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  • Writer's pictureSam Kruijver

20 hours at Cradle Mountain

Earlier this week I went on an impromptu trip to Cradle Mountain with my family. No planning went into the trip. We simply booked some accommodation at the Cradle Mountain Lodge the day before, then hopped in the car the next morning with as much gear as we thought we needed and set off on the 4 and a half hour drive to get there.

I was particularly excited as I had never been there before. I can hear the "WHAT!!?? ARE YOU KIDDING??!!" comments already, and yes as a Tasmanian I am ashamed. In my defence, weak as it may be, I have only recently found a passion for photography, which has in turn lead me to gain an appreciation of the scenery and landmarks that make Tasmania pretty special. Before that, my naive view of the world and Cradle Mountain was simply "It's just another mountain". Having lived in Hobart my whole life and the constant view of Mt Wellington in the background of the city, one can somewhat be forgiven for taking panoramic mountain views for granted.

In terms of photography, I set low expectations of actually capturing anything of note. The main focus was to spend time with my family and that was always going to be the number one priority. Also, the combination of the short period of time we had there, unfamiliarity of the area, the number of tourists and the 'boring' weather forecast meant that I really only took my camera gear as a 'just in case'.

We arrived around 1:30pm at Cradle Mountain Lodge which is situated right at the main entrance to the Cradle Mountain national park. Our cabin wasn't ready for us to check-in, so we continued on into the national park. We parked at the car park at Dove Lake where we were greeted with the iconic view of the lake and the two sharp peaks of Cradle Mountain off in the distance.

As expected the place was packed full of tourists, so we didn't waste anytime and simply headed along the Dove Lake Circuit walking track in a clockwise direction.

The track is mostly boardwalk and is very easy to walk along and navigate with clear signs. I took my camera bag along, but sure enough it spent most of the time on my back. That was until we stopped at a small beach about a quarter of the way around the lake.

It was starting to rain. Suddenly, I looked up towards the mountain top and noticed there was an amazing golden light that focused only on the two peaks. There was an old tree branch that lead off the beach and pointed directly up at the mountain. As soon as I saw the combination of the light and the branch, the bag was thrown onto the ground and the camera was pulled out faster than you can say "HURRY UP AND TAKE THE PICTURE YOU IDIOT!!". Yet as hasty as I thought I was going, by the time I got the camera out, put it in the right settings and tried to manoeuvre myself into the correct position, the light had gone. I still took the photo, but with no meaningful light it had lost its main point of interest (at least in my opinion). Without any golden light the final image was ultimately destined to become a black an white photo. In some respects it appropriately reflects my mood of experiencing a missed opportunity.

Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake
The twin peaks of Cradle Mountain from the eastern shore of Dove Lake

Lesson learnt.

From that moment on I did not return the camera to my bag. Rather, I carried it in my hand for the rest of the walk for that 'just in case' moment that I had brought it for in the first place. The tourist in me was tempted to just treat the camera like a scatter gun and simply photograph every step along the track, such is the beauty of the place. However, after learning from the amount of planning, effort and care professional landscape photographers exercise in applying their craft, I tend to also take a more measured approach to, hopefully, take images that can stand out from the crowd. Consequently, I found it hard to find any images worth taking for a large section of the track.

By the time we reached the western side of the lake a smoke haze had begun to descend over the lake from nearby fuel reduction burns. This made the opportunities to take pictures harder. However, just like at the location we stopped at on the eastern side, the peaks of the mountain were suddenly bathed in rich, golden afternoon sunlight.

This time I was ready.

Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake
Cradle Mountain from the western shore of Dove Lake

My camera was already set up on a tripod with my NISI circular polariser and 3 stop medium graduated ND filters attached, as I explored possible compositions on this small beach. All of a sudden the sun came out to provide some of the main ingredients that typically make up a good landscape photo:

  1. a focal point, being the highlighted mountain peak;

  2. good light; and

  3. leading lines created by the shoreline and the hills on the right-hand side that direct the viewers eyes to the focal point

In the end, after coming away with the two images above, I was glad I took the camera with me on our walk around the lake. By late afternoon we had finished the Dove Lake circuit and had returned to Cradle Mountain Lodge to check-in, have a hearty dinner and explore some of the wildlife that hung out around our cabin.

Yet that was not the end of the photos.

Later in the evening after my family had gone to bed, I decided to put my Nikon D850 through its paces for some night time photography. And it didn't disappoint.

I returned to Dove Lake where I was lucky enough to have the whole place to myself. There was a half moon that provided enough ambient light to be able to make out the mountains, despite being shrouded behind fast moving clouds. Every now and then a break in the clouds would appear over Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain to reveal some stars. However, the breaks were not long enough to take any photos with the Milky Way in the sky.

The goal was to photograph arguably one of the most photographed locations in Tasmania, the Boat Shed that sits on Dove Lake. After about 30 minutes of playing around with various compositions and light painting with my head torch, I settled on one particular spot where two rocks in the foreground provided a perfect leading line to the Boat Shed. I also found a small hole in the back of the Boat Shed where I stuck head lamp to illuminate the inside of the structure.

The ambient light from the moon was enough to light up the surrounding mountains and the rest of the foreground, so much so that you could almost be mistaken for thinking the photo was taken during the day. Despite a reasonably strong prevailing wind, the small cove around the Boat Shed was still and calm. Combined with a 30 second exposure to smooth out any ripples in the water, a glorious, eerie reflection provides extra depth to the image.

The Boat Shed on Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain at night
The Boat Shed on Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain at night

To date, this image is probably one of my favourite images I have taken so far. It's not perfect, but each of the three ingredients I mentioned earlier (focal point, good light and leading lines) are present. If I didn't take the time to explore the location, it is likely that the image would not have turned out as well as it did. Again it comes back to a bit of planning and care when taking the photo. In my opinion, this makes it a stand out compared what I would have taken if I had simply joined the masses of tourists and taken a quick photo in the middle of the afternoon surrounded by 50 other people. From a photography perspective, this single image alone was worth the 4 and half hour drive to get here.

That was the end of the photography for this trip. The next morning, after a big breakfast, my family and I decided to walk around some of the small tracks around our accommodation, exploring incredible waterfalls and ancient trees before making the long trip home.

After experiencing my first 20 hours at Cradle Mountain I am looking forward to going back and exploring everything it has to offer, which appears to be a lot.

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