This Tasmanian journey begins in Devonport and sets off southward along the beautiful Mersey River into a region of bucolic splendour, arts and crafts, glittering limestone caves and World Heritage wilderness.
Just 10km south of Devonport, the picturesque town of Latrobe stands on the east bank of the Mersey River. Named in honour of Charles Joseph La Trobe, acting Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land (1846-1847), it was the region’s main port and Tasmania's third largest settlement for most of the 19th century. Today, it is a quiet commuter suburb of its city neighbour, its once-bustling riverside docks in the ‘Settlers Wharf’ precinct on Bells Parade now enjoying life as a tranquil parkland.
In homage to the area’s forestry heritage, and the first woodchopping championship held here in 1891, Latrobe is home to the Australian Axeman’s Hall of Fame and Timberworks, featuring displays of forestry paraphernalia and galleries extolling the champions of wood-chopping sport. The building also houses the Platypus Interpretation Centre, with a 'Big Platypus' (a large wooden sculpture) in the forecourt that heralds the possibility of spotting the real thing in the adjacent river.
A floral display outside the Latrobe Court House
The town’s CBD is focused on Gilbert Street, with a ‘Heritage Streetscape’ of National Trust buildings that include the impressive Public Building (1883) with the Library and the Court House Museum. On the town’s northern outskirts is the House of Anvers, offering a ‘total Belgian chocolate experience’ that chocoholics will find hard to resist.
Southwest of Latrobe, the scenic rural hub of Sheffield stands beneath the looming crags of Mount Roland (1234m), amid fertile pastures renowned for high-quality dairy farming and livestock production. From settlement in the 1850s, Sheffield grew slowly, until the Mersey-Forth Power Development Scheme (1963-73) delivered a dramatic boom in the town’s population and economy. In the wake of the scheme’s completion, however, the town’s fortunes slumped amid a general rural decline.
In a desperate bid to revive the town as a tourist attraction, artists were commissioned to paint large murals on the walls of Sheffield's shops and buildings, creating an outdoor art gallery of heroic proportions depicting the region’s natural beauty and pioneering history. Since 1986, more than 60 large-scale murals have been painted, and new ones are added each year through the annual International Mural Fest in April, which attracts thousands of visitors.
Sheffield is renowned as the Town of Murals
Sheffield is also a handy base from which to explore the Devils Gate Dam and Lake Barrington, a few kilometres to the west. Spanning the narrow Forth River gorge, the dam was built in 1969 as part of the scheme. It is one of the thinnest double-arched concrete dams in the world, with an overhanging crest that allows flood water to freefall to the riverbed 84m below.
The dam holds back picturesque Lake Barrington, a 20km-long stretch of water edged by tall eucalypts and lush rainforest. Its mirror-smooth surface provides an international standard rowing course and is an ideal venue for power boating, water-skiing, canoeing and fishing. The foreshore is protected by the 183ha Lake Barrington State Recreation Area, with excellent picnic and barbecue facilities, boat ramps, an adventure playground and a two-hour nature walk.
A series of C-roads along Lake Barrington’s eastern shore pass south through the localities of No Where Else, Promised Land and the village of Lower Crackpot, home of the Tasmazia Amusement Park. The park has eight mazes, including a replica of the kilometre-long hedge maze at Hampton Court, just outside London, and a feature called Embassy Gardens, which includes 60 model buildings representing over 40 countries around the globe.
The tiny village of Gowrie Park was once a bustling hydro construction depot, with a history depicted in a 100m-long mural on the side of an old, corrugated shed. Today, it serves as the starting point for walking tracks (4-6 hrs return) that climb into the 7600ha Mount Roland Conservation Area and Regional Reserve. The walks take in the peaks of Mount Claude (1034m) and Mount Van Dyke (1084m), and the plateau leading to the summit of Mount Roland, where hikers are rewarded by 360-degree views to Bass Strait, Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff.
