This was my third visit to Tasmania and this time the target destination was the evocatively named “Western Wilderness”.
Following the Lyell Highway that leads from Derwent Bridge and Lake St Clair up and around the National Park, the first stop was the Franklin Nature Walk.
It’s a mere 25 minute circuit but the forest takes mossiness to a new level and as the path dips down to the river the softly shining rocks, limpid pools and lacy undergrowth are really magical.
Donaghy’s Lookout in the Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is designated one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” and at 40 minutes return reveals the sort of magnificent Tasmania landscape I have long dreamed of seeing.
From button grass plains to the beech-like Myrtle forest punctuated with tall Stringybark eucalypts and permeated with the invigorating scent of the Celery Top Pine, this is a national park at its easily-accessible best in Tasmania. The eucalypts are luxuriantly green with red-gold tips and the views from the top of the Franklin River and across to Frenchman’s Cap are magnificent.
The mining around the town of Queenstown is a depressing scar on the landscape and it must be a bit of a downer to live here. I know Tasmania needs jobs and income but does it need them this much? From here we travelled a very windy road to Strahan, a much-vaunted holiday town on the coast. It has some quaint colonial architecture but it was raining and we found only two places open for lunch. The fish and chips at Hamers Hotel looked spectacular but turned out to be rubbery out-of-the-freezer fare.
It was still raining (it rains a lot in the Western Wilderness) so we had to skip the Montezuma Falls walk and head straight for Cradle Mountain. Mountain weather was mountain weather at Cradle Mountain and we didn’t get the views I had hoped for. In fact it was sleeting at one point on a walk.
But I was far from disappointed. The incredibly exotic vegetation and the wildlife spotting opportunities of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania mean that I would return in an instant, even if the weather conditions were exactly the same.
I have to say the set up at Cradle Mountain is impressive – regular shuttle buses keep the traffic to a minimum, all the construction blends into the environment and the staff are friendly and helpful. They have gone crazy building miles of boardwalks but you can see how effective this is in preserving the vegetation so I think it must be worth it.
The final wildlife count was 11 Bennett’s Wallabies, six Wombats, six Tasmanian Devils and four Pademelons. Here’s one of the darling wee Pademelons (they’re like miniature wallabies) in front of the Weindorfer cottage:
Short walks at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
There are a series of very short walks in the vicinity of the Ranger Station that are well worth exploring. All the different mosses and the strange alpine vegetation make the Enchanted Walk in particular a unique and otherworldly landscape that you’ll only find in Tasmania.
And just at the end of the walk we met this lovely wombat munching away.
Longer walks at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
The Dove Lake circuit walk takes two hours and is probably the one walk you must do if you’ve limited time. Even though the views of the mountains were limited the lake, the forest and the foaming waterfalls make it a very rewarding walk.
Unique plants like the exquisite Fagus deciduous beech and the world’s tallest heath plant – the Pandani – were quite enough spectacle. It’s kind of tropical but in an alpine setting and I’ve never seen anything like it.
We did a handful of low level walks but our ambitions of climbing to the summit of Cradle Mountain or doing anything more exposed were thwarted by the weather. Never mind, I am already plotting a return to walk the Overland Track.
A visit to the devils@cradle sanctuary to learn about Tasmanian Devils and their struggle for survival is also highly recommended but I’ll have to keep that for another post.
The contrast between the Western Wilderness and Tasmania’s East Coast couldn’t be more striking – two uniquely beautiful parts of this most delightful of Australia’s states. I can’t wait to return and explore more.
By Natasha von Geldern