We were sitting at a table at the Taste of Tasmania festival in Hobart, engaged in conversation with a local, when we told him we were off to Cradle Mountain the next day. “Huh,” he shrugged. “It’s alright, but you’d be better off going and checking out some of the wineries instead.” After spending three days at Cradle Mountain, it seems to me that that guy had been drinking too many Tasmanian Pinots. And as much as I LOVE wineries, I'm glad we didn't take his advice, because our trip to Cradle Mountain turned out to be the highlight of our two weeks in Tasmania.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair is in the North West of Tasmania, about a 2 ½ drive from Launceston. It’s Tasmania’s most visited national park and it’s easy to see why. It’s in the heart of the 1.4 million hectare Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and was declared a national park in 1910. From many places in the park, you can see the iconic Cradle Mountain, looming in the distance.
We stayed at Peppers Cradle Mountain lodge, which is just on the border of the national park and made the perfect base to explore the park. Our first hike was an easy 45 minute walk along the King Billy Track. The entire walk is along wooden boardwalks, which are covered in chicken wire to prevent slipping.
The forest the track winds through is nothing short of breathtaking. The King Billy Pines which give the track its name are ancient, with some estimated to be up to 1,500 years old. The whole place makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time (or onto the set of Game of Thrones). The trees apparently have a shallow root system, which means they tend to fall over, creating ancient bridges for moss, fungus, flowers and other trees to make their home. Everywhere you look, there’s a cris-cross of ancient trees, resting on each other like a giant game of pick up sticks.
The Enchanted Stroll was our next short walk, which was also accessible from the lodge. The track, which also contains section of wooden boardwalk, meanders along the banks of the Pencil Pine river. The sound of water is an accompaniment for most of the route, and the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom. The track passes through several different types of vegetation, from buttongrass plains to teatree thickets to eucalypt woodlands. There’s also a little waterfall which you can stop on the bridge and admire.
The next day, we tackled the longer (and steeper) Dove Canyon track. The start of the track is easy, and again is along wooden boardwalks and stairs. The first stop is the beautiful Pencil Pine Falls, where a little look out has been created so you can admire it.
The track continues to wind its way through the mossy forest to the slightly bigger Knyvet Falls.
We pushed on along the Dove Canyon track, which at times was barely more that scampering up the hillside, looking for the next marker to show us we were on the right path. In some parts, we were scaling up rocks, under tree branches and over fallen trees. One part of the track had views about 70 metres down the cliffs to the Dove River. The hike is a two hour circuit and brought us back through grassy plains to where we started.
On day three, we made the mistake of driving to the Information Centre carpark to catch a shuttle up to Dove Lake. After spending a couple of days out in nature, we weren’t prepared at all for the chaos of the carpark. The place was absolute mayhem, with cars just about as far as the eye could see in both directions. We quickly hopped back in our car and decided we would hike the whole way to the lake from the lodge instead.
The start of the hike was along the Cradle Valley Boardwalk which began in the ancient forest and then opened out to grassy plains. More than an hour in, we were still hiking through the same terrain and getting a little bored when out of the blue we came across an echidna, foraging right next to the boardwalk. I’d never seen an echidna in the wild before, so it was very exciting! The little fella was a bit camera shy though, so he tried to burrow his head into the soil under the boardwalk (I think he figured if he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him).
The boardwalk led to Ronny Creek where we continued on until we reached our next surprise, a wombat, right under the boardwalk. I haven’t seen a wombat before either, so I was equally excited to watch the little guy munching on the grass around the boardwalk.
When we looked around, we could see a couple of other wombats in the grassy plains, and another echidna also stopped by.
The amazing thing about the next part of the hike was the variation in the terrain; it was constantly changing. First we were in buttongrass plains, then we were in mossy forest again, hiking alongside a river complete with several multi level waterfalls, then we hiked over rocks before we reached the stunning Crater Lake.
The climb up along the edge of the lake was just breathtaking (in more ways than one), until finally we came to the top where we could look out over Cradle Mountain, Dove Lake and Wombat Pool.
The way down around the pool was pretty steep and rocky at times and again, the terrain kept changing. We finally made it down to the shore of Dove Lake, where we were rewarded with a stunning view of Cradle Mountain.
We stayed at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, which we really loved. We had a spa cabin which was in a group of three and surrounded by bush, trees and the odd wallaby. The property is beautiful, with the cabins spread throughout the forest, some around a lake.
Our cabin was lovely, with a combustible heater, natural décor, a big spa bath and a lovely little deck to sit out on and listen to the birds and watch the wildlife (and of course, drink wine and eat some delicious Tasmanian cheese).
Peppers has two restaurants on site. The Tavern is the cheap(er) and cheerful option, popular with families. The Highland restaurant is a step up in price and quality, but in my view, was absolutely worth it. The meal we had there was probably my favourite in the whole of Tasmania, partly because the chef actually went to the effort of making a vegetarian option for me (gnocchi). The wine list was good too, and the desserts were a-mazing.
We also took the opportunity to try the day spa, which is right next to the lodge. We got a full body massage which was very good, and helped to soothe muscles tired from hiking. The views from the treatment rooms over the mountains are absolutely beautiful, and I would’ve loved more time to sit and enjoy them.
By the end of our three days at Cradle Mountain, we were already talking about returning, which is always a good sign!
Notes: We visited in the peak season in early January. However, other than the carpark at the Information Centre, we saw only a few people on the harder trails.
The weather at this time of year is pleasant; sunny and in the mid 20’s. In winter, it snows on the mountain so you'd need more serious trekking gear.
While you're not in danger of being eaten by wild bears, you still might want to consider taking out travel insurance. For this trip, we used Australian based insurer FastCover, and you can get a quote for a policy here: https://fastcover.com.au/ref?id=Wafaraway
For more info, see: http://www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au