Superb views, glacial lakes, beautiful flora, great hikes and camping – Cradle Mountain isn’t the only place in Tasmania to experience these things. We explored three stunning national parks with just as much to offer as Tasmania’s most famous mountain, and with smaller crowds to go with them.
There’s something about the rugged, pristine beauty of Australia’s mountainous alpine regions that leave me with a constant desire to return. Although covering a bare fraction of the landmass, places like Kosciuszko, Barrington Tops and Victoria’s Alpine National Park are some of my favourite in the country. They’re always top spots for camping, hiking and general exploration, and on my first visit to Tasmania I’ve found that the alpine areas down there do a pretty damn good job of holding up to those on the mainland. Naturally reminiscent of those on the mainland, and yet starkly different in unique and surprising ways.
For me, there was no denying just how impressive Cradle Mountain and the vast wilderness of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park was. From the namesake mountain to the spectacular Dove Lake and the Overland Track, it’s one of Tasmania’s busiest tourist destinations for a reason. Thousands of people walk the Overland Track during the warm months, and even more climb the peak, while others settle for the spectacular walk around Dove Lake.
But it’s not alone. While there’s a great haul of mountain wilderness across Tasmania, there are three national parks that offer easy access to some spectacular alpine and sub-alpine areas, and are often missed by a great deal of tourists. These are Mt Field, Ben Lomond, and Hartz Mountain. While it might be hard to match the sheer beauty of Cradle Mountain, these three parks easily stand on their own, providing stunning beauty and spectacular landscapes. You’re likely to find significantly smaller crowds here, too, and if you’ve been to Cradle Mountain in peak season, you know just how bad those crowds of tourists can be.
Mt Field National Park
Okay, so Mt Field is hardly unknown. It’s actually is one of Tasmania’s busiest and most visited parks, given it’s convenient proximity to Hobart. However, there’s a catch. The park is split into two visitor sections, with the first nestled against the lower slopes of the higher mountain ranges at the park’s entrance. Here, as well as the Visitor Centre, you’ll find picnic facilities and a well-equipped grassy campground beside a tranquil river, complete with powered sites and hot showers.
This area is known primarily for the trio of spectacular waterfalls hidden within an enclave of cool rainforest: Russell, Horsehoe and Lady Barron falls. A loop walk connects all three, taking in ferny glades, lush verdant forest and towering mountain ash gums, some of the tallest trees in the world. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, many visitors don’t make it past this section.
Sixteen kilometres of winding mountain road takes you up to the high country, where alpine plateaus, jagged peaks, open plains, marshy swamps and tumbling slopes of lichen-splattered boulders dominate. I found this area the most similar to Kosciuszko National Park, with the blue haze of the surrounding ranges and fields of gnarled snow gums painting familiarly welcoming scenes. There’s a great selection of walks up here, from short strolls to tough full-day treks for those keen to take in the most of this spectacular area.
I could have spent far more time exploring this area, and it’s certainly a place I intend to return to. For those without the luxury of time, I’d suggest starting with the short Pandani Grove Nature Walk that skirts Lake Dobson, before heading on to one of the several stunning glacial lakes or vantage points that overlook them. Our walk took us through groves of native pine, pandani grass trees, colourful wildflowers and ghostly snow gums, leaving us with an incredible view of glacially carved valleys and the higher peaks further on.
Ben Lomond National Park
Ben Lomond National Park is a little less well known. Lying about an hour’s drive east of Launceston, this single, dominating plateau ringed by sheer dolerite cliffs rises sharply and spectacularly from steep slopes of sub-alpine forest. The summit, Legges Tor, is the second highest point in Tasmania, and at its base, the sea of jagged boulders the pinnacled cliffs rise from is a sight to behold.
A wide alpine valley atop the plateau is home to a small ski village, the only snowfield of its kind in the state. The real attraction here, if I’m being honest, lies in the ascent itself; Jacobs Ladder, a narrow unsealed road carved right into the side of the rising mountain. It switchbacks its way steeply up an exposed slope of loose scree, with a sea of boulders beneath and jagged walls of dolerite rising to either side. It’s a little unnerving in a large vehicle, to say the least, but definitely leaves you with a sense of respect for whoever looked at the jagged, near-vertical slope and decided it was a reasonable place to build a road.
On our first day, the top was shrouded in clouds, jagged peaks spearing through a sea of dark mist our only real view, and the icy winds from the top sent us right back down to our camp on the lower slopes. Luckily, the second day was kinder, with clear skies and cool winds. The walk to the summit of Legges Tor is an easy one, although a longer version from the base of the plateau also exists. It rises through colourful patches of heath and across some marshy streams and plains, past rustic hikers huts to the peak of loose boulders at the top. There’s a stunning 360 degree view from here, all the way across to the coast.
There’s a series of other walks that tackle the larger plateau too, including a moderate one to the colourfully named Little Hell. As for camping, there’s a bush camp just within the entry of the park within some dense forest. There’s drinking water, flushing toilets, and plenty of quolls and other wildlife about.
Hartz Mountain National Park
Hartz Mountain National Park lies about an hour and a half south-west of Hobart, on the fringe of a spectacular range of mountains. It’s so unlike the others, yet similar all the same, a glacially carved landscape of high peaks, jagged rock formations and pristine lakes. It’s one of the most colourful places I’ve ever visited. Stunning wildflowers aside, the bush here is a vibrant mix of greens, yellows and coppery reds.
Along the walk to Lake Esperance, Tasmanian waratahs stand vividly against the mountainous backdrops, with snow gums, King Billy Pines and the distinctive pandani grass trees lining the boardwalk. There are several glacial lakes to visit, as well as some incredible lookouts and a good short walk along the Arve River to Arve Falls, where it tumbles into the valley below. While there’s no camping facilities in the park itself, bush camping is permitted, and there’s also a nice picnic area and campground located at the base of the main road.
The main walk to the summit of Mt Hartz takes about 3.5 hours return, and is absolutely spectacular. It rises through young rainforest and along a boardwalk through the striking wildflowers of the plateau. It passes two of the crystal-clear glacial lakes, before beginning its climb to the peak. It’s essentially a light version of the Cradle Mountain summit track, with an exposed scrambling section over jagged boulders to reach the top. From here, the views are nothing short of breathtaking, from the deep blue of the glacial lakes below, to the jagged peaks of the Eastern Arthurs, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to the east, and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area to the South.
They’re all places that beg days of exploring and return visits, in my opinion. All require a Tasmanian Park’s Pass for entry, which go for $60 and last for 8 weeks, so if you’re heading for Tasmania, grab one and get exploring.
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