Somewhere between Nowhere Else & Never Never
Words & images Jan Hawkins
Yes… these are villages in Tasmania’s central north, all nestled around Cradle Mountain country. They sit alongside Paradise and The Promised Land where the villages try hard to welcome you, the traveller.
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Heading down tracks off the main tar and exploring these small villages can be a treat. Some offer features that are a wonder to discover and one of my favourites was Sheffield, the village of murals. The International Mural Fest competition produces some great works by local artists, which are in turn displayed in Mural Park throughout the year.
You can take the Story of the Sheffield Murals audio tour (for $9) from the Kentish Visitors Information Centre, a self-guided walking and digital tour that takes 1-1½ hours; or just wander through the parks and streets to enjoy the extravaganza at your own pace. We loved the offerings at the local bakery and the architecture of the ‘olde worlde’ streets.
Another attraction in the surrounding villages is at Railton, the town of topiary or garden art. My favourite was the fisherman and the most poignant was that of the topiary found at the war memorial. It was fun to walk the streets and enjoy what these wonderful villages have to offer. You can pick up a free tourist map for Cradle Country at many of the visitor stops and this will guide you through the region and introduce you to some of the really great places to visit as you tour through the central north of Tasmania.
The Beauty of Cradle Mountain
Cradle Mountain is one of Tasmania’s premier tourist attractions and it is worth every beautiful adjective that you can think of. Blessed with four seasons in almost every day (usually), there is something for everyone. From an alpine wilderness to the most spectacular of the rare temperate rainforests, the breathtaking mountain is in the northernmost part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and its most iconic view is that across Dove Lake out onto the jagged peaks of Cradle Mountain.
What we enjoyed most were the walks. There are several on the Cradle Mountain circuit, of varying grades and all featuring some absolutely gorgeous scenery. Be warned though, that the weather is mercurial and being prepared is absolutely essential. In the two days we set aside to enjoy Cradle Mountain we saw the skies move quickly between clouds and misty cover (which at times completely hid the Cradle), through to a beautiful and rare clarity.
The best place to start is at the Information Centre, which can gear you up with everything you need… that is, if you forgot to bring it along with you. I strongly recommend that you forego driving beyond the Information Centre and instead take one of the free courtesy buses which transport visitors the several kilometres to Dove Lake (with track access stops along the way). The road beyond the Information Centre is not suitable for motorhomes, caravans, campervans or trailers. These courtesy buses will give you full access to the many graded walks, which feature boarded walkways and observation decks
On the days we visited, invariably vehicles had come to grief along the winding circuit tracks that are notoriously slippery as well as dangerously narrow. The convenience of the courtesy buses, which all private vehicles must give way to, is included in your National Parks entry fee; and they are regular and comfortable. They also help preserve the fragile, pristine nature of the park by limiting the impact of tourism and vehicles.
The Visitors Centre at the head of the tracks is where you can organise your pass and this is also the first stop for the courtesy buses. There is a cafe with hot drinks, but I would recommend you take along your snacks as you will not find any shops or cafes along the way or beyond the Interpretive Centre. You are also required to take out what you bring in. There are no bins as this is a World Heritage listed National Park.
The Interpretive Centre and Ranger Station is a warm and cosy gem (stop two on the circuit); and here the prime offering is an easy choice of walks. There is also a running series of films that introduce you to the wonders and history of the region… but the most popular feature is the warmth of the carefully constructed fireplace.
Two Days… Two Different Cradles
After a great day of exploring, and making plans to return for a re-run; we chose the Cradle Forest Inn found just outside the park for our main tucker stop. It is a delightfully rustic all-day bar and bistro with a wood-fired oven out the back and off the kitchen. Here they cook up pizza and nachos along with other yummy choices. The cosy log fire and comfortable lounge area are to die for on those cold windy days, and the lodge has a wonderful vista to enjoy.
All this only 20 minutes from Cradle Mountain, and one of the few local tucker stops available. The menu is good and the food is well worth waiting for, as well as being reasonably priced. On our first day’s venture up to the Cradle we spent time familiarising ourselves with the park and enjoying a few of the easiest of walks. The skies were grey and the Cradle barely visible – which was something of a disappointment. Having exhausted ourselves we headed back to camp and planned our second day’s foray.
The most popular walk is the six-kilometre trek around Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain. This was the walk we wanted to focus on. The Man added other walks to his list while I decided on time spent at the Information Centre to enjoy the films and the quiet places along the easier tracks there.
Our second day was simply glorious with rare clarity that was stunning. The walk around Dove Lake was well surfaced and, while longish, was relatively do-able for most able people. It was a photographer’s delight to come across the hidden boat shed and a real pleasure to take time out when we reached the few golden beaches and rest seats.
Ghosts of Dove Lake
As you trek the well-marked paths and venture along the hanging walkways, you should take time to look about you. The deep pool of the lake and its dark shadows hold secrets that are treasures to discover. If you are lucky you could spot one of the resident platypus, or certainly a sleek brown trout.
It’s remarkable though, the number of visitors who forget to take along their water bottles when they head out on these walks of just a few hours. We packed a small lunch and a few variety snacks and were the envy of many of the walkers as we settled comfortably along the track to enjoy a stolen moment.
Among such striking scenery it’s easy to forget the history behind the fame of Cradle Mountain. It was the vision of Austrian-born Gustav Weindorfer and his Tassie wife, Kate, that led to Cradle Mountain being declared a national park. You can trek from Ronny Creek to visit the original site of their home and the replica of the first historic chalet, Waldheim. This is a wonderful walk and often you can find wombats and wallabies along the way. Take care when you stop though, as the famous black currawongs are great at opening zips on backpacks while looking for their own treats.
Along the tracks around Dove Lake and down the popular Overland Track bush walk at Cradle Mountain, keep an eye open for strange things and keep an ear pitched for odd wailings. It is said that there is a wild Irishman and his wife who still wander these tracks. They were goldminers and both had two great passions… gold and grog. The wild Irishman’s beautiful wife was renowned for getting as full as a boot at times, leading hubby a right royal dance. For the miner, the gold proved as difficult to find as his wife proved difficult to keep.
Well known for their towering rages and fights, as much as for their parties and their ritual of making up, then one day they both simply disappeared. It is said that the wife still haunts the tracks around Cradle Mountain and it’s likely that she’s still looking for her wild Irishman. Or maybe she is just looking for that stash of grog that they were known to conceal along the tracks.