Lake St. Clair is at the southern end of Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park. The car park and visitors centre are at Cynthia Bay. This is also the end point for people completing the Overland Track from north to south. From here there are a number of good day walks as well as longer walks.
We decided to head out there for a long weekend, with a good weather forecast, to do a bit of exploring, including a walk and camping at Shadow Lake and to do the Mt Rufus Circuit.
There are plenty of accommodation choices in the park, ranging from high end luxury to basic camping. Our preference was for camping and, rather than staying at Cynthia Bay, we wanted to get out into the bush, so we decided to make the two hour walk to Shadow Lake and camp there for a couple of nights. This would put us in a good position to do the Mt Rufus Circuit on our second day.
The walk from Cynthia Bay to Shadow Lake takes about 2 hours and is around 6 kms. Many visitors come to the park, so trails are well signposted.
Shortly after leaving the visitors centre we passed Fergy’s Paddock where camping is allowed. There is a toilet and it’s close to the lake (for water) but not much else.
A little further on we passed Watersmeet, the junction of the Hugel and Curvier Rivers. The Shadow Lake track splits off to the left at this point.
The track is well maintained with duckboarding and steps where needed.
Shadow Lake was reached after another one and a half hours walking.
The main track continues to Mt. Rufus while, to the right, a track continues along the eastern side of the lake, which is the Forgotten Lake/Little Hugel track.
There are some ok camping spots at the Shadow Lake – Mt. Rufus track junction, but the best camping is on the eastern shore. We found a nice, protected spot close to a small, sandy beach with good access to the lake’s water.
Shadow Lake is fresh water and we drank it without boiling or using purification tabs, but to be on the safe side, it’s probably best to take such steps to make sure that the water is fine to drink, especially as visitation levels continue to grow throughout the park.
We had a quick dunk to get rid of the sweat from our walk and enjoyed a pleasant night beside the lake. There were surprisingly few insects which was an added bonus.
Mt Rufus Circuit
A layer of mist hung over the lake when we awoke next morning.
After breakfast we organised our day packs and embarked on the Mt Rufus Circuit. From Cynthia Bay it is a 7 hour/19 km walk, but from Shadow Lake it’s a bit shorter. We estimate it to be about 14 – 15km.
From Shadow Lake we headed up the Hugel River Valley.
The track then ascended towards Mt Hugel.
It continued to climb onto the saddle between Mt Hugel and Mt Rufus.
There were some great views of Mt Hugel, and further west to the neighbouring Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
The track turned south and made for the summit of Mt Rufus.
We reached the top after two and a half hours of walking.
Great views and time for a rest before starting down.
The track gradually descends, heading east with views of Lake St. Clair and many of the peaks along the Overland Track.
We also got good elevated views of Shadow Lake and Forgotten Lake.
After a short, steep descent followed by an hour’s walking through scrubby forest we arrived back at the Hugel River Valley. From here we continued towards Little Hugel, which sat just behind our campsite.
Back at camp it was time for a cooling dip in the lake.
Overall, the walk had taken us 6 hours, including a half hour lunch break at the summit of Mt Rufus.
It was a little overcast when we emerged the next morning.
We made a quick dash up the track to Forgotten Lake to have a look. We made a mental note to come back again to do the walk up Little Hugel just beyond Forgotten Lake.
It was then packs on and the walk back to Cynthia Bay.
The drive to Hobart is around 2.5 hours. If you’re going to Launceston it takes about the same time.
The walks to Shadow Lake and the Mt Rufus Circuit can both be done as day walks from Cynthia Bay. But, by camping on Shadow Lake, we were able to have a wilderness camping experience without going very far into the bush, a sort of ‘wilderness lite’. For people who want to get out and away from the comforts of the modern world to disconnect for a while, but who haven’t done this before, this trip is a good introduction to this type of fully self-reliant camping.
Ken and Cally