Chris and I recently decided at short notice to book the 4 day, 3 night walk on the Three Capes Track. The Three Capes Track is a newly opened, 46km track located on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, Australia. We’ve heard loads about this track being world class and something not to be missed.
Now we wouldn’t call ourselves very experienced bushwalkers by bushwalking standards, so whilst we love walking, hiking, camping etc, it’s not the only outdoor activity we enjoy or participate in. In saying that, we’ve seen a fair bit of Tasmania and other places around Australia (and overseas) that have left us with our jaws on the ground, Karijini National Park and equally Cape Range National Park probably topping the list in Australia.
When it came to all the hype about the quality of Three Capes Track, we were sceptical. Tasmania is for sure a beautiful State and we had in fact already walked to one of the Capes on this track as a day walk and yes, this coastline is dramatic but still, is it world class? Is it worth the money? Well we have to agree. We walked away thoroughly impressed but also proud of what has been achieved, that is benefiting all of Tasmania.
What do I mean by all of Tasmania? By late April 2016 over 4000 people had walked the Three Capes Track, generating over 1.8 million dollars in 4 months. Whilst the last 4 months has been the peak time to visit Tasmania and numbers are well and truly expected to drop off going in to winter, this number is still well above what the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services had estimated, which is great news. We were informed that the profits from the Three Capes Track only goes back in to the Tasman National Park as well, which we believe to be a similar scenario for the Overland Track where the profits are put directly back in to that Park. How is this benefiting all of Tasmania though? Nearly every single person on the track is from interstate or overseas. From surveys and even ourselves asking the same question, most walkers are spending at least a week in Tasmania, if not much longer. Hence additional tourist money is spent on accommodation, tours, going out for dinner, hire cars and so on. There is no doubt that this money is spread throughout the Tasmanian community, with people who come to enjoy the track normally staying for longer, benefitting the Tasmanian economy as a whole, just like the people who come over to watch their mainland team play AFL. For example, we met Fremantle Dockers supporters last weekend who had planned to stay for a month around their game of football.
We’ve read some of the news articles from when it was being built, both negative and positive. In a nutshell the positive being the sensational location, the quality of the tracks and huts and the negative basically being the price for 3 nights, 4 days ($495 per Adult) and the fact that many Tasmanian bushwalkers feel outpriced from their own National Park (supposedly not having access to these tracks unless staying in the huts) and that if you are a resident of Tasmania, surely there should be some discount. Honestly, we believe these to be valid points. The price is a big cost for 3 nights away and if you had 3 kids in tow, well at 2×495 and 3×396 for the kids, that is for sure one very expensive time away ($2178) and I understand that it is out of the budget of many families. However, I don’t believe this track is marketed as a quick weekend get away for families, it truly is an experience and one to remember for the rest of your life. We need to remember that this is not so much a camping trip, as an amazing walk through pristine wilderness, over comfortable paths and staying in wonderful huts.
Enough about everything we read and heard before leaving (as you may have too if you are reading this as part of your research before deciding on whether to book or not). Onwards with our experience and information about the walk!
Day 1. The guide book stated that it was 4km and should take 1.5-2hrs
Going by the distance above, day 1 was obviously an easy half day. You have the choice of an 11:30 launch from the Port Arthur Historic Site or 14:00 launch. Do not feel you need to get on the early launch to secure the best bunk at the 1st hut, or subsequent huts for that matter. The various bunk rooms are already pre allocated (generally to your booking size if possible) so there is no need to race ahead. Racing in general is totally unnecessary and one of things we loved about the entire experience. I’m sure if you’ve been hiking before you know those people who have to rush ahead and miss so much of the detail. Bush walking is not just exercise and fresh air to us in any case, rather a chance to absorb, admire and learn from our amazing natural environment..