Back in the east, the Bass Highway runs about 45km from Latrobe to the National Trust-classified town of Deloraine, noted for its fine art, fine food and forest splendour. This hilly town straddles the burbling Meander River surrounded by farmsteads on rich basalt soils that produce vegetables, truffles, raspberries and knee-high grass to feed Angus cattle and dairy cows for local cheese factories. Poppy fields supply raw product to Tasmanian Alkaloids, the opium processing factory in nearby Westbury.
Deloraine straddles the burbling Meander River
Deloraine is a ‘town of historic significance’, with many fine Georgian and Victorian buildings dating back to the 1830s and places of interest which can be viewed on a leisurely stroll or a drive that takes in the town's Scenic Viewpoint.
The town is also the home of a creative community of artists and craftspeople, whose work abounds in the streets, shops, galleries and country lanes. On display at the visitor centre is the award-winning ‘Yarns Artwork in Silk’ – an exquisite four-panel, quilted and appliqued depiction of the Meander Valley through the seasons. In November each year the town hosts the Tasmanian Craft Fair, Australia's largest working craft fair, which attracts more than 30,000 visitors.
Deloraine’s location makes it an ideal base for exploring the foothills of the Great Western Tiers – in the Meander Forest Reserve, headwaters of the eponymous river and towering waterfall; and the popular Liffey Falls State Reserve, where the Liffey River tumbles over a four-tiered cascade in dense rainforest beneath Drys Bluff (1298m).
From Deloraine, the B12 swings lazily westward through a valley of lush pastures between the Great Western Tiers and the Gog Range towards Chudleigh. Known as the ‘village of roses’ for its extensive rose plantings, the main street includes a boutique selling a wide range of products from the nearby Melita honey farm. The annual agricultural and horticultural show was first held here in 1889 and ranks as Tasmania’s oldest such event.
On the western outskirts, a side-road heads into the forested hills of the Gog Range, where an easy walking track ascends a forested ridge to the Alum Cliffs lookout with stunning views of the Mersey River as it carves its way along a boulder-strewn gorge. A large Tasmanian Devil statue on the B12, marks the entrance to the Trowunna Wildlife Park, a privately-owned sanctuary that rehabilitates injured and orphaned animals, and runs a breeding program for endangered devils. The 26ha park is also home to an impressive collection of marsupials, birds and reptiles that feature in interactive tours for visitors.
The stunning view from the lookout above the Alum Cliffs near Chudleigh
The picturesque town of Mole Creek shares its name with a nearby stream, which disappears into the subterranean karst and re-appears multiple times along its course, like a mole. The area’s economy relies on traditional industries of timber, grazing and lime production, augmented by the R. Stephens honey factory which produces 35 per cent of the state’s product for domestic and overseas consumption.
Tourism became a major enterprise for Mole Creek when caves were discovered in the hills 15km west of the town and opened to the public in the early 20th century. The Mole Creek Karst National Park -Tasmania's only underground national park – was declared in 1996 to protect a relatively small part of an internationally significant karst system riddled with more than 400 caves and sinkholes that were formed over the past 500 million years.
Marakoopa Cave features two underground streams, a magnificent cavern known as the 'Great Cathedral', and ‘The Gardens’ richly decorated with sparkling crystals, reflective pools and delicate formations. Its superb glow-worm display is the largest of its kind in any public show cave in Australia. Six kilometres further west, King Solomons Cave is smaller but lavishly adorned with colourful, glittering formations, befitting the fabled treasures of its regal namesake. Both caves can be visited on tours operated by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, while other less-developed caves can be accessed by experienced cavers guided by Wild Cave Tours.
The Great Western Tiers
The skyline south of Mole Creek is dominated by the forbidding Jurassic cliffs of the Great Western Tiers, which define the northern edge of the vast Central Plateau. Intrepid travellers can venture here on day-trip forays from the town by taking the Mersey Forest Road (C138) across the Borradaile Plains. A signposted gravel side-road ascends the escarpment to the Devils Gullet, where a short walk-through alpine forest emerges at a lookout platform overhanging a sheer 200m cliff. From here, the breathtaking vista takes in the huge glacial chasm of the Fisher River valley and the distant peaks of Cradle Mountain in the World Heritage Area.
