We arrived at Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park mid-afternoon on Day 12 of our tour of Tasmania in 2021. We were booked into a cabin in the Discovery Holiday Parks Campground and Cabins, the entry gate was just opposite the entry into the Park’s Visitor Centre area. Once we were in sight of Cradle Mountain, the weather changed and the rest of the afternoon was beset with sleety rain with the temperature heading downward. We were very grateful that our cabin was well insulated and had a gas fire to keep us warm. We decided that our only hiking that afternoon was a walk around the camp ground to check out its facilities. We were rewarded with a less than anxious Pademelon out for a feed before nightfall.
I have to admit to having some history with this National Park. I had hitch-hiked from Devonport with two Uni friends to challenge ourselves with what was already the famous Cradle Mountain walk in the summer of 1973. We came under-prepared in terms of food clothing and camping gear and we were lucky we didn’t come to get on the sad statistics list of hikers who have been caught out by the weather in this area of the world. In 2021 I couldn’t help but contrast my arrival in a hired car, a heated cabin to stay in and the amazing facilities to assist appreciating the National Park we were visiting. A lot had changed in the years since I was last here. It was only the next morning I realised there was now a spacious Information Centre here; a little up the road there was an Interpretation Centre; when I got to the actual trails around Cradle Mountain, I was amazed at the beautiful board walks that led me through country that I had trudged through mud deep paths 48 years before. This was not to mention the new fleet of buses that carried visitors to any of the shorter walks at the base of the mountain. Hiking at Cradle Mountain was a different experience in the 21st century.
The other thing that has changed about the Cradle Mountain National Park since 1973 is that it was declared a World Heritage Area in 1982. One of the posters outside the Visitors Centre makes the interesting point that… “To become a World Heritage Area, a site must be of outstanding Universal Value and meet at least one of ten criteria. The Tasmanian wilderness meets a remarkable seven criteria – four for its natural values and three for its cultural values – equal highest in the world.” One of these criteria the park meets is as “an outstanding example of…ongoing geological processes”. The park is an example of a remnant of the supercontinent, Gondwana. The plants of the park’s forests are also of outstanding universal value. The image to the left is of Nothofagus gunnii which is Australia’s only cold-climate winter-deciduous tree, only found in this area. As the notes to the left say, it was growing when Tasmania was part of Gondwana.
On our first full day at Cradle Mountain, we started off with a stroll around the Visitor’s Centre, got our Park Access ticket sighted as it would be our ticket onto the bus that would take us up the bus-only road to the start of our first hike of the day. We had decided that we would do the Dove Lake Circuit. We had met a couple in Devonport who had been up to Cradle Mountain and had completed the walk around Dove Lake and said they had enjoyed it immensely. It was also the closest we would come to Cradle Mountain itself. The day was very overcast with a light rain when we set out.
The outline of the Dove Lake track can be seen on the map above. The local sign suggested we do the walk clockwise along the left side of the lake towards Glacier Rock. The various lakes that can be seen on the above map are referred to as glacier lakes, their basins having been carved out by glaciers back in the last ice-age. The huge rock referred to as Glacier Rock is a remnant of the debris pushed around this valley as part of the glacier’s carving out of the landscape. The boat shed in the photo to the right is out of place here as it is found at the end of the walk around Dove Lake. I put it here to illustrate the overcast nature of the day. If the day had been sunny, the photo below would have been the vista we saw looking back at Boat Shed. As it was, we just had to imagine Cradle Mountain looming in the background as we walked around the lake.
The path around the left side of the lake was an easy walk with generally sealed surfaces or boardwalks to take us around the more difficult areas.
At the other end of Lake Dove there are a couple of Islands that have been called the Honeymoon Islands, no doubt there is a back story to that name. It was here as Gayle was crossing a bridge over one of the many streams flowing down from the foothills of Cradle Mountain, as she looked over the railing she spotted a platypus swimming down stream. Her cries of excitement to bring the camera didn’t get me moving quickly enough as this famous Australian monotreme disappeared from sight.
The next section of the walk took us through what the local rangers have called the Ballroom Forest. It is filled with very old Myrtle-Beech trees that are covered with moss, including the exposed roots and parts of the ground. Apparently this type of rainforest “is quite rare because these fire sensitive plants are usually burnt away when bushfires sweep across the area” (Tasmania.com).
From the Ballroom Forest, the track became reasonably arduous for our ageing legs, particularly as flat tracks were rare; it was up and down hill most of the way. To add spice to the walk, the rain had increased so in the photo on the right below, it wasn’t just the steps slowing us down, it was the water flowing down the steps that made it a little treacherous. Warnings in some of the park documentation say that this walk shouldn’t be attempted in snowy conditions.
The last stages of the walk around Dove Lake were very rewarding for a couple of reasons. One was that we were able to inspect the 1940 built boat shed. It was constructed from King Billy Pine by the first Ranger, Lionell Connell. Presumably it was built to give a more convenient access to other parts of the lake before today’s walkways were built. It was used until the 1960s but it is no longer used except for being incorporated into great pictures of Cradle Mountain. The other reward was to be able to get a good photo of Glacier Rock on the other side of the lake.
As recorded earlier in these blogs about the places we visited in Tasmania, I was always pleased to complete another of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks. Dove Lake was on the list and it was suggested it was a 2-3 hour walk. We completed it in a little over 2 hours. We realised on our one full day at Cradle Mountain that we had not allowed enough time to enjoy all the walks around this mountain. We would be back…I had my eye on the Crater Lake circuit!
It was still unpleasant weather so it was great to get out of the rain into the shelters at the end of the walk as well as get to the use the toilet facilities. We decided we would head back to our cabin for a rest and some lunch before heading out for more walking amongst the beautiful rainforests of Cradle Mountain.