We booked the 14:00 launch that included a 90 minute cruise around the bay and if the weather is suitable enough, it also goes outside the bay with a brief trip along the outer cliffs with great views of Cape Raoul (the 3rd Cape and where the future Three Capes Track is planned to start from). This boat trip was so much more than we expected. We ducked in to little coves, nosed right up to caves and heard a lot about the migratory birds in the area along with the abundant marine life. What could have simply been a trip across the bay from Port Arthur to Denman Cove, was instead an experience in its own. The gentle swell of the ocean and salty air most certainly gave you a taste for what was about to come and set the scene perfectly.
To complete the tour, we proceeded to Denman’s Cove where the Pennicott Wilderness Tours custom built catamaran designed boat nosed up on to the beach, lowered its hydraulic bow door just above the sand and away we went (boots dry) up the beach to the start of the track. We found the estimated time to be spot on. We took 1.5hrs but could have easily stopped a few more times making the 2hrs accurate. If it’s a nice day you can even have a swim at this cove before heading off on the walk, our skipper certainly did once we were all off and he was clear of the beach. It looked heavenly but refreshing.
The short walk proceeded along the coast through eucalypt woodland and coastal heath with excellent views across the bay to some of the coves we had just visited. Along this walk we came to our first of several seats where you can rest and read the story that goes with the seat from “Encounters on the Edge”, a section in the guide book. The best description of “Encounters on the Edge” is straight from the 3 Capes Track website under the section “Experience“
Intriguing stories, artfully told
Your Three Capes Track experience is enriched with a myriad of intriguing stories. To help unravel these secrets, artfully-crafted seats along the track invite you to linger – each one a unique and provocative work of art. Your complimentary “Encounters on the Edge” storybook will reveal more, helping to connect you to this dramatic place.
This “Encounters on the Edge” storybook is only available when booking the 3 capes track experience. Stories ranged from the convict era (as expected), to the geology, the type of environment we were walking in, the birds and other wildlife in the regions (we loved the love seat), identifying mammals by their scat (poo….yes, interesting poo facts!), snakes, leaches, stories about todays fisherman (catch limits and seasons) and so on. It most certainly did “enrich” the walk and encourage you to “linger”, to breathe in, look up and around and not just where your feet are going or trying to just get to the next hut. In fact, this “Encounters on the Edge” was a highlight of the trip in the end and what made it so unique than any other multi night walks because we felt we could connect with the environment on a much higher level, something we weren’t expecting and didn’t realise we would really take in as an experience.
Facilities at the huts include recycled wood pellets in a combustion style heater in both kitchen/mess rooms, big stainless benches for food prep and washing up, pots, pans and cooking utensils, twin gas cook tops (about 5 or 6 per hut) and a hand pump for fresh water. There are quite a few deck chairs and picnic style table and chairs outside on the decking to relax and watch the sunset over Cape Raoul, along with yoga mats in each hut if you would like to do some stretching at the end of each days walk. Inside, along with the lovely heating, are table and chairs, quite a few board games and a few folders with information on the history of the region both before white settlement, during the early convict times and also about the local environment.
Day 2. The guide book stated that it was an 11km and should take 3.5-5hrs
Today we were heading up up and up over Arthur’s Peak, with walking on the edge of the cliffs early on, providing amazing views. Pretty much after Arthur’s Peak the rest of that days walk is fairly straight forward with walks across wind swept Ellarwey Valley, though we had little wind, it was evident by the scrub and its exposure to the cliffs so close that this area gets A LOT of wind. On the way across the wind swept plains the “where the ‘ell are we” seat is a great place to lay back and soak it all in.
We passed what had clearly been some great camping spots (albeit lacking water) that are now closed, or were not “designated camp grounds” in the first place.
When we first arrived at Denman’s Cove there was actually someone camping just behind the beach. This was reported by some walkers to the Ranger at Surveyors Hut, I believe more so because people were curious about the laws, they have also forked out nearly $500 to also be here and more so, he had a dog with him.
We were told by the Ranger that the dog is illegal but it is actually not illegal to camp at undesignated camp sites in National Parks. You can camp and you can not be fined, interesting food for thought for people who are limited by budget. You won’t get the full the experience but it is something to consider if you are a very responsible camper not leaving behind any rubbish and ensuring you dig holes to sufficient depth and away from water courses for a toilet.
