As a newcomer to Tasmania it takes a while to feel like you’re actually somewhere else, somewhere a bit different and wild. The Country Club in Launceston, for example, is perfectly civilized and is a lovely place for lunch before you set off for more uninhibited territory.
It's not until you've done a couple of hours of driving through what feels strangely like country England and a few sleepy towns before you get that first excited feeling that you have actually arrived – just outside the mural town of Sheffield the ridges of Mount Roland suddenly loom on the horizon, all jagged in contrast with the blue sky. And that’s the moment that you know - this is Tasmania.
If you've hired a car and are new in the region, the road to the Cradle Mountain region should probably not be braved at night. The area is home to many a wallaby and wombat, and come dusk they can be hard to miss on the roads that twist and turn their way up the often snowy highlands. As you ascend, the bush thickens and there’s a real sense of isolation, so it’s a relief to reach the very inviting Cradle Mountain Chateau.
The Chateau offers a peaceful ambience with wood fires dotted along the corridors and even a couple of library nooks to while away the hours. Most visitors to the Chateau use it as a base for their trip to Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain itself, where you can choose your level of hiking difficulty, from a few minutes of wandering, to a two hour easy walk around the lake, or (for the more intrepid and prepared) an overnight hike and camping expedition up the mountain itself.
Like a lot of Tasmania, Cradle Mountain area is not always known for its gentle weather conditions (note – pack a rain jacket!) but if the conditions get too much for any outdoor activities the Chateau has put together the perfect alternative – two beautifully presented indoor exhibitions that are open to the general public as well as guests. The first, detailing the history of the Tasmanian Tiger, is not to be missed. The exhibition explains why these unique creatures were so quickly and thoroughly wiped out and visitors can check out an almost macabre quilt made entirely of thylacine pelts – hard to imagine throwing such a thing over the couch nowadays but very much the thing for a hunter's living room back in the day.
You could also be forgiven for spending an entire morning or afternoon in the Cradle Mountain Chateau's Wilderness Gallery. This massive collection of outdoor photography showcases spectacular images of nature from Tasmania and around the globe. The Icelandic series from photographer Joshua Holko are in particular an intriguing display of almost unbelievable scenes from an even more remote part of the world.
After taking in the scenery and the activities of the area, what else is there to do but eat? The Chateau has more than one option, but the 'furry double' at the Grey Gum restaurant is a recommendation for those willing to try something a little different. There aren’t many restaurants with rabbit terrine and char-grilled wallaby on the menu and paired with local wine they go down very well.Cradle Mountain is perhaps one of the most famous parts of Tasmania, and not without reason. The beauty of visiting the area is that it caters not only for nature lovers at all ends of the scale, but also offers the chance to relax and unwind in cosy, relaxed comfort.