Three Capes Track  2020

 

I walked the Three Capes Track with Mika, starting on August 31. In some cases I could not get the photograph I wanted, so I have used third-party photos. Photos below are mostly by me and Mika, except where a third-party artist could be attributed.

 

There is plenty of nice accommodation near Port Arthur if you need somewhere comfortable to stay before your hike.

 

The Three Capes Track is billed locally as "Australia's premier coastal hike". That's a pretty big claim, and not one that I would make, partly for the simple reason that (for a lot of the year) the sea is too cold to swim, even though there is a great beach at Fortescue Bay. The walk was initially conceived by Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) as a hike joining Cape Raoul (towards the west of the Tasman Peninsula) with Cape Pillar, and Cape Hauy to the east. The "Three Capes Experience" was opened in 2015, with only Capes Pillar and Hauy lying along the track, but eventually Cape Raoul will be included, if problems with private ownership of coastal land can be resolved. As it stands today, it is a hike of world class, although short. It spans four days, the first and last being roughly half-days. The grade is generally "easy", with a small section of "moderate" walking on the last day. There are no steep sections, except the ten-minute side track to The Blade, near Cape Pillar. Most of the walk is over gently undulating terrain of varying vegetation types: coastal heath, woodland and forest, as well as some wet sclerophyll and a small area of rainforest.

 

 

There is nothing on the hike which a healthy adult or child would find difficult. There are few dangers. Biting animals are rare, as are biting insects for much of the year. The chief danger is also the chief attraction: the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere (apparently). These dolerite cliffs are truly magnificent, often dropping vertically into the sea from heights between 200 and 300 metres. 

 

Hikers can walk the paths unsupported, using the tent platforms provided by the Parks and Wildlife Service (available on a first-come first-served basis). Cape Pillar, the most spectacular location, can be hiked as a day-walk from the car park in Fortescue Bay. You do need to pay for a Parks Pass.  I did this walk some years ago, leaving the car park at a little before 5am, and reaching Cape Pillar around 11am, leaving plenty of time to explore and photograph. It is a long walk though. Many unsupported hikers prefer to make the Cape Pillar trip as two half-days and one full day, sleeping two nights in tents. 

 

Hikers with more cash pay for "The Three Capes Experience", staying in PWS huts along the way. This is what Mika and I did. Each of the three huts has a resident ranger. The first hut is called Surveyor, the second Munro, and the third Retakunna.  The 'huts' comprise sleeping huts, toilets and a kitchen. The sleeping huts have nine rooms with either four or eight single bunks, no electricity, no heating, and no running water (but plenty of fresh air). Drop toilets are in a separate building, as is the kitchen hut, which has electric light and wood-fired heating, as well as interesting books. The rangers are friendly and informative. Only Munro has showers, and these are open-air, so don't get too excited at the idea of long hot showers. All water here is rainwater. You can download a recommended gear list from the PWS website: threecapestrack.com.au.  A third hiking option, if you have even more cash, is to use a private company which runs fully supported walks; this company alone has been allowed to build two accommodation lodges for its guests.

 

My pack: clothes 2.5kg total, sleeping-bag 1.0, sleeping-bag liner 0.14, cotton pillow case 0.2. Water 1.5L. Food 4.0.

Day walk times: Monday 12:30 - 14:30. Tuesday 7:30 - 11:00 then after reaching Munro 12:30 - 16:00 (this second walk was local exploration, and unnecessary). Wednesday 8:00 - 13:00 (Munro to Cape Pillar then back to Munro) then 14:30 - 15:30 (reaching Retakunna). Thursday 7:30 - 11:30 plus 11:30 - 13:30 (this second section may be done without a pack). Fortescue Bay is the bus pick up point. The Bay has a sheltered beach, so if you are hiking in summer, bring swimmers. 

 

Port Arthur is a historic site, owned by the State of Tasmania, and is the second-most visited of Tasmania's tourist attractions. A boat takes walkers from Port Arthur to Denmans Cove, after a quick tour of the southern part of the Port. We saw dolphins, seals and sea-birds, including a sea eagle.

 

Denmans Cove is the outlet of Denmans Creek, the only waterway on the hike. Tanins stain the water brown, and white foam follows rainfall.

 

 

Surveyors cabins...  where we spent the first of our three nights.

 

 

 

 

Facilities were more than adequate for our small group. Heaters run on compressed sawdust pellets. Sloping windows deter flying birds.

 

 

That's Cape Raoul in the distance. The hike to Cape Raoul is described below.

 

Low coastal heath and woodland, the morning of day two.

 

 

Munro, where we spent the second night. The grey objects are water tanks (on the left) and open-air showers (on the right).

 

 

Not far from Munro, there's another shelter in the forest. It looks as though it might have aboriginal origins, and in a way it does, as it's built in a traditional style.

 

 

Munro sunrise. The wreck of the steamship SS Noor lies in 40m of water not far from the cliffs. Hippolyte Rock and Cheverton Rock are visible near the horizon. This area has proved dangerous to early shipping. Luckily the crew and passengers on the Noor survived.

