Sea cliffs from the top of the Blade, Cape Pillar
Tuesday 28 February – Friday 3 March: Three Capes Experience, Tasmania – S-M/M. A 4-day glamping trip around the Tasman Peninsula.
Distance: 45.7km + 20.5km | Time: 4 days | Grading: S-M/M; M(9)
Photographs are available, where you can start a large sized slideshow.
Waypoint and Track Files
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Max’s idea. The three old fellas packed up and drove to Melbourne. After checking out how the car ferry works we went for a walk along the waterfront to Princes Pier, were hosted to a cuppa by Eric’s son, went for a walk in the other direction (amazing to see kite surfers on hydrofoil boards seemingly effortlessly gliding across the water) and had fish and chips for tea. An hour or so to load the car. Over Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania II, fitfully sleeping in the recliner chair area.
Off-loaded around 6.30am in Devonport. A great ‘big breakfast’ down the road at etc in Elizabeth Town. Drove to Port Arthur, picking up some groceries and meals on the way. Some back roads across the NE of Hobart to make the trip a bit more interesting. Checked in to the Port Arthur Holiday Park.
We drove to the Port Arthur historic precinct and did a half check-in at the Three Capes Walk desk. That gave us passes to wander around the Port Arthur site. Some changes since I was last there – the walls of the Penitentiary are now braced so you can walk inside. A low key memorial garden marking the terrible shootings. We spent some time at the church and in the Separate Prison. Walked the beginning of the Stewart Bay track to get a closer look at the Queen Mary 2.
Pre-dinner drinks on the deck. Dinner at the Fox and Hounds. Slow service. A good night’s sleep in a real bed.
A beautiful sunny day. Parked the car and registered for the walk. A really excellent booklet on the walks was provided, reading of which filled in the time till 11am boat departure. We and 45 others climbed aboard the sight-seeing craft.
A great trip down the west side of Port Arthur, stopping to see the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer, sea caves and sea cliffs, a sea eagle’s nest at Briggs Point, the beautiful sandy stretch of Crescent Bay beach and taller sea cliffs at West Arthur Head. Zoomed up the east side of the bay and offloaded at Denmans Cove. Ready to walk!
Time for lunch. We introduced ourselves to a lone walker, Greg S. As it turned out the 4 of us were allocated to the same room in the huts. Others started walking immediately; some had a swim.
Started walking at 1pm and ambled south along the very well constructed track. A boot cleaning station near the start. The Three Capes Track includes a number of ‘encounters’, places where walkers are invited to stop and read a page of the booklet. I marked most of them as waypoints on the track maps, but not for day 1.Many and varied subjects. I won’t give them away, except to describe the one that really took my fancy. It was ‘Dear Eliza’, a few hundred metres into the walk. The booklet presented excerpts from a convict letter to his wife and family in England, which may have taken more than a year to arrive (if at all) and, on the opposite page, an SMS exchange between a track construction worker and Lizzie, the texts delivered easily and instantaneously. A poignant juxtaposition.
We arrived at Surveyors Hut at 2.50pm and were met by the resident ranger. Allocated a 4-bed room, including Greg. We settled in and made a cuppa in one of the kitchens – cooking kettles, pots, implements and gas cook tops provided.
After a while I decided that I wouldn’t sleep well without a bit more exercise, so went for a wander along the track for day 2. More pleasant views across Port Arthur and the chance to try my macro photography on the wildlife and flowers.
Back for a 6pm briefing on the weather and the following day’s track, then an optional additional chat from the ranger about the Three Capes Track’s development. Stirring stories of the original track cutting in the 1960s by members of the Hobart Walking Club. The full print of the HWC magazine article was in a folder in the hut libraries (all exactly the same, so you could start reading in one hut and continue at the next). Many of the place names in this area of the Tasman Peninsula were taken from their great exploits – I love the Ellarwey Valley, named after the track blazers’ “Where the flipping hell are we”. Apart from the boat trip, the great scenery and the well constructed track, I was wondering whether the area should have been left in its natural state. But 5 shy of 13,000 walkers came through in the first year and each of these folk have seen the wonderful things we did. In addition, much of the scrub is impenetrable and the area is notoriously dry, so not highly prized for off-track or private trips.
