Pine Valley, Lake St Claire National Park, Tasmania, 2020  

 

Photographs and commentary: copyright Jonathan Nevill 2020, unless otherwise credited. Camera: Samsung Galaxy S7

.

Pine Valley is a side-trip from the Cradle Mountain to Lake Saint Claire Track, managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. 

I became interested in visiting the area after seeing a photo by the professional photographer Ben Norsa.

 

There it is: The Acropolis, named in honour of the famous Greek temple.  Australian aboriginal names are not available to me at this time.
What an amazing landscape, and certainly an amazing photo by Ben Norsa. 
If you like this image you can purchase it from Ben. Please have a look at his work.

I can't imagine anyone seeing this photo and not wanting to visit this place for themselves. 

Unfortunately the car park is a little way off...   
I visited Pine Valley on November 26 and 27 (Thursday / Friday).

 

The bad news is that, through my own poor timing, I have NOT yet found my way to the Acropolis.

 

Above, the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) Map of the area. The Acropolis is part of the Du Cane Range.

Pine Valley Hut, maintained by the PWS, allows access to two areas as day walks. 
To the west lies The Labyrinth, and to the east lies The Acropolis.

 

To get your bearings, compare Long Lake and Lake Marion in the PWS map with the Google Earth image.

 

 

 

 

The park is accessed through the village of Derwent Bridge, two or three hours drive northwest from Hobart. At the park entrance there is a building housing the PWS visitors centre (on the right) and the commercially run Lodge on the left.  The company running the Lodge also runs the ferry. While you can walk from the visitors centre to Narcissus Hut, most visitors to Pine Valley Hut take the ferry. If you're planning to stay at Pine Valley Hut, the visitors centre is where you register for the hut, and place your details in the trip log book. Parks staff will access the log book if anyone reports you missing. The hut registration system is not a booking system: its purpose is for covid tracking. 


Note that four hikers have died in the Du Cane Range area in recent years, most commonly from hypothermia. Preparation and care are necessary.  Weather can change quickly and unexpectedly. In many areas the tracks are not well marked, and getting lost, or at least off-track, is likely at times of poor visibility.

 

On Thursday morning the sky was clear.

Hardly a cloud in sight. Lake St Claire, as shown in the map above, is aligned roughly northwest-southeast. It was created by a glacier, and at 175m, is apparently Australia's deepest freshwater lake.

 

As I mentioned, the weather can change quickly.

By the time the ferry left for the mouth of the Narcissus River, at the northwest end of the lake, it was raining lightly.

 

The ferry can take about 20 passengers with their gear (often quite a considerable weight). The trip takes about 30 minutes.

The ferry docks at a small jetty, not far from Narcissus Hut, which marks the south end of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair track.

Narcissus Hut has a simplex radio connection with the ferry operator. This is used to confirm ferry bookings and timing.

 

The Narcissus River, like most rivers in Tasmania's southwest, is a small stream. Although the water appears brown in this photo, in fact (at least compared with streams near Cradle Mountain) it does not have the heavy brown tannin staining typical of many other local waterways.

 

Here is the landscape at the start of the track. 
Even though Spring was nearly over, there were a lot of wildflowers on show. I saw many orchids, but none in bloom.

Frog mating season had passed, so the pools were quiet, although many contained tadpoles.

 

Wildflowers everywhere!
Although blurred, four vegetation zones are visible in this photo. The foreground shrub zone contains plants which can adapt to soils which are waterlogged (oxygen poor) for part of the year. The zone behind contains sclerophyll forest (hard-leaved); here there are fire-adapted, sun-loving trees like eucalypts and acacias. The next zone back contains rainforest, with a wide variety of fire-sensitive plants, dominated in places by Nothofagus species. The fourth zone above the forest is the alpine zone, where plants must endure temperatures below zero during winter.

 

There is much beauty in fine detail within the landscape, so it's worth taking time to look closely.

Forest 'coral' for example.

 

Buttongrass flats. I love their golden colours, which change slightly depending on sun angle and cloud cover...

 

Cloudy weather sometimes produces special effects to please photographers.
Wonderful changing patterns of light and shade, as the low clouds move across the landscape...

 

This part of the world has five groups of biting animals: ants, mosquitos, leaches, ticks and snakes. Generally speaking they don't cause trouble to hikers. Here is a Jumping Jack ant mound. They are black with yellow mandibles. Length: around 10-12 mm. 

It's not a good idea to get bitten by a Jumping Jack. Some people develop a reaction, resulting in anaphylactic shock. Deaths have occurred.

Note the detail in this mound: the twigs and pebbles show a similarity in size... rather bigger than the ants themselves.

 

Even on a cloudy day, the colours of the wildflowers seem to glow...

 

Rainforests... lots of fallen wood covered by moss, very shady, not much in the way of understorey plants. If a wildfire burns this forest it will be replaced by fire-adapted sclerophyll plant communities. For the rainforest to return, the area will need protection from fire for hundreds of years.