 

 

Artworks are positioned at regular intervals. There are stories behind many of these artworks, which are explained in the PWS TCT booklet.

 

 

In winter, widespread ephemeral pools and marshy ground provide frog habitat, and their calls are a feature of the hike.

 

 

 

 

On the morning of the third day, hikers walk from Munro Cabin to Cape Pillar. The lighthouse on Tasman Island was once operated by three families, with supplies brought in by ship. Its story is told in the book Living with Jezebel; a good read and recommended.

 

 

Cathedral Rock, off Cape Pillar. Photo: Nathan Dyer (with thanks).

 

 

 

Some interesting and beautiful plants are small, and easily missed at first glance.

 

 

 

Dry coastal forest. Sometimes it's so dense it gets dark.

 

 

 

 

Dolerite is an igneous grey rock, which intruded the softer overlying mudstones and sandstones. Where it contains a relatively high iron content, its surface can "rust" producing beautiful orange colours.

 

 

These are private lodges, which we never actually saw. For rich and spoilt people (like me in my dreams!). Photo: unattributed.

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers and colourful fungi are a feature of the hike.

 

 

We saw hundreds of orchids, although most were not in flower. The hood on this greenhood orchid is translucent.

 

 

Seals live in these waters, but you never get this close to them on the hike.  Photo: Susan Stewart (with thanks). New Zealand Fur Seals and Australian Fur Seals. The Australian Sea Lion lives in South Australia. The Elephant Seal used to breed on Bass Straight islands, but, like a lot of other animals, was wiped out by greedy or thoughtless Europeans.

 

 

The last Thylacine died in a zoo in 1933. The naturalist John Gould had warned the Tasmanian Government 70 years earlier that the species would die out unless action was taken to protect it and its habitat. No effective action was taken.

 

 

Retakunna Cabin, where we stayed on the third night

 

 

Mother and child. Bennett's Wallaby. While generally timid, in national parks they can become accustomed to hikers, and remain calm in the presence of humans.

 

 

A young echidna. The four species of echidnas, and the platypus, are the only living mammals that lay eggs, and the only surviving members of the order Monotremata (Wikipedia). They eat ants and termites. My impression is that they have poor eyesight (maybe short-sighted?) but very good hearing. Although they are one of the few Australian mammals that can be approached easily during the day, they are shy, so that they are generally not easy to photograph.

 

 

On the fourth and last day, the track passes through rainforest, with tree-ferns, Antarctic Beech, and lots of moss and old decaying timber. Ancient eucalypts tower over the rainforest canopy. A silent and majestic place.

 

 

Cape Hauy, like the other capes, is dramatic, with high cliffs dropping vertically into the sea. Probably the most fascinating formation is the Totem Pole, a 90m crystal of dolerite sticking straight out of the sea. Photo by Eugene Kaspersky (with thanks). Viewed from sea level, it appears to be on a slight lean, which is a bit scary. 

 

 

Photo: "Climbing" magazine, with thanks.

 

The walk from Cape Hauy to Fortescue Bay takes around 2 - 3 hours.

Fortescue Bay is often calm and always beautiful.

 

A small creek enters Fortescue Bay through the beach: here's the creek, looking west from the beach.

 

 

CAPE RAOUL

As mentioned above, the hike to Cape Raoul is done separately from exploring the other two capes. No camping is involved, as the walking times are short. From Port Arthur, hikers drive west to Stormlea Road. There is a car park for hikers at the end of the road. A parks pass is required.

 

According to PWS signage, the return walk from the carpark to Cape Raoul takes 5 hours, plus time spent looking around. I recommend allowing six or seven hours, including time having lunch (or breakfast, if you get up before sunrise - the hike can be safely done in the dark). All of the photos below were taken in the early morning, at, or just before sunrise, and this does involve walking at night.

 

The track starts in an impressive tall eucalypt forest. As you move south, the forest changes to low eucalypt, then dense low coastal scrub with similar species to those seen around Capes Pillar and Hauy. Further south the scrub gives way to dense low heathland, typically wind-formed.

 

 

 

 

 

The track provides access to the west side of the Cape Raoul Peninsula. The cliffs, 200-300m high, are impressive, as you would expect.

 

 

 

At the Cape there are two lookouts. The photo below was take at the "Raoul Cape" lookout.

Sunrise at Cape Raoul. Geoff Murray (with thanks).

 

Sunrise lights the eastern side of Cape Raoul. This image shows the view from the "Seal colony" lookout, which lies 10 minutes walk east of the Cape Raoul lookout. There are several seals in this photo, at the extreme left hand side, but they are too small to make out. So take your binoculars is you want to see them. They are resting on a rock platform just above the water. There is one human in this photo, only visible by virtue of his bright red jacket. If he was a seal you would not be able to see him. It's Tim Noonan (www.timnoonan.tv).

 

 

 

A peaceful image to end on... Mika's 'moonlight over the Southern Ocean'.

 

 

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