There was a bit of controversy over the Three Capes Track, which is on the Tasman Peninsula about 90min south of Hobart. Billed as “the premier coastal walk in Australia” and one Tasmania’s Great Bushwalks, it was designed as a 4 day/3 night walk covering 46km, staying in newly constructed huts. There’s a maximum of 48 people that can start each day. You can’t vary the itinerary. And there’s a cost of (around) $500 per person. The walk is included in most, if not all, Tasmanian hiking books.
Why the controversy: because multiple bush-camping sites were removed, with just one remaining camping site (Wughalee Falls Campground) that has space for six tents for those wanting to do an “unassisted” walk. A few years later, a second campsite was established (Bare Knoll Campground, near Lunchtime Creek at the top of Cape Pillar), addressing some of the initial criticism. It has 8 double-tent platforms, a toilet and water tank.
I think it’s a great idea: the cost is reasonable, it will hopefully generate a new income stream for Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service and it enables people to undertake this walk who aren’t willing or able to carry a tent, stove and other supplies… All the huts were full, so the concept seems to be working. The downside is you’re often walking on a highly-engineered “track” that’s more akin to a metropolitan boardwalk than a bushwalk. There were a few sections where I expected to see a travelator… Or for a butler to pop out from behind a casuarina and offer to carry my bag!
So it’s very possible to day the Three Capes Track for free I will clarify at this juncture: my one-day hiking of the track was not a protest at the track fees. I just didn’t have four days to spare – and the distances between huts really don’t warrant four days. I also preferred to travel light and and cover the distance over one day – a decision I was happy with after seeing how much of the track is on boardwalk.
After a late-evening arrival into Hobart International Airport (which doesn’t actually have a single, scheduled international flight) and an early morning start the following day, I reached Fortescue Bay at 8:30am. While the “official” walk starts at Port Arthur with a boat trip to the trailhead at Denman’s Cove and finishes at Fortescue Bay, this first section of track can only be done as part of the paid Three Capes walk. I start (and finish) at Fortescue Bay. Armed with my two Snickers bars, two litres of water and sunscreen, I head off at a fairly fast pace, as I need to get back to the airport by 8pm.
Old Cape Pillar Track – 7km
The Old Cape Pillar Track starts a few hundred metres up the road from the car park at Fortescue Bay, climbing gently up to 275m altitude where it meets the upgraded Cape Pillar Track. It’s mostly in light forest, and in the hour and a bit it takes me to cover the first 7km I meet a couple of hikers, two wallabies and a large black snake.
Cape Pillar Track – 19.5km (return)
I continue on the (new) Cape Pillar Track for another two kilometres – I am now following the official Three Capes Track route, which goes out to end of Cape Pillar. The track passes the new Bare Knoll campsite, and then the Munro Hut. It’s an impressive construction, and sitting on a deck chair watching the sun set would not be an unpleasant way to spend an evening (although it’s not really possible since the deck is facing east… but you get the idea.)
I push on toward Cape Pillar. I’m making good time on the well-graded track, which becomes a boardwalk super-highway for a number of kilometres along the Cape. I’m now encountering most of the 48 people who are on Day 3 of their 4-day Cape trip. They’re friendly and seem to be enjoying the walk, with a number of families on the trail.
After a few more kilometres, the track starts hugging the southern edge of Cape Pillar. The track undulates between about 250m to 350m above the Tasman Sea, which crashes into the cliffs below us. The views are impressive in all directions and frequent photo stops are required.
I reach the tip of Cape Pillar and ascend The Blade at 11:30am; I’ve walked just under 17km and have reached the furthest point from the start (and end) of my Three Capes walk.
The views are incredible: Tasman Island lies directly head, and the cliffs of Cape Pillar can be seen on both sides of the rocky promontory.
I continue after a short break and my first chocolate bar, re-tracing my steps back along Cape Pillar and past Munro Hut again to reach the junction of the Three Capes Track.
Three Capes Track to Cape Huay Track (7.8km)
Just after the junction with the Cape Pillar Track and Three Capes Track is Retakunna hut, where most of the hikers I met will spend their last night on the trail. It too looks as luxurious as bush huts get, and I take the opportunity to fill my water bottle and consume my second nutritional Snickers bar. There’s no-one here yet, as I start the steepest section of the walk, climbing through rain forest from 235m up to the highest point of the Three Capes track at 489m.
It’s not a particularly tough climb, but I’m happy to have completed this section and descended 300m back down to the cliff line again, with the views getting more impressive as I get closer to Cape Hauy.
Cape Huay Track (3.3km side-trip)
The Cape Hauy track is an optional side-track, which can also be done as a separate 6.9km return walk from Fortescue Bay. The Cape Huay track snakes up and down along the second cape of the Three Capes walk, with views back up the coast to Fortescue Bay where I’ll finish the walk. The track is very exposed and I’m glad I’ve brought sunscreen.
