Located in the north-west highlands of Tasmania, Cradle Mountain is 85km (an hour and 15 minutes) from Devonport and 150km from Launceston.
Cradle Mountain accommodation
Accommodation is in abundance near Cradle Mountain, with a choice for everyone – Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge has lovely cabins in a bush setting, while Discovery Holiday Parks Caravan Park is a less luxurious option at a fraction of the cost. However, the caravan park still offers everything you need for a comfortable stay with wall heaters, double beds and single bunks all with electric blankets. It’s perfect for a family on a budget. Pencil Pine offers a range of accommodation; from upmarket luxury resorts like Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge which will set you back $250 to $400 a night depending on the time of year, to camp sites and low cost cabins at the local caravan park. Be sure to book ahead for summer and school holidays.
When to visit
If you don’t like it cold and wet avoid the cooler months in the Tasmanian highlands, because if it’s not raining it’ll likely snow. Summer is a delightful time to escape the heat of the mainland. Visually, autumn is a great time to visit and catch the seasonal colours with the “Turning of the Fagus”. In typical Tasmanian fashion, the temperature can drop quite quickly at night and don’t be surprised if you fall asleep to a snowflake or two, and wake up to millimetres of snow covering the mountain – even in the middle of summer. It’s always a good idea to pack some warmer clothes for these occasions.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
The image of Dove Lake beneath the jagged peaks of Cradle Mountain is synonymous with Tasmania. The crisp blue waters of the lake reflect the U-shaped, snow-topped mountain located in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Placed on the World Heritage List in 1982, it was internationally recognised for its natural beauty and range of unique flora and fauna dating back to its time as part of the Gondwana super-continent 55 million years ago.
Head south-west from Launceston and eventually you will come to Liffey Falls, which is arguably the most photogenic waterfall in Tasmania and just two hours from Cradle Mountain. Access is via the Liffey Falls Road which passes beneath the rocky summit of Drys Bluff, part of the Western Tiers; an impressive range that rises some 1100 metres above the surrounding farm land.
After skirting the northern edge of the Western Tiers for a short distance, the road reaches the Liffey Falls car park. Then it’s time to lace up the hiking boots for a one kilometre walk on a well-made track rated level two in difficulty – so it’s suitable for children and those with only moderate fitness.
The track follows the river, meandering through a range of greenery with tree ferns, and lichen and moss encrusted myrtle, sassafras and leatherwood trees. There are several lookouts along the way but the most picturesque part of the falls is at the very bottom of the walk where the river cascades down several small rock-ledges into a pool. There isn’t much water during the summer, but the view is still worth the walk.
Driving into Pencil Pine village, the jagged peak of Cradle Mountain becomes visible in the distance and is even more spectacular when covered with a dusting of snow. Dove Lake is located about seven kilometres inside the national park and offers some spectacular photo opportunities.
There are plenty of nearby walks including the aptly named Enchanted Stroll and King Bill Track through the magical moss and lichen-covered forest. With the occasional shaft of sunlight slanting through the dense leaf canopy and lighting up the verdant forest floor, at times it looks like a scene from Middle Earth.
King Billy Track
King Billy Track is named after the stands of the ancient King Billy Pines in the area. Not a true pine, these trees grow to 40 metres high and can be up to 1500 years old. Half way along the walk is a short side track to a massive 1000 year old specimen. Regretfully, King Billy Pines don’t survive bushfire and their fragrant timber was highly prized and heavily harvested. While most remaining stands of this wonderful tree are in protected areas, the increasing frequency of bushfires is a threat to their continued existence.
Both the Enchanted Stroll (30 minutes) and King Billy Track (one hour) are easy going, mainly on boardwalk to protect the delicate environment from the multitude of tourists that visit the area. The Enchanted Stroll is the easier of the two, while the King Billy Track has numerous steps.
Cradle Mountain is the start or finish of the famous 65km Overland Track which takes five to six days to walk from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. To get a taste of the Overland Track, it’s well worthwhile walking part of the first section from the Waldheim car park as far as Crater Lake. This medium grade excursion on a well-constructed path and boardwalk will take about three hours return. From the Crater Lake boatshed, the track becomes more difficult, rising steeply to Marions Lookout, where the Overland Track and the day trippers part company.
Cradle Mountain makes a good base from which to visit some of the other tourist hot-spots in north-western Tasmania. Guide Falls, just south of Burnie, is a good place to stop for a tea break on your way to the picturesque town of Stanley. You can drive to the top of the falls or take a short walk from the lower car park to its base.
From Burnie, it’s a pleasant one-hour drive along the coast to Stanley. The town has an old-world feel, as if time has forgotten about it. It rests in the shadow of The Nut, a striking 150 metre volcanic plug with steep sides and a flat top.
For those with the time and inclination there is a (steep) walk to take in the view from the top, or a chairlift for the less athletic. For those less adventurous, there’s always the option of picking up a fresh local crayfish for a decadent lunch.
To the west of the town there is a panoramic view back over Stanley and the coastline. Some nearby ruins of an old, convict built, soldiers’ barracks are eye catching and are sure to get your attention.
A closer inspection shows only a small portion of the original building remains, but it’s enough to show that it would have been an impressive structure in its day. It’s a little sad to see this small remnant of Tasmania’s early history in a paddock shared with, and not fenced off from, cattle, which undoubtedly use it for shelter. South–west from Stanley is Arthur River on the rugged west coast, which is the gateway to the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Arthur River is both the name of the river that flows into the sea at this point and a small town near its mouth.
Arthur River is the gateway to the area of Tasmania known as the Tarkine, which lies to the east and south. The Tarkine is renowned for its natural beauty and comprises the largest area of Gondwanan rainforest in Australia – being the remnants of flora from the Gondwanaland super continent.
Arthur River is also pretty much the end of the road for anything other than 4x4 vehicles and there are some great four-wheel-drive tracks on the west coast.
The north-west of Tasmania is full of little surprises, such as the Coles family store in Wilmot that started the supermarket empire.
This magical part of Australia’s most southern state has an abundance of natural beauty, regularly punctuated by places of special significance and historical interest. This is one trip you won’t forget.