Rainforests all around Australia (and around the world) have been lost rapidly over the last century. Those that remain are precious.

 

Although there is often enough water in the local creeks and rivers to float a packraft or kayak, in practice the debris would usually make progress impossible. The debris, of course, provides great habitat for aquatic insects and other invertebrates.

 

Tasmanian Waratah in bloom. The droplets in the photo below are from a light shower an hour or two earlier.

 

Recently the PWS decided to increase the 'visibility' of their signs by painting them blue and white.

In my view this is a mistake. I much prefer the old style (above).

 

As I mentioned earlier, in places the track can be hard to follow.

In this image the track lies straight ahead, through the centre of the photo. It's marked with small plastic triangles, but these are missing in some places.

As you can see, the track itself looks very much like the forest floor.

 

The PWS estimate for the time to walk from Narcissus Hut to Pine Valley Hut is 3 hours. I'm a slow walker, so I'm used to adjusting these estimates.

The walk took me 5 hours, with a lot of stops. On the return trip, 4 hours, with only one stop.

I was pleased to see the hut appear, at last, through the trees....

 

The hut has a single large room; half with two large tables, and half with four sleeping platforms. The platforms were initially designed for 24 people, now 12 people (post covid). It has a veranda, a fireplace (for winter) and a rainwater tank. A toilet block and a helipad lie about 100m away. There are also four small tent platforms nearby. 

 

 

Above, the hut map. 

The hut holds a commemorative plaque for Clare Hutcheson, I suppose placed by her parents. Clare set off, alone, for a day walk to the Labyrinth. She was never seen again. The wilderness, which can seem so beautiful and magical, can turn cold, hostile and frightening. I felt very sad hearing her story, and realised part of my sadness came from losing Jasmine at such a young age. Like Clare, she had her life ahead of her...
The PWS advise that hikers should not walk alone for safety reasons, and recommend a group size of four. However, my perusal of the hut log book showed that, in the previous week, most hikers were walking in pairs or solo (with about one third walking solo). I was walking solo.

 

Nothofagus...

 

 

On the left, Nothofagus cunninghamii, on the right Nothofagus gunnii. These are ancient rainforest species, commonly called Beech.

Pine Valley gets its name from native pines which occur throughout the upper reaches of the valley.

 

The rainforest has been in place here for hundreds of years.

The oldest and tallest trees are eucalypts, relics of a former vegetation community, and they tower above the rainforest canopy. These trees reproduce well where the forest floor is relatively open. Without fire, the rainforest trees gradually shade out the fire-adapted species. Of course, over time, both kinds of trees die and fall, to be consumed slowly by bacteria, fungi, small plants (mosses, for example) and invertebrates. 

Moss 'gardens' are common and beautiful.

 

After sunrise on Friday morning...

Looking towards the northwest from the hut. The fluffy cumulous clouds were moving at great speed, while the higher cirrus remained relatively still.

 

I made a late start on Friday morning, after mucking around taking time-lapse photos of clouds.

I took the Acropolis track, unsure how far I would get. The PWS time estimate for this walk is 7 hours return. I left the hut at 9am, too late as it turned out.

The track has four stages. Stage one is easy walking through ancient rainforest, following the Cephissus Creek valley, northwards. Stage two leaves the valley floor and climbs steeply up the valley's eastern face. The tall rainforest drops away, to be replaced by ancient tangled bush: here many plant species appear which are absent within the rainforest. The track reaches a narrow ridgeline alpine plateau (stage three) which is open, and easy walking. I was interested to see the burrows of terrestrial crayfish in the soggy soils of the plateau. I guess the deeper soils don't freeze over, even in winter... otherwise how would the crayfish survive? I presume they feed on algae and the roots of plants. There are frogs here too, adapted to alpine conditions.

 

The alpine plateau, looking north towards the Acropolis (1470 m).

Stage four of the walk starts as the flat plateau meets the steep side of the Acropolis. The dolerite columns of the Acropolis are clearly visible against the skyline.

 

Here is the track as it heads northeast along the edge of the cliff.

The track increases in difficulty the higher you get.

 

At 1:30pm, after walking for 4.5 hours, I stopped at a particularly steep section, around about the centre of this photo. 
I figured it would take me another hour at least to reach the top of the ridge and find a good vantage point for photographs. 

I had lunch, and turned back at 2pm, retracing my steps.

 

Heading back to the hut. Here you can see the track hugging the base of the cliff.

You can also just make out the track as it heads along the ridgeline plateau.

 

I arrived back at the hut a little before 6pm. At this time of year, the sun sets at about 8:30pm.

 

A pandani grove, lit by the late afternoon sun.

 

The next morning, Saturday, I walked out to catch the 1pm ferry back to the visitors' centre, allowing myself five hours for the four-hour walk. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home