Penguin Cradle Trail Day One

Date: Monday, January 5th 2015

So, when I went searching for a BIG hike in Australia, I wanted to hit the Bibbulmun, but I didn’t have 6 weeks available until the mid year break, which has better suited weather anyway (Only, my plans are now delayed, as the stupid track burned down!!! Seriously, my luck). So I hunted for a summer hike to do. The obvious choice was the Overland, but I wanted something longer. This was how I learned of the PCT. Not the huge long beast in America, but the tricky little beast that winds south from Penguin on the north coast of Tasmania to Cradle Mountain. There isn’t a lot of information out there on the PCT, and what little there is I feel is a touch misleading, and yet not. If you read about it, you’ll be scared off. It reads like a death trap for hikers, and it could be if you were stupid about it but I found a beautiful little corner of the world when I went. Even if I didn’t get to do the best bit! I’ll be back to finish you PCT!

Day One on the Penguin Cradle Trail started out beautifully. I mean, how could it not, when you wake up to this:

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Yeah. I cannot recommend my accommodation highly enough. I stayed at the High on Penguin B&B; it’s amazing and quirky and has stunning views, is a very short walk into town or to the beach, included breakfast in a very modest price and the owner even picked me up from the bus stop, without me asking! Seriously, the most amazing service. And fantastic things like this jukebox:

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So yeah, if you’re going to Penguin, there is no better place to stay than High on Penguin! The amazing Gerard even dropped me off at the trailhead, which saved me a few kms in the morning and allowed me to pick up an extra map from the local tourist info centre of the mount dial range. If you’re doing the PCT, go grab this map. Seriously. It will save your life on that first day or two, as while its adequately marked, the track is Grade 4 and you’re going to want a map if you’re anything like me! You know…navigationally paranoid.

There are many ways to do the PCT, but I had settled on Chapman’s itinerary of 8 days. This meant I only had to walk 10km on Day 1. Which after you’ve stuffed yourself over Christmas and avoided all physical activity for a week of two of leisure you are thankful for. It takes that day to find your rhythm again.

The trail starts here:

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Its funny. I had no idea how much I would crave seeing that little arrow sign, but I learnt quickly! This section of the hike is really quite lovely, somewhat like a hilly stroll over the mountain and across to the Leven River. Most of the intersections have the PCT arrow on them, and those that don’t it was obvious which way to go. Unfortunately my sock slipped and before I knew it I had a horrible blister, which plagued me for weeks to come (Read: 2cm deep infection with muscle visible and constantly oozing puss and disgustingness, that I nonetheless walked with).

You also go through amazingly creepy sections like this:

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At least, it seemed creepy at the time. In the end, there was an actual path under these ferns to follow. Later, there wasn’t. So this was really just a pretty little Alice in Wonderland moment where you realise you’re only just beginning your decent into madness. It’s successful in making you feel very small and humble. I loved it. As usual.

You cross a few cute creeks, fix your blisters, scratch your head at a random road crossing and then descend past another small creek before you hit what the PCT is all about; the Leven River. Now, there are paths all around the Leven, and there is NO sign saying which of these is the PCT. Luckily, my Mount Dial map and the North West Walkers maps both said it had the Leven on the left. So, I had some clue which path to take, even if I clutched that map like a mofo for a km before I decided it was the right one.

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This is probably my favourite part of the walk; following an old tram line pathway along the side of the river. This could have something to do with the fact it’s impossible to get lost, since you just keep the river on your left and go forward along the path. These things…they plague me! I was fortunate that the day was stunningly beautiful; cool and a little breezy but sunny and gorgeous.

Eventually, however, you have to leave the river, and this is really where the reality of the PCT hits. This is not a grade 3 track. It’s mostly a grade 4. I dare say there are sections that are grade 5, especially if it hasn’t been trimmed in a while!

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This is where Hell starts. Not really, but it is literally a hundred metre climb in a very upwards direction from that signed tree. And the hills only get bigger from there. Still, I loved day 1!  From here you follow along the back of the bike range and eventually hit an access road before marching off into a clearing off the side with a well set up campsite by the pretty Hardstaff Creek.

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That’s my campsite for the night, and the path down to the creek.

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The creek. And me. Obviously. I really, really love this little campsite. But the absolute best thing about it is it’s local resident echidna, who spent the whole afternoon doing laps around my tent and eventually came and sat beside my log while I ate dinner.

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The sun sets late in Tassie in Summer; at about 9pm. I didn’t expect that. But it was nice, and I read until sunset. Echidna was still doing laps when I fell asleep.