Where we went: Cradle Mountain National Park (North West Tasmania)
When we went: March, 2019 (early Autumn)
Continuing on our Mountains march, (see here for our Mt. Roland walk) and intent to climb 2 mountains with peaks higher than 1km in 2 days (just a personal goal of ours, although I don’t really recommend this kind of trip if both party members are suffering from a cold as we were) we ate breakfast at our self-contained lodging near Sheffield and set out in the mid-morning, after exploring the rainforest, caves, and an abandoned silver mine, and trying to warm our muscles up a little so that they’d object less to being put through their paces in the Cradle Mountain National Park.
Cradle Mountain is comprised of a series of walking tracks to suit a range of ability levels. The visitor centre opening hours vary depending on the season and during autumn they are open from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Access to higher altitude sections of the mountain by private car are restricted and it is recommended that one parks at the visitor centre, ensure their parks passes are all up to date (you will have to have a parks pass to enter, proceeds go towards maintaining parks and infrastructure, day passes are available for those with limited time), and then catch the free shuttle bus to their intended walking track. The shuttle bus is, by far, the best way in to the Reserve – they run every 10-15 minutes and, so long as you have shown your parks pass to gain a ticket, you can hop on and off at any of the stops along the mountain.
Now, cleaning your boots: Tasmania has very strict bio-security, you already know that from whichever transport system brought you here, but you might not know that even within regions of the state there are patches of quarantine. Before entering just about any Nature Reserve in Tasmania you will be asked to clean your boots (and all equipment that may contain dirt, including walking sticks, tent pegs, and toilet trowels), some parks make it impossible to enter without first walking through a boot dipping station, and others leave it up to the individual. It is important to clean your boots even if you have only been walking through other parts of Tasmania! The Cradle Mountain boot scrubber and dipping station is located behind a little wall just before the shuttle bus queuing area. It took us some time to locate it (it wouldn’t have if we had asked a forestry worker), but I am militant about upholding a proper standard of quarantine, especially in areas with fragile plant life like Cradle Mountain is. Please wipe your feet before entering.
Pretty stiff and stuffy (and, in my case, still feeling the effects of some pretty intense medical testing from earlier in the week) we planned a reasonably low-key day. We started late (at around 10am) and caught the shuttle bus up to the Dove Lake circuit. Dove Lake is a very easy (albeit 2 hr) walk around a large lake, surrounded by a lot of trees that are exclusive to Tasmania (mostly Fagus and Pandani) Sommelier and I are already fairly familiar with the trees in question, but if you are interested in learning about the unique plants that you can see here then hop off the shuttle bus at the Ranger Station and spend some time learning about the mountain and its eco-systems before heading to Dove Lake. The walk is beautiful, there is no denying that.
We were there on a very misty morning so Cradle Mountain itself was obscured from view, but I found comfort in the subsequent sense that our little valley of ancient trees was a lost world of wonder. It is a basically a giant, alpine botanical garden. It reminds me of when I was very young and my family caught a bus up a very tall mountain in India. We were surrounded by clouds, I could barely breathe in that altitude and (feeling incredibly light, presumably from lack of oxygen) I asked my father if we were so high up that gravity didn’t work anymore. He said “…….. no.” The only draw-back of the Dove Lake circuit is that with a shuttle bus containing a minimum of 20 people arriving to the site every 10-15 minutes and all of those people being on the same track for at least 2 hours, I’m sure you can imagine the crowds. There are only so many times one can say ‘g-day’ to strangers before one longs for the solitude of Mt Roland again.
Stopping for a scroggin break along Dove Lake was easy, but a very communal dining experience. We also observed that the local Currawongs had established an intimidate-tourists-gain-tasty-noms foraging system. Currawongs are crow-like native birds, they’re as intelligent as crows are, can recognise faces, and have been observed to bare grudges (by science, not by me personally, my only corvid nemesis is an crow with a crooked wing who followed my sisters and me through Mumbai and stole our chips on multiple occasions), so do not get violent with the birds, they’ll find a way to ruin you. They’re easily identifiable by their bright and piercing eyes (usually yellow in colour) and little white patches on the end of their tails. They are still wild animals though so please, do not feed them, if at all possible to avoid it.
There are toilets at Dove Lake, which was good news for me, the tiniest bladdered of the pair, but we were still feeling the itch to hike when we had finished the circuit. From the Dove Lake track the Marion’s Lookout track is very easy to access so we agreed to carry on walking after our ablutions. As a slightly more difficult track the Marion’s Lookout walk is a less traversed section of the mountain (only in relation to Dove Lake) and we enjoyed a little breather from the crowds, even if it came with the cost of climbing big stairs with very stiff legs. We motivated ourselves with the reminder that women at least as far back as 1911 went bushwalking in the area (wearing full skirts and everything!) and if they can do it in heavy skirts and probably a corset then I can absolutely do it in lululemons and a sports bra (Sommelier was similarly motivated, although not similarly dressed).
