I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published March 16th 2018
Great walk in nature
The last time I did any serious bushwalking in Tasmania was a very long time ago, way back in the 1970's. That one was a very traumatic trip to Frenchmans Cap in mid winter in a snow storm, but I recently completed the four day Three Capes Track Walk and really enjoyed it.
The Frenchmans Cap trip was a disaster. My pack was very heavy and my boots began to rub my heels after the first kilometre. The mud was ankle deep, which made walking very tiring, as you had to extract one foot from the mud before taking another step. Blood from blisters on my heels soaked through three pairs of socks and I had to cut them off. It snowed and I nearly froze.
The walk started with a boat trip from Port Arthur where we had our first sight of the dramatic coastline with its dolerite sea cliffs, caves and sea birds nesting on high ledges. We landed at Denman's Cove in the Tasman National Park and waded ashore carrying our full packs and boots. I had managed to get my pack down to 11 kilograms but discovered I could have made it even lighter because I had too many clothes and too much food. Other people had much heavier packs. I was impressed with Barbara from Victoria. She had the smallest pack. We all thought she must have forgotten something important, but she hadn't. She said her doctor told her she shouldn't carry anything heavy because she had shoulder problems, but she wasn't going to let that stop her going on this spectacular 4-day walk.
After putting our boots back on we set out for the short four kilometre walk through coastal heath land and eucalypt woodland to Surveyor's hut. The track was good and the hut very luxurious with large decks with panoramic views to Cape Raoul. There were comfortable beds and a shared kitchen with gas stoves, and fully stocked with pots and pans. You only need to bring your own plate, cup, bowl, food and knife, fork and spoon. Four of us were in an eight-bed hut with bunk beds, sharing with four other walkers from Western Australia. We took it in turns to have the top or bottom bunks. You do need to bring your own sleeping bag.
On day two we walked in the rain to Munro hut, 11 kilometres away. We enjoyed it as we had good wet weather gear. We walked through open moorlands, eucalypt forests and over Arthur's Peak. A lot of the track was over boardwalks covered with mesh. We were warned not to use our walking poles on these because another bushwalker from Brisbane had got hers caught in the mesh and fell over, cutting her head. She had to be helicoptered out. She has since been back to complete the walk.
Munro hut is perched 242 metres above the sea cliffs of Munro Bight. There were wonderful views to Cape Hauy. There was the opportunity to have a hot bush shower at this hut, which we all took, even though it was cold and windy and we had to anchor our clothes so they wouldn't blow away while in the shower.
There was a tiger snake curled up beside the wooden track at this hut which was a highlight for me. After a short rest, Leonie and I set out to explore the following day's track. We walked a few kilometres until we came to an uphill part so decided to leave it for the next day.
It was interesting seeing what other people had brought to eat. I brought some fresh food for the first night, as there was a barbecue. I brought two dehydrated meals for the next two nights. Some people had brought fresh food and even a loaf of bread. I found my dehydrated meals easy and delicious. I should have brought some wine as I was envious of Barry with his whisky, but I was trying to keep my pack weight down.
The walk on this day was 17 kilometres, although we ended up doing a couple of extra kilometres by walking to Seal Spa on the way back. We only had to carry daypacks for most of this day so we left our large packs in a shed and set out to walk out and back to "The Blade" near Cape Pillar. It was very exciting walking close to the cliffs and climbing "The Blade" where we had amazing views out over the Southern Ocean and Tasman Island.
After the walk I managed to find the original article in the 1970 Hobart Bushwalking Club magazine "Tasmanian Tramp" by Tim Christie. He described the first trip to "The Blade".
"Here again every movement was a tour de force, and, as we fought our way through, the trees, scoured our already denuded arms and dragged us back by our pack frames. If we had discovered why nobody had ever been to Cape Pillar, we now knew why nobody had ever tried twice. The place was a nightmare without a gleam of hope, and after an hour we stopped. Dejected, exhausted and bleeding, we retreated to the little lake "Perdition Ponds" to camp. …By six o'clock all our efforts were rewarded as we came onto an open headland and looked at last along those final miles of the cape to Tasman Passage and the strange Lost World Island beyond. What a coastline! We were certain there was nothing to rival it anywhere in Australia and we stayed there for three quarters of an hour relishing the view and scrutinizing the final extremity of the peninsula."
Tim described how they tackled the rugged area.
