Cradle Mountain is without doubt the most iconic wilderness areas in Tasmania. Situated in the Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park, which is in the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, which covers approximately 1,584,000 hectares and represents about 1/5 of the area of the island state of Tasmania. Cradle Mountain is located in the Central Highlands and is 165 Km north-west of Hobart the state’s capital city. The park is world-famous for the Overland Track which runs for 65 km from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair and attracts some 6000 walkers per year. That figure pails into insignificance when you consider that 170,000 people visit the park annually and the majority of them just to see one thing – the rugged majesty of crescent-shaped peaks of Cradle Mountain and its neighbour Little Horn reflected perfectly in the waters of Dove Lake which lies at their feet. There is a slight snag to this, the weather conditions at Cradle Mountain are fickle – this is Tasmania after all – and the conditions that provide such imagery only happen on average about fifty days per year. Season doesn’t guarantee and success as snow and low-lying cloud can occur in summer so basically you have an approximately one in seven chance. At the southern end of the park is Lake St Clair (which Tasmania’s indigenous people called Leeawuleena which translates as “sleeping water”) and the southern terminus of the Overland Track. The lake was formed in the last ice age and is the deepest in Australia. Despite the rugged beauty this part of the park does not receive as many visitors as Cradle Mountain, probably because it takes a little more effort to see things and also because it just doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi its northern neighbour does.
On our arrival at Cradle Mountain there was low-lying cloud and constant drizzle – what the Irish would call a soft day. Wet enough to soak you through to the skin despite a Gore-tex within 2 or 3 hours, but not enough to stop you having an enjoyable hours walk, so we did two of the short walks – Enchanted Forest and the King Billy Pine walk. The Enchanted forest walk was as you expect from the name enchanting, walking along side a small stream through the rain forest. The King Billy Pine walk takes you to look at an amazing tree, it is over 40 metres tall and the gnarly buttressed roots and shaggy moss covering made it look like one of the Ents from Lord of The Rings and is estimated to be 1500 years old. It was mind-boggling to think that when the cathedral in my home town of Chichester was founded in 1075 AD that this tree was already 600 years old.. The park is a veritable biosphere, the list of native species is truly spectacular, both flora and fauna wise. In fact most visitors to the park don’t realise that it is a fabulous wildlife watching destination. Most of Tasmania’s large marsupials can be found here including wombats, Bennett’s Wallabies, pademelons, Tasmanian Devils and platypuses. Despite the ground being thick with wombat droppings there was no other sign of them, but we did see a Bennett’s Wallaby and her joey on our way back to the car.
On our second day we decided just to walk around Dove Lake which is supposed to be just 6km long, flat and only take two hours. This would hopefully give me chance to get a photo of the iconic view and experience some more of the alpine environment. The classic view is the one from the boat shed, which is quite near the car park, which means most visitors don’t do the walk but just head straight to it. As it turned out the track was not flat, this is Tasmania after all, and as well as the broad walk over sensitive areas there was a lot of climbing up and down scree covered slopes which was hard on the hips and knees. Although listed as easy we were both quite pooped when we got to the boat shed and me phaffing about taking photos gave us a welcome rest before the last leg back to the car. So did I get the perfect shot? No. The peaks were shrouded in cloud and the wind was creating waves on the lake so there were no reflections. But having said that with the equipment I had, the conditions and the time available I’m happy with the shots I got. For me they represent something of the day-to-day experience of Cradle Mountain.