Tasmania has it all. It would be merely scratching the surface to mention the white sand beaches and clear blue waters of Bay of Fires’ fame; the lush rainforests of the Tarkine; rushing, transparent rivers, such as the Franklin; the seaside cliffs of Tasman National Park; and the convict heritage of Port Arthur and Maria Island. It’s a little rich, then, that the state is also blessed with some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the country. A mainlander can only cease feeling jealousy in brief flashes — namely during contests of one-upmanship against Kiwis.
Aspirant Tasmanian mountaineers may be surprised to discover the main challenge isn’t climbing steep slopes but getting to the base of them. Motorhomers keen to bring their RV need to catch the Spirit of Tasmania — which is likely to cost over $1000 for two-way travel and take 10 to 12 hours each way, over the wavy Bass Strait. Airfares may be cheaper, particularly on direct flights to Hobart or Launceston from Melbourne, but air bound travellers may end up spending more due to vehicle hire and accommodation costs. It’s all worth it in the end!
With your feet on solid ground in Devonport, purchase a National Parks Pass to gain access to Tasmania’s alpine playgrounds. Various options are available, including an annual pass with a senior’s discount. We took out a two month pass for our vehicle for $80 — by comparison, a day pass costs $40! Organise your pass before you leave if you can so you can print it off and display it on your dashboard.
Due to its proximity, 88km south, first head to Cradle Mountain, a dream location calling for multiple days of attention. Here, a Discovery Parks accommodates RV tourers close to the scene; alternatively, there are free camps at Mole Creek Karst NP and Honeycomb Caves for Parks Pass holders. The road to Cradle Mountain reaches a huge visitor centre where you park up and collect a docket qualifying you for free bus travel. Within 10 minutes the regular shuttle bus will come by to take visitors along the winding, narrow road to a selection of stops, the most popular being the furthest along the line, Dove Lake.
The 6km hike around the lake is a popular option, a clear highlight being the quaint wooden boat shed. For sightseers on the lake’s edge, the water is clear nearby, offering a view through to the rippled yellow sand. Further out, the water darkens, blending into an opaque dark-sea blue. On a windy day, white-capped chop disturbs the surface; on a calm one, with no cloud cover shrouding the dual peaks of the cradle — Little Horn and Weindorfer’s Tower — the jagged summits appear in duplicate, reflected on the glass calm of the lake.
The best view is to be had from Marions Lookout, about a three hour round trip from the Dove Lake drop-off. Walk past alpine tarns and crater lakes, surrounded by pencil pines and wildflowers, and wonder at how strange it is for there to be various bodies of water, visible within the same glance, at such wildly different altitudes, before experiencing vertigo just looking at the canine teeth of Weindorfer’s Tower tickling the sky at the tip of the near-vertical mountain side that falls to Dove Lake.
Stellar views can also be had a little further along this path, if one continues for a short distance along the Overland Track — Tasmania’s signature multi-day hike, measuring 65km. At first, the boardwalk winds towards Barn Bluff, which butts up over the horizon beyond shallow pools and prehistoric pandanis, their dry leaf-ends forming crispy curls. The presence of Barn Bluff so close to the Cradle suggests yet more towering and unlikely peaks further along (including Tassie’s tallest, Mt Ossa at 1617m), and the mere concept of 65km of mountainous brilliance is enough to make turning back heart-breaking.
From Marions Lookout, I’d recommend heading down a different way, past Crater Falls and to the Ronny Creek bus stop. After descending in the sunlight, through the open air, hikers are suddenly enshrouded in the darkness of a rainforest canopy. The thundering of a cascade permeates a dimly lit scene of mossy rocks and green foliage. The eyes adjust as one walks along parallel to the stream, before the two paths cross at the falls — a short but breakneck torrent foaming, like a rabid dog, where it lands.
Further on, the trees thin out to nada and the track flattens out to a raised boardwalk crossing tussock grass. Here, hikers have their best chance yet of spotting wombats. If you’re lucky, you might even glimpse a baby wombat being nursed in its mother’s rear-facing pouch! Just make sure you’re not so enamoured you forget to catch the final bus back, which leaves at 6pm in summer.
Other unmissable lofty national parks include Ben Lomond National Park (in the north-east) and Mount Field National Park (in the mid-south), which happen to be the locations of Tasmania’s two ski fields. Access to Ben Lomond is via winding forestry roads. One can camp on site at Ben Lomond Campground or further afield at Mathinna Recreation Ground or Scottsdale Northeast Park. Visitors stand to witness mountains made up of dolerite columns and ginormous fields of tumbled rockfall, by parking at Carr Villa or continuing up the switch-backing Jacob’s Ladder (an adrenaline-pumping attraction in itself) to the summit village. Tracks from the trailhead here open up the alps, including Tasmania’s second highest peak — Legges Tor at 1572m. Just note that the 5km link track between the summit village and Carr Villa can be boggy and unformed.
Meanwhile, Mount Field National Park has a campground on site for $20 a night (powered), plus there’s a free camp a 30-minute drive away at Bethune Park. The attractions in this National Park start low down, with the iconic trilogy of Russell Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Lady Barron Falls. Head a little higher to the 1km Tall Trees hike through 100m-tall swamp gums, before coming into their own on the alpine plateau. Be mindful that, on windy days, the road up can be closed due to fallen trees (or the risk of them).
I’d recommend the Mount Field East Hike (9km) or the Tarn Shelf hike from Lake Dobson (12km). This latter hike takes you through a grove of pandini trees, past the ski fields (abandoned in summer) and copses of snow gums, to a series of elevated lakes. Any piece of writing on the alps is irresponsible if it doesn’t mention changeable weather and I’ll use our relatively lightweight experience from Tarn Shelf to illustrate that here. We walked up into the cloud-covered peaks from Lake Dobson. Airborne water drenched our clothes before rain proper was falling along with small, instantly dissolving flecks of snow. This in December. We bunkered down in Rodway Hut for a half hour until it had cleared. Safe to say, I might think twice before wearing shorts above 1200 metres again!