The Track passes through Wombat Pools and up a steep rocky section, but the views the whole way are incredible with cliffs and peaks and valleys and lakes all around. It ends in a very steep upwards scramble through some Fagus trees with a chain for grip and reasonably easy footing, and a little bit of naked rockface scrambling. It was a cloudy and slightly rainy day, but the clouds parted briefly once we reached the summit of Marion’s Lookout and we finally got a close(ish) look at the famous Cradle Mountain. We left the Lookout after a short break, to make room for the newcomers to the area, and agreed to take a different track back. Ronnie Creek seemed like the best option, and it was. We achieved the solitude and serenity that we had been craving all day. While the Dove Lake boat house is one of the most photographed things in Tasmania there is another, lesser known and equally beautiful boat house on the Ronnie Creek/ Crater Lake track that we stopped at for a little break. Finally alone with the mountain we both took a deep and grateful breathe of cool alpine air and watched the little fish dart around our feet.
It was just past 4pm by the time we caught sight of the Ronnie Creek shuttle bus station (the last shuttle bus runs at 5:30pm) and we still had a little walk to go before we got there. Wombat scat (great name for a rapper) was everywhere along the duck-board and we both commented on how wonderful it would be to see a wild Wombat. There aren’t many in the South of the state, but they are common in the North. Our wishes were granted by the wombat gods on an alarming scale with a Wombat passing under the boards right below our feet! To say nothing of the many we counted dotted about on the hillside. Obviously 4:15(ish)pm is wombat feeding time in autumn. As a flat, grass plain the Ronnie Creek station is a very suitable Wombat abode, providing an up-close and very personal moment with one of Australia’s cutest wild animals. It was the perfect finish to our second day of wilderness adventure. Bone tired and eager for a good soak in the spa we caught the shuttle bus back to the car and headed to the final hotel on our trip – Pepper’s Lodge. Located in the Cradle Mountain reserve and boasting a spa, restaurant and world class experience. We were actually very disappointed in the Lodge but were far too tired to complain.
In the morning we busied ourselves with the walks that were under 1hr (Enchanted Walk and King Billy walk), we saw leatherwood flowers in bloom (this was exciting first because leatherwood is usually a summer flower, obviously not at these altitudes though, and secondly because leatherwood groves have been destroyed in huge acers by bushfires this year), we also got our first confirmed sighting of a King Billy Pine. Incredibly rare, very tall, and under serious threat of extinction we were thrilled to finally see one close enough to touch. We also ducked in to the Ranger Station for a little explore, and to use the toilet. Satisfied that we had fitted in as much as two tired people can we headed on to forage for our picnic from the area and to stop at the one place I vehemently insisted that we visit – Devils at Cradle.
Devils at Cradle is a very small Tasmanian Devil and Quoll sanctuary that is open to the public. I follow them on social media and they are one of my favourite feeds, so I was very keen to get there and support them (plus also to see some Tassie Devils). Autumn is, now we know, mating season for Devils, so sections of the sanctuary were roped off to give them some privacy to canoodle, but the joeys were still on show so we busied ourselves watching baby Tasmanian Devils play and sleep (one of them had the hiccups and it was the cutest thing I have ever seen ever). The Quolls were preparing for mating season (there was a lot of personal grooming going on) but all of them were still on display. Both the Eastern and the Spotted Quoll are endangered (as is the Tasmanian Devil), so their protection and sanctuary is essential. Devils at Cradle is one of the best places to see them because keepers clearly care so much about them; every animal has a name, and a personality that the keepers are familiar with (this is something we learned from a man very gingerly feeding a sleeping quoll named Oppie who is, apparently, ‘a bit of a grumpy guts in the mornings’).
Satisfied that we had seen some very adorable baby endangered animals we set off on our picnic foraging foray. We started with leatherwood honey from the Cradle Mountain gift shop. We stopped at a ‘providore’ near the hotel but were very disappointed to see that it sold mostly 2minute noodles.
Sheffield had much more to offer as the Taste of the North West was on! We stopped to taste our way around, picking up some local, organic cheese, before it started to rain. Full, tired and with the exhaustion of our trip catching up to us we loaded ourselves and our cheese into the car and headed straight back to Hobart, only stopping for little driver rests and fuel along the way.
2 mountains in 2 days is just the training for what we hope to one day be able to achieve. For the time being we are working on gradually building up our strength, endurance and ability to breathe in cold, alpine air (that one’s more for me than Sommelier, he has nice, normal lungs that don’t require he carry Ventolin around with him everywhere). We chose 2 completely different mountains to climb, and we ended up with the perfect blend of self-guided tourism, and carefully directed wilderness adventure. We saw rare, endangered, uniquely Tasmanian things that filled us with a sense of pure fortune at the thought that we live amongst this treasured ecosystem, and are in a position to protect and savour it.