Cradle Mountain, Australia


cradle mountainI almost made it to the top of Cradle Mountain once. Time defeated me, and some misty rain that coated the rocks with a fine wet slick. There’s a bit of rock scrambling to make it to the very top of this cradle-shaped dolomite mountain in the Tasmanian wilderness.

However, it’s not as difficult as you might think to visit Cradle Mountain and the national park that surrounds it. The park entrance is about a two hour drive from the nearest international airport, at Launceston, Tasmania. And there’s also a luxury-meets-rustic lodge to stay at, right on the edge of the park, with great Tassie food and wine, and a divine spa. You might even learn to say ‘Tassie’ like the locals.

The Tasmanian wilderness is one of the last places where almost anyone can experience the timelessness of an ancient, untouched land. You don’t have to be a mountain climber or extreme hiker to take the track up to Marion’s Lookout and on to Kitchen Hut at the base of the mountain, or even to tackle the track up to the top. These are day hikes for reasonably fit people. The tracks cross button grass plains, pass wombat burrows, climb through temperate rain forests and meander across sub-alpine meadows. They pass rushing snow-melt streams, waterfalls, mountain tarns and lakes, the water stained to a dark tea colour by the tannin in the button grass. And the water is clean, clear, cold and drinkable. Unpolluted, pure – water from past ages. For enthusiastic trekkers, Cradle Mountain is the start of the famous five-day Overland Track. For the less mobile, even half an hour on the lodge’s ‘Enchanted Stroll’ will discover ancient beeches covered in moss, quietly living beside the stream, disturbed by nothing except the wildlife.

Dove Lake spreads picturesquely at the base of Cradle Mountain and it’s possible to circumnavigate it on a walk that takes about three hours. Hidden, rough paths lead up into the barely-explored bush. A walk through the Ballroom Forest is a walk into the past. It’s a moss-coloured, sunlight-dappled forest of Tasmania’s unique trees. There’s myrtle, sassafras, Tasmanian blackwood and ancient King Billy pines up to 1500 years old. The hush in the air is thick and evocative. Harking back to the 1930s and 40s, a time before the roads were built and visitors came hiking in to the lake, is the old boat shed on the northwestern shore. The boat shed has weathered grey now. It’s restored from time to time, to make sure it doesn’t fall down, but is deliberately kept close to its original condition.

Cradle Mountain Lodge has stood at the edge of the national park for decades. Don’t expect a phone signal, or a television in your room. But do expect warm wood fires, gourmet food made from fresh Tasmanian ingredients, and a selection of activities like wildlife spotting at night, or canoeing on Dove Lake in the day time. To drink in the wilderness in blissful idleness, visit the spa and relax after your treatment in the outdoor jacuzzi. Sit in the warm water, feel the crisp cool air on your skin, crunch a Tasmanian apple, and gaze at the pencil pines, trees that were here long before, and will be here long after.

A few kilometres into the park stands Waldheim Chalet. Come here to muse on the life and achievements of an eccentric Austrian naturist named Gustav Weindorfer and his wife Kate who were the first Europeans to live in this place, in the early twentieth century. Consider the greying King Billy pine wood of the crude chalet, the now-cold embers in the old fireplace, the chill of the nights they spent here in winter, and the animals that wander in and out: wombats, pademelons, wallabies, quolls. At night, it’s possible to spot a Tasmanian Devil. This is their habitat. These unusual Tasmanian marsupials are a throwback to the time before time when the island was isolated from the mainland and its flora and fauna evolved silently and unknown to all, except its own indigenous people.

Weindorfer famously climbed to the summit of Cradle Mountain (unlike me), looked out at all he saw around him, and cried “ this must be preserved for all time!” His efforts saw the region proclaimed a national park, and he’s a local hero for it. There’s just something about the quiet alpine air, the ancient stillness of the moss-covered pencil pines, the odd lumbering wombat that strays across the path and the vigorous sweep of the mountain above. Weindorfer saved it for us all.

About the Author: Annette Freeman is a travel writer, author and blogger based in Sydney. Australia, but addicted to travel. Tasmania is her home state.

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