Although the majority of visitors to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park are here to climb Tasmania’s iconic dolerite mountains or experience the epic Overland Track, there is still so much to explore beyond the trails and peaks. See a completely different side of the park on a canyoning tour, flipping into crystal-clear pools, abseiling down sheer rock faces, swimming under thundering falls, and sliding through the narrow walls of beautiful Dove Canyon. Before my family and I set out on our 6-day hike, we spent an entire day leaping off rocks (and, for some of us, conquering our fears) with Cradle Mountain Canyons. Sheer terror aside, it was something entirely different that ended up being a highlight of our three weeks in wild, wonderful Tasmania.
Getting there: Meet at the Cradle Mountain Canyons office next to the Cradle Mountain Visitors Centre (there is a large carpark here). Your group will be transported to the start of a trail, from which you have about a 30min walk (mostly along boardwalks) to reach a changing spot. Once in wetsuits and the whole lot, the walk is only about 10min to reach the start of the canyoning adventure. On the way out, there is about 20min of steep climbing in your wetsuit, then backtracking along the same trail you entered on, and finally a lift back to the Cradle Mountain Visitors Centre.
Where to stay: Immediately across the road from Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, try Discovery Holiday Park, which offers a range of camping and cabin options at a reasonable price. Facilities are quite nice (even if the rooms are extremely small).
Top tips: To enter Cradle Mountain National Park as part of this adventure tour, you are required to have a Tasmanian National Parks Pass, which you can purchase online here.
Taking a flying leap into Dove Canyon
Rappelling into Dove Canyon
Cal abseiling into Dove Canyon
After an extravagant breakfast scramble, we all depart the cozy (read: cramped) cabin that we’ve been sharing together at the Discovery Holiday Park for our canyoning adventure. Thankfully, it is little more than a 5 minute walk to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre this morning, although the timeline is somewhat elongated after a chance encounter with a wild echidna on the footpath. When we do finally make it across the road and into the little Cradle Mountain Canyoning shack onsite, it is 9.30am and we are hustled outside for a quick briefing. Here, we receive big dry bags that we stuff full of wetsuits and safety gear before boarding a small bus and cruising into Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Dry bags uncomfortably on our backs, we set off on a 30 minute walk towards what the guides refer to as the Change Rock (“like a change room, but with no walls or privacy”). Most of the short journey is along boardwalk, elevated above the dense shrubs, but the final stretch is along a rock and root-covered trail. It’s surprisingly hot already this morning, so the fact that much of this trail is shaded is greatly appreciated by all 8 of us in the group. Upon reaching the Change Rock, we unpack our dry bags and begin the challenging task of getting into multiple layers of wetsuit— first a jumpsuit, then a hooded vest, and finally a skin-tight neoprene jacket reminiscent of 007 himself. Next come the wetsuit socks and booties, the harness, and life jacket, followed finally by the very fashionable helmet. The whole ensemble is somewhat bulky, so it’s with mild discomfort that we trudge on down to the jumping-off point, from which we will be abseiling down the cliff walls and into Dove Canyon.
All the sweat that has been collecting under our layers of wetsuit immediately vanishes as we make contact with the near arctic water at the bottom of the canyon. I quickly reevaluate my own wetsuit situation, removing my helmet so that I can shove my head into the swim-cap-like hood of my mid layer vest. I catch a glimpse of myself in dad’s sunglasses— I do look exactly like a bald alien, but at least I am sealed against much of the cold water for the rest of the outing, which involves navigating seven waterfalls and countless narrow gorges.
Sliding, jumping, and rappelling through the canyons
Callum backflipping into Dove Canyon
Dad leaping into another pool
Over the next few hours, we make our way through the canyon by abseiling down cliffs, jumping into chilly pools, shooting down waterfalls along naturally formed slides, and swimming through narrow sections of the gorge. The constant mix of adventure mode and route keeps everyone on their toes, and even with my fear of jumping, I love the feeling of plunging into the icy canyon water covered in buoyant neoprene. The undeniable highlight for me is racing through the narrow Laundry Chute and launching into a deep pool of water below, but I suspect that Callum prefers the wide-open jumps where he’s able to flip his way into the water. Despite encouragement, I am entirely unwilling to attempt a front flip, content to leave all the shenanigans to others. Still, there’s no shortage of adrenaline as I throw myself, with all the grace of a whale, off rocky ledge after rocky ledge. By the time we have our final jump, we are all wishing for just one more (with the possible exception of dad, who looks relieved to be done taking 7m leaps).
With our battle scars— Callum landed on his face during his final backflip, Eileen’s glasses cut her nose during another jump, and I managed to punch myself in the face while trying to plug my nose— we drag ourselves out of the water and set off on an agonising 20 minute uphill climb. If you have ever considered hiking in several layers of saturated wetsuit with only the support of diving booties, I can’t personally recommend it. Not only is the extra weight a bit uncomfortable, but your knees are practically spring-loaded by the neoprene, which complicates the ascent in that your bent leg is constantly flinging away from the steps you’re trying to climb. I also manage to kick every single rock and tree root within the entire forest while in my booties, which leaves me hot, more than a little bothered, and with incredibly sore toes by the time we return to our Change Rock.
Finally back in boots, the walk back to the car park is easy enough, even if the weight of our water logged wetsuits has made our bags a bit more challenging to shoulder. Once at the Visitors Centre, we say goodbye to our wonderful guides, Caitlin and Urs, and make our way inside to check in and grab passes for the Overland Track tomorrow. The small section of the National Park that we’ve seen today and on our short trip to Dove Lake yesterday have been the perfect psych-up for what is bound to be another truly spectacular adventure in the Tasmanian wilderness.