Pencil Pine Track
Previously we have explored the walks around Dove Lake and Marions Lookout, completed the Overland Track and had a failed (due to weather) attempt to climb Cradle Mountain. But we haven’t explored the tracks starting near the Cradle Mountain Interpretation Centre (and Ranger Station). This is our account of walking the Pencil Pine Track.
Pencil Pine track: map
Although the pencil Pine track is shown on the Cradle Mountain Day Walks Map and Notes there is no detailed description or suggested timings. Likewise there is no information about this walk on the Parks & Wildlife Service web site.
It is shown as a Grade 4 walk. So you should be an experienced bushwalker to attempt this track. From the map it appears to be a 8 to 9 km circuit.
We advise taking a hard copy of the map. However, you may get some mobile phone reception in places, so bookmark the satellite map, too!
Locating the start of the Pencil Pine track
If you aren’t familiar with the area around the Cradle Mountain Lodge and the Ranger Station, you may think the start of this track is a well kept secret. In fact we found the start of the track by accident!
Having checked in to the Cradle Mountain Hotel the previous afternoon, we drove down to the Ranger Station. We were wondering if there may be some information about the walk in the Interpretation Centre, but there wasn’t. There was no obvious signage indicating the start of the track. However on the map the track is shown to intersect with the Enchanted Walk and the Speeler track near the Cradle Mountain Lodge.
We took a stroll around Pencil Pine Creek on the Enchanted walk. As you can see from our photo, this track is suitable for all family members. The fist part of the walk is even wheel-chair accessible, and it is such a scenic walk!
Graham came off the Pencil Pine Creek walking bridge and happened to glance over to his left into the rainforest. And there, partially obscured by a fallen tree, was a small track sign for the Pencil Pine track. Great! So now we knew where to start the walk the next morning.
Walking the Pencil Pine Track
The track through the rainforest
This is certainly a lesser known walking track! It is not well maintained and you need to be vigilant to find and follow the pink tapes.
We drove from our hotel to the Ranger Station, where we parked our car. It had been raining overnight and when we started the walk it was still misty and wet. Patches of snow were on the ground.
This was the first time we had used chains on our shoes. The chains were immediately helpful with walking over the slippery trees roots in the rainforest. And to be honest, I am not sure that I could have completed the walk without them,
Walking in the rainforest here reminded me of the walk up to the Labyrinth in the Pine Valley. Even the weather conditions were similar. It was truly enchanted as the trail followed Pencil Pine Creek.
Out into the open
The rainforest track starts a gradual climb as you leave the creek behind. Then the landscape opens up revealing low alpine scrub.
We really enjoyed this section of the track, because of the snow, and the contrasting vegetation. It was an easy stretch of the walk. So it was easy to daydream, take photos and enjoy walking.
Then in an out of scrub and forest
Some parts of the track were overgrown by scrub — hence the term scrub-bashing comes to mind. The expansive snow drifts were soon exchanged for scrubby bush then forest once more.
As the track wound back towards Pencil Pine Creek, we could see deep down into the ravine. In this short video, I attempt to give you an idea of depth of the ravine. The wind was ripping and I couldn’t keep the snow flakes off my camera lens.
Lunch in the forest
We felt we had walked far enough to take a break. And this scenic area of forest seemed a good place to stop for a cup of hot tea and a piece of Graham’s 70th birthday cake. Little did we suspect that the walk so far had been a walk in the park compared to what was to follow!
Scrambling around the escarpment
A short distance past our lunch stop, there was a land slip in the forest. So we needed to abandon the marked track to climb over and under trees while trying not to slip down into the ravine. This may have seemed scary enough, but it actually got worse!
We had lost sight of the pink markers, just as I looked up over my shoulder to see markers several metres above my head over a rock face.
Please don’t tell me that is the track. Graham: It is. So this is where we turn round and head back? No said Graham We can do this!
After scrambling up the first rock ledge, I stopped to take a photo. I braced myself against the escarpment to take my camera out of its bag. Then I decided to take a short video in order to show you the depth of the ravine. But the two-dimensional video doesn’t really do it justice. It was easy to get dizzy looking down!
But it got worse before it got better
You may have noticed the overgrown bush Graham was pushing through? Well on one side prickly bushes such as Richea scoparia were pushing out and on the other side of the very narrow track, there was a ravine. I was using three points of contact to scramble up the rocks-holding on to rock crevices and tree roots.
On at least two occasions my bottom became the fourth point of contact. If you have read my previous Blogs, you may recall that my right knee was de-gloved in a bicycle accident. So I have little strength in this knee. Hence my need to haul myself up on to my bottom! My adrenalin/scared meter was close to maxing out!
I was too focused on survival to take photos.
The alpine plateau
After about 1 km of rock scrambling it was a relief to be up on the alpine plateau.
Up on the plateau, there were few trees – just button grass.
Button grass torture
If you have ever had the pleasure of walking through button grass, you will understand the heading for this paragraph! The Pencil Pine track now weaves its way downhill through endless button grass. So we were treated to ankle-deep water and shoe-sucking mud. And don’t forget the ever present threat of unseen black holes waiting to break an ankle.
Coming down off the plateau, it was often difficult to find the track markers. It was too easy to start following animal trails as the actual track weaves in and out of alpine bush.
Junction of the Speeler and King Billy Tracks.
Finally the Pencil Pine track finishes at the junction of the Speeler and King Billy tracks. In this photo you can see the ice, snow and slushy mud on the Pencil Pine track.
Two-to-three hours for the Pencil Pine circuit is a misleading underestimate! We got to this junction after about four hours.
We followed the King Billy track to the Cradle Mountain lodge. Once here you can either head along the road back to the Ranger Station car park, or take the Enchanted Walk back. The Enchanted Walk is a much more enjoyable route. Once this is done, cross the road to return to the car park (or bus stop) at the Interpretation Centre!
The Pencil Pine track has all the elements of a classic grade 4 walk in Tasmania! Namely, slippery tree roots, scary ravines, slippery rock scrambles, button grass, water features and sections where the track markers can’t be found. Of course, for those in the know, water features is code for: creek and waterfall crossings, and ankle-deep shoe-sucking mud. Why do we do this? Well, Graham and I won’t be lining up to repeat the Pencil Pine track walk!
Hint: It really is best to start this walk from off the Enchanted Walk, because scrambling down the escarpment looking into the ravine would be far too scary!
If you are interested in learning about other walks in Tasmania, or staying with us at Tin Dragon Trail Cottages, you might enjoy reading our Blog. Of course, you may like to subscribe so you can receive our latest published articles, too!