The morning is clear with misty mountains in the background as we leave Strahan to drive the 40kms to Queenstown and later Cradle Mountain where we are spending the next 2 days. Coming through Queenstown we stop for coffee at the Wilderness Railway Queenstown station. This is the pioneer railway which runs between Strahan and Queenstown. Great coffee and a scone we can't resist, plus a quick peek through the very well endowed gift shop and then on the road again.
We take the Zeehan – Murchison road which bypasses Zeehan but takes us to the Montezuma Falls track . These are Tassie's highest falls at 104 metres and are accessed via a 3 hour return walk along an abandoned tramline. We arrive at the small carpark under grey skies so load up our backpacks with wet weather gear just in case. We are very pleased to spot an ecoloo a few metres into the track – clean and well maintained. It's a pleasant but challenging walk to the falls which, if you are reasonably walk fit can be completed a little within the 3 hours officially quoted. Depends how long you spend at the falls of course. In seriously wet conditions, however, the excursion would be unpleasant and awkward. The walk through the rain forest is really something in itself but arrival at the falls is spectacular and ‘wow’ – it is worth the effort. The falls are quite narrow and fall straight down the near vertical cliff face from high above throwing a huge volume of water into the deep gorge below. The atmosphere around the falls is full of spray and mist so if you are a photographer you need gear which is sealed to the elements. A narrow steel swing bridge spans the deep gorge which I think would afford a great view, so full of bravado off I go. I manage about 1/3 of the distance across, not enjoying the sway of the bridge or distance below and turn back, very pleased with Linda's 'you don't need to say you did that!' No I don't, but I do manage to persuade Linda to venture onto the bridge so I can get the picture.
The rain forest is quiet and brooding on the way back. Dark mosses, funghi and tree ferns abound, flourishing under the thick mature tree canopy. Being surrounded in this secluded microworld for some hours I somehow expect the world at large to have changed as we emerge but there is our bright blue Mitsi just as we left it with a campervan pulling up alongside.
On the road again pointing east and upwards to Cradle Mountain, probably the most famous destination in this part of the world. Rising all the way from the coast the Murchison highway cuts through the western edge of the CradleMountainNational Parkand would take us all the way to the northern coast. For Cradle however, we turn right onto the C132 from where our surroundings take on a distinctly alpine appearance. We notice too that the external temperature indicator is dropping k by k until by the time we turn right onto the Cradle Mountain visitor center road the outside temp has declined to a chilly 6C which combined with the misty damp, creates the ideal ambience for our wilderness experience.
Cradle Mountain summit is 1545m above sea level and the whole area experiences heavy winter snowfall and ever changing conditions throughout the year. We are staying at the hand crafted Highlander bush cabins which are fully booked most of the year due to the area's popularity and for us to get our 2 nights we have to accept moving from one cabin to another. This is no bad thing as the cabins are all very well appointed and self contained but all different. Our first night is in Lanceolata and our second night in Buttongrass. We enjoy the latter the most. Our hosts, Ian and Sharon, make the move quite seamless for us as when we return from our next day's outing our gear has been neatly moved over to Buttongrass and a welcoming fire is lit. Delightful. But let’s back track a wee bit.
To enter national parks you need your park’s permit which you can buy at the visitor centre or, as we did, purchase a multi park entry permit at the first park you visit. Our first park was Freycinet on the east coast and we can now simply display on the dashboard our paid-up pass which expires on Christmas day. There is no actual checkpoint where passes are monitored, but rangers are about and a fine may be the result if you do not display your valid pass.
After we settle into Lanceolata it is quite late in the day with light fading when we drive the short distance up the road to Cradle Mountain Lodge where there are 2 restaurants each offering a different dining style. We look a little disheveled so settle for the casual bistro where the tables are arranged on 2 levels with a round log fire blazing on the lower. We scan the tasty sounding menu and 5 minutes later are at the bar to give our order for food and a local pinot. Of course there are no really 'local' wines up here but we are pleased to recognize the Tamar valley's 9th Island which has not disappointed us yet. Our plates arrive in about 20 minutes – good quality bistro fare the only complaint being Linda's 'well done' steak is a touch pink which isn't to her liking but rather than sending it back we mix and match a bit ending up very happy. And they do an espresso decaf coffee – so we can't complain. We have brought our collection of Cradle Mountain brochures and web downloads with us to help make the best use of our 1 day here. There are many short and long walks throughout the Cradle Mountain park system with Cradle being the start point for the extensive Overland Track, a six day hike through alpine terrain and rain forest. Of course, it’s not possible for us and out of the shorter ones– a few hours to 1 day walks we settle on the Dove Lake circuit. It's raining quite heavily now and very chilly so we are looking forward to our snug cabin with the woodburner slowburning all night.
