WARNING: Dove Canyon can be dangerous in high water levels. It has a large catchment, so water flow increases quickly following rain. There are no exits from the canyon between the first abseil and the final swim.
Dove Canyon is a fun series of jumps, slides and abseils in the upper part of the Dove River, which flows out of the famous Dove Lake. Because the water comes from a deep lake, it remains cold year round, so ensure you have adequate thermal protection.
This canyon is run commercially several times a day by Cradle Mountain Canyons. Call them on 1300 032 384 or drop into their office at the Cradle Mt - Lake St Clair National Park Visitor Centre so you avoid getting caught behind a tour group. They can also provide details of current water levels, advise on whether it is safe to proceed, and inform you of new or changed hazards within the canyon.
Difficulty — Medium
Time — 3-4 hours
Elevation — 150m
Number of abseils — 1 to 3
Longest abseil — 12m
Wetsuit — yes (consider extra thermal protection)
When arriving at the Visitor Centre to make sure you have the correct pass before driving further.
From the Visitor Centre, either take a shuttle bus or drive down to the Cradle Mountain Interpretation Centre (if driving, be aware that the car park can fill up early, particularly on weekends). There is a bushwalkers log book here that you are advised to fill out with your trip intentions before departing.
From the Interpretation Centre car park, follow the signposted Cradle Valley Boardwalk. After around 1km of duckboards, which take you up a hill, you will come to a signposted left turn onto the Dove Canyon Circuit Track. This track winds through the forest and across a few more sections of boardwalk before reaching a small lookout on the right, which is immediately followed by a large, mossy slab of bare grey boulders on the left. Opposite the slabs, a footpad leads down towards the river.
The trip begins with a 12m abseil into the canyon, from a fixed anchor. There is often edge protection left in place by the commercial operator, but be aware that this may not be there and the rock is quite sharp.
Directly opposite the base of the abseil is a small metal water level gauge. If the water reaches the lower red line, it is not advised to continue unless you have descended the canyon previously and are aware of the techniques needed to avoid hydraulics and other aquatic dangers.
Almost immediately there are several small jumps and swims.
At one point you can jump directly into the pool or go up the right bank using a fixed handline to reach an even higher jump.
This is followed by a 6m jump into a deep pool (you can swim back under the waterfall into a small cave), then a large log jam. In higher water flow this obstacle requires you to go over the log jam before jumping into the large pool beyond but in normal conditions it is possible to jump through the hole in the log jam.
Swim across the pool and head down to the “Laundry Chute.” This slide down a narrow, curving chute requires you to take packs off and either have your arms crossed or straight up to ensure you squeeze through. (It can be avoided using fixed handlines on canyon right, but is one of the most enjoyable features of the canyon.)
Following this there is either a short abseil from bolts on canyon right, or a slippery log slide, before a few further jumps.
The “Tea Pot” jump is easily recognisable due to its rounded amphitheatre shape. In low water, jump straight into the pool. In high water, you must jump a long way out -- aim for the far lip of the pool -- as an underwater ridge divides the pool in half and causes a dangerous hydraulic. Alternatively, abseil the short drop from bolts on the left, being careful to set the rope length to avoid a tangle in the hydraulic.
A final obstacle can be jumped or done as a water slide. This is followed by a short swim after which the gorge opens out. Exit via the steep footpad up the left bank.
Climb the path up the bank, joining the marked Dove Canyon Circuit Track.
For a quick exit, go left on the track, which will take you steeply up the gorge to the boulder lookout where you turned off. Retrace your steps from here back to the car.
For a longer, but more scenic exit, turn right. This takes you to a boardwalk that leads back to the Interpretation Centre via the pleasant Pencil Pine Creek and offers nice views of Knyvet Falls.
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