Forming part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the National Park is home to Cradle Mountain, an iconic series of dolerite columns rising 1,545 metres (5,069 ft) above sea level and forming a spectacular backdrop to the clear waters of Dove Lake.
Also on offer in the region is a diverse range of vegetation with ancient rainforests, alpine heathlands and buttongrass meadows being criss-crossed by icy streams flowing out of the mountains, through ancient pines and into glacial lakes.
Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?
The drive from Devonport
Getting up early has it’s advantages… especially in this part of the world. We were treated to a pretty fantastic sunrise, I have to say.
Borrowing Kirsten’s generous parent’s vehicle (thanks again guys!) for a couple of days, we had an easy 90 minute drive along the picturesque B19 and C132 highways ahead of us, stopping only once to grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat for breakfast and to stretch our legs.
To be completely honest, my only “must-see” this trip down into Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park was to see a wombat in the wild. Well, I didn’t have to wait long to tick that box now, did I?!
Rounding a bend and on descent down into the Ronny Creek registration area en route to the Dove Lake carpark, we spied this little fella on the side of the road. An infant of the “Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis” or “Common Wombat” species, he/she was very inquisitive and just so damn cute!
What a great way to start what was to become a very memorable day!
The hike to Marion’s Lookout
Arriving at the Dove Lake day use area, you are immediately struck by the sheer beauty of the landscape you have arrived in. It’s unmistakable. It’s hard to explain. It’s… well, while it still doesn’t do the scene any justice, just take a look at the following pano we took upon arriving.
The first thing to notice here, of course, is how amazing the weather was for a region that experiences rare blue sky days and, like any alpine region, can change rapidly with little warning. So thanks to all of you who had your fingers crossed for us… IT WORKED!
One of the best ways to get a great, elevated vantage point of Cradle Mountain is by hiking up to Marion’s Lookout on the right hand side of Dove Lake as you’re looking towards Cradle Mountain from the carpark.
The best way to tackle this easy to moderate, 2 hour hike is by taking the well maintained, longer, scenic route up to the top via Lake Lilla and the Wombat Pool. As is often the case, images will give you a much better explanation as to why you would take this route, better than any words I can fumble together, so check these out:
Arriving at the plateau which forms Marion’s Lookout we caught up to a number of other day hikers who had also made the trek up. We found a patch all of our own and took some time to absorb the sweeping views and clear mountain air while rehydrating and getting some food into us.
As we did so, minimal cloud began to roll in over the second peak of Cradle Mountain, but it did little to take away from the true awesomeness of what we were seeing and experiencing.
While the trail up to Marion’s Lookout was pretty easy and straightforward, in order to save some time we opted for the more direct route back down. On the Dove Lake face of the lookout, there’s a trail that pretty much goes straight down the face of the mountain with some almost challenging near vertical sections. Awesome for heading down, but I can only imagine how testing it would be choosing to ascend this way!
Back down by the water’s edge, we had an easy stroll back along the Lake to the carpark where we could pause briefly, refuel and make a toilet stop before setting off again on another trail.
On the way we had our first encounter with the iconic Dove Lake “boatshed”. If you’ve ever seen any sunrise or sunset images of Cradle Mountain there’s a good chance that the boatshed made it into the frame with its rustic visual appeal.
Not knowing how long we were still going to have blue skies for, I set about driving Kirsten mad by snapping shots from every possible angle. It all worked out in the end, however, as I managed to get the following shot which I think captures the memory beautifully.
Circling Dove Lake
With an elevated view sorted, next goal was to squeeze in some more viewing of the area from water level. That is, from the edge of Dove Lake via the 6km “Dove Lake Circuit”, the most popular trail in the area and considered one of Tasmania’s premier walks.
Neatly constructed boardwalks lead us pretty much the entire way around the lake providing solid footing and a good low-impact eco experience we won’t soon forget.
