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Hot alpine spot
THERE are many things going for Tasmania's Cradle Mountain. For one, it is where a visitor can see a ridiculously scenic landscape of ancient rainforest and alpine heathlands, icy streams cascading out of rugged mountains and glacial lakes with deep blue waters. Also, it is where Australia's premier alpine walk - the 65km Overland Track - starts, leading trekkers into the heart of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, which Cradle Mountain is part of. And then there are the free-roaming native wildlife - wombats, pademelons, wallabies, possums - which delight many urban visitors who spot them.
It is a given, of course, that Cradle Mountain is one of the Australian state's most popular destinations. Here are some things to do when you visit.
DO: VISIT DOVE LAKE
Dove Lake, which lies at the foot of Cradle Mountain, is a lake of stunningly blue water formed by the process of glaciation. To explore the lake fully, put on your hiking boots and venture onto the Dove Lake Circuit, a six-kilometre-long loop that is widely considered one of Tasmania's best walks.
The trail, which is mostly boardwalk, hugs the shores of the lake and leads you beneath the jagged peaks of the mountain, through a magnificent temperate rainforest and past lakeside beaches. Allow two to three hours to complete this circuit.
There is also an often-photographed boatshed 10 minutes into the walk. The historic structure, which has withstood many freezing winters and survived a few bushfires, is no longer in use but still remains an icon at the lake.
It is possible to drive right up to the lake's car park, but the access road will be closed once the parking area is full, so it is a better bet to park at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and ride a shuttle bus to the lake. All visitors to Tasmania's national parks must pay for a park entry permit, whose price varies depending on the type of pass you buy. The use of the Cradle Mountain shuttle bus is included in your pass.
GO ON SHORT WALKS
Not all of us are endurance walkers excited by the thought of hours-long treks in the wilderness. But don't let that put you off visiting Cradle Mountain, because a number of short and easy trails exist for those whose most strenuous exercise is getting up from the office chair.
A highly popular trail is the Enchanted Walk, an easy 20-minute circuit with scenery that helps it live up to its name. Follow the boardwalk and it will take you past a rainforest of moss-covered trees and ponds with water so still and reflective, they look like mirrors on the ground. The trail then hugs the lush banks of a stream and crosses a small but no-less impressive waterfall. Keep an eye for wombat burrows along the path and if you go at dawn or dusk, you may just run into one of the creatures.
The Enchanted Walk starts from the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, which is a short distance from the Visitor Centre. You do not have to be a hotel guest to access this walk.
There is also the 30-minute Pencil Pine Falls and Knyvet Falls Walk, which takes you through a still, mossy forest, past a lively river and leads to the two waterfalls that are particularly spectacular after periods of rain. This easy walk starts opposite the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge shop. Wildlife such as pademelons, wallabies and possums roam this area.
TASMANIAN DEVIL SANCTUARY
Although wildlife like wombats and pademelons can be easily spotted by visitors to the area, it might take an extraordinary amount of luck to run into a Tasmanian devil, which are not only shy but also nocturnal, their black coats helping them to blend into the darkness of night.
You can still see them though, at the Devils@Cradle Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary (devilsatcradle.com). The sanctuary, which conducts a number of conservation programmes, also runs guided day and night tours of its premises. The night tour includes a devils feeding session which visitors get to watch standing next to the creatures' pens. If you've never heard the vicious snarls of the devils as they fight one another for food, here is your chance.
STAY: PEPPERS CRADLE MOUNTAIN LODGE
Spending time in the wilderness need not mean roughing it out. For those who appreciate the comfortable things in life, an accommodation they might want to opt for is Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge (www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au). The multiple award-winning Lodge, which is on lists such as the Lonely Planet Extraordinary Places to Stay in the World 2014, offers luxuriously cosy guest cabins scattered around its expansive grounds.
While the cabins look rustic on the outside, set amid thickets of trees and shrubs and visited by the occasional wombat, they are lavishly well-appointed on the inside. The King Billy Suites, in particular, feature a private outdoor hot tub, a deep spa bath and a fireplace for those chilly nights.
The Lodge also has a spa and a fine-dining restaurant that serves food inspired by seasonal Tasmanian produce.