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1301.6 - Tasmanian Year Book, 2000  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/09/2002   
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100 years of tourism development of the Cradle Mountain area

Cradle Mountain is one of Tasmania’s most popular tourist attractions. There has been significant tourism development and immense growth in visitor numbers to the Cradle Mountain area since it was first developed as a tourist focal point in 1912.

Renowned for its pristine wilderness, rugged mountains, spectacular landscapes and its rich European and Aboriginal history, Cradle has been part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area for almost twenty years. It is part of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the third largest national park in the State.

The park itself has two main focal points: the northern one is Cradle Mountain (about 60 km south of Burnie) and the southern one is Australia’s deepest lake, Lake St Clair (about 50 km southeast of Cradle Mountain). Its total size is about 161,000 hectares (397,840 acres) and it covers some of Tasmania’s highest country.

It is famous for its lakes, peaks, rainforest and moorland. Tasmania’s highest mountain is here, Mount Ossa (1,617 metres or 5,305 feet), as is the island’s best known walking track, the Overland Track(85 km or 53 miles), which takes about five days to walk. Situated below Cradle Mountain is Dove Lake.

PRIOR TO 1912

The development of Cradle Mountain as a tourist destination followed the construction of the first chalet in 1912. For most of the period prior to this, European activity in the area was limited to selective primary resource utilisation. Some mining was carried out from about 1890 to 1920 between Cradle Mountain and the Pelion area. In about 1930, a small copper mine (the ‘Welcome Home’ mine) was worked along the Dove River. The logging of local pines began in the 1860s and in the 1890s possum trappers began work in the area. The death of 16-year-old Bert Hanson in blizzard conditions in 1906 was the first death of a European in the area.

Cradle’s beauty, spectacular landscapes and its fascinating animals and plants inspired a dedicated group of people to lobby for its conservation as a national park.

Prominent in the push for such a park was Gustav Weindorfer, an Austrian migrant, and his wife Kate, who first visited the Cradle Valley in 1909 and settled in the area in 1912 at a time when it was not connected by road.

Weindorfer envisaged the area as a national park during his second visit to the area. It was from the summit of Cradle Mountain he spoke of his vision:

‘This must be a National Park for the people for all time. It is magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it.’

Photo of Waldheim Chalet, 1933
Waldheim Chalet, 1933
Photo: Archives Office of Tasmania

DEVELOPMENT 1912-21

Early visitors were introduced to the beauty and splendour of Cradle after Weindorfer built a rustic home and guest chalet on 200 acres (81 ha) of land. He named the chalet Waldheim (forest home) and from Christmas 1912, Waldheim was open to visitors. Records of the early days are filled with the warm hospitality and friendship, of the Weindorfers’ generous serves of wombat stews, sing-songs around the fire and guided trips across the moorlands and lakes.

The summer after he first opened his accommodation house for business (1913-14), Weindorfer was host to 25 guests. The original house had three rooms, a combined dining/living room and two bedrooms. To reach Waldheim, visitors could drive in horse-drawn vehicles to the Middlesex Plains, but then had to make the rest of the journey on foot or with packhorses. The chalet had grown to eight rooms by 1914 and a small hut nearby accommodated extra guests. There were also a number of tents for visitors who preferred to camp. After Kate’s death in 1916, Weindorfer made Cradle Mountain his permanent home.

1921-PRESENT DAY

Regular motorised transport into the Cradle Mountain area started in 1921. Development of the Lake St Clair end was slow until the road to the Lake went through in 1934. The Overland Track from Cynthia Bay to the Pelion Plains via the Cuvier Valley was completed in 1935. In the 1934-35 annual report of the Scenery Preservation Board, the track was deemed safe for tourists to undertake the trip from south to north or vice-versa, without any fear of losing their way. However, it was not until 1937 that it was announced tourists could safely go through without guides.

During 1936, work on the Lake Track began, the Cuvier River was bridged and Pelion hut was constructed. The Mt Rufus track was marked the following year and work on the Narcissus hut began in 1938. Tracks to Lake Marion, Mt Gould and Pine Valley were cleared in 1940-41 and the Pine Valley hut was built in 1942. That year also saw the connection of the Rufus and Hugel tracks. The Pine Valley tracks to the Acropolis and Labyrinth completed the main network in the south. In 1941, the Commonwealth Government funded the major reconstruction of the Cradle Mountain Road from a rough cart track to an all-weather vehicular track.

During the period 1947 to 1971, much of the infrastructure of the park was consolidated and several important items added. The road to Dove Lake was constructed in 1965 and the extension of track and hut facilities in the area facilitated a wide range of potential recreation sites and activities, especially in the context of day visitor access to the region. This period also saw significant increases in the number of visitors, estimated at 15-20,000 annually by 1970.