The hike has three main highlights beyond the constant presence of Cradle Mountain at the far end of the lake. The first is the aptly named Glacier Rock, a rocky outcrop which Kirsten was the first to find, as per the images below (you may need to look hard to find her).
Towards the southern end of Dove Lake the vegetation changes dramatically as you enter a pretty spectacular temperate rainforest known as the “Ballroom Forest”. The second of the added highlights, the low-light rainforest is made up of a “cathedral” of ancient myrtle-beech trees covered in intricate patterns of moss which together, form a pretty departure from the scenery afforded throughout the rest of the trail.
The last of the highlights is of course, the aforementioned “boatshed”. Built in 1940 by the first Ranger at Cradle Mountain, Lionell Connell, the wooden structure remains largely unchanged since the day of its construction, despite some restoration work completed in 1983.
Lucky I took those blue sky shots earlier in the day!
Wombats, wombats, EVERYWHERE!
With nightfall approaching, we drove back towards the entrance to the National Park, and our accommodation for the night, stopping briefly again at Ronny Creek registration area, the starting point of the famed “Overland Track”, to see if we could find our furry little Wombat friend from earlier that morning.
As it turns out, dusk is the PERFECT time for Wombat spotting and we were quite thrilled with the large number of “furry rocks” that were out grazing in the meadows on the sides of the boardwalks leading in either direction from the parking lot. You certainly know when wombats are about by their telltale square nuggets of droppings. Just ask Kirsten, she has become a bit of an expert wombat poo spotter! Haha!
We spent about another half hour with these little cuties before failing light had us retreating to Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge for the night.
Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge
The reason we were able to experience a great couple of days down in this beautiful part of the world? A great accommodation deal found on Wotif.com at the iconic Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge. This place is rustic, intimate and stunning.
From the cosy, communal lodge, and adjoining bar/bistro and fine dining areas, to the cute, quiet, comfortable and TV-less (by design) Pencil Pine Cabins, the place was just perfect for us to kick back, put up our feet and recharge after a big day of hiking through some of the most beautiful wilderness that Australia has to offer.
Another half day of exploring
After feasting on our included brekkie and then checking out of Peppers, we had the remainder of the morning and early afternoon to continue exploring the region. With the weather turning a little nasty overnight, we headed back to the shores of Dove Lake to take one last look at the beauty of Cradle Lake. Upon arrival, however, we realised just how lucky we were the day before. Phew – lucky!
Rather than continue hiking around Dove Lake on a few of the trails we hadn’t covered, we opted for spending some time back at Ronny Creek where we had previously had so many wonderful wildlife encounters.
No wombats to be found at Ronny Creek on this occasion, but, as if by design, we did find one last incredibly cute little guy wandering on the road just outside of the main Parks and Wildlife information centre.
Heading back to Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge for one last time, we chose the property’s popular 20 minute easy walk along the banks of the Pencil Pine River called “The Enchanted Stroll”. True to its name, the stroll took us through diverse types of vegetation including buttongrass plains, teatree thickets, eucalypt woodlands and mossy myrtle forests.
As far as wildlife went, we managed to spot quite a few Pademelons along the way, but sadly no Platypuses which are known to inhabit the waters of the river. To spot one of those unique little fellas, you have to be A) VERY lucky, and B) keeping an eye out either at dusk or dawn, so our chance of spying one mid-afternoon was going to be pretty slim at best.
And that’s about it. That’s my account of our very memorable two-day visit to Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park. There is NO DOUBT that Kirsten and I will be back in this area in the not-too-distant future with the aim of completing the 6-day “Overland Track”. Kirsten tells me New Zealand’s “Milford Track” comes first. I’m not going to argue with her on that one.
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post and have friends and family who are the “outdoorsy” type, please feel free to share this post across your social network channels like Facebook and Twitter. Cradle Mountain is not only one of Tasmania’s, but also one of Australia’s “must-see-and-do” items and I hope that I have helped reinforce this notion.