Amid the fields of buttongrass, a solitary puffball roamed, munching on his dinner and oblivious by my son’s squeals of excitement.
“Mommy, loooooook!!! LOOOOOOK!!! A DOG!!!!”
The ‘dog’ turned out to be a wombat, a cuddly wuddly smoochy poo creature prevalent in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. These marsupials, I’m later told, are not as friendly as they look — they have a reputation for using their buns of steel to crush the skull of predators against the roof of their burrows.
We were on the Enchanted Walk and it was every bit as magical as it sounded: alongside a creek, over grassy plains, and into a moss-carpeted pencil-pine forest, where one almost expects a unicorn to canter pass.
Located in an area so picturesque it has earned a World Heritage-listing, the national park was established in 1922 thanks to the pioneering efforts of Gustav Weindofer, an Austrian botanist who, after discovering and falling in love with the place in 1909, famously declared, “This must be a national park for the people for all time. It is magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it.”
Weindorfer cleared walking tracks around the valley and started the first hotel in the area — a rustic chalet called Waldheim or “forest home” in which he could entertain guests in. Although facilities in such a hotel would have been understandably primitive at the time, it is said that Weindorfer went as far as carrying a clawfoot bath over miles of trackless bushland so that guests could soak in it after a long day.
You gotta admire the man and his #priorities.
These days however, accommodations range from basic to full-on luxury so you can live it up like the Kardashians whilst exploring Tasmania’s breathtaking backyard in your Gucci gumboots.
We stayed Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village, a cluster of self-catering chalets of the mid-range variety. Nestled within a rainforest, our 2-bedroom accommodation had a large balcony where we could spot native Tasmanian wildlife in the evenings when we weren’t cozying up on the couch binge-watching rental DVDs.
Unfortunately, things were less promising if you were a nature / TV enthusiast who was also a foodie.
It soon became evident that people did not go to Cradle Mountain to eat, drink and be merry and, as such, restaurant options were limited. For the next few days, we had both lunch and dinner in Tavern Bar & Bistro at the Cradle Mountain Lodge.
While the food was fairly respectable and the atmosphere was great — especially when the fireplace gets going — even the best pasta / burger / steak starts to get a little icky after three days.
We woke up bright and early on the first morning to swing by the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, which has plenty of stuffed toy wombats for your kids to cuddle safely while you harangue the park officers about the bus schedule (free shuttles into the park are provided since cars are not allowed) and recommended hikes with 2 children below 6.
You almost expect them to reply, “None, just go home now because you’re making a big mistake, buddy” but then they come up with an impressive list of short, family-friendly jaunts in the area.
We were feeling arrogant after our half-an-hour walk yesterday — “that was wayyy too relaxing, we love a good challenge!” — and so settled on the Dove Lake Circuit, a popular 5.3 kilometer walk that takes visitors on a loop around a glassy lake.
As the bus pulled up to start of the trail, Weindorfer’s obsession with the place suddenly made perfect sense. Because there it was, the iconic mountain from which the park got its name, looking like a gothic cathedral with soaring summit and cascading buttresses.
The walk started out easily enough, but it got increasingly unbearable as the day progressed and the Australian sun began flexing its proverbial muscles. Two hours quickly became four and the kids refused to cooperate on the final stretch because we were short on water supplies and sweating like OJ Simpson in court.
Thankfully we made it out alive, with our 3-year-old riding piggyback on the husband and our 5-year-old complaining about how unfair life is.
Our kids were pretty adamant about not going on another walk in this lifetime, but their enthusiasm returned when we visited Devils @ Cradle, a breeding and conservation facility for three of Tasmania’s largest carnivorous marsupials.
The star of the sanctuary, however, was this little guy right here…
Their numbers have been on the steady decline due to first-world problems such as road accidents and a very nasty cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease.
These little creatures — which, incidentally, look or act nothing like its cartoon counterpart on Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies but more like a large rodent — seemed harmless enough frolicking inside their enclosures. One almost feels disappointed that the real-life Taz is not capable of becoming an unstoppable whirling tornado of destruction.
