The stark jagged rock columns of Dolerite, the still mirrored surface of Dove Lake, the encroaching clouds blocking out the tops of the surrounding mountains like pale ghosts descending from the heavens; on the scale of most spectacular landscapes in Australia, one would find it hard to name a finer example than that of Cradle Mountain.
A striking mountain and focal point of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Cradle Mountain is found within the Central Highlands of the island state of Tasmania, Australia. In some respects, Cradle Mountain can be considered a bit of a hidden gem of Australian landscapes, usually overshadowed by its more recognized cousins from the mainland such as Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, often missing when it comes to Australian Tourism campaigns, despite its breathtaking beauty.
The mountain itself soars to an elevation of 1,545 metres, or 5,069 feet in the old language. This elevation, well above the lowest snow line experienced in Tasmania, often leads to the mountain receiving snowfalls between June and September, better known as the winter months. With an impressive statue of over 1500 metres, Cradle Mountain is the fifth highest mountain found in Tasmania. The mountain itself is made up of jagged columns of Dolerite, is surrounded by glacially-formed sedimentary rocks, is void of trees and sits towering over the inpressive Dove Lake.
Dove Lake, which was formed as the result of glaciations during the last ice age experienced in Australia, with its own impressive elevation of 935 metres, is one of three lakes located near Cradle Mountain, with Lake Wilks and Crater Lake being situated nearby.
The area surrounding Cradle Mountain has four distinctly named summits; Cradle Mountain, Smithies Peak, Weindofers Tower and Little Horn. Smithies Peak has an elevation of 1,527 metres, Weindofers Tower has an elevation of 1,459 metres and Little Horn; considered the baby of the group, still has al highly impressive elevation of 1,355 metres.
With its somewhat obscure nature, rarely being in the forefront of the average Australians mind, one could be mistaken for thinking that Cradle Mountain is somehow slightly more immune to the threats often posed to landscapes across Australia and indeed the world: sadly, this isn’t the case. Much of this threat, unsuprisingly, comes from humans. This is no better demonstrated that by the sheer amount of commercial development one can find as they travel along the road that leads to the entrance to the national park. Spa Resorts, Art Galleries, Restaurants; while an important part of making the national park a viable enterprise that will attract tourists and their money to the area, can be seen as a double-edged sword, cutting through the regulartory armor designed to stop major developments within the national park boundaries itself, leading to irreparable damage to Cradle Mountain.
Now many people would see the above statement as a bit of an overreach as Cradle Mountain not only falls within a national park, but is also part of a much wider UNESCO World Heritage area, of which comes protection from development, this is not the case. In fact, it is the government themselves who are leading the charge of commercial development that threaten Cradle Mountain itself. During the 2018 by-election campaign in the federal seat of Braddon, in which Cradle Mountain and the national park are located, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with Tasmanian State Premier Will Hadgemann announced $60 million in joint funding to create a cable car that would allow for easier access to the mountain by visitors. At a press event held at Cradle Mountain, Mr. Hodgemann was quoted as saying:
“This is a World Heritage area. It is very sensitive. It has to go through proper planning processes and approval, including with the Commonwealth”,
It is very easy to see from the Premier’s quote, along with the funding they have announced, that while both governments acknowledge that a cable car would cause damage to the environment, and that there are safeguards set in place to prevent this damage, they will go out of their way to get around these safeguards in the name of earning a few extra dollars, irrespective of the environmental damage caused by a project like this. This case highlights how at risk a landscape that is supposedly protected by being declared both part of a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage area is when the people in charge of protecting it see a money making opportunity.
Once one gets their head around the commercial threats posed to Cradle Mountain, one is then presented with a much larger, human influenced danger to the mountain; climate change. With governments around the world already conceding that average global temperatures will rise by degree’s throughout the remainder of the century, combined with the current Australian Governments’ somewhat lackluster approach to combating the nations carbon footprint, Cradle Mountain, along with many other landscapes of importance in Australia, is at risk. Higher temperatures will lead to lower rainfall, which in turn will lead to drier fuel loads during the dangerous summer bushfire season. This higher fuel load will combine with high summer temperatures to create conditions ideal for the outbreak of severe and catastrophic bushfires, damaging the fauna and flora found on and around the mountain. These intense fires would also lead to the destruction of infrastructure essential for access to the mountain and could potentially put the lives of locals and tourists alike at risk. Higher winter temperatures would also lead to less snowfall on the mountain, a feature that currently magnifies the spectacular nature of the landscape of the mountain. The threat to Cradle Mountain from human induced climate change cannot be underestimated, and is a significant threat to this outstanding landscape.
Cradle Mountain, and indeed the wider Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park (which will be covered in a future post) are indeed a hidden gem of the Australian Landscape. While often overlooked by many when talking Australian Landscapes, its striking Dolerite columns, glacial formed lakes and constantly changing weather make it a highly distinctive landscape worth preserving for generations to come.
*‘The Mona of northern Tasmania’: $60 million cable car for Cradle Mountain by Rachel Baxendale May 16th 2018