The final walk towards Munro hut gave us a taste of some of the rain forest we were soon to experience and then there was the arrival at Munro hut itself, talk about location! This has got to be one of the best “front porches” ever.
With the deck chairs provided, several people enjoyed kicking off their boots, grabbing a book and spending the entire afternoon just relaxing. Others took advantage of the outdoor shower (warm if you want to add a kettle of hot water to the bucket of cold water). The outdoor shower was popular with the warm weather we had. The shower reminded us of being in Tanzania. You fill the shower bucket from the tap in the shower cubicle, then hoist it up and when ready, open up the shower rose on the base of the bucket and prepare for a very refreshing rinse. Munro hut, whilst looking very similar to the huts on day 1 and day 2, had one large mess room which made for a very cosy feeling. Twice as many gas cookers and tables for everyone, but all of us in together, relaxing, well fed, it was very enjoyable.
Munro hut looks over Munro Bight and Cape Huay. This entire coastline is littered with ship wrecks but there are some literally just off the cliffs here. The hut has a great write up on one of the walls about one of the actual ships that sank, the S.S Nord, now a great local dive site for experienced divers in just over 40m of water. The hut also has some stories about other ship wrecks along with the story of the Blythe Star. Whilst the Blythe Star sunk on the west coast of Tasmania, 7 crew of the Blythe Star came ashore in this area in 1973. 11 days at sea in one life raft, the story is one of amazing survival and determination.
The walk took us a bit over 4 hours. With the weather predicted to be wet the next day and Cape Pillar being a 4hr return trip, we actually headed out to Cape Pillar at 1pm on day 2 (an extra 14km) whilst the sky was blue and the sun shining, it was 26 degrees on Day 2. The walk was well worth it but our legs were definitely sore on night 2. What was meant to be 11km was in fact 25km’s for us.
Day 3. The guide book stated that it was 17km and should take 5-6hrs. (but you only need to carry your pack for 1hr)
Despite heading out to Cape Pillar and The Blade the previous day in clear weather, we still had every intention of heading out again and seeing what it was like on a grey and wet day and to head out to The Chasm. The previous day we walked briskly for the Cape Pillar/Blade section to ensure we weren’t walking in the dark on the way home. The final sections of this walk will leave your jaw on the ground. Just to the side of the track is the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest sea cliffs at 300m. It’s hard to not constantly stop and be in total awe.
The previous day we made it out to the Blade just before 3pm and whilst I was quite uncomfortable walking the last stretch to the very end (this last bit is not for the faint hearted, it’s not called the blade for being fat and wide!) I am glad I did it to the 2nd last rock on the tip of the Blade. Chris stood up on the last rock and fully soaked it all in, whilst I looked the other way feeling a tad nauseas when initially watching him climb up there. Funny though, the 2nd day heading out I was much more comfortable. I said to him I thought part of my discomfort may have been because I knew we didn’t have a load of time before dark and didn’t want to rush and make a fatal error. The next day proved this theory right with oodles of time.
The final track to the Blade is something like no other view. The Three Capes Track team have really excelled here finding a way to make a path in this narrow ledge, that also after having had 4000 people trample on it looks like it was made just yesterday.
Along the last 30 minutes of the track out to the Blade are spectacular views of Tasman Island but the real pièce de résistance is the view of Tasman Island from the Blade.
At only about 500m’s from Cape Pillar, Tasman Island (named after Abel Tasman who sailed these waters in 1642) looks like a fortress. The island is surrounded by cliffs that rise straight up out of the ocean. The top is nearly flat and lacking in vegetation, I thought that this was from the winds that whip through here but I later read about denuding from timber being cut for firewood and then fires that decimated the last of the trees left. There is however regeneration happening now that is not manned.
Seeing Tasman Island on a windless warm day was nearly playing with our minds, making the isolation of the island appear idyllic. The stories from this island are far from that. This was one of Australia’s most inaccessible lighthouses, and therefore an unpopular posting. Built in 1906 and manned right up to 1977, it is one of the tallest lighthouses in Australia as well. 3 lighthouse keepers and their families were accommodated in 3 cottages. They had their own veggie patches, cattle, sheep, pigs and goats to milk, sheer and slaughter. People and stores were transferred to the island by flying fox and then up a very steep tramway. Carrier pigeons were used for the first 20 years to transmit messages to the mainland which were very unreliable.
