Northern Exposure: a Launceston to Cradle Mountain Driving Holiday

Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain

When it comes to adventure, Chris and Sarah are always up for a challenge. And that’s just what they find on a three-day trip in Tasmania’s north, taking in the world-famous Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park.

There’s a niggling thought at the back of my mind that, whenever we’re thinking about Tasmania, whispers, “You and Chris should do the Overland Track.” But that’s seven nights of wilderness camping, and I’m really going to have to psyche myself up. Instead, I’ve suggested to Chris we check out Cradle Mountain and some of the walks around the national park, so here we are picking up our Apex Car Rentals vehicle at Launceston Airport ready for a three-day adventure.

The Devil You Know: Launceston to Cradle Mountain

A boat travels below the suspension bridge at Launceston’s Cataract gorge, Kings Bridge, Tasmania

We’ve arrived early in the day, so we decide to start the trip off right with a gentle morning sightseeing expedition with Tamar River Cruises. For two-and-a-half hours we skim across the water, checking the banks of the river for interesting sights. There are vineyards and wetlands, farms and historic estates. Of course, we also travel through the spectacular Cataract Gorge, with its suspension bridge, cable cars and peacocks strutting around the garden.

Back on land, we head out of the city and stop briefly in the hamlet of Westbury, where many of the historic buildings have been restored and converted into antique shops and galleries showing the work of local artists and photographers. Despite having had morning tea on the cruise, Chris is keen to head on though because our next stop is Ashgrove Cheese. The farmers have several properties in Tassie’s north, but the fancy visitor centre is near Elizabeth Town. We go for a wander outside and meet the happy cows then sit down at the Dairy Door for cheese toasties (naturally) and a Taste of Tasmania platter, loaded with the farm’s produce including a cheese infused with locally grown wasabi.

When we make it up the mountain, 1,545 metres above sea level, the day is clear and we can see for miles. That’s not always the case, with clouds and mist often covering the peak. Surprisingly, there’s no actual town here, just a collection of accommodation options, many of them offering other services from meals to spa treatments.

We’re here long before dark and with time up our sleeves, so we book the sunset experience at [email protected]. After all, how often do you get to have a close encounter with a furry legend. We watch them being fed and visit some of the young joeys at the nursery before sitting down at the campfire for drinks.

Take the Plunge: Cradle Mountain

Two people in wetsuits and helmets about to leap over a rocky waterfall, Cradle Mountain Canyons, Tasmania

There are trails for all levels of walker across the mountain and further afield in the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park, but we’re doing something different today. “Are you ready for this,” Chris asks as we’re getting into our gear at Cradle Mountain Canyons. To be honest, with my fear of heights, I’m not sure. Canyoning, for the uninitiated, involves jumping off waterfalls, abseiling down cliffs and floating down rivers. After walking through the rainforest, we hit the water, abseiling into Dove Canyon and leaping into waterfalls. Thankfully, the adrenaline kicks in and my fears of freezing up come to nought. The best part is an obstacle called the Laundry Chute, a 10-metre natural slide that shoots you into a cave. Afterwards, both Chris and I head back to the cabin for a hot shower because we’ve planned to go on the Cradle Mountain Night Spotting Tour. Our guide takes us by 4WD coach into the national park and we follow a boardwalk, peering into the wilderness. There are fat waddling wombats and quolls looking for their next meal of possum or insects. We even hear Tasmanian devils growling, grunting and screeching at one another over their territory. No wonder they have such a fearsome reputation.

Walk This Way: Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair

A view over the water at Lake St Clair towards thick bush and a rocky plateau called Mount Olympus, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Most visitors tend to stay near Cradle Mountain when they visit, but we’re going to drive to the south of the park and stretch our legs on the Echo Point Track. It’s the final leg of the Overland Track, but for day visitors, there’s a ferry that travels across Lake St Clair from the Cynthia Bay Visitor Centre. From the deck we take in the view around us. This is Australia’s deepest freshwater lake, but there are no other boats nearby. Mount Ida looms over the water.

The ferry drops us off and we set off. Much of the trail, despite following the banks of the lake, is set in rainforest. We’re surrounded by myrtle beech, sassafras trees and huge ferns. Narrow bridges carry us above streams of water. Now and again, the forest clears enough so we can see the lake. It’s 11 kilometres in total, a little muddy in parts, but mostly flat. Eventually, the forest changes, becomes more open and, before we know it, we’re back at the visitor centre and ready to return to Launceston.