Lake Mackenzie, 3km further along the track, is the highest lake in Tasmania's hydro-electric schemes, at 1120m above sea level. It can be a pleasantly tranquil spot for picnicking on a sunny day, and fishing, boating and swimming are allowed, with restrictions. But it is exposed to unpredictable icy weather and there are no facilities, so you need to be self-sufficient and well-prepared in all seasons.
On the shore of Lake Mackenzie
Back on the Plains, the C171 shadows the Mersey River to its confluence with the picturesque Arm River, where Maggs Road branches off to the Forestry Tasmania Education Centre and a 45-minute loop walk through rainforest to Arm Falls. Beyond the junction, the C171 is unsealed to its terminus at the entrance to the Walls of Jerusalem National Park near Lake Rowallan. Named for a series of dolerite peaks in a remote corner of the alpine plateau, this relatively small but stunningly beautiful park is a pristine wilderness of glacial lakes and conifer forests. The most popular walk is a full-day hike to the ‘Walls’, while experienced bushwalkers can tackle the challenging trek to the summit of Mt Jerusalem (12 hours return).
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
The Cradle Mountain National Park is about an hour’s drive (80km) southwest of Mole Creek, via Cethana and Moina. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area since 1982, this 1614-sq km park encompasses seven of Tasmania’s 10 highest mountains, including Mt Ossa (1617m), and Australia’s deepest lake, Lake St Clair (200m). Cradle Mountain is composed of dolerite columns in a broad sawtooth ridge, eroded to its present height (1,545m) by glaciers over millions of years. It stands in the north of the park, overlooking Dove Lake, and is connected with Lake St Clair in the south by the 70km Overland Track.
The view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from Glacier Rock
The park contains one of the last great alpine wilderness areas in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful landscape of jagged mountain peaks, wild windswept moorland, mirror-smooth glacial tarns, and crystal streams cascading into deep gorges cloaked in Gondwanan vegetation. These diverse landforms nurture a complex mosaic of plant communities and abundant wildlife, many species rare or unique to the island.
Unsurprisingly, Cradle Mountain is one of Tasmania’s most popular parks, and one of the state’s busiest tourist destinations, with throngs of day-trippers during the peak summer season. Accommodation during this time is in great demand, so you’ll need to book well in advance, or defer your visit to the cooler, quieter months.
The final lap
Departing the national park, Cradle Mountain Road (C132) passes north and east through the scenic sub-alpine moorland of the Middlesex Plains in a broad valley flanked by the Black Bluff Range to the west and Bonds Range to the east.
After 55km, travellers arrive at the township of Wilmot, nestled in the ‘valley of views’ between Lake Barrington and the Wilmot River. In 1914, George Coles opened his first general store here to found what would later blossom to an Australia-wide chain of supermarkets. Visitors with time to spare can amuse themselves by following the trail of roadside letterboxes hand-crafted from scrap metal into elaborate, often comical, receptacles. A winding detour through Upper Castra and Nietta leads to Cruickshanks Lookout, a sky platform with a sensational view of the Leven Canyon, where the River Leven has carved a 300m-deep chasm through the Loongana Range.
Shadowing the river northwards, the C125 leads to the locality of Gunns Plains, a verdant patchwork of pastures devoted to sheep and dairy farming. The area’s main attractions are Wings Wildlife Park, home to an eclectic collection of native and exotic animals, and a reserve containing more than 150 limestone caves. While not as impressive as those at Mole Creek, the single show cave is well worth a visit for its many dazzling formations and glow-worm display.
The Mole Creek Caravan Park
Joining the B17 in the town centre leads to Ulverstone, 20km to the north. Turning right here on the Bass Highway closes the loop to Devonport, while a left turn launches another adventure along the beautiful northwest coast to Stanley.
