During my visit to Tasmania, Australia’s southern island, there was one place in particular that I really wanted to visit – Cradle Mountain National Park. When people had heard I was visiting Tasmania, that was a usually their top recommendations, but I’d also seen some stunning photos. Together that made it my most anticipated sightseeing attraction. So I was understandably excited when my parents and I decided to drive out to the national park for a day.
Despite looking forward to visiting, I only had a basic idea of what there was to do at Cradle Mountain. Here’s a look at what we were able to see and do during our day out at one of Tasmania’s premier national parks.
About Cradle Mountain
Cradle Mountain National Park is one of Tasmania’s best and most important national parks. It also forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area listed by UNESCO. The 1,600 km² spanning national park centres around the distinctive peaks of Cradle Mountain, Tasmania’s 6th highest mountain. The park covers a huge variety of terrains, including mountain ridges, lakes, rainforest and scrub land.
The main activity for visitors to the national park is the chance to explore its numerous hiking trails, varying in both distance and difficulty. This means that the park is great for people who only have a day to explore it, but also offers some more challenging trails for those with more time to spare. The most challenging include the hike to the summit of Cradle Mountain, but also the 65 km, 6 day hike along the Overland Trail to Lake St. Clair. If you’re interested in the climb to the Summit of Cradle Mountain, check out Barry’s experience over at Tools of Travel.
After driving a little over an hour from my aunt and uncle’s house, we arrived at the turn off to the Cradle Mountain National Park. A few more kilometres down the road, past the on-site hotel and lodges, we parked at the Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre serves several purposes: the first is obviously that it provides information on the national park, the difficulty and location of the various hiking trails and their starting points; secondly it houses a store that sells both souvenirs and hiking clothes; lastly it’s the ticket shop and main stop for the shuttle buses that run through to Dove Lake.
While there is a car park at Dove Lake, the National Park limits the number of cars allowed to drive through to it during peak season. This means that if you are visiting in summer you’ll likely have to take the shuttle in to the other trail starting points of Snake Hill, Ronny Creek and lastly Dove Lake. As we were visiting on our family’s annual pass the shuttle bus tickets were complimentary but you may need to pay extra on top of your visitor pass. Shuttles are quite regular and if the bus is full and you’re at an intermediate stop, the driver will often radio in to save you a space.
Dove Lake Circuit
Once we had arrived at the car park for Dove Lake we were immediately struck with a pretty special view out over the lake and up to the unique peaks of Cradle Mountain itself. At this point the clouds were just clinging to the edge of the mountain’s peaks but we would lose sight of it later in the day thanks to the sullen, cloudy, Tasmanian weather.
Anyway, once the view had done its job inspiring us, we set out to start our way around the 6km trail circuit. The driver of the shuttle bus had suggested people walk the loop counterclockwise to tackle the largest hill at the start rather than at the end, but this did mean we went against the tide the entire way which was occasionally a nuisance. Regardless, we headed down towards the water and took up the trail.
It wasn’t too long before we came across a little beach by one of the more iconic stops of Cradle Mountain, the Boatshed. A favourite particularly among photographers, the Boatshed was built by the park’s first ranger in 1940. While you won’t see any boats out there now, boats were allowed out on the lake until the 1960s. It may no longer serve its original purpose but it has become quite the fixture on the lake.
On we walked, the low bush scrub making way for trees and the nature around us slowly became more and more dense. The path would eventually be swapped out for a narrow boardwalk, elevated above the ground. Occasionally the boardwalk would lead down to a small, secluded pebble beach by the water but not the kind you would lie on with a towel.
Soon we found the earlier mentioned hill and began to work our way up. From the top of the hill, you were treated to both great views back towards the trail’s starting point, but also to the lake below Cradle Mountain. The hill wasn’t too strenuous and even if it had been at the end, I don’t think it would have been too much of a problem.
It was from the top here that we first noticed several waterfalls emerging from the mountains to the right of Cradle Mountain. Despite it being summer, Tasmania’s temperate climate meant that there was still plenty of water rushing over them. There would later be paths leading off towards them but we hadn’t planned on heading off further so we decided to leave them for a future visit. Seeing the waterfalls up close is definitely near the top of my list when I revisit.
