The Penguin Cradle Track is an 80 km track/marked route that runs, obviously, from Penguin on the north coast to Pencil Pine in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. The section from Loongana to Pencil Pine seems the most appealing as it traverses the Black Bluff Range and is above 800 metres most of the way in exposed alpine heathland. Perhaps not the best location for a walk on a windy, cold, showery day, but, it was the one we chose to do.
We opted to do this as a through walk. I would start off the C132 near Rocky Mountain and walk through to Pencil Pine, while Doug would drive to Pencil Pine and walk up from the Speeler Plains. Unless we have thought ahead and printed a map, our only map is the topographical map we have on our mobile telephone so usually someone gets a map and someone does without. Doug took one look at the foggy weather and scanty track heading off towards Rocky Mountain and gave me the mobile telephone to take. This was great for me, but bad for him as it left him trying to navigate a maze of roads leading to various different accommodation options at Pencil Pine without a map and going by memory only.
I started out about 9.30 am, completely kitted out in the usual Tasmanian walking gear - a beanie (toque for Canadians) and waterproof pants and jacket, gloves, long sleeve shirt etc. The wind was quite biting given it was only about 4 degrees Celsius. I actually had no trouble following the track along the heathlands past Rocky Mountain and Mount Beecroft although I could see neither of them in the fog. Descending Mount Beecroft I was surprised to find the track actually had switchbacks instead of going straight down. This was a very good thing as it would have been an awkwardly slippery descent otherwise.
At the bottom of the descent, I got into thick brush and a fairly obscured track with few markers. I had to get out both the map (phone) and compass to find the route as it travelled southeast towards Four Ways. At the Four Ways camp, looking rather dismal in driving rain and a cold wind, I faffed around on all the little tracks that seemed to lead down to the somewhat swollen river which I was seriously hoping I did not have to ford. After a couple of dead-ends, I got the route description out (Google it) and found that the "substantial footbridge" was downstream from the camp on a "well marked track." The bridge is, indeed, substantial, but the track not that well marked although I found it finally.
On the plains heading towards Mount Beecroft
It seemed to take me a very long time to walk from Four Ways to Pandani Grove although I was chugging along at my best pace. I kept losing the track in chest high bush as it is really a marked route not a constructed track, and, despite being thirty years old, it does not seem to get enough traffic to keep the bush beaten back. I got well soaked walking through this section and had to back-track a number of times to re-find the track after I lost it.
A sign marks Pandani Grove and the walking through this section would be enjoyable as the Pandani are very cool looking trees/plants, but I was fairly wet and cold by this point. The sturdy sign marking Pandani Grove did cheer me up as it seemed I was making some progress. Another creek is crossed on a log (chicken wire, cable) and then the track enters Myrtle and King Billy Pine rainforest and is much easier to follow mostly because there are lots of trees to hang markers on. I still had to back-track a few more times where trees had obscured the track or I just plain lost the way.
After three hours of walking I was pretty sure Doug had taken the more sensible course of waiting at the other end for me as he does not like bad tracks or poor weather singly, led along together. But, at 12.30 pm, I saw his bright blue waterproof coat coming through the forest towards me. Doug had a story to tell as well. He had difficulty without the map finding the track head, which is hidden down a road past a series of rental cabins with no signage until you are right there. It had taken him an hour of travelling about on various roads and making enquiries to find the track head.
When I told him I had been going three hours, I was quite sure he would decide to turn back. Doug, very sensibly does not enjoy suffering like I do. But, he was not really sure he wanted to walk back the way he had come!
In the end, my report of the track (I generally tend to be a bit on the optimistic side) convinced him that he might prefer to end this sodden walk sooner rather than later, so we both walked to Pencil Pine together. The track continues through the same rainforest (the track does get much better) and climbs up onto the button grass of the Speeler Plains. If you weren't stumbling along trying not to fall face first into a mud puddle, this would be wonderful walking as the plains are open, and, given better weather, there would be mountain views to Cradle Mountain (in the clouds). Doug opted for the trying to avoid mud puddles and streams running on the "track" but I just splashed through.
Doug crossing the Speeler Plains
Descending off the Speeler Plains you get onto a series of tourist tracks that loop around this last section and the track gets better and better until you are on board-walk for the last 10 minutes. Changing out of our wet pants in the parking lot, we both found blood running down our legs from leeches and Doug still had about four of the buggars still clinging to him. If I were to do this walk again, I probably wouldn't, although better weather would undoubtedly make it more enjoyable.