Morning comes wet and chilly with low mist, conditions which encourage me to stoke up the woodburner. A couple of pademelons (small wallabies) are sitting near our cabin seemingly oblivious to the weather. A basic breakfast from the 'breakfast pack' supplies, augmented from our own odds and ends readies us to brave the alpine conditions.
After checking with Sharon about our move to Buttongrass hut – no problems with this – we make for our first stop of the day, the Cradle Mountain Chateau. Here there is Quolls café, a large alpine clothing shop and an extensive display of natural photographic art. A real coffee first at Quolls where we are the only customers, then an expensive stop for wet weather clothing. We have some with us but not enough to ensure our comfort around Dove Lake in these conditions.
The nearby photography display by a collection of well and lesser known photographers is breathtaking – the images of remote landscapes, birds and animals in their natural environments, such as the cormorant in the act of scooping his fish from the sea and many others are of equal or greater skill. Well worth the $5 entry which is waived if you are a shop customer.
A brief stop back at our Buttongrass cabin and we are decked out in our new gear ready to take on whatever comes. Take a look at the photos – don't we look the part !
As we drive up towards Dove Lake we come to the Cradle Mountain visitor centre where you are encouraged to park your vehicle and catch a shuttle to the Dove Lake carpark as car spaces are quite limited. In busy times of the year and in winter snow when chains are mandatory, this would be the right idea, but now with light visitor numbers and the early 'summer' season we think taking the car up is low risk.
We are right, there are many spaces available and we are able to park conveniently close to the Dove Lake visitors shelter. There are quite a few other hikers and day walkers about so we don't feel too out of place in our 'Michelin' tyreman/woman gear. This is also one of those times when we look at each other and say ' why didn't I get the green pants' as we look suspiciously like aging twins. Oh well, so what, we're warm and dry. The visitor’s book and associated park rules poster in the shelter, puts the onus on the walker to enter complete details of their party and what their intentions are, with columns for name, numbers and walk departure time and expected return times. And why wouldn't you – being caught out here with night falling, wet and cold, would not be nice. The Dove Lake loop track beckons and off we go.
The mist is low over the lake and hangs from the surrounding mountains but the heavy rain has dwindled to intermittent light drizzle. I am very grateful for my weather-sealed Nikon D300 in these conditions. The left-hand side of the lake is fairly open country with easy to average walking, with the top end of the lake, under The Cradle Mountain summit, mainly on a neat and well-made boardwalk leading into the Ballroom forest area. This is a magnificent example of ancient alpine rain forest all mossy and dripping.
We just breakout of the forest and there close on our left is a large kangaroo, absolutely still, so still in fact I say to Linda 'funny place for a kangaroo statue' when it suddenly rubs it's nose with a forepaw. We have nothing to give it so apart from briefly passing the time of day we have to move on. The track at this point on heading back to the carpark becomes quite rocky and difficult with large lumps of angular quartz tumbled everywhere. You really have to watch your step. This slows us down and at a moderate pace the 2 hours officially allowed is reasonably accurate.
We strip off a couple of clothing layers, as the day although remaining dull and overcast has warmed a lot since we started our trek. A quick visit to the visitors centre to make the necessary 'returned' note in the visitors book then the short drive down to our 'Highlanders' Cabin.
Tonight it's Buttongrass, one of the new cabins and very snug and inviting. A little daylight remains which will be just enough for us to visit Pencil Pine falls, a local waterfall via a short bush walk of about 45 minutes. Further downstream a smaller fall, Knyvet sounds like it is also worth inspection. On entry to the Pencil Pine falls walk there is the mandatory visitors book in a waterproof metal box. Even on a short walk like this it’s easy to understand why, as accidents can happen especially in such a changeable environment. If a visitor to the area was eventually missed then the walk books could be checked, probably saving valuable time in discovering your whereabouts. We fill in our details then set off down the well formed path which turns into a boardwalk along the edge of Pencil Pine creek. The 10m high and 4 to 5 metre wide falls are very pretty, complemented by alpine forest on all sides. The volume of water coming over is considerable for a 'creek' – definitely an understatement. The misty rain and chill of the morning have given way to a dull afternoon and the thermometer around 14C so we are not encumbered by our 'Michelin tyre' gear although in the rain forest the inherent damp is quite penetrating.
The Cradle Lodge bistro is again our dinner venue for our last night at Cradle. As casual and enjoyable as our previous dinner we linger over an extra glass of wine before Buttongrass beckons where the little log-fire has been slow-burning all day. Rain on the roof for most of the night makes for a cosy rest and we feel nicely refreshed come daybreak. The 2 pademelons of the first morning are down to one today – the other probably checking greener pastures around the corner.