Once we’d wandered down off the hill, we soon found ourselves in yet another completely different habitat. This is when we started to get into what I like to call the primeval rainforest you can find throughout Tasmania. The forest here is known as the Ballroom Forest and is another of the highlights along the Dove Lake Circuit. This forest has a lush, dense feel to it, magnified by the small creeks and moss everywhere. You can really believe that these areas have remained almost completely unchanged for millennia.
The terrain kept changing and changing as we continued on around the lake. Our last stop before arriving at the car park again was the sizeable Glacier Rock, looming over the lake. Passing through a child proof gate, we clambered up to the top of the large rock, worn smooth by a glacier thousands of years ago. While precarious, the views from the top are pretty spectacular. If you look below, you can just see a few people atop the rock.
We took the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre and had lunch at the neighbouring cafe. Note, the cafe was pretty busy around lunch time and so took a while for the food to come through. The food was alright and not overly expensive but again the cafe was too busy for it to be a relaxing break.
Pencil Pine Falls Walk
Done with lunch, we made a plan of attack for the afternoon. We didn’t have the time or energy for any of the longer walks but there are several shorter walks from the Ranger Station and Interpretation Centre so we drove the short distance there and set off for the Pencil Pine Falls. Heading down we immediately transitioned away from the scrub vegetation and back into a denser forest setting. It wasn’t long until we were at the viewing platform by the falls and were able to admire the beautiful formation of its small falls.
The trail to the falls is a loop and so we continued around passing back through the rather mystical forest that surrounds the falls. It’s nice to know that even if you haven’t got time to do the hour and a half long walk around Dove Lake, you can still see some staggeringly beautiful nature at places like Pencil Pine Falls in 20 or 30 minutes.
Knyvet Falls Walk
After coming back from the Pencil Pine Falls, we crossed the river and made our way to our last trail, this time to Knyvet Falls. The trail to Knyvet was a big longer than the one to the Pencil Pine Falls. Interestingly, just as the trail started down into the forest, there was a path leading to another view of the Pencil Pines Falls upon the opposite bank.
Heading back to the trail towards the Knyvet Falls, we ventured back down into another primeval forest. This may have been the most impressive yet, with the ground covered in what almost looked like a carpet of moss. Apparently, this forest is home to a number of the local wombats and you could spot a number of their burrows. Sometimes the burrows even worked their way into fallen logs or the roots of trees. Beyond that, it was just taking in the unbelievably green surroundings of this otherworldly place.
At the end of the trail we arrived at the top of Knyvet Falls, a small waterfall similar to the Pencil Pine Falls above. One of the fascinating things about Tasmania is the colour of the water, an unusual dark brown, almost the colour of tea. Despite appearances, the water is actually quite clean and pure. The water owes its colour to tannins from the native vegetation that the rivers flow through. We didn’t go further down the trail to reach the bottom of Knyvet Falls as the path descended into thick mud.
Perhaps one of the surprising things about visiting Cradle Mountain National Park was that we actually didn’t see much wildlife. If you’re interested in Australian wildlife, Tasmania can generally be a pretty great place to visit, but Cradle Mountain was maybe the exception. Still, we did manage to spot several wombats as were driving about. In fact, the above shot of the wombats was my hurried effort to capture them after spying them out the car window, reversing back to them and almost holding up a shuttle bus behind us. Over the moon that I did manage to get a shot though.
Tips for Visiting
- I’d suggest planning in advance if you are interested in doing any of the longer hikes;
- While it may not be busy by many destination’s standards, prepare for decent crowds in Summer that may create some queues for things like shuttles or limit availability in the park’s accommodation;
- To avoid waits at the Visitor Centre cafe, bring your own food and snacks but be sure to take the rubbish with you;
- For more information, take a look at the Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service website.
Have you visited Cradle Mountain National Park before and what did you do there? If not, where would you head first? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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