Indeed, it was a privilege. In the direction we hiked there were more downs than up, as we descended from the Dove Lake elevation of 940m to the village elevation of 800m.

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Silhouetted eucalypts as the sun lowered.

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Reflected silhouetted eucalypts as the sun lowered.

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Wombat faces are hard to photograph, as they are usually buried in or under button grass or other foliage, as they forage for food.  The wombat face is quite inscrutable. They only ever move slowly.  They seem expressionless. The wombats in these photos are superbly equipped with dense warm fur for their high country lives, and very solid bodies. I have held a wombat, and they feel as though they are entirely made of solid muscle or some sort of armour. Cradle Mountain must be close to wombat paradise.

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We saw many a wombat ensconced dead centre in a clump of button grass. The grass would give some protection from the wind and elevate them above the very wet ground, often with water flowing,  between these clumps.  It seems they were made for each other. They all looked very comfortable and self-satisfied. They live their lives up here free from cars and predators, and with nature’s full abundance at their disposal. They seem ideally adapted to their environment. The Cradle Mountain wombats must surely be the happiest of creatures.

5 thoughts on “A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

  1. I love Tasmania in Winter. These fantastic shots bring back great memories of a June trip a couple of years ago. Cradle mountain area was drizzled in snow but that same walk was very easy. As for swimming ….. you’re a braver man than me Gunga Din! Liz’s “delight” at holding your Spot Messanger is similar to my own wife’s reaction when given the gps while sailing and asked to locate the next mark!
    Great blog – keep the posts coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. Like you, I am a fan of winter travel in such places. I’d be interested to see the place with a bit more snow, but it’s a beautiful place either way. As for the swim in 4°C water, it was a new, cold and interesting experience. Pleased you like the blog, and I will certainly keep the posts coming.


  2. Aagghh my Island home! I am so pleased to see your blog! I stumbled across it by accident. What a wonderful writer you are, you really captured the essence of Dove lake and the almost mystical quality of the dark waters. I have been on many bushwalks throughout Tasmania and only ever swum through necessity as I hate being cold! But you have never really experienced Tasmania unless you’ve had a cold swim in a beautiful lake or river!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your comments Nicole. I’m delighted to learn that a true Tasmanian stumbled across this post. As you would guess we loved Tasmania and will be back. There was indeed something powerful about the still, dark waters of Dove Lake.


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