Tea and bed on a memory foam topped mattress! Mouldable ear plugs made for a great sleep!!
Distance: 4.7km + 4.9km
We left at 7.40am, getting away early to maximise our time on the track. Popped a pic of the giant wooden wombat poos at ‘Who Was Here?’ on Facebook for my wombat loving friend. Expectations rose as we passed our first sea cliff warning sign as we climbed towards Arthurs Peak. Views down to the bays as the track rose and to the entrance to Port Arthur from the top of the hill.
But at last the magnificent sea cliffs, the highest in the southern hemisphere, came into view. All the track bashing was worth it! The encounter point ‘Jurassic Crack’ provided great views before the track descended to heathlands.
The original track to Cape Pillar was developed by the Hobart Walking Club in the early 1960s. There is a great write up of their endeavors in the HWC magazine of the time, reproduced in a folder in each hut’s library. Many of the features are named by them. The best is Ellarwey Valley – taken from their “Where the flipping hell are we?”. Views from the encounter point over Maingon Bay.
Turning right, the next encounter point was ‘The High Life’, an opportunity to read from the booklet about the bird life of the area.
We’d heard about the (limited by reliable water and maybe by design) private walking opportunities in the Tasman National Park. At a damper area of the track I followed the turnoff down to the Waghalee campsite. Platforms, toilet and (empty today) tanks. I followed the track a little further to Wughalee Falls, where the water looked a little more drinkable. The track turns north and rejoins the Three Capes Track to the NE of the third night’s hut, so I retraced my steps and continued along the Cape Pillar Track.
Soon arrived at Munro Hut, 11.40am, settled into the same room number and had lunch. You can see that you can cover each day’s walk very easily (7.40-11.40am = 4hrs for 10.8km), so it’s important to stop and smell the roses.
Again, I needed some more exercise and seeing it was a glorious day, Greg and I decided to walk out to Cape Pillar (this had been suggested as an option by the Surveyors Hut ranger). We left at 12.45pm with day packs and, of course, ran into most of the walkers from the previous day returning. Sweeping boardwalk above Hurricane Heath and Perdition Plateau, with views SE to Cape Pillar and NE to the ocean. Easy walking heading down; a puff on the up bits.
As the track bent to the south, there were amazing views to the spectacular Blade! Made the entire trip worthwhile! Passed a track side ephemeral pond. The track turned east along the cliff tops of Clytie Bight and there was view after view after view. Just after 2pm Tasman Island came into view. The flowering teatree looked great too. Every blink of an eye and turn in the track presented sights of map-named features such as The Trident and nearby rock formations dropping vertically to the water.
Reaching the fork in the track near Cape Pillar and the base of The Blade, we first went left. This track goes to Chasm Lookout, but is currently being repaired. All day continuous helicopter sorties were flying overhead and placing bags of rocks and gravel. A short turn off was open to ‘Seal Spa’, where we could look down and across to the seals basking on the rocks of Tasman Island.
Back at the track junction we headed for The Blade, passing hazard warning signs. We began the climb up the well made, but narrowing track. It would be a little different in strong wind and cloud conditions. It was marvellous to have just the two of us at the top of The Blade in perfect conditions. We spent 40 minutes there soaking up the views. The helicopter kept flying in bags; Tasman Island was framed by the sea; a small tour boat came in to check the bottom of the Tasman Island haulage way; and back behind us was the prominent landslip. Have a look at the video clip below. More tomorrow.
Back at Munro Hut I joined the queue for a shower. An interesting arrangement – down a walkway to a red fire bucket, fill it from a tap (with a gas instant hot water heater at the back!), then into a snail-shaped corrugated iron ‘tank’ which included a pull up shower bag. Too good.
The usual night’s procedure – briefing, cooking (marvellous how 48 can fit in 2 kitchens, all cooking different things at different times, so no crowding), reading, chatting, bed. And you could charge devices via USB ports in the kitchen!
Distance: 10.8km + 15.6km
The day dawned a bit foggy. Once again I decided to get away early and by myself to soak in the views. 50 metres down the track to Cape Pillar was a shed where we left all but day-pack gear. I put mine top shelf immediately by the door – good plan because when I returned the 48 pack shed was a shambles.
