Cradle Mountain would have to be Tasmania’s most iconic and most visited tourist attraction. A mountain of sheer magnificent beauty as one stands at the edge of Dove Lake and takes in her many moods. No matter how often one visits, she always displays a new mood.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
From one of proudly displaying her sheer awe-inspiring magnificence on a clear summer’s day… to that of a lady, the belle of the ball when in autumn the sheer beauty of the ‘turning of the fagus’ cloaks her in golden hues… to the shy, withdrawn splendour when winter’s cloud makes her obscured in a shroud of heavy mist.
The Ice Age and Nunatak Peaks
Cradle Mountain is located in the Central Plateau region of Tasmania, within the now heritage listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. The stark natural beauty of this mountain rises to 1 545 metres above sea level, and is composed of dolerite columns, carved out by ice and water moving off the plateau and down valleys, shaped by ice and rain over millions of years. Cradle Mountain is one of many peaks in Tasmania known as nunatak peaks, this dolerite capped peak was one of many formed during the ice age.
A nunatak peak, left exposed to the harsh weather conditions above the ice, leaving them weathered and jagged looking, while those peaks buried beneath the ice look more smoothly rugged. This landscape scientists believe has been evolving for about 200 million years, since long before Tasmania broke away from the great southern landmass called Gondwana. Cradle Mountain actually consists of four named summits, in order of height they are Cradle Mountain (1,545 metres), Smithies Peak (1,527 metres), Weindorfers Tower (1,459 metres) and Little Horn (1,355 metres). The mountain rises above three glacially formed lakes, Dove Lake, Lake Wilks and Crater Lake.
Records show the first human settlement of the region occurred when the aborigines began moving into the highlands as the glaciers began to melt. Using fire to clear pathways through the wild, rugged wilderness and to lure animals to hunt by attracting them to the tender new growth after fires had raged through, the extensive buttongrass plains of today are a legacy of the aboriginals use of fire as a sustainable method of regeneration. Archaeological research has revealed many Aboriginal sites in the Cradle Mountain region, sites consisting of stone tools and quarries which suggest these people moved mainly through the valleys of the region, though made occasional visits to higher areas to hunt.
Early Exploration of Cradle Mountain Region
Aptly named Cradle Mountain, due to its resemblance to a gold mining cradle, the mountain was named by Joseph Fossey in 1827. Fossey was a land surveyor, born in England and in 1825 was appointed to the position of assistant surveyor in the newly formed Van Diemen’s Land Company, arriving in the then ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ in 1826. Along with Henry Hellyer, also a surveyor for the Van Diemen’s Land Company, these two men made very significant contributions to the early exploration of the Cradle Mountain region. In 1831, Henry Hellyer became the first ‘white man’ to reach the summit of Cradle Mountain. Surveyor General George Franklin travelled through the area in 1835, and then followed prospectors, trappers and settlers. During World War 2, 1930, a small timber mill began operations at Ronny Creek, harvesting and milling King Billy Pine. The mill operated through until the 1970s. During the years 1964–1969 it is estimated over one million super feet of native pine was felled in the area. Stands of King Billy Pine were removed from the slopes of Mount Kate, (named for Kate Weindorfer), and used to make wooden minesweepers for the war. There was much prospecting done in the region, though only small quantities of valued mineral deposits were found.
The most noted pioneer of the Cradle region was Gustav Weindorfer. An Austrian gentleman and keen amateur botanist, he arrived in Australia in 1900. Gustav met Kate Cowle, a Tasmanian, in Victoria and soon after they both moved to Tasmania, where in 1906 they married. Gustav’s first sight of Cradle Mountain was from the top of Mount Roland, where he and Kate spent their honeymoon. In January, 1910, Gustav, Kate and their friend Ronnie Smith climbed to the summit, it was then that Kate became the first ‘white woman’ to climb Cradle Mountain. So enchanted were Gustav and Kate with the magical area and views, they declared they wished to make it accessible for all people for all time, and so began the story of the man and his mountain. In 1911 Gustav purchased land in Cradle Valley on the slopes of Ronny Creek, where in 1912 he began to build Waldheim, the name of his chalet meaning ‘forest home’. To serve as both a home and a guest house it was built from local materials within the area and using only traditional bush carpentry. The original chalet was damaged by fire, the one standing today rebuilt by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. Here began his passion to share the beauty of this rugged alpine mountain wilderness with the world, but without a road in, only the hardy and brave made their way to Cradle Mountain.
Love of Wilderness; Company of Wildlife
Sadly Kate passed away in 1916 due to illness, and Gustav began to spend many lonely months at Waldheim with no human company, his love of this wilderness keeping him there even throughout the bitterly cold winters. He began to befriend the wildlife, and allowed them into his cabin. Here Gustav would feed them and would allow them to share the warmth of his roaring fires. A mural painted in Sheffield depicts this scene. Over time, Gustav, along with a few ardent supporters continued to lobby the government to make his beloved Cradle Mountain region a reserve, also with his close friend Fred Smithies, who would travel from city to city around Australia promoting the region with slide evenings, picture shows and information.
The tireless work of these men began the growth in visitors and the eventual move to have the area declared a reserve. During Gustav’s lifetime he got to see his vision become a reality, in 1922 an area of 158,000 acres from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair was proclaimed a ‘Scenic Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary’ under the Scenery Preservation Act 1915. Gustav Weindorfer died in 1932, and is buried in the grounds of Waldheim where the anniversary of his death is celebrated every January.
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
No assistance from the Government was received for building a road into Cradle Valley, until in 1919 when the government were searching for work for unemployed Returned Servicemen after the war. In 1965 the Scenery Preservation Board constructed the road to Dove Lake, where access was then provided to the awe-inspiring views to the mountain from Dove Lake. In 1971 the reserve was declared a State Reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970, when responsibility of the area was transferred from the Scenery Preservation Board to the new National Parks and Wildlife Service. In 1982 The Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park was made a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Today Cradle Mountain National Park is managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service, and receives more than 250,000 visitors each year. A visit to this iconic Tasmanian tourist attraction will have you standing at Dove Lake looking in awe at this magnificent landscape before you… walking in magical old growth rainforests… seeing the currawongs, a bird as iconic to the park as the mountain itself… and watching the wombats and wallaby as they come out to forage for food. Many walks are within the national park, from 30 minute enchanted forest walks, to one hour plus walks around areas of Cradle Mountain. At Ronny Creek is the start to the Overland Track, a 65 kilometre, six-day long-distance bushwalk through the heart of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, a must do for the avid bushwalker. This magical, moody mountain is now considered a major must see throughout the world to those planning to visit Tasmania.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography. You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards. Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian. If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.