One of the most exhilarating walks I’ve done this year was the Dove Lake Circuit at Cradle Mountain. It is one of several walks available in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in northern Tasmania and is one of the more manageable walks for visitors with limited time in the area. The park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is regarded as a place of unique beauty with diverse vegetation in an alpine setting.
Getting to Cradle Mountain takes about two and a half hours from Launceston, about the same from Hobart and slightly less from Devonport. I travelled from Launceston via Sheffield, fortifying myself with a cup of excellent Tasmanian coffee in this tidy town of murals before continuing on. The road to the park spiralled about with many hairpin bends during the ascent. I had picked the day with the best weather outlook, but even so, there were light showers along the way and there were stretches when I was seemingly driving through rainbows. The vegetation changed from rich green fields with cows grazing on stubbled fields to low growing heath with the shift in altitude.
Parking is available at the entrance of the camp, along with a cafe and tourist information centre. I bought a day-pass which included shuttle bus rides to various points of the park, and this took me to the edge of Dove Lake. It is recommended that all walkers register their departure and return at a cabin, so I did this before heading off in a clockwise direction around the lake after taking a moment to soak in the vista of snow-capped mountains.
The circuit is mainly crushed stone and gravel interspersed with wooden steps, requiring some tricky manoeuvres around errant tree roots and the like. There are some stretches of boardwalk but the main track is the gravel pathway.
There were quite a few people also walking the circuit, and polite greetings were exchanged as we moved past each other. Early on in the walk, I was impressed when a couple ran past me; this impressed me more the further I went on. There are some stretches of the circuit that are steep and stepped in parts, tricky enough to navigate at a measured pace.
Clouds were apparently drawn to the top of the peaks, but it was still something out of this world to marvel at the mountains curved around the lake. As a contrast to the sheer magnitude of all that rock, I found delight in spotting different flora along the walk. There were pink mountain berries, tea trees, hakea shrubs and little bell flowers. The lichen also caught my eye – so many different colours, and there were parts of the walk where it was like walking through a bright green world. I was also fascinated by the warm tiger tones of one of the gums, luminous against the green. This walk would offer different delights in every season.
Along the way, there were some places to stop, rest and take in the surroundings. Some places were covered in snowy ice, but the sun kept peeping through the clouds to offer warmth between the cooler moments.
Towards the end of the circuit, there is the beautiful Ballroom Forest. It is a cool temperate rainforest with myrtle-beech trees in a moss-covered world, with wonderfully clear water crossing underneath the boardwalk in parts. The final stretch, reached after a steep climb, winds its way around the boathouse which was built in 1940 by the first ranger at Cradle Mountain. From there it was a short walk back to the carpark and a return to reality.
The circuit is about six kilometres and takes about two hours to walk, longer if you take your time to take in the beautiful surroundings. It was an amazing experience and is one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.
[Photo: cloud-topped view of Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake]