Where we stayed: Pine Valley Hut, Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park – $FREE
How we got there:
- Ferry from Lake St Clair Visitor Centre across the lake to Narcissus Hut – $50pp each way, ~30minute crossing
- Walked from Narcissus Hut to Pine Valley Hut, 9.5kms ~3hrs
Overland Track Passes: At the time of writing (Jan 2020) you do not need an Overland Track pass to walk to Pine Valley Hut and stay there for one or more nights, despite the first ~5km of the walk from Narcissus being along the final section of the Overland Track.
The Overland is hiked from North to South from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair and you are likely to meet many hikers coming in the other direction, finishing their ~5 night/6 day Overland adventure, many of whom will give you stink-eye as they think you are walking the track the wrong way but all will be too polite to actually say anything.
Suggest you just allow them the right of way, they are tired and have earned it.
National Park Pass: You will need a National Park Pass which can be bought at the Lake St Clair visitors centre. The guy on the desk said we were okay to get a 24hr one despite the fact we would be away from the car about 36hrs, leave this on display in your car at the visitors centre. $24 for 24hr pass which covers car and people
Boat bookings: If you want to catch the boat over Lake St Clair instead of walking the 18km around it then you should book a boat transfer through Lake St Clair lodge. During summer there are 3 scheduled transfers each day, however our driver said he sometimes ended up doing around 5 a day.
The booking system seemed slightly illogical to me in that there is a minimum number of 6 passengers in order for the boat to run. We had wanted to catch the 9AM boat over, but when I called there were no other bookings for 9AM so we either had to commit to paying $300 for that crossing, or book onto the 12.30PM boat (which already had >6 takers), so obviously we chose the latter.
This system just means that unless you’re a group of >6, or boat ballers with your $s, then practically the whole boat could end up being on a different time to their actual preference. In the end it meant we had a relaxed morning the day we set off and there was some flexibility on the return journey as we ended up coming back a bit earlier than we’d booked and there was enough room to sneak us on.
Water: there is tanked rainwater up at the hut. We drank it directly and were fine other than minor stomach rumbles but you can either boil or use purification tablets.
Toilets: there is a toilet building up at the camp, obviously BYO paper!
Sleeping Arrangements: there is no booking system for the hut, therefore space is on a first come first basis, however there were instructions up on the wall that everyone should aim to make room for later arrivals.
There were 2 x 2 level wooden platforms, which fit 6-8 people on each, so room for 24-32 people inside. There are also numerous tent platforms around the hut. We’d been instructed by the Parks staff that we must take a tent up with us in case the hut was full and we needed to sleep outside – the reality was that everyone up there seemed to prefer being outside in their tents, with Ben & I and an Israeli couple being the only occupants of the hut the night we were there.
I would have probably preferred a few more bodies for heat in the early hours of the morning when the temperature dropped into the single digits despite being summer.
Onward hikes: the walk to Pine Valley Hut was absolutely stunning in its own right, with incredibly varied landscapes despite the relatively short distance and small elevation change. However, many people will use the hut as a base to tackle the longer walks up and over the valley edges and onto the vast plateaus above, with ‘The Labyrinth’ and ‘The Acropolis’ being the two main ones accessible from the hut.
Both of these walks require about 5-7hrs for the round trip so given you’re already walking 3 hours to get to the hut, unless you’re a hiking-maestro, I’d recommend spending at least 2 nights at the hut if you wanted to do one of the onward walks, perhaps even 3 nights if you’re planning to tackle both of them!
Prep: It probably goes without saying but you really do have to be prepared for any conditions in Tasmania. Our first day we had amazing blue skies and sunshine, but our boat driver was telling us that only 6 weeks ago there had been half a metre of snow by the lake.
There were a couple of photos by the visitors centre showing the same path 48hrs apart in summer, in one shot bathed in sunlight, in the next covered in snow. The temperature really drops overnight and we had an eery mist during the decent which kept us feeling fresh.
Also it’s worth keeping an eye out for animal pals, especially those of the serpentine variety! Having visited Bonorong wildlife sanctuary near Hobart earlier in the week I’d learnt that Tasmania only boast 3 types of native snakes: 1) The Tiger snake; 2) The Copperhead snake; and 3) White Lipped snake.
I was therefore quickly able to identify my first live snake sighting in the wild when about 200metres after hopping off the boat at Narcissus and boldly marching onto the track (it was a Tiger snake). After that whoever of us was at the front a.k.a “snake bait” was very vigilant, and we were sure to specify when we saw a “lizard with legs” or “lizard without legs” (of which there was thankfully only one more during the walk!)
It was a beautiful walk, and an excellent dip of the toe into hiking with an overnight stay. The only other similar hike we’ve done being to Mueller Hut near Mount Cook in NZ. I’d like to return to Tassie to try the Three Capes Track (3 night, 4 day, 48km) and perhaps one day the full Overland adventure!