For day 3, we planned to turn off for the Chasm right near the very end of the walk to The Blade. The track to the Chasm is most certainly not for the faint hearted. To find it, head out to the “Seal Spa” Seat as mentioned in your guide book. The goat track out to the Chasm can be seen, but there is a lot ofducking and scrambling in a lot of places to get up and over some of the boulders but the views…WOW! We can see why Parks and Wildlife would like to put a track in here too, to allow more people the option of seeing this gorge. In its current state, people on the 3 Capes Track are generally not encouraged to do this side walk/scramble. To be honest, it isn’t for people who like to bushwalk and have poles and a clear track. This requires a lot of stretching, clambering and a bloody good grip at times.
Whilst we were out at the Chasm the front we were told about could be seen fast approaching, we scrambled back through light rain and then a bucket load of wind (thankfully away from the ledges at this stage) to make it back to the main track.
The walk out to Cape Pillar and the Blade has a lot of boardwalk and some stone steps, the stone stairs giving you just a taste of the stone stairs that you will encounter heading out to Cape Huay. I don’t quite see why some environmentalists are saying this is “trashing” the area. Yes, the steps and the boardwalk are not natural, but other than that the environment is pristine and we did not see a single bit of rubbish. Is this not encouraging more people to get out in to the environment and get in touch with nature and therefore having a greater respect for it, which they may take home to their own region?
Our walk out to Cape Pillar on both day 2 and 3 was 4 hours return from Munro hut, without the main packs. On day 3 this was followed by a single hour with the packs on to the third hut – RETAKUNNA.
Day 4 The book said 14km’s and 4.5-5 hrs. We were advised by the ranger to allow 6-7 hours (the website states 6-7hrs)
The briefing the night before mentioned the proliferation of leaches for todays walk, along with what to do if you do find a leach on you and that considering leaches only feed once a year, you should consider yourself lucky! You can imagine that we were quite careful during this walk to watch out for branches rubbing against us and also where we put our packs down, if at all. It was probably a little over kill but I really didn’t fancy the thought of having to strip down to my knickers on the track trying to flick a leach off my thigh, though no doubt it would have provided some free entertainment for Chris.
We left around 7am. The first hour or so began with the climb to the top of Mount Fortescue. The climb takes you through beautiful rainforest (leach potential but we didn’t get any) and then down the other side of the mountain, looking over spectacular cliffs north towards Cape Huay and south back towards the Chasm and Cape Pillar. Back down through beautiful rainforest once again and towering tree ferns. This part of the walk was simply magical and no photo (that I can take anyway) will do it justice.
All morning we had the delight of seeing different kinds of funghi. We don’t know any of the types that we saw but have been told 99% are poisonous. Some of them looked mighty delicious.
From time to time you will see the old orange triangles from the original track through here, the trees look like they are slowly swallowing these little arrows up.
Once again, parts of the track that would go through potentially swampy or muddy areas have been raised to boardwalk. This may look artificial but a lack of mud was enjoyable.
By 10am we arrived at the track junction for Cape Huay where you will probably come across a few day walkers, here is also an area to have lunch before or after you tackle the stair master that Cape Huay is. You can leave your packs safely behind here, just not on the actual seats for people to rest and eat their lunch! At the end of the track is great views from behind the safety of a fence, this wasn’t here in October 2015. Here you can see the Totem Pole and Candlesticks. The Totem Pole is a free standing piece of all this dolerite you see on the walk. It juts straight out of the ocean and up to 65m It is only 4m wide at the base so you can believe it when the rock climbers say it sways in the wind and can shudder when large waves smash up against it.
Cape Huay was advised to be a 2hr return walk which was pretty smack on. We took about 45minutes for the walk out and back but with stopping for a snack at the end and enjoying the views of the Candlesticks and Totem Pole and other photos and “wow” moments along the way (this section is also just spectacular and completely different to the Cape Pillar leg).