Although not quite as spectacular as Cape Pillar, it’s worth the 3km detour, with the second cape** of the trip towering vertically above the ocean. I can hear climbers somewhere on the Totem Pole that’s directly in front of us and a series of jet boats circle underneath us getting a view of the sheer cliffs from below. Cape Hauy is one of the 60 Tasmania “Great Short Walks”, based on the track from Fortescue Bay to the cape and back (8.8km return).
(** While it’s called the Three Capes walk, it is currently really a Two Capes walk… the third cape is Cape Raoul, which is stage 3 of this project and will add another 32km of walking track and two more huts.)
Three Capes Track – 3.7km
Once I’m back on the Three Capes Track, it’s just under 4km to reach Fortescue Bay, where I enjoy a refreshing swim before the drive back to Hobart. It’s taken 8.5 hours to walk the 41km: faster than I had anticipated – but a $28m investment in building and upgrading the track means very easy walking.
Would I recommend the Three Capes Track? For families with small children or people that can’t manage more than 10-15km per day of fairly easy walking with heavy backpack, the Three Capes Experience is the way to go. The scenery is great and the huts world-class. But there are long sections of monotonous track, so it’s hard to recommend this walk over Cradle Mountain or many other tracks that are serviced by tourism operators that offer hut accommodation.
More information on the Three Capes Track
- You need to walk the Three Capes Track in one direction, even if you are not during the Three Capes Experience Walk (see map below)
- There are now two campgrounds on the Three Capes Track- the original Wughalee Falls Campground (six tents) and the Bare Knoll Campground (eight tents). The newer Bare Creek Campground is considered the better one.
- Tas Parks – Three Capes Track – 4 day/3 night walk
- Melanie Ball, Top Walks in Tasmania (Walk 25)
- J & M Chapman, Day Walks Tasmania
Diana · May 1, 2018 at 6:29 pm
Hi – Thanks for this as I was interested in the area, but not able to commit to 3-4 days. Good to know it is doable. We are from out of country. Does one still need to ‘book’ and pay in advance? I don’t mind paying a fee for a day’s access.
oliverd :-) · May 1, 2018 at 10:20 pm
Diana, no need to book – you’ll just have to buy a one-day pass at the carpark ($24). Or if you’re planning to visit a few parks you can get an 8-week pass ($80) from a Parks visitor office or online – http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=914
Lindsay Trott · August 21, 2018 at 12:14 pm
Thanks for this – nice photos!
Where is the Parks office at “the carpark” – is that at Fortescue Bay?
Do you have to get approval from Parks to do the one day version?
oliverd :-) · August 21, 2018 at 1:41 pm
Thanks! There’s a Parks office at Fortescue Bay carpark. Can’t remember opening hours. But you don’t need any approval or permit to do the one-day version. You’ll just need a parks pass OR pay the fee to enter the park if you’re driving. Purchase from a ticket machine at Fortescue Bay or better value to purchase on-line if you’re there for a few days.
Kate · September 10, 2018 at 9:50 pm
Hi great article. Just wondering could you camp for 1 night to break the walk up and if so would you need to book ?
oliverd :-) · September 10, 2018 at 10:09 pm
Yes, there’s one “free” camping site (no camping fee – just need a Parks Pass which you’d need anyway if you’re doing the walk in one day). This web site has some more detailed info: http://tastrails.com/free-capes-track/. Don’t think you can book.
louisefairfax · December 3, 2018 at 12:04 am
Thanks a lot. Great article, and congrats on the walk, and for showing us possibilities. I had been toying with this as an idea, so, nice to know it works.
Torero · February 12, 2019 at 2:26 am
Who are you? Did you run? How is it possible to cross 41 km with 1 km ascent in 8h 30 minutes?
oliverd :-) · February 12, 2019 at 11:39 am
Ha ha! Never been into running/jogging… but I normally walk at a fairly fast pace. A lot of the track was boardwalk or very well made, so I was averaging about 7km/hr for most of the walk – a bit slower on the sections where it was steep!
(I was also rushing a little, as I had planned to arrive the previous evening, but an unfortunate incident with a kangaroo drriving from Hobart airport meant I had to return to Hobart. I picked up a replacement hire car from the airport at 6:30am on the following day, and I had an evening flight back to Sydney I had to be back for. So I decided rather than to give up on my walk, I’d push myself a little and try and still try to complete it on one day. I was actually surprised I managed the 41km in around 8.5 hours, but again it was more like walking on one of the wheelchair-friendly paths than a bushwalk!).
Marian · February 22, 2019 at 4:09 am
Well written and interesting. Your walking speed is impressive! I do this walk often and even though I often trot along the many board walks I usually takes close on 12 hours of steady, enjoyable plodding, including going to The Chasm, which you don’t mention but one of your photos looks like it was taken from there.
