Andrew Bain experiences Australia's newest and most spectacular walking track along the mighty cliffs of Tasmania's rugged south-east coast.
Tasmania was already Australia’s bushwalking leader…and then along came the Three Capes Track. Promising a new dimension in bushwalking that’s all delight and no deprivation – a wide and smooth track, stylish huts, a unique approach to interpretation – it’s an enticing walk, both for the thrill of the cliff-top journey and for the charms of its huts and built-in ‘Encounters’.
A few days after it opened, I set out from Port Arthur to experience Australia’s newest walking track.
The sandy sea floor seems to radiate in the sun as the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys boat punches ashore on Denmans Cove. For an hour we’ve cruised the seas, edging into caves and listening to the cliffs as they seem to breathe through the fissures and blowholes that puncture them. But now the time has come to finally step out on the Three Capes Track.
This day I’m walking just four kilometres, so when the track touches the coast again at Surveyors Cove, I stop, pull out a late lunch and let the afternoon dawdle on ahead of me.
A short climb above the cove is Surveyors, the hut that’s my home tonight. And what a home – deck chairs, yoga mats, mattresses on the beds, board games, books and a vast view out over Cape Raoul and the waters of Port Arthur, where a pod of dolphins plays into the evening.
Time to meet the cliffs. The Tasman Peninsula has the highest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere, and the first glimpse of these stars of the Three Capes show comes atop Arthurs Peak this morning.
The views don’t stop here. They roll on down the slope to ‘Jurassic Crack’, one of the 36 Encounters that line the track, telling the Tasman Peninsula’s story in art and word. Carved wooden benches, mosaics and even stylised wombat scat tempt me to stop, linger and learn. The pleasures and vast views of Munro, tonight’s equally plush hut, will have to wait a while.
Today will be not only beautiful, it will be beautifully kind. The trail from Munro to Cape Pillar is out and back, so that most of the hiking day can be done without a backpack.
It’s a wonderfully varied hike to the Tasman Peninsula’s southernmost point, through forest, heath and then edging along the cliffs – nowhere else in Australia can you stand at a cliff edge with the sea so far below you. It’s a heady and exhilarating section of walking.
The final section of track rises up the Blade, a sharp ridge atop the cape. I feel as though I’m standing at the end of the world, with only Tasman Island and 2500 kilometres of Southern Ocean ahead of me. I turn back from the Blade and retrace my steps to Munro and my backpack for the short walk on to the hut at Retakunna.
It’s a slow climb over Mt Fortescue in the early morning, but there’s ample compensation in the summit views back to now-distant Tasman Island and Cape Pillar, and an enchanted section of rainforest on the descent. One cape remains ahead of me – Cape Hauy – but there are plenty of cliff-edge moments in between.
I dump my pack at the track junction for the detour to Cape Hauy, which descends and then climbs steeply to land’s end once more. I poke my head over the edge and there, far below, is the Totem Pole, a slender dolerite column that’s famed among rock climbers across the world. Today, only a couple of fur seals gather around its base.
The track ends nearby at Fortescue Bay. I haven’t seen sand since stepping off Denmans Cove, so I strip down to my shorts and wade into the ocean. Around me, other hikers are doing the same – we are like a migration heading out into the Tasman Sea. Our walk is over; let the swim begin.