Hiking the Three Capes Track takes you on a truly wild adventure across some of Tasmania’s most stunning wilderness. The route opened to the public in December 2015, stretches over 46 kilometres and is split across 4 days.
The experience encompasses access to the Port Arthur Historic Site, an adrenaline fuelled boat trip, 3 nights accommodation in some pretty swanky eco cabins and of course, a chance to get up close and personal with the Capes themselves.
When hiking the Three Capes Track, you carry your life with you. This includes all of your own food, your sleeping bag and any other essentials you might need (see the packing list for full details). To minimise your impact on the environment; whatever you take in, you take out with you. This means all of your rubbish, so pack minimally and mindfully.
Day 1: Port Arthur – Surveyors
4km | 1 hour boat ride + 2 hour walk
Day 1 begins at Port Arthur Historic Site where you sign in, collect your important information and probably remember you’ve forgotten to pack your toothbrush. When booking your walk, you have the choice between two time slots for the boat ride.
Ever the enthusiastic type, I opted for the earlier time. To my delight, I found that out of the small group of just 13 who had booked onto the walk, only two of us would be taking the boat that morning!
A word about Port Arthur…
Many folks opt to use their free access to the site as a way to kill time before they catch their boat. I suggest taking a whole day to look around Port Arthur. The site is enormous and there is a lot of ground to cover and information to take in. If you are in the area a few days before your walk, let the friendly people in the visitor centre know you are hiking the Three Capes Track and they will happily let you come in early and free of charge.
If this doesn’t work for you, when you sign in on the day of your walk, you will be given a card allowing you free access for the next 2 years anyway! Port Arthur is an incredibly beautiful spot for a place with such a brutal history and you will become immersed in the fascinating stories, old buildings and tranquil gardens. Be sure to make use of the free guided walks and boat ride whilst you are there too.
Soon we were greeted by our awesome captain, Kane and boarded the boat. He took us around the coastline where we explored caves and sandy beaches, watched albatross and sea eagles in their element and got a glimpse of Cape Raoul and Tasman Island. Kane had a wealth of knowledge. You could really feel his passion for this salty, unpredictable environment.
Tip – Although named the Three Capes Track, as of writing this, Cape Raoul is only witnessed from a distance and not actually part of the walk itself (I found this to be slightly misleading). Nevertheless, you can do a separate hike to this cape and you’ll find more information here.
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The weather was on our side as we pulled into Denmans Cove. The crystal clear waters sparkled invitingly as we hopped off the boat and waved our captain off. As he disappeared, a sudden realisation hit me. This was it; we were alone, stranded on a secluded beach, and for a brief moment I felt as though I was on an episode of Survivor!
I sat on the sand and took some time to take it all in and contemplate that I would spend the next 4 days hiking the Three Capes Track. I felt both excited and apprehensive, my main worry was about being hungry and not having enough food.
After a quick pee behind a rock, I set off. The walk followed the coastline south, gradually climbing uphill through eucalyptus forest and heathland. This was my first experience of hiking with a large backpack (little did I know that 3 years later I’d hike 1000 miles of the Appalachian Trail). Almost immediately I was feeling the effects of an added 12kg.
It took about 2 hours to reach the accommodation, Surveyors. The cabin is bigger than you’d expect. It has the capacity to house 48 people per day, so with just 13 of us booked on, we had the run of the place. The kitchen(s) are cosy and well equipped, the mattresses are comfy and even the long drop toilets are pretty luxurious!
Tip – Make sure you take a torch with you, as there are no lights in the bedrooms or bathrooms. A head torch is a very good idea; I discovered that peeing with a phone torch isn’t the easiest.
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A live-in ranger greets you at each cabin. They are there to make sure you don’t burn the place down, answers your questions and brief you on the following days walk.
After choosing my room, dropping my pack, gulping back a packet of soup and chilling out on the deck overlooking Cape Raoul with ranger Robin; the remaining 11 walkers began to filter through and the sun began to set. That night I made new friends, played games and felt really, really hungry.
Day 2: Surveyors – Munro
11km | 4 hour walk
We awoke to torrential rain. Sheets of it battering the cabin and surrounding landscape. The view we had admired the previous night was now almost gone. For breakfast I ate a small sachet of porridge jazzed up with some nuts and dried fruit. I could have cried.
I was the last to leave. As I waited for a break in the rain, I took advantage of Robin’s pack-fitting expertise. I waterproofed as much of myself and my pack as possible, unintentionally making myself look like an extra-terrestrial being carrying some weird space pod on my back.
As soon as the rain stopped, I bravely set off. After 3 whole minutes of enthusiastic marching the heavens opened once more and in a split second, I looked like I had just taken a dip in the ocean.
My trousers were sticking to my legs, the tops of my socks were wet, water was running down my sleeves and my hair stuck to my face. The enthusiastic marching turned into more of a sad shuffle as I dipped in and out of more forests and across moorland. Then came the thunder, and the shuffling reverted back to marching, but this time with a rocket up my backside.
The rain did eventually turn to drizzle and things slowly began to clear. As I climbed Arthurs Peak and Crescent Mountain, some lovely coastal views materialised.
It was then back down into more forest as I hit the home straight. At some point, a helicopter flew right over my head, giving me an indication that I was close to the next cabin, Munro. My steps quickened as I fantasised that it might be dropping off some extra food.
