Three Capes in A Day

A one day “express” version of the new Three Capes Track in Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula. Whether you do it in one day or over four days, expect spectacular coastal scenery and a very high quality walking track.

There’s been a bit of controversy over the new 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 has been 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. Why the controversy: because multiple bush-camping sites have been removed, with just one remaining camping site that has space for six tents for those wanting to do an “unassisted” walk.

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.

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 I was too lazy to carry all my camping gear!

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.

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 new / upgraded Cape Pillar Track (map below). 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.  I continue on