Today’s Waldheim Chalet is a replica of Weindorfer’s original guesthouse. By the 1960s, the chalet had fallen into disrepair and in 1976 it was demolished and replaced. Visitors can explore the chalet which features many spoken and written background displays on the lives of the Weindorfers and their associates.

The Pencil Pine Lodge, now called the Cradle Mountain Lodge, was built by the Ellis brothers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The original building housed a dining room, kitchen, bar and seven rooms on the first floor. There were five original cabins along with a staff house.

The Lodge was sold to Simon and Ann Currant and extended in the 1980s to include the Guest and Tavern bars, extra conference and dining areas and thirty more cabins. The  Lodge was expanded again in the late 1980s and is now owned by P&O Resorts, providing accommodation for 350 guests.

Cradle Mountain Enterprise operates Waldheim Cabins (44 beds), the park shop and gallery. The shop and gallery are housed in the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, which was built as part of the World Heritage Program and officially opened in 1989.

The Cradle Mountain Campground was established in 1987 and is leased to the Park family and operated as part of their Cosy Cabin Chain. It is expected that 25 self-contained cabins will be constructed next door to the campground by 2000.

The construction of the West Coast link road, sealing of the Cradle Mountain access road to the park boundary and extension of HEC power to the park have all been part of infrastructure developments in recent years.

PRESERVATION

Gustav Weindorfer put a lot of energy into promoting the area and conducted a series of lecture tours. He lobbied tourism and government officials and campaigned for the preservation of the area. On 16 May 1922, an area of 158,000 acres (63,943 ha) from Cradle Mountain down to Lake St Clair was proclaimed a Scenic Reserve under the Scenery Preservation Act 1915.

The consequent widespread publicity ensured the 1921-22 Christmas season was the busiest up to that point. In 1923, Waldheim accommodated visitors right up until Easter time. Over the years, Weindorfer added to the original chalet and constructed a number of outbuildings including a personal accommodation hut, a toilet, fowl shed and yard, stables, workshop, woodshed and bath-house.

The Cradle Mountain Reserve was proclaimed a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1927. That same year, the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board was proclaimed to administer the northern half of the park and the National Park Board was formed to look after the southern half. In 1947, under the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Board, the northern and southern sections were united.

Work started on the metalling of the access road to Cradle Valley in 1929. In May 1932, Weindorfer suffered a heart attack. Following his death, Waldheim was upgraded by the Connell family and was incorporated into the reserve in 1945. By this time, annual visitation to Cradle Valley exceeded one thousand. In 1935, the Scenery Preservation Board appointed Lionel Connell as the first permanent ranger at Cradle Mountain.

In 1936, the reserved area nearly doubled in size and in 1971 the reserve was proclaimed a State Reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act; responsibility for the area was transferred from the Scenery Preservation Board to the newly formed National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park was added to the World Heritage list in 1982. Then in 1990, a large wilderness area to the west of the park (incorporating the Eldon Range) was included. Today, management of the park is governed by the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Management Plan 1999.

OVERLAND TRACK

The Overland Track is Tasmania’s best known walking track and joins the two ends of the park. The longest running commercial tent-based guided walking business is Craclair Tours, established by Eric Sargent in 1970. Cradle Mountain Huts just completed its 10th year of operation offering hut-based guided walks through the park.

Two other commercial tent-based guided walking businesses based on the Overland Track are Tasmanian Expeditions and Tasman Bush Tours. Parks and Wildlife Service statistics show that 8,000 people completed the five-day Overland Track during 1997-98, compared with about 400 annually in the 1950s.

VISITOR NUMBERS

Visitor numbers have escalated over the decades making the park one of the State’s top tourist attractions. In 1938-39, there were 536 entries in the Waldheim visitor book; the following year there were 861 entries. During the 1950s, the number of annual visitors reached over 2,000 and by the end of that decade there were close to 3,000. By the early 1970s, numbers had reached 20,000 annually. According to the 1997-98 Tasmanian Visitor Survey results, 153,900 visitors to Tasmania visited Cradle Mountain that year and 82,600 visited Lake St Clair/Derwent Bridge. Parks and Wildlife Service statistics show that total entries in 1997-98 to Cradle Mountain were 185,000 and to Lake St Clair, 99,000.

ACTIVITIES

Recreational opportunities in the Cradle Mountain area include the traditional National Park activities such as bushwalking, canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling, fly fishing, and nature study. In recent years, activities such as scenic flights, mountain bike riding, 4WD tours, horse riding, and gold panning have been introduced.

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