Breakfast eaten, car loaded, we stop briefly at the little reception cabin to settle our account then on the road for the northern coast with the exterior thermometer showing 6C, backtracking a little over the C132 to join the Murchison highway north. An uneventful drive with a stop just off the highway at pretty Waratah a former tin mining town. A good quality morning devonshire tea in the Scenic View café, and a scenic view it is looking across the road to the Waratah falls which cascade into a bush clad valley. In the late 19th century water from the stream was used for sluicing tin from the ore.
We take a half hour or so to inspect some small cottages dating from these earlier times, before leaving. Coming through the Heller Gorge State reserve we are attracted by a small sign indicating a short bush walk off to the right. We take it and find a very pretty track with some lovely mature tree ferns and delicate leaved, 100 foot high Myrtle Beech trees - the walk running alongside the beautifully clear Heller river, fast burbling over smooth river stones. Onto Wynyard and the northern coast, arriving in time for a late lunch at the Wharf Hotel bistro. A nice surprise, excellent fresh grilled flounder and salad. The bistro overlooks a picturesque estuary with a couple of business like fishing boats tied up at the short wharf. Wynyard town centre is quite large by Tassie rural town criteria with an extensive main shopping street. We don't stay too long with tonight's goal being Stanley another 70 odd kms west and the time now past 3pm. We don't have accommodation booked at Stanley so we need some time to check the various options that may be available.
We are passing lots of poppy fields now in various stages of flower and it is obvious we have perfectly timed our visit over the next couple of days with Terry Stuart at the Justice Ministry. We push on to Stanley arriving in the late afternoon. The drive into Stanley is spectacular, being dominated by the 'Nut', an ancient volcanic plug rising 150 metres above the town. Linda has several accommodation options and we drive around the small town to take a look at our short list. We drive past and then return 10 minutes later to 'Captains cottage' a delightful white washed stone cottage in Alexander Terrace. Well, it has the right address to start with! There is nobody around but a phone number on a small sign board near the front door. We call and are answered by Christine, the owner, who farms some distance out of Stanley at Black River. We tell her we are interested in taking the cottage for the night, she says yes that'll be fine – the key is in the meter box by the back door. Giving Christine our Visa card number we are quite amazed and charmed by this trusting, sight unseen attitude. The compact appearance of the exterior belies the expansive interior which includes an open plan wood paneled first floor. Two quaint dormer windows give an easterly view over Sawyer Bay. The furnishings are very much of the mid 1800s period of the cottage and imbue an authenticity yet are completely useable and complemented by modern shower, laundry and kitchen facilities. There is even an off-street carport for the Mitsi which I think by this stage of our journey probably feels a little unloved.
A short walk takes us into the small township which consists of several well maintained period buildings and wooden dwellings of a similar vintage. Our idea is to scale the Nut before dinner and we set off to find the near vertical path a short distance behind the town. The path zigzags very steeply up the eastern side of the Nut and several recovery stops are needed during the ascent. There is also a chairlift but during our stay it never moved. The top of the Nut is quite flat with a howling gale blowing across which makes our walk to the northern edge looking out to Bass Strait a bit of a struggle. The downward journey has it's own dangers with the steepness of the path presenting the possibility of a nasty fall.
We picked our dinner venue before braving the Nut and this is to be Xanders restaurant in the main street, Church Street. With half an hour to spare we stop at the Stanley Hotel for a reviving pinot and enjoy the outside terrace looking down over quaint cottages out to the bay. Time to wander the short distance to Xanders where we expect the best and are not disappointed. Beautifully cooked lamb cutlets for me and hand made ravioli for Linda – delicious, washed down with a local 06 Stephen Lubiano merlot. Smooth, powerful and very good. After our 'Nut' excursion we feel we deserve all of this. A very comfortable and dreamless sleep at the Captains Cottage in Alexander Terrace, follows.
Out of bed quite early and I decide to surprise Linda with some fresh fruit and yoghurt for breakfast.
We had noticed a small supermarket nearby so I set out to hunt and gather. I would have done better in the forest with my bow and arrows – the supermarket offerings are very thin – abysmal really. A loaf of yesterday's bread, some cheddar, a pot of some fruit yoghurt and a couple of bananas is the best I can do. Linda is impressed with the thought, but not liking bananas and being very ho-hum about yoghurt with fruit in it, is not jumping up and down for joy, but we make do – at least we have fresh coffee.
Being Monday shops are open so we take a quick look through the main street. Stepping into The Brown Dog gallery, we are immediately impressed with the quality locally made decorative items. There being not much else in Stanley town itself we are going west as far as Smithton before turning back east for our last 2 nights in Devonport and immersion in the poppy industry. Leaving Stanley, Highfield, the property established in the 1830s by the Van Dieman Land Co, is a must see. The architectural style of Hellyer and the resulting elegant design and structure is outstanding. Designed to allow the 'light of reason' and the spectacular view to shine into the main rooms through large French windows, Highfield occupies an commanding position overlooking Stanley and it's famous 'nut'.