"We couldn't cut our way through as it wasn't that sort of scrub so, when we could no longer get through by sheer push, we had to adopt a new procedure. First, the leader would flay the brushwood to weaken it. Then, pack and all, he would take a flying backwards leap onto it. The second man would haul him back onto his feet and leap-frog or climb over him. Having thus changed leaders, the cycle would be repeated. It was very tiring and frustrating work. Time was running out as we toiled, and The Blade was slipping from our grasp. After two hours we were thoroughly disenchanted with the place.
So we came at last to the uncrowned summit of the Blade. It was almost dark. Tim and I started to build a cairn while Helen went down ahead. It was too cold to make anything ostentatious, but we had piled up a presentable heap of rubble before Tim dropped a boulder on his finger and crushed the nail."
As I read Tim's account I thought how good the track was now and how trail blazers like him and his friends Helen de Clifford, Tim Walkden-Brown and Reg Williams, and other bushwalkers like them made it possible for so many people to enjoy this magnificent area today.
After we got back to Munro hut, we saw some people from the new group lined up for a shower. While having lunch on the deck we noticed the tiger snake heading towards the group and sang out to warn them. We joked that it liked to head to the shower for warm water. Most of them jumped up, but two people weren't going to give up their place in the queue. The snake slithered into some rocks.
After lunch we left for the walk to our final hut for the trip, Retakunna.
We left early for the final day's walk which was a distance of 14n kilometres, and involved a climb over Mt Fortescue, out to Cape Hauy and onto Fortescue Bay to meet the bus at 4pm to take us back to Port Arthur.
I must have been getting fitter because I didn't find Mt Fortescue hard at all. It was a lovely walk through rain forest with beautiful tree ferns. There were a lot of stone steps out to Cape Hauy and lots of up and down, but the scenery was so great you didn't notice it being hard. You do need good knees to do this walk. There was a spot to drop our big packs before the walk out to the Cape, which was a relief. Soon after leaving this junction we saw an echidna beside the track. We also spotted wombat droppings but didn't see any wombats. We knew they belonged to wombats because they were square.
At the end of the Cape I peered over the cliff trying to get a photo of a rock climber on the Totem Pole to show Joan, a friend from line dancing in Brisbane. She had told me her grandson was planning to climb it so I wanted a photo to show her.
We had all read or heard about Paul Pritchard, the rock climber who was hit on the head by a rock when he was climbing the Totem Pole in 1998 and became paralysed on his right side. His then girlfriend, Celia Bull, hauled him up onto a ledge and ran for help. She saved his life.
I was lucky to pick up a copy of his 1999 book about his ordeal and his rehabilitation while I was in Tassie and have enjoyed reading it since I got home.
In his book The Totem Pole, Paul described his feelings when he returned there about a year after his accident. He wrote "Then suddenly there it was, pencil thin and towering above the boat. One didn't need a magnifying glass to see the scar. It was dead obvious, about eighty feet up and on the left edge of a slanting crack. I thought it was going to be the size of a house brick. Steve and Enga had told me so, but the scar they had been looking at was on the opposite side of the Pole. The scar I was now seeing you could slot a television set into, a portable admittedly, but still huge…. How did that thing not kill me? A rock that size could have easily broken my neck".
I read Paul had gone back again in 2016. This time he climbed the Totem Pole using his one good arm and leg.
We were lucky to see a couple of rock climbers on the Totem Pole while we were there because only about thirty people climb the 65 metre tall dolerite rock each year. One of the climbers was wearing red and one blue. They were right at the bottom of the Pole when we saw them and the one in red was getting waves washed over him. It looked very scary. I wished I'd had a telephoto lens.
It was a long day and we got into Fortescue Bay about 3.30pm after a fourteen-kilometre walk. A wallaby greeted us as we arrived. By the time I got changed out of my sweaty clothes, I didn't have much time to look around before the bus arrived. I will have to go back.
The walk costs $495 or $395 for concession cardholders. I think it is definitely worth it. This walk has everything: beauty, history, art, and wildlife. It is a very good track in a wonderful area of Australia. The walk is very well organized and the tracks very well maintained with gravel, rock and timber surfaces. It is suitable for most age groups as long as you are reasonably fit and have a sense of adventure. It is classed as an easy to moderate walk.
There are lists telling you what you need to take, and once you sign in at Port Arthur they give you a beautiful booklet which has information about the whole trip, including the fauna and flora, walk notes and maps, views you will see and photos of the area. The booklet, Three Capes Track - Encounters on the Edge, also contains interesting history and descriptions of all the art installations and architecture along the way with little stories.
They only allow 48 people on the track at a time, and they are staggered so it doesn't feel crowded. The huts are a long way from the smoky, damp ones I used to stay in when I bushwalked in Tasmania in the 1960s and 1970s.