Different today in the mist. I took a shot of the track-side dry heath land – it was impenetrable. The HWC track pioneers of the 1960s describe throwing themselves backwards into it and the next walker clambering over them to repeat the process. Slow going. So there is worse than Namadgi regrowth. The teatree blossom was pretty; ‘Eye see bright’ encounter point different; mist started to clear by the long boardwalk run; ‘Sex on the Cape’ was not what might be imagined; more impenetrable scrub; the ephemeral pond was as empty as yesterday; there were no tiger, copperhead or white-lipped snakes at ‘My blood runs cold’; more maco pics; passed ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughter’ to see a tablecloth still on Tasman Island; more great track construction; getting better at macro after macro; track-side shrubs in flower. Eventually the grander scale features came into sharper view. But always time for another coloured thing.
I arrived at the bottom of The Blade with its rustic sign at 9.10am. Climbed the easy track and had 20mins on top by myself before Max and Eric arrived. We stayed till 11.10am checking out view after view. Watch the videos for better than words.
When the crowd started to arrive, we headed for ‘Seal Spa’. A zoom to the basking seals across at Tasman Island. Then a little further than yesterday along the temporarily closed Chasm Lookout track as the chopper wasn’t flying today.
Shouldering our full packs again, we left at 2.25pm, walked NW back along the Cape Pillar Track to the track junction. Flowers, cutting grass and ferns, then passed the turnoff to Waghalee campsite. We turned north to Retakunna Hut, arriving at 3.20pm. Room 4 was on the end. Our last night on the Three Capes Track.
Away at 7.20am walking towards Mount Fortescue. Nutty scrub. We passed ‘The Dark Side’, marking the transition from open plains to wet forest. Tall, straight timber, as in many places we saw in Tasmania. A steady climb, causing fellow walkers to rest at ‘Blood on the velvet lounge’ (celebrating leeches, mosquitoes and other blood suckers).
‘The Underworld’ was in the wet forest. Views back to Cape Pillar from Mount Fortescue. ‘10,000’ allowed us to ponder migratory whales and shearwaters. For me, the wet forest area on the NE descent from Mount Fortescue was second only to the craggy capes. ‘Forever Linked’ provided information on the old supercontinent Gondwana. The beautiful tree ferns continued on and on to ‘Once upon a time’. Little forest growths.
The track soon returned to the cliff edge and after morning tea there were excellent views down onto a rock arch. Looking back to Cape Pillar from here (even though the photo is a bit vague), we saw the striking profile of The Blade. From this angle, a true knife-shaped feature rearing up over Cape Pillar. From ‘Pardon me for intruding’ the view to the south was the same. The encounter information explained the difference between the igneous and sedimentary rocks.
At 10am a direction sign announced the junction of the Three Capes Track with the Cape Hauy Track. It was a warm day and we thankfully dropped our full bags and selected the day necessities for the return walk to Cape Hauy. But I forgot to take my GPSr, so the track is a bodgy one.
We reached the Cape Hauy lookout at 10.50am. The views all about were huge, especially that straight down! The famous Totem Pole and The Candlestick were close by, with the water raging around at the bottom as each ocean swell came in. A sight-seeing boat poked around at the bottom. The dolerite columns continued to draw my attention. At around 11.45am four young European rock climbers appeared, two got their gear on and disappeared over a nearby edge. Thirty minutes or so later they appeared down below and, after a couple of attempts to get the length of rope right, swung across to an anchor point at the base of the Totem Pole. It was getting on towards 1pm, so we left after having lunch, but others reported that the two made the climb.
Lovely views north over the bays as we returned to pick up our gear.
We left the Cape Hauy Track junction at 1.35pm and walked the last couple of kilometres down to Fortescue Bay. At one point the track passed over a handsomely constructed little stone bridge. ‘Southerly Pining’ provided an appropriate opportunity to reflect that the trip was nearly over, then the last downhill.
A bus took us back to Port Arthur and the car.
Back to the Port Arthur Holiday Inn, a well-deserved shower, beer, and a great meal (served at a pace more to my liking) back at the Fox and Hounds.
3 walkers – Eric G, Max S (leader), me. Plus another 45.
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