It was just on 2hrs later when we picked up our packs at 12pm and finished the last hour of the walk, which was mostly flat or down hill, a few stairs and with beautiful views of the pure white sand of the beach at Fortescue Bay for the last 15 minutes. This last hour of the walk was where we got talking to Hugh who is a 79 year old man who did an 18 day trek to Everest Base camp only 2 years ago. Yes, at 77 Hugh trekked to Everest Base Camp! Along with that surprise, he was also a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy for many years, just like Chris. That last hour flew by while chatting with Hugh.
When you get to the end of the track at the boat ramp, there should be a little laminated sign saying “3 Capes Track shuttle bus 200m “ Supposedly some people stop right at the boat ramp thinking the shuttle will pick them up from there. Keep going until you get to some picnic tables and a bbq area, where there is also a sign confirming you are in the correct location. We had an hour before the bus was due so we stretched our legs along the beach, bought an ice cream and some walkers swam. It was cold, but it sure was another beautiful day. The bus arrived at 1.30pm and since we were all present and accounted for, we left early for our car in long term parking at the Port Arthur Historic Site.
Food wise, we packed what we normally would hiking, freeze dried dinners for night time from the Australian (Tasmanian in fact) owned and made Strive Food. You can order online from the mainland or elsewhere in Tassie or just walk in to their shop in Sandy Bay (by the way we are not sponsored, we just love a good product and it is all Australian made and owned). Strive present their food in clear plastic packets so you know EXACTLY what you are getting, it’s not just energy and something warm to eat, it is nutritious and not full of salt, msg and other rubbish such as thickeners, flavour enhancers, colourings and stabilisers. Seriously why is this stuff being put in our food? You can see it and read what is in it.
The packs we took which we have had before were delicious. We had the vegetable laksa, cheese corn and vegetable risotto, hearty minestrone and creamy vegetable pasta. We also tried out 1 new one, the beef masaman curry. Tasted great but not as brilliant as the others.
During the day our food was fairly typical consisting of muesli bars, small cans of tuna or salmon, nuts, chocolate and Kate’s favourite (which is not so healthy) BBQ shapes. The two things we packed which we normally certainly wouldn’t was red wine and liquid milk and it was most enjoyable to have a glass or two of red wine in the evening. Weight wise, not having a tent, sleeping mat, cooking gear or having to carry water for multiple days made our packs very light. We practically carried 1 spare set of clothes, sleeping bags, toiletries and food. Very light and manageable. Now, in saying all of this, you can eat like a king (and queen) on this track and we did in fact have our own Master Chef Carlo (or so we called Carlo) who along with the other two in his group, hiked in with cryovaced meat and had a theme for each night. The 1st night being Argentinian with amazing steaks as the foundation, the 2nd night being Italian and whilst we thought ours was delicious, they sat down to Spaghetti Carbonara with real bacon, pecorino, eggs and seasoning! The last night was a South African theme and before I forget, big breakfasts nearly every day so, if you want to eat like kings, there is no reason why not on such a walk where you don’t have to carry tents, stoves, cookware or additional water for multiple days. I can say we were a tad jealous but still ate fabulously.
You can imagine that after the hike, we really didn’t feel like cooking dinner. A nice hot shower and comfy bed was in order but first we had to try out the famous Doo-Lishus food van on the way to our accommodation. Doo-Lishus has had rave reviews for a couple of years on sites such as Tripadvisor and TV. Finally our timing was right to have some fish and chips for dinner after leaving Port Arthur late in the afternoon. The seafood is fresh from the local boats and cooked onsite. We thoroughly enjoyed fish, squid and chips. Generous serves for a good price and best of all, fresh, tasty and it supports the locals. Before I forget, great ice cream too!
Doo-Lishus is located at the Blowhole car park on Blowhole Road in Doo-Town (near Eaglehawk Neck). The hours are reduced at winter time, maybe even closed. I believe it is open every day until 6 or 7pm from late September until early May.