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Published: August 9th 2015
Apparently Friday 31 July saw a rare blue moon in our skies. Was this the reason for the rare chain of events that followed for me that weekend?
It was a long weekend, so of course I had taken the opportunity to get out of town. I had booked a weekend in Tasmania, specifically at Cradle Mountain Lodge, about a 2-hour drive from Launceston and handily located at the entrance to the Cradle Mountain National Park. The weather conditions there are famously unpredictable, and I was a bit worried about snow and whether or not I would be able to get there. I had emailed the lodge in advance to ask if I needed chains, and they responded that the lodge is at 820m so there isn't a lot of snow, and if it did snow then the roads would be plowed. Famous last words!
I was looking forward to a pretty quiet weekend, with lots of walking and exploring in the National Park during the days, and winding down with red wine, a good book, or a movie on my laptop in the evening. Turns out that things didn't quite go to plan.
First up my arrival
was delayed by a couple of hours. I was sitting on the plane in Sydney at 7.00 am, taxiing to the runway when the pilot announced that we had to head back to the terminal due to a faulty engine indicator light. The captain initially suggested that this delay might be for about 30 minutes however it took a new plane and a couple more hours until we could eventually take off. This was disappointing because when I finally arrived at the lodge on Saturday afternoon, there wasn't quite enough time for me to do the Dove Lake circuit walk, about a 3 hour hike.
At this point in time I wasn't too concerned. I had another couple of days up my sleeve, and I was able to do some of the shorter walks closer to the lodge. I had also booked in for the "Park Explorer" offered by the lodge in the 4WD the following afternoon. It was with a guide from the lodge and covered off the most well-known sites famous for their beauty. Due to the weather conditions the park itself was closed to 2WD cars, so this seemed like a great option. The lodge also
offered a guided walk to Marion's lookout, so I thought that Sunday would be pretty busy.
Not long after I arrived at the lodge as I was pottering about organising my things and getting changed into some walking gear, I glanced out the window and only a few metres from my window spied a family of wombats! Faithful readers will know that I have had a number of encounters with Australian wildlife in its natural habitat but so far the humble wombat had been very elusive. It had become something of a quest for me to spot one, so I was delighted to finally see some. Mother and baby were slowly meandering around outside my window, munching on tussock, completely oblivious to me jumping up and down with excitement. It turned out those wombats really liked that little area outside my window, which was just perfect as I really like watching them. Then, just for variety, a pademelon bounced past a couple of times. I couldn't have planned it better if I'd tried. The wombats were absolutely the highlight of my trip. As it turned out, Tasmania was to experience an almost unprecedented cold spell.
On Sunday morning
I woke to a light dusting of snow, which was actually very pretty. I decided to go for a walk, but opted not to go for one of the longer ones because the track was covered by snow. I bundled up warm in plenty of layers - thermals, wool tops, fleece jacket, puffer jacket, two beanies, gloves and woolly socks, morphing into a wombat myself, or maybe more like a womble! I really enjoyed my morning walk through the enchanted forest. As I was walking I startled a number of pademelons, plus saw plenty of evidence of other animals with their footprints in the snow.
Unfortunately however the snow picked up a bit, and five minutes into our Park Explorer tour later that afternoon we had to turn around as the roads were closed. The lodge had also cancelled all their other activities, including the walk to Marion's lookout, because of the snow. I had chatted with the lodge guide, Eddie, about some walks that I could do in this weather and he recommended the short 40 minute walk to the waterfalls, which he said was easy, protected and very pretty. Given I had nothing else to do it
seemed like a good idea, so I trudged through the snow to the start of the walk. All the walks around the lodge are very well maintained and signposted, with boardwalks lined with chicken wire to stop you slipping. However on Sunday the boardwalk was nowhere to be seen, it was all covered by snow. I could however see some footprints. The snow was falling thick and fast and I wondered about the wisdom of setting off into the snow following only footsteps that might well disappear, but Eddie assured me it would be fine and it was worth it. He seemed like a nice man who didn't want to see me die in the snow so I forged ahead. Of course he was completely right, it was an easy walk through the rainforest and quite beautiful.
From there on in the weather got progressively worse. I woke on Monday morning to a very thick blanket of snow, and walking from my cabin to the main lodge I trudged through thick snow which was nearly knee deep. It looked amazing, but then it dawned on me that this was only good if it melted by the time I needed
to leave. After all my worries about getting to the lodge, it had never occurred to me to be concerned about leaving. Turns out that this was going to be the real challenge.
It became evident early on Monday that it was going to be difficult to leave, however the girls on reception remained optimistic that the snow plow would turn up soon. So all the guests trying to leave checked out and waited in the guest lounge for more news. Spending a day in the guest lounge by the fire sounds like a lovely way to spend a day, but I promise you it was not. It was like being in a really fancy prison, as with patchy wifi and no television, there was literally nothing to do since I had finished my book and watched all the movies on my laptop. All the guests were there waiting - fractious toddlers, crying babies, an extraordinary number of children including one boy I took an immediate dislike to when he started playing the piano. Luckily one of the receptionists asked him to stop and after the second occasion I heard him complaining to his mother that she had shut
the lid and locked it. Hallelujah!
We waited for hours in the lounge for the snow plow and for announcements and updates about the roads. At one stage we were told that 4WDs could leave, and one couple also from Sydney decided to have a go in their 2WD. About half an hour later they came back, after getting stuck in the snow and needing to be towed back to the lodge. I was really worried. I could barely see my car under the piles of snow, and couldn't imagine how it was going to get out. It was a very long day. We had checked out of our rooms and couldn't go back without checking back in and incurring another night's cost. We were all hopeful that we would be able to get out, as most of us had flights booked. The most exciting thing that happened all day was an almighty crash as the massive amount of snow had built up on the roof and began crashing down on the ground - this went on for several minutes. Then at about 3.30 pm I realised that it wasn't going to be possible to leave so I checked
back in to the lodge and changed my flight. This weekend was turning out to be a lot more expensive than I'd bargained on.
The next day the forecast was slightly better. It was still snowing but it was definitely a bit warmer. It became clear that it was now or never in terms of escape from the high class prison. The weather was supposed to get worse later in the week so if I didn't leave Tuesday, I would be stuck there until Friday and this thought filled me with dread. I was nervous about driving out on my own, in my 2WD car, with no cellphone coverage. Having looked at the fine print of my rental car insurance it also seemed that I wasn't insured for snow (any extreme weather conditions) either. So after a call to Avis I decided to leave the car there and pay for it to be towed back to Launceston later in the week - still cheaper than paying for more accommodation. Instead I hitched a ride with a lovely family from Melbourne who were going to have a go at driving to Launceston.
There was a small convoy of us
who were making a bid for freedom. My family - Anthony, Oh and their children Christopher and Alexandra - also only had a 2WD so it was pretty hairy at times. At one stage we were sliding backwards and sideways and then got completely stuck and weren't moving at all. We got out and pushed for a while until Anthony got going again and he kept on going up the hill until he got to a spot that was safer to stop in. We walked up the hill for about a kilometre or so to meet up with him, but then we were away. The worst had passed and we were on our way to Launceston at last.
So my trip to Cradle Mountain was somewhat mixed. I finally saw some wombats and they definitely didn't disappoint. However thanks to the biggest snowfall in Tasmania in 30 years (it even snowed on the beach in Hobart) I stayed at the entrance to the National Park but never made it to the park as it was closed.
Strange times indeed - once in a blue moon!
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