***** There is now a nice new 8 platform camping area with a toilet and water tank further along from the Wughallee camping area, called Bare Knoll. No bookings needed.
oliverd :-) · February 24, 2019 at 10:54 am
Thanks for the updates! It’s great that there is a second free campsite – although it seems to have been made available with very little fanfare or even an announcement!
Rrrick · March 24, 2019 at 10:52 am
I recently did this walk, using your writeup as a guide. It took me a little longer, 9.5hr, and my tracker counted 41.2km return to the walker check-in hut.
The Blade side trip was the perfect spot to stop for lunch and chat with the vanguard of the days multi-day hikers, having past most of them on the way out to the cape. Thank you for your post!
oliverd :-) · March 24, 2019 at 10:58 am
Nice one 🙂 Looks like you got pretty much the same distance (I measured it as 41.0km using an app on my iPhone). And I would have taken a bit longer if I didn’t have the time pressure of being back in Hobart for an evening flight… Did you happen to see the second and newer campground?
Rrrick · April 11, 2020 at 10:34 am
Sorry for a year delay reply. I did not go down to the where it appears the newer campground is set up. During my return I stayed on the main trail. Thanks again for your post, it’s the reason I even considered doing same, 3 capes in a day, as a day hike. My telemetry: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/75e34edcde642ec718f1abeab098a8d8bbf3aa1a/
oliverd :-) · April 11, 2020 at 10:41 am
Thanks for sharing! Haven’t seen the Gaia GPS web site before but seems quite good (I’ve recently started using PlotARoute)
Rrrick · April 11, 2020 at 11:29 am
In the US I would say Gaia GPS is an older and better regarded app for back country use by serious hikers and emergency services / search and rescue, especially for navigation off-trail. Vast ability to layer topographic data, map routes, water resources, excellent real-time tracking, etc. AllTrails app has become the leader for social engagement… as in users actively posting trail info such as “how much snow was on the trail last week”, how to navigate to trailhead and similar.
Jack · May 26, 2019 at 2:15 am
Hi, I am a reasonably fit 22 year old who just completed the old circuit a week ago. My girlfriend and I camped at Wughalee falls. Important things to note are:
1) The Wughalee falls track is only about fifteen/ twenty minutes, but there is an amount of elevation to get up and down into it.
Whilst not a super experienced hiker, I am reasonably fit at 22 and found that doing the side track four times to enter and exit for the night was quite a workout, even more so on my first entry and final exit with around 12/14kg of gear.
2) Our map showed that there is a more eastern path to climb most of Mount Fortescue which is accessible from the falls. This means you can bypass the Munroe huts.
We attempted this without any gear on and found it was quite overgrown and the path had deteriorated quite a bit. If you are camping and have gear, we would not recommend doing this older path to ascend Mt Fortescue unless you have gaiters and trekking poles.
3) There is a campsite at bare knoll! Getting to this campsite is a much easier walk than the falls with a minimal amount of elevation. I wish I knew this before we descended to the falls and set up.
4) Water. I was able to get water from Retakunna creek at the falls. There were four rain water tanks at the campsite which were empty. This leads me to believe that the creek still flows decently even in drier conditions.
oliverd :-) · July 21, 2019 at 10:50 am
Thanks Jack (sorry for slow response) – I’ve updated my blog post to reflect the addition of the Bare Knoll campsite. Surprising all water tanks were dry – but good that that creek was running!
Ron · September 24, 2019 at 5:04 am
Just wondering if it is possible to drive from Fortescue Bay to Tasman National Park?
Looking to do this on November.
oliverd :-) · September 24, 2019 at 5:30 am
Ron, Fortescue Bay is in Tasman National Park… is there a specific part of the national park you’re trying to get to?
Nic · December 29, 2020 at 12:11 pm
Thanks for your write-up. I’ve wanted to walk to the pillar for a number of years but with confusion over whether it’s ok to use the 3 capes track and facilities or not it was your post that made us take the leap. So thanks! Very much worth it.
oliverd :-) · December 30, 2020 at 8:00 am
Nice one… glad you enjoyed the walk next issue of Wild magazine will be covering the “free” version of this bushwalk.
Kathryn · January 7, 2021 at 4:59 am
This is SO great – thanks for sharing. My partner and I are wanting to do the full walk in March but he thinks its too far to do in a day (sook) 😉 We are quite fit and train 5 days a week so im sure we’d be fine. However…are we able to book into one of the huts for the night? Or are they only for the 3 day walkers?
Looking forward to your response 🙂
oliverd :-) · January 7, 2021 at 9:15 am
Kathryn, unfortunately, no… you can camp, as in BYO Tent (there’s now two camping sites). But you can’t book just one hut – if staying in the huts you have to do the 3 might / 4 day itinerary.
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