Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Edward Beale Collection
Barbecue Caravan Disabled Drinking water Fishing Horse riding Kiosk/Restaurant Park entry fee Shower Swimming Toilets Watersports Wildlife Aboriginal site Accommodation Camping area Information Lookout Picnic area Ranger Skiing Walking

Introduction

Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park is an unforgettable landscape of rugged peaks, perfect lakes, icy cascades and alpine moors in Tasmania’s mountain heart. Added to the World Heritage list in 1982, this national park is one of the last great temperate wilderness areas on Earth.

Fact file

Access

From Launceston via B132 to Pencil Pine turn-off; from Hobart via Lyell Hwy to Derwent Bridge

Best season

Summer and autumn

Location

180 km north-west of Hobart (Lake St Clair); 150 km west of Launceston (Cradle Mountain)

Park information

  • PWS 1300 135 513
  • PWS Cradle Mountain (03) 6492 1110
  • PWS Lake St Clair (03) 6289 1172

Permits

Park entry fee payable

Size

161 440 ha

Visitor information

Kentish (03) 6491 1036

Lake St Clair (03) 6289 1172

Cradle Mountain (03) 6492 1110

Featured Activities in the National Park

  • Experience the Overland Track on a six-day adventure

    Wonder at the golden hues of the deciduous beech at Crater Lake in autumn

    Learn about the park’s Aboriginal custodians on the Larmairremener Tabelti cultural walk

See Also

A look at the past

A surveyor, John Fossey, was the first European to venture into the Cradle Valley area, while searching for stock routes in the late 1820s; he was followed by explorers, piners and prospectors. Many of the old huts in the valley were built by these early adventurers. In the south of the park, the surveyor William Sharland was the first European to set eyes on Lake St Clair. He mistakenly thought it was the headwaters of the Gordon River and named it Lake Gordon in 1832.

Three years later, classical scholar and surveyor-general George Frankland trekked to the lake and renamed it for the St Clair clan of Loch Lomond. After walking along its shore from Frankland Beach to Cynthia Bay, he climbed the summit of Mount Olympus and spent the day painting the scene. Responding to the landscape’s classical beauty, he sprinkled the features around him with names from Greek mythology such as Olympus, Pelion, Narcissus, Sappho and Orion.

By the late 1800s word had spread about the beauty of the area and a steady stream of painters, poets and photographers began to visit, bringing boats with them to travel along the lake. In 1885, in what was probably the first conservation act in the state’s history, the government stepped in to prevent land around Lake St Clair from being sold and it became a place set aside for public enjoyment.

In the north, Gustav and Kate Weindorfer established a chalet at Waldheim in 1912, earning a reputation for hospitality, singalongs and excellent wombat stew. They campaigned for the protection of the environment and held public meetings and lantern shows promoting the natural beauty of the Cradle Mountain area, and it was Gustav’s wish to create a national park. A replica of Waldheim Chalet, now a small museum, stands on the original site. Gustav lived to see Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair Scenic Reserve declared in 1922. The park was doubled in area in 1936 and the Eldon Range was added in 1990.

Aboriginal culture

The Aboriginal custodians of Lake St Clair, or Leeawuleena (meaning ‘sleeping water’), were the Larmairremener of the Big River tribe, while Cradle Mountain and Lake Dove, or Weebonenetiner, were part of the traditional lands of the North tribe.

Plains of buttongrass (Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus) around Lake St Clair and in the Cradle Valley indicate where fire was used by Aborigines to manage grazing lands and attract a good supply of game animals. The relationship between Aboriginal Tasmanians, or Palawa, and their land is the inspiration behind the Lake St Clair visitor centre’s natural fibre sculpture. Woven by three Indigenous artists using buttongrass, sedges and dodder vine from the Leeawuleena–Lake St Clair area, it pays respect to the nine Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes and complements the nearby Larmairremener Tabelti Walk.

Natural features

The park’s landscape has been created by glacial action during a number of ice ages, one of which saw the formation of the familiar peaks and valleys about half a million years ago. The lower reaches of the dolerite-capped mountains – Cradle Mountain, Mount Olympus, Mount Rufus and Mount Hugel – were sculpted by massive glacial erosion, their hard-rock summits remaining above the ice. Crater Lake’s scooped–out cirque was carved by the head of a glacier and Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake, was formed by the grinding action of three consecutive glaciers that moved through the basin.

Native plants

The mosaic of plant communities in the park is shaped by altitude and soil fertility. On the lowlands around Lake St Clair there are forests of black peppermint, mountain white gum, swamp peppermint and gum-topped stringybark. Higher up there are snow gums, alpine yellow gums and cabbage gums. Among these is an understorey of silver wattle, woolly tea-tree and banksia, with occasional bright red waratahs. In the alpine woodlands of Cradle Valley there are cider gums as well. Along Lake St Clair’s western side and in Cradle Valley a cool temperate rainforest of myrtle beech, sassafras and celery-top pine grows, while at Pine Valley, Crater Lake and Marions Lookout there are pockets of deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunnii), Australia’s only cold-weather deciduous tree.