Although not the longest, I personally found day 2 to be one of the hardest days. We had to carry our packs for the entire 11km, which took roughly 4 hours. As I reached Munro, I noticed the helicopter perched on the helipad as ranger Ailsa greeted me. I also noticed a lot of faces I didn’t recognise, including a few in uniform.
Ailsa then informed us that three women who had been out on The Blade at Cape Pillar, had been struck by lightning. I gasped and felt my stomach drop. Thankfully, the ladies were fine and in good spirits, but as a precaution, were airlifted away. Hiking to The Blade the next day now seemed even more daunting.
In order to fit into the landscape and cause minimal impact, the layout of Munro is slightly different to Surveyors. The most noticeable difference being the toilets, which require a bit of a walk to get to.
This was all well and dandy, until a huge storm hit us (and the rest of Tasmania) that night. The cabin was absolutely hammered by winds which made standing straight virtually impossible. One lady lost a shoe, another a sock, and trees lost their branches, dropping them all over the place.
Walking to the toilet was now a terrifyingly dangerous, not to mention violating experience. Whilst I sat there trying to do my business, my feet were in a puddle, rain was pelting me in the face and the wind was coming through the loo and up my bum!
Day 3: Munro – Retakunna (via The Blade)
17km | 5 hour walk
The next morning, the storm was gone and the sun had returned. We dropped off our big packs in a shed and began the 4 hour return hike to Cape Pillar and The Blade. The scenery was an ever-changing mixture of forest, scrub and dramatic coastline. The views along the way were incredible, especially when Tasman Island came into sight.
When I first saw The Blade from a distance, my jaw dropped. It juts up into the air almost, aggressively.
You climb it at your own risk. Before the hike, your ranger will give you plenty of advice on how to tackle it, if at all (avoid thunderstorms at all costs).
The cliffs reach 300 metres in height and are the highest in the Southern Hemisphere. The drop below you is sheer, one trip or slip and you’re in trouble. Reaching the top and peering over will be something I’ll never forget.
Then it was back the way I came.
I returned to the shed to get my pack, had a quick bite to eat back at Munro and then traipsed for a further hour to the next cabin, Retakunna.
This last cabin is set amongst the scrub at the base of Mt. Fortescue and it was here that I almost died of happiness when I discovered food left by other walkers. I also saw my first wild wombat.
Day 4: Retakunna – Port Arthur
(via Cape Hauy and Fortescue Bay)
14km | 6 hour walk
Today was the big day. Though the booklet recommends 4.5-5 hours walking time, our ranger Rachael advised us that other hikers had been taking at least 6. With a bus to catch at 2pm, we were up in the dark and hiking by first light.
The weather had taken another turn for the worse, with storms predicted for the afternoon. This made me feel particularly uneasy about going onto Cape Hauy, so time was constantly on my mind.
The hike begins by climbing the mountain we were nestled beneath the night before. It’s a tough old climb, but you walk through some of the most stunning rainforest in the world. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Everything around me was covered in bright green moss and fungi decorated the trees and ground beneath my feet. The air was cool and misty and the trees helped to shelter me from the downpour.
After about an hour of climbing, it was then back down the other side and along the coastline until I eventually hit the junction. This is where you have the option to drop your heavy packs on a bench and do a side hike off to Cape Hauy or continue heading on to Fortescue Bay. With plenty of time to spare, Cape Huay was a go.
Never in my life have I climbed, let alone seen so many steps!
The nasty weather was on my heels the entire time and just as I reached the lookout, it got really, really bad. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss a glimpse at the famous Totem Pole!
For the second time during the hike, I was soaked through. I hurried back to the junction (as fast as one can manage on that many steps), refuelled, reloaded and plodded on, wet and exhausted.
The last hour felt like an eternity and with more steps, I honestly thought my legs were going to give up on me at one point. I even contemplated taking a quick nap in the middle of the trail. When the pristine sands of Fortescue Bay finally came into view, I gave it that one last push and reached the bus stop feeling like a half-drowned war hero. Victory!
Hiking the Three Capes Track was a challenging, exhausting, exhilarating and unforgettable journey. For me, it was more than just a hike; it was also a personal journey. Some may find it a walk in the park, others may struggle to get to the first cabin (I fell somewhere between these two).
It tested my self-confidence, it taunted me but didn’t discriminate me, it pushed my boundaries by showing none of its own – literally, those cliffs are sheer! It made me feel big and small at the same time and it battered me and indulged me. What a wild ride!
Planning on hiking the Three Capes Track?
Here are my top tips:
I took the bare minimum because I didn’t want to sacrifice the weight of my pack. In hindsight I would have taken more. Some people did take fresh food, which will keep for longer in the colder weather. Remember, what you carry in, you also have to carry out!
Take baby wipes – there is only one cold shower at the Munro cabin, so they make going un-showered for 3 days feel more acceptable (it was too cold at the time to even consider the outdoor shower!)
Bring a waterproof cover for your backpack – if it doesn’t already have one built in of course. In the colder months you are likely to get wet due to the changeable weather. The last thing you want is no dry clothes to change into after a hard days hike.
Cooking equipment is provided, but you’ll need to bring your own cutlery, a bowl, a mug and re-sealable bags for all your rubbish.
Each cabin has built-in USB ports to charge cameras and phones etc, so no need to bring any plugs!
For more information on hiking the Three Capes Track, and to book your hike, visit the website.