Then came feeding time.
That’s when the devils turn into, well, true devils. The bubba almost found out the hard way when he reached his hands into the enclosure, prompting a hangry devil to leap up and bare his razor-sharp teeth.
But much like how I behave on the dinner table when my blood sugar levels are low, the Tassie devils proved how adept they were at tearing apart a pademelon carcass twice their size, crushing meat and bones effortlessly with their powerful jaws.
On our last day, we drove to Tasmazia & The Village of Lower Crackpot, a kooky, family-friendly attraction built over a course of three decades by a pair of eccentric locals, Brian Inder and his wife Laura.
Brian — whose face was there to welcome visitors at the entrance — earned a hero’s farewell several years ago when he passed away at the ripe ol’ age of 88 from cancer, but his lovely wife Laura is still running the place today. We spotted her in the cafeteria, which, by the way, comes in handy if you have nowhere else to go, but not the ideal place if you prefer your food to be of the non-microwaveable sort.
Visitors enter via The Great Maze, one of the world’s largest, and filled with wooden plaques bearing wisecracks that will make you snort or cringe, like this…
If you don’t wind up getting eternally lost in the massive labyrinth, you will exit to find a bizarre hodgepodge of attractions, such as Cubby Town, a collection of dusty, ol’ wooden buildings that children can enter…
…or the Village of Lower Crackpot or the Embassy Gardens, filled with quirky — and to my delight, occasionally subversive — buildings built to a one-fifth scale.
But this place wasn’t called Tasmania for nothing: the kids went mental in seven other mazes, scampering around and screaming like kids rarely do these days.
Crazy seemed to be a catchphrase of this place. But as legends like Weindorfer and Inders have shown, crazy ideas can sometimes be the best ones.
Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village This mid-range, self-catering accommodation may lack in facilities, but makes up for it in privacy and comfort. The one and two-bedroom chalets with big balconies are nestled within a forest just a 5 minute drive to the entrance of the National Park, and some units comes with a spa tub. There is an on-site restaurant serving tapas, and DVDs for rent at the reception. $$
Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge This is perhaps the flashiest option in the area. Located just right outside the national park entrance, the hotel’s interior is reminiscent of a Swiss alpine lodge, and there are several great on-site restaurants and daily activities (some paid) for guests to choose from. Wind down after a long day in its in-house spa. Rooms come with their own fireplace. $$$
- The national park is 2 hours from Launceston and 4 hours from Hobart. A day trip is not recommended.
- There are over 20 self-guided walking trails in the area, ranging from 20 minutes to multi-day hikes with various difficulty levels. Some easy, toddler-friendly hikes include the Boathouse Trail (starts at Dove lake, 15 minutes one way), Waldheim and Weindorfers Walk (20 minutes loop), The Enchanted Walk (20 minutes loop), Pencil Pine rainforest walk (40 minutes return) and King Billy walk (30 minutes return).
- As with all national parks in Tasmania, an entrance ticket is required. You can buy these — and receive great advice on walking trails — at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre. If you’re visiting two or more national parks in Tasmania, it is best to buy a ‘Holiday Pass’ for one person or one vehicle (up to 8 people), so you are able to go national park-hopping on the island for up to two months.
- Free shuttle buses into the park regularly depart from the Visitor Centre, so parking your car here is advisable. However, do check the schedule so you don’t miss the last bus home!
- There are no restaurants inside the park, so bring a packed lunch or be prepared to take a bus back for lunch!
- Be sure to stop by the Ranger Station and Interpretation Centre close to the park entrance. This place offers mildly interesting facts on topography, flora and fauna of the surrounding area. Several easy walking trails also start from here.
- Devils @ Cradle is located near the national park, and an evening feeding experience is recommended. Tazmazia is recommended for those with children, but take note that it is a 40 minute drive away.
- Be careful when you’re driving to and from Cradle Mountain, especially in the early mornings and evenings. Wildlife roadkill is a huge problem here and other parts of Tasmania.