I’ve just returned to Launceston, Tasmania, after spending five days at Cradle Mountain with my friend Michael Snedic and a fellow group of quite serious photographers. This is a good time to be in this alpine area as Australia’s only deciduous native tree, the Nothofagus Gunnii, is turning yellow and gold as we near the end of autumn.
I flew into Launceston last Sunday afternoon and our group assembled on Monday morning for the 2 1/2 hour trip to Cradle Mountain. We quickly settled into our hotel and then drove down to Dove Lake at the foot of the mountain for some sunset photography. The road to the lake is closed to private vehicles as it is very narrow with many curves. We had a special pass that allowed our minibus to travel on this road but the procedure was that we had to wait by the visitor centre for a shuttle bus that ran every 15 minutes and then follow it down the road. The shuttles are all in radio contact with each other and there are defined passing bays along the road where one will would wait until an oncoming bus travelled through.
We arrived at Dove Lake in time for a few minutes of sunlight although the mountain peak was covered in cloud. It is only clear of cloud for approximately 90 days each year. The clouds quickly settled over us and it began to rain so we grabbed a few quick photos and gave away any idea of seeing a sunset before returning to our hotel for dinner.
On Tuesday, our second day, I looked out my hotel window to see that whilst it was cloudy, it was not raining. That gave us some hope for good photography without any bright light and harsh shadows. Using the same procedure of following the shuttle bus, we drove the seven kilometres towards Cradle Mountain and turned off a side road to go to Waldheim Chalet. This was the home and chalet operated by Gustaf Weinberger, the Austrian born botanist who created the first tourist facility in the area and sponsored the creation of Cradle Mountain National Park. His chalet, built of
King Billy Pine timber remains as a memorial to his foresight. On my first bush-walk along the Overland Track, our walking group slept in the chalet to avoid the drizzling rain but this would not be allowed now.
Near the chalet is a short looped track that takes you through an area of Antarctic Beech trees known as the Enchanted Forest. It is a beautiful area of moss covered ground and at this time of the year there are abundant growths of fungi of all colours and sizes. We spent all morning in this location on our hands and knees photographing the fungi. We also found out afterwards that this forest is also alive with leeches. All of us had a few own our legs and I even had one on my forehead underneath my cap.
These were some of my attempts to capture some of the fungi that we saw.
After lunch, in the afternoon, we visited a nearby sanctuary for the Tasmanian Devil and the Spotted Quoll.
The Tasmanian Devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, reaching just under a metre in length and weighing up to 11 kilograms, although its size will vary widely depending on where it lives and the availability of food. Its oversize head houses sharp teeth and strong, muscular jaws that can deliver, pound for pound, one of the most powerful bites of any mammal.
Spotted Quolls (or tiger cat as it was once known) vary from reddish brown to dark chocolate brown with white spots on the body and tail. It is the second largest of the world’s surviving carnivorous marsupials. It is now threatened throughout its mainland range but is s widely but sparsely distributed across Tasmania.
Wednesday saw us up early again to get to our next destination – Pencil Pine Falls. A short boardwalk from the road took us to the Falls which were flowing strongly after some recent heavy rain. We had an excellent view of them from the observation platform on the side of the river.
Further downstream, the boardwalk also took us through a dense forest area where virtually everything was covered in moss. It was a beautiful sight and reminded me of some of the fairy stories that I used to hear as a child.
While we looking for more fungi, I saw a Potoroo looking for food in between the large patches of moss. A Potoroo is a small macropod in the same family as Kangaroos and Wallabies. These animals eat by sniffing the ground with a side to side motion near the vicinity of food. Once it has located a possible source source of food (with its sense of smell) it positions itself to begin excavating was its long paws. These animals eat roots tubers and various soft bodied animals that can be found in the soil.
We were back at our hotel for lunch and then in the afternoon we drove behind another shuttle bus down to Ronnie Creek – the furthest place on the Cradle Mountain Road that private vehicles can travel. This is where the famous Overland Track begins and bush walkers can undertake a six day hiking trip to Lake St Clair at the southern end of the National Park. I have walked this track four times with various deviations including one where we bush-bashed along the Mersey River to traverse into the adjoining Walls of Jerusalem National Park.