Cradle Country Visitor Info
Location: Cradle Mountain lies at the northern end of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, 85km from Devonport, 180km from Launceston and 130km from Queenstown.
Access: All main roads to, and within, the national park are sealed and suitable for standard 2WD vehicles but may be subject to temporary blockage due to snow, especially in winter. For information on road conditions visit the Tasmanian Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources website.
Caravans, campervans, motorhomes and trailers, as well as vehicles over 6.5 tonnes and/or vehicles over eight metres in length are not permitted in the national park. These vehicles must be left at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and Transit Terminal car park.
Private vehicles may not be driven from Cradle Valley to Dove Lake between 8am and 6pm from October to March, and from 8.30am to 4.30pm April to September. During those hours, visitors must leave their vehicles at the Transit Centre and use the shuttle bus service, which operates seven days a week. Contact the Visitor Centre for operating times.
Parks entry fees apply, in addition to a charge for the use of the shuttle bus service, and park passes can be purchased at the Visitor Centre, 2km before the park entrance.
When to visit: The national park has a high annual rainfall, and sleet, snow and driving winds can occur at any time of the year. The weather is most stable during late summer and autumn, but weather conditions can change quickly and dramatically and quickly - even in summer a single day can bring both burning sun and freezing cold.
Be prepared, and clothed, to meet difficult weather conditions, and check the weather forecasts at the Visitor Centre or contact the Bureau of Meteorology before departing on any walks.
- Bushwalking and trekking: The park contains an extensive network of walking tracks to suit all ages and levels of fitness, ranging from short boardwalk strolls (some wheelchair accessible) to more demanding half- and full-day hikes.
- The legendary Overland Track is a challenging five-six day trek stretching 80km from Cradle Mountain through the park to Lake St Clair, demanding a high degree of preparation and physical fitness.
- Ranger-guided activities run all year round from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, including walks, talks, spotlight tours and slide shows for both adults and children.
- Other activities include birdwatching, nature appreciation and photography.
- Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre provides a range of services that includes the sale of park entry passes, shuttle bus timetables, information on walks and activities, a café and a shop with souvenirs, arts and crafts, books, maps, camping and bushwalking gear, and a wide range of all-weather clothing.
- Cradle Mountain Rangers Station and Interpretation Centre has interpretive displays, an art gallery, a reference library and videos.
- Toilets and picnic shelters with electric barbecues are found adjacent to the Visitors Centre, the Interpretation Centre and at Waldheim and Dove Lake.
- There are public telephones in the Visitor Centre, Interpretation Centre and some accommodation providers. No reliable mobile phone service is available within the Cradle Mountain area.
Fuel and supplies: The nearest supermarkets are at Sheffield, Deloraine and Rosebery. Small general stores are also at Mole Creek, Chudleigh and Wilmot. A limited range of grocery items is available at the Discovery Holiday Park and Cosy Cabins Cradle Mountain.
Fuel is available at the Cradle Mountain Café, 1.5km from the park entrance. The nearest service stations are at Wilmot, Sheffield, Mole Creek and Waratah.
Camping and Accommodation: Camping is not permitted in the day-use area around Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain. The only accommodation available within the park is at the Waldheim Cabins, eight self-contained cabins (four to eight berth) with two shared amenities blocks. Book through the Visitor Centre.
The best option for campers/caravanners close to the park is Discovery Holiday Parks Cradle Mountain, with powered and unpowered sites, self-contained cabins and bunkhouses, excellent amenities and camp kitchens.
Alternative accommodation may be found at Cosy Cabins Cradle Mountain, Cradle Mountain Highlanders, Cradle Mountain Lodge, Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village, Lemon Thyme Lodge (Moina) and Mole Creek Caravan Park. Advance bookings are essential throughout the peak season and school holidays.
Cradle Country Contacts
- Latrobe Visitor Information Centre
- Railton Neighbourhood Centre
- Sheffield Visitor Information Centre
- Great Western Tiers Visitor Centre
- Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service
- Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
- Cradle Mountain Discovery Holiday Parks
- Mole Creek Caravan Park