SUNDAY 20 FEBRUARY NATIONAL PARK TO LAKE ST CLAIR 137kms
When we got up in the morning, there was the lovely smell of rained-on bush.
I phoned the Visitor Centre at Lake St Clair to book us a powered site. Knowing we had a place for tonight, we had a leisurely pack up and departure.
We stopped at Westerway for fuel – 88cpl.
Took the minor road through Ellendale, to the Lyell Highway. There were some very steep hills. We stopped at the bottom of a particularly long downhill section, so that John could check that the repaired van brake was not too hot. It was fine, but there was smoke coming from the front passenger side of Truck, which caused us some consternation. John checked the obvious engine things – water, oil, etc. All were ok. We concluded that maybe the wheel or brake drum was hot and had gotten some water or mud on it when we pulled off the road.
So we continued on.
The country around Tarraleah was hilly again. There was a really long, sustained, steep downhill, winding road going down into the Nive Gorge, to Tarraleah. It went on for kms. We pulled over again at the parking area by the Tarraleah power station. Smoke came out of Truck’s brakes! They had obviously been working too hard, although the wheels themselves did not feel too hot.
With superbly bad timing, there were some tour buses parked there too, as audience to our entry. One self-important old twat came rushing over to tell John that he really should use the gears coming downhill! Duh! The only gear John hadn’t used on that downhill run was reverse!
Actually it occurred to me that it would help, on such gradients in the future, to have Truck in low range. That might make the engine into more of a brake. I decided I would suggest that, at an opportune time. This wasn’t it!
We wandered about, and had a look at the power station and the penstocks that come down the hill to it, bringing water from the storages up top, like Tungatinah Lagoon. We had an interesting discussion about what the results of a broken penstock might be!
When John thought the brakes were cool enough, we continued on, up the long, steep climb from the Nive Gorge, and amidst the tourist bus traffic.
It had turned into a pleasant, sunny day.
We reached Lake St Clair about 1pm, turning off the Lyell Highway at Derwent Bridge (which is basically just a hotel) for the 5km or so to get to Cynthia Bay, where the settlement is. Derwent Bridge is, as the name suggests, where the highway crosses the upper reaches of the Derwent River, which originates from Lake St Clair.
Lake St Clair is another glacier formed lake – long, narrow and the deepest lake in Australia. It is in a beautiful setting, with mountain backdrops. It is at the southern end of the Overland Track – the walk track from Cradle Mountain, some 80kms to the north. The track emerges at the northern end of the lake and most hikers choose to avoid the extra day’s walk, and night in a tent, by catching the boat service down the lake to Cynthia Bay. This is what I have done, the times I’ve walked the Track!
So the settlement at Cynthia Bay – Rangers Station, visitor information centre and shop, campground and accommodation huts – caters both for hikers and tourists like us, this time, who come in by road.
We went to the slick new Visitors Centre and paid our camp fees of $12 a night, for five nights. We were told that ours would be the only empty site in their small powered camp area. They do not bother to allocate numbers or really demarcate sites! There were 9 power points, in pairs, on the trees around the roughly circular area. That’s it!
The only seemingly empty place for us was a small spot between trees and very close to a Kombi van there. We occupied it. Were pretty dissatisfied as there was no room to put the awning out to the side! The people in the Kombi were rather strange. It turned out that they had decided to stay on an extra night, but had no bothered to tell the office, hence the squash.
After dark, a motorhome came in; the people hunted around for a power outlet but of course there was none. We did not know whether they had been misinformed at the office, or had simply decided to try their luck without checking in.
When we booked in, the cafe/shop was doing a roaring trade, with two big coaches pulled in, plus walkers in off the Overland Track. Lakeside St Clair is now a slick operation geared to extracting maximum cash from tourists and walkers – but not overly concerned to give value for money. That was my impression anyway.
After our very basic set up, which didn’t take long – there was no room to put out table, chairs and the like – we walked up to the National Park Information Centre, which was of excellent quality. We studied the information there for over an hour, which is a measure of its quality, considering our previous visits to Cynthia Bay and thus already knowing a lot about the area. In the 60’s I had camped there with friends for a few days at a time, after walking the Overland Track. When John, my son and I finished the track in 1992, we didn’t stay because there was a bus conveniently leaving for Devonport, and we were on a fairly tight schedule.
Then went to the shop, where I bought magnets, postcards and a Sunday paper.
The amenities block for this campground is abysmal. It also services a backpacker bunkhouse. There are two toilets and three showers in the Ladies, which is not enough. One of the toilets has a leak – only fresh water, one hopes! The floor is thus awash most of the time. The showers cost 50 cents in the slot – but the water does then run for a good seven minutes. However, there is no temperature control – you take it as it comes, which was a bit hot for me. The shower design has the water washing over the floor into the next cubicle, so the end one gets the wash from both the others. Most unhygienic. The whole pace was grotty and dirty. There was much backpacker washing of dishes in the handbasins, too, which always creates more mess.
We took beers down to the lake shore, downhill from our van site and sat, watching fish jump. It was very beautiful, with Mt Ida and the Traveller Range opposite, and big cumulus clouds building along the top of the Range.
Tea was fettucine with olives, capers, tuna, tomato. John really likes this recipe, and I like it because it is quick and easy to make.
There was a really pretty sunset over the lake. Then, later, the full moon shone on the lake, making a reflected beam. We took some photos of this, using the camera tripod. Later, as the moon got higher, little light speckles appeared on the water, like a few fish wearing tiny lights. These grew into a big shimmering patch. There must have been some ripples on the surface, catching the moonlight. It was most unusual, and lovely.
It was also a cold night. I needed my woolly bedsocks.
John phoned his sister and had a chat, then K to leave a message for him to send mail to Strahan.
We booked in here for five nights, intending to do some sightseeing in the broader area, and walking. Had we inspected the site first, might not have done so!
Seeing the walkers coming in off the Overland Track today was real nostalgia stuff, for me. Forty six years ago that was me, the first time!