I was quite intrigued to find that the other members of our photography group (mostly from Queensland) were desperate to see a wombat. Apparently, they don’t exist in the northern parts of Australia and this was a new experience for them. Late in the afternoon, we found one sniffling around in the grass by the creek and this made them very happy.
The creek flows through an area of moorland populated with Button Grass and the occasional Pandanus tree. It is exceptionally damp and boggy. Apparently there once was an early settlement here with a bustling village of saw-millers and their families. Nothing remains now, other than one hut that is used as a bushwalking shelter.
After three cloudy days, the weather on Thursday was cold but sunny and clear. We left the hotel at 8 am to go to Dove Lake with a plan to spend most of the day walking around the lake to photograph the views of Cradle Mountain and the surrounding area. It was 1° C when we left the hotel but by mid-morning this the sun had made us feel quite warm. One of the little ponds by the track was frozen over.
We had a splendid view across the lake to Cradle Mountain which remained clear for virtually the entire day. The mountain is so named because its shape resembles the cradle in which early pioneers would sieve and wash shovel fulls of gravel in their search for gold. Cradle Mountain is defined by its dramatic serrated peaks, glaciated lakes and, of course, it’s rainforests. Europeans first explored and climbed Cradle Mountain in 1827. Trappers worked in the area from the 1860s and hunting was banned in the National Park in 1927. Cradle Mountain is the sixth highest mountain in Tasmania at an elevation of 1545 metres or 5069 feet.
The iconic Dove Lake Boatshed was built in 1940 by the first Ranger to be stationed at Cradle Mountain. Built from the local endemic pine, the hut sits on the north western shore of Dove Lake. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s the Boat-shed housed Huon Pine boats which were available for use by tourists on the Lake. Restoration work was carried out in the early 1980’s but the Boatshed remains basically unaltered from its original design. It now forms part of one of the most iconic photos in Australia.
On the shore of the lake opposite the boathouse sits glacier rock. This massive rock has been deposited in its current location by one of the glaciers that carved out Dove Lake approximately 30,000 years ago. It provides great views of Cradle Mountain. The large striations on the rock that run parallel to the lake are clear evidence of glaciation. It used to be quite scary to stand on the top of this rock to see the view (especially on a windy day) but recently a much safer observation platform has been constructed.
After such a fun day of sunny day we were sure that we could go back to Dove Lake in the evening for a sunset photo shoot. Typical of this alpine area where the weather changes quickly, we found the area to be closed in with constant rain and really poor visibility. As a result, we just headed back to the hotel for a glass of wine and dinner.
This morning, Friday, we had packed our bags, eaten breakfast and loaded all our gear into our minibus by 8:30 am. We returned to the Waldheim Chalet for another hour of photography in the enchanted forest because we had liked it so much from our previous time there. The hour passed really quickly and it wasn’t long before we had to leave. I did manage to see some new fungi that had either sprung up since we were there the other day, or I had not seen as I walked along the track. Some of these were only 5 to 6 mm in diameter.
On leaving, we ran into a group of other photographers who were from the Photo Fagus Group. They were taking photos of the yellow Fagus leaves for a competition in which they had to submit their one best photo. I doubt that my attempt would have made the grade. There was just a very slight breeze which was causing the leaves to move and making them very difficult to photograph.
Before leaving the area, we stopped off for a quick visit at the Peter Dombrovskis gallery near our hotel to see some of the photos that he had taken of the Tasmanian wilderness. He was a world-famous photographer and one of his images was partly instrumental in influencing a protest movement that caused the Tasmanian Government to change its mind and not build a planned dam for hydroelectricity that would have been very detrimental to the environment.
A fuel stop in the little town of Sheffield gave us an opportunity to see some of the murals for which this town is famous.
It was very nice to eventually get to our hotel in Launceston and get warm again after a cold and damp travelling day. Tomorrow this all starts again with the commencement of our second photo workshop in the Takine Wilderness.