Thinking of walking Three Capes in Tasmania?
There are two ways to approach it. The classic ‘hard-core’ route with a pack on your back, or the comfort, ‘pack-free’ route. Both give you access to stunning scenery, both involve a boat trip and both are pretty challenging unless you’re a very serious hiker.
Can’t decide which way to go? I’ve outlined the options here so you can pick the route for you.
Why the Three Capes?
Towering up to 300m above sea level, the sheer, dolorite cliffs of the Tasman Peninsula impress from every angle. Grey stacked rocks formed millions of years ago were forced up from the centre of the earth in a momentous event to create a series of capes and bays.
From the top they provide stadium seating to take in the breathtaking view of the peninsula. From below, they tower over boats as the waves of the Southern Ocean lap menacingly at their feet.
The ‘pack-free’ walk
My days of carrying a backpack are over – there’s only so much a physio can do to fix old injuries. So, I chose the ‘pack-free’ Park Trek guided walk with a real bed, hot shower and meals provided.
Day one started with an early morning pick up in Hobart and drive out to Fortescue Bay with our two guides Callum and Dan. There were five Australian pairs, either couples or friends, crowded into the minibus and setting off on our walk with day packs and fresh legs, we got to know each other as we ascended the rocky path through the lush rainforest.
Flattening out towards lunchtime onto a boardwalk we passed a fork to the right and some walkers emerged with full backpacks on to the only section covered by both walks – the steps to Cape Huay.
Our guide for the day, Callum said it cost around $25 million to build the Three Capes tracks and huts, with materials delivered in over 17,000 helicopter drops. This included thousands of granite blocks used to build the 2,250 steps on Cape Huay, which worryingly began to hurt only 100 or so in.
Known for strong winds and heavy rain, there was hardly a whisper of air when we finally stood on the tip of the cape and peered gingerly over the edge to the waves below.Looking down from Cape Huay And what a view! We could see Cape Pillar in the distance rising majestically out of a navy blue sea and slowly the fear of 2,250 steps back to the bus receded into the background as we drank it all in.
Callum pointed out the Totem Pole, a 4 metre-wide, dolorite sea stack just off the tip of the cape and described how rock climbers abseil to the base and climb 60 metres to the top, with only minute crevices as handholds.
As I gently lowered myself into the restaurant chair back at our accommodation in Stewart Bay Lodge, to devour a delicious Tasmanian eye fillet steak washed down with a glass of wine, I wondered how climbers have the energy to walk out to the Totem pole and climb as well. Grateful we’d picked a trek with creature comforts, our group hobbled back to various cabins and fell into bed.
The classic walk
I didn’t walk the Three Capes by the ‘hard-core’ route but I did some research to find out how it differs from the ‘pack-free’ version before I booked. It starts with a boat journey from Port Arthur, around the cliffs to Denman Cove, followed by a short, four kilometre walk to Surveyors hut.
Walkers carry personal belongings, food and equipment except gas stoves, mattresses and USB phone chargers, which are provided in three, new state-of-the-art huts along the 46 kilometre route.
Day two of this Y shaped route is an 11 kilometre walk to Arthur’s Peak through eucaplypt forest and heathland before descending to the Munro hut. Scaling The Blade and walking to the tip of Cape Pillar on day three is made easier when walkers leave packs at the hut, picking them up on the way back through, before completing the 17 kilometre walk at Retakunna hut.
Day four brings walkers to the junction we spotted on our first day, where again packs can be left before tackling the steps to Cape Huay and ending the walk in Fortescue Bay.
Day two, three and four on the ‘pack-free’ walk
Back on the pack-free walk, after a buffet breakfast in our guides’ cabin, we set off in the minibus to the start of the walk to Cape Raoul.
After rising up through eucalypt forest for the first few kilometres, it was tricky to concentrate on lunch when we stopped on the edge of a vertiginous cliff edge, with views across the sea to Bruny Island and on to the hazy horizon of the Southern Ocean.
Continuing on through heathland to a small rocky outcrop in the afternoon rewarded us with another stunning view from the other side of the cape.
Our third cape, Cape Pillar, was viewed from below on an exhilarating boat trip departing Port Arthur the next day. The full length waterproof coat, hat and gloves seemed a bit extreme when we set off, but turned out to be very welcome when the boat crashed over the waves sending spray high into the air.
Keeping an eye on a brewing storm in the distance, our skipper ducked expertly into sea caves, pointed out seals and regaled us the tales about the disused lighthouse on Tasman Island. As the storm finally caught up with the boat, we raced across a turbulent sea to the safety of the harbour.
Gale force winds the next day halted our final walk after just a few kilometres. Leaning against the wind, hair whipping our faces, dressed head to toe in waterproofs, we valiantly strided over the dunes of Crescent Bay to a blow hole and then turned back. It wasn’t all bad though – we dropped into a cafe for coffee and cake by a warm fire before heading back to Hobart.
Port Arthur and Tasmanian Devils
Taking the boat ride in the morning gave us the afternoon to look around the Tasman Peninsula. A quick trip to the nearby Tasmanian Devil Unzoo was surprising for its range of animals, including kangaroos, birds, quolls as well as the fiery Tasmanian Devils.
Just a ten-minute walk from Stewart Bay Lodge, along a waters-edge track, is the Port Arthur Historic Site. It’s a sobering place, showcasing the remains of a brutal convict prison. However, it’s also set on an idyllic harbour, where we spotted Tasmanian Paddymelons (small wallabies) in the undergrowth on the way back home.
Whichever way you go it will be a stunning walk. Enjoy!
For more information on the classic walk, go to: www.threecapestrack.com.au
For more information on the pack-free walk, go to: http://www.parktrek.com.au/package/three-capes-and-tasman/