Cradle Mountain

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February, 2015

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Newly retired Andrew Morris has dragged his wife Gill with him to Australia for 5 weeks. The main, wholly selfish, reason is to complete the tennis Grand Slam – sadly as a spectator, rather than as a player. Wimbledon, New York and Paris were conquered over the last four decades, the Australian Open in Melbourne will complete the set.

It’s a long way to go for a game of tennis, so they are also visiting Adelaide and Tasmania.

Part 7 – Tasmania, by camper van – Cradle Mountain National Park

Today’s aim was to explore Cradle Mountain National Park, one of Tasmania’s main tourist destinations in its alpine and lakeland north west.

Our meteorological luck had changed after the previous day’s memorable day cruising Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River on the west coast, in unbroken warm sunshine. Leaving Strahan and heading north, we headed off the main road for a spontaneous exploration of the naturally wondrous Henty Dunes. It was so early that we left first tracks in the damp sand – well, human ones anyway….it looked like some wallabies had beaten us to it – climbing up the steep 30 metre high dunes. The dune area was vast, merging into the 33 km long Ocean Beach in the wave-pounded distance, and feeling quite like the Sahara desert.

It was still drizzling when we pulled into Zeehan, in search of breakfast. This is another west-coast Tassie community that has seen better days, much like Queenstown, inland from Strahan.

They, and others, were boom towns when the mining industry extracted silver, lead, tin, nickel and zinc from their fertile innards, from as far back as the 1880s. But the good times seem to have gone, mines closed down either through natural exhaustion or because of human accidents, and these settlements now feel like ghost towns, populations shrunk to way less than their infrastructure was intended for. You almost expect to see tumbleweed blowing past the heritage museum.

In the only cafe open in Zeehan on a damp Sunday morning, its owner provided us with excellent egg and bacon rolls, along with a deeper insight into Zeehan’s plight. And told of the hope that a nearby nickel mine will be reactivated soon, resulting in more employment and the opportunity to sell his struggling business. He also turned out to be a decent weather forecaster, correctly predicting that the rain would soon pass through and leave sunny, but cooler days, ahead.

It was a perfect 20 degrees as we reached the fabled Cradle Mountain NP a couple of hours later, and the iconic peak stood out perfectly against a backdrop of deep blue, cloudless skies. Access inside the park is controlled, so leave your camper van at the Visitor Centre and plot your hiking and exploring strategy inside, with the help of leaflets and the expert staff. Then jump on one of the frequent shuttle buses – after admiring a shy echidna, inching up a nearby ramp – and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this rather special area.

We did the classic Dove Lake hiking circuit, taking a couple of hours to walk round the dazzling glacial blue waters on a protective boardwalk, going quite close to the soaring, jagged peaks of the famous mountain. Instructed to go clockwise, it was all a little too M25ish for our liking, with plenty of Nikon-toting Asian tourists to contend with, but still worthwhile. The additional loop we did, back to Rory’s Point, was less populated and more enjoyable, especially as we saw a wombat and her baby grazing on a dappled, sunny slope before jumping back on the shuttle bus. Gill and I, not the wombats.

There are many more challenging trails to follow in the National Park and if you’re feeling really adventurous, the famous 80 km Overland Track starts from here, going past Cradle Mountain and through bush wilderness as far as Lake St Clair. Not for the faint-hearted, by all accounts.

But we had to move on, passing eastwards through more dramatic landscape, still mountainous at first and – as we entered Mole Creek Karst National Park – the soaring, rocky forested slopes gave way to denuded trees, like tall skeletons and presumably robbed of their greenery by bush fires. And then we were suddenly amongst much softer farming landscapes, the bundled hay and grazing cows could have been in England, had the fields not been parched to a golden hue.

We hadn’t booked a camp site for the night but found a pitch at Mole Creek Caravan Park by 6 pm, and immediately felt at home. A gentle stream ran along the edge of the site, we sat at a picnic bench with wine and peanuts, warmed by the late evening sun and chatting to a German couple in another Apollo camper van, before cremating some skewered beef on the BBQ.

Perhaps we didn’t do justice to Cradle Mountain – it would have been rewarding to make the difficult climb to the summit – but our tour of Tasmania was full of dilemmas about where to linger, and when to move on.

We’ll just have to go back there one day….

Andrew Morris

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