The Cradle Valley Boardwalk has opened up new walking opportunities around Tasmania's greatest natural landmark, which offers much more than the famous mountain.
The hypnotic power of Cradle Mountain is apparent from the moment it first comes into view all you can do is stare at its unusual form. This may explain why a boardwalk has been built along the surrounding trails, to stop people tripping or wandering off-course in a distracted daze.
This natural landmark is the central feature of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, a listed World Heritage Wilderness Area. While there are many tougher treks up the mountain, the walks at the base are some of the most enjoyable in Australia because they are so scenic and so accessible.
The great thing about walking Cradle Mountain is that there are so many trails to choose from; there really is something for everyone. There are many flat, easy options (see below) that are suitable for all levels of ability; the medium-grade walks are also fine if you are used to walking and can handle some steps and inclines.
The deeper you venture in, the more amazed you will be by the untouched nature. I felt like I was walking through a magical forest in another world, where massive ferns and moss-covered trees entwine around each other and the mist of the waterfalls creates an eerie atmosphere in the dim light.
Hard-grade trails have steeper climbs and are not recommended if you have heart or respiratory problems. The toughest daytime challenge, the eight-hour Summit Walk, is best left to the young and expert, with the daunting description of "some rock scrambling", not to mention the advice to attend a briefing the night before.
Extended bushwalks and mountain climbs can also be tackled over two days to two weeks. The most famous is the Overland Track, regarded as one of the world's greatest wilderness walks, which joins Cradle Mountain with Lake St.
Clair National Park. It passes through a variety of ecosystems, an amazing range of trees, waterfalls and streams, and Mount Ossa. The whole walk takes about a week to 10 days, camping or sheltering in basic huts along the way, while some people complete only selected sections.
Sticking to the simple stuff, you won't get your shoes dirty, you won't get lost and you won't need to climb a hill. Directions are very clear and the self-explanatory names of walks will give you a good idea of what you can handle.
Cradle Valley Boardwalk: 5.5km; one to three hours
The boardwalk (pictured above) was opened last year and can be walked in three sections. The first section starts at the visitor centre and passes through forests and heathlands to Snake Hill (about one hour); the next leg runs close to Dove River (45 minutes) to Ronny Creek; and the last leg links with an existing track to Dove Lake (one hour).
The Enchanted Stroll: 1km; 20 minutes
As the name suggests, this is a very easy wander through the wilderness. Starting near the visitor centre, a circular track takes you alongside the Pencil Pine River, through mossy old-growth forests. At dawn and dusk, keep an eye out for wombats and the elusive platypus.
Dove Lake Circuit Walk: 6km; one to two hours
This is the most popular trail because it is fairly flat (only one short hill) and takes you around the mirror-like lake and through the cool Ballroom Forest, while gazing up at Cradle Mountain.
Crater Lake Circuit Walk: two hours
This moderate walk is at a lower altitude than many other tracks in the area, so it's a good option if there is wind or rain.
The Waterfalls Walk: 1.5km; 40 minutes
Starting with the first five minutes of the Dove Canyon Track towards the Pencil Pine Falls, where you can have a swim, before continuing on to Knyvet Falls.
King Billy Track: 45 minutes
Explore the ancient rainforest of myrtle, sassafras and 1000-year-old King Billy pines. Carry on for an extra hour on the Speeler Track for glimpses of Cradle Valley and Cradle Mountain.
You don't need a tour guide to find your way as the popular tracks are well maintained and signposted, but a guide can help you to appreciate the significance of this wilderness area. Bookings can be made at Cradle Mountain Lodge reception.
If staying at Cradle Mountain Lodge, you won't need to venture into the National Park to experience the wilderness, as more than 20 walks leave from directly outside the accommodation. Nearby is a camping ground and caravan park. Ph: (03) 6492 1303; website: www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au.
Located on the edge of the National Park, the new Cradle Mountain Chateau is offering a special deal of $215 per night for a deluxe room, including free breakfasts for bookings made before December 24. Ph: 1800 282 020; website: www.federalresorts.com.au.
Qantas and Virgin Blue have regular flights from all capital cities to Launceston (two hours drive to Cradle country); Qantas also flies to Devonport and Burnie (1.5 hours drive). Cradle Mountain Lodge offers a scheduled guest transfer service from Devonport to the Lodge.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Visitor Centre. Ph: (03) 6492 1133.
Provided by GetUp & Go magazine