At even higher altitudes rainforests and alpine communities take on an ancient appearance with the king billy pine (above 600 metres), pencil pine (above 800 metres) and shaggy, triffid-like pandani (Richea pandanifolia), the largest heath plant in the world. All three species are endemic to Tasmania. Above the treeline, plant life is restricted to species that can cope with freezing wind and ice. Five species of cushion plants grow on the alpine moorlands, where the tiny, mound-forming plants huddle in tight communities, a protective adaptation to the severe conditions. At Navarre Plains and in several places along the Overland Track, buttongrass grows in boggy acidic conditions where soils are among the poorest in the world.

Wildlife

Bennett’s wallaby and its smaller cousin, the Tasmanian pademelon, are a common sight around picnic areas. These marsupials, along with wombats, frogs, lizards and ground parrots, find food and shelter in the buttongrass moorlands. Brushtail and ringtail possums, echidnas and platypus are also common. Animals that are extinct or threatened in other states, such as eastern quolls and spotted-tailed quolls, also inhabit the park. Tasmanian devils used to be common but are now very rarely seen.

Introduction

This park has some of the best bushwalking in Tasmania as well as fishing, wildlife-watching, historic sites, boating and rock-climbing. Walkers must be equipped for all conditions as the weather can deteriorate rapidly and becomes more extreme as altitude increases. At the Cradle Mountain end of the park the postcard views from Dove Lake are lovely. Free shuttle buses are provided year–round to take visitors along the narrow winding road to the lake. Discovery Rangers at Lake St Clair offer a program of summer activities such as nocturnal wildlife tours. Two areas are set aside for horse riders, at February Plains and Lone Gum Plain. Picnic areas with shelters and toilets with disabled access are at the Cradle Valley visitor centre (also barbecues) and Waldheim. Ronny Creek has picnic tables and Dove Lake has toilets with disabled access.

Bushwalking

At Lake St Clair, the Visitor Centre to Watersmeet Walk (3.5 km return, 45 minutes, easy) leads through eucalypts, buttongrass, tea-tree and rainforest to Watersmeet where the Hugel and Cuvier rivers join. The Larmairremener Tabelti, an Aboriginal cultural walk (1 hour), branches off this track, passing beautiful panels about the culture of the Larmairremener people. Watersmeet to Platypus Bay Walk (40 minutes return) leads to the bay then returns along the shore of the lake, while Woodlands Nature Walk (1 hour one way) leads from the visitor centre to Watersmeet through rainforest, eucalypt and banksia woodlands, and open country alongside the Hugel River. At this point you can continue to Watersmeet or turn off to Shadow and Forgotten lakes (2.5 hours one way, from the visitor centre). A further 5 hours return will take you up to the summit of Mount Rufus, where the views over central and western Tasmania are some of the best in the state.

At the northern end of the park, Dove Lake circuit (6 km, 2-hour loop) skirts around the edge of the lake, passing through the Ballroom Forest and past Weindorfer’s historic boatshed, and offering beautiful views of the lake and Cradle Mountain. A short walk to Lake Lilla (20 minutes) takes in this glacial lake amid pretty alpine scenery. From Dove Lake there are also tracks to Wombat Pool, Marions Lookout, Hansons Peak, and Lake Wilks (all 3 hours, moderate–hard). The Cradle Summit track (6 km, 4 hours) is a hard uphill climb.

From the Cradle Mountain visitor centre an all-weather wheelchair-accessible walk (500 metres) goes through rainforest to a viewing point over Pencil Pine Falls. The Enchanted Walk (20 minutes) circles around the rainforest next to Pencil Pine Creek near Cradle Mountain Lodge. Weindorfer’s Forest Walk (20 minutes) from Waldheim Chalet passes through king billy pines and myrtle beech forests on the land originally owned by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer.

Canoeing and kayaking

Lake St Clair is suitable for paddlers but you will need to bring your own kayak.

Caving, canyoning and abseiling

On the upper reaches of the Dove River there are canyoning tours for beginners of all ages at Lost World and for thrill-seekers at Dove Canyon. All the gear is supplied and bookings can be made with Cradle Mountain Canyons on 1300 032 384.

Cruises

A ferry operates bushwalker transport between Cynthia Bay and Narcissus Hut, as well as sightseeeing cruises. Book at Lake St Clair Lodge on (03) 6289 1137.

Fishing

With a fishing licence you can catch up to 12 trout a day in Lake St Clair or Dove Lake. There is a boat launch ramp at Cynthia Bay on Lake St Clair.

Rock-climbing and abseiling

Climbing areas in the park are accessible only on foot. Mount Geryon, and the Acropolis on the Pine Valley track just north of Narcissus, offer 40 or so climbs on dolerite with fantastic mountain views.

Snow sports

There is no downhill skiing but keen cross-country skiers and snowboarders can head to Cradle Plateau in the north and Mount Rufus in the south. Check snow conditions at the visitor centres.

Campsites

Cynthia Bay Campground

This popular campground at the southern end of the national park is part of the privately run Lake St Clair Wilderness Lodge. It has shady sites for big rigs on the southern shore of Australia’s deepest lake. Check... Find out more