The park is mainly an Australian highland park which basically starts from where we are here, which is round about 700 metres above sea level, rises up through Australian alpine country into the higher sections, up to Tasmania's highest mountain, which is Mount Ossa, and then slopes slowly back down towards Lake St Clair.
This area remained virtually unexplored for many years. A man from Austria named Gustav Weindorfer, he saw
the area and decided it was a beaut place and at the time said it should be a national park preserve for all people for all time and started work towards that. He built the first building up here, which is the Waldheim Chalet
. He lived there for many years and encouraged people to come up and visit the area. So it was his driving force that actually started it on the track to becoming a national park.
During the 1980s, there was a big drive to recognise the Tasmanian wild country for the values that it had internationally. It became part of what we call the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which includes Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair National Park, the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Southwest National Park.
Most of the area in Cradle Valley has been formed by glaciers, so the geology of the area dates back to the glacial stages of the last ice age in Australia.
We've got some good examples of endangered species living within the World Heritage area, both plants and animals. It's a little bit distinct from the alpine country on the mainland. We've got things like Tasmanian conifers, King Billy pine and pencil pine, the Huon pine, all found
throughout the reserve. King Billy pine is especially found around Cradle Mountain here, there's plenty of it. The early chalet that Gustav built was actually built
out of King Billy pine.
People come here for many reasons. The creeks flow most of the year round. There's some nice waterfalls along the streams. Everyone comes here for the scene of Cradle Mountain sitting behind Dove Lake. People come here to climb the mountains to get up as high as they can to see how far they can see. Cradle Mountain's also the starting point of the Overland Track so many people come here that walk the Overland Track, which takes them through the national park and finishes at Lake St Clair at the southern end of the park. The Overland Track is a 60-kilometre walk that you can do in five days. There's huts along the way that you stay in.
Visitation to the park is steadily increasing. We're up about the 200,000 mark of visitors that come to Cradle Mountain each year. On an average, we reckon there's about 8,000 people walk the Overland Track a year. During the summer period, we have to regulate that a little bit. We've got a booking system and we get about 5,000 walkers go through the track during the summer. This time of the year, we're averaging about 2,000 visitors a day. They all want to get out to Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain and walk on the tracks. So we have to have a good system in place to get people to where they want to go and help them enjoy their stay while they're here. 2,000 people is a lot of cars on the road, so we're trying to reduce the amount of cars on the park. To that end, we've actually introduced a shuttle-bus service so people can park outside the park, catch a shuttle-bus in, do their walk and catch the shuttle-bus back out. Another challenge of managing a park with high visitation is the track system where people actually walk. 2,000 people a day is a lot of feet along a track.
A lot of people walk the Overland Track, one, because they've heard about it and two, because they get a sense of achievement out of completing it because it walks through some very beautiful country, but some very hard country at times.
With all the alpine country in Australia, especially the stuff in Tasmania, the weather
can change fairly quickly and go from a nice day to rain to snow, all within a few hours of each other, so it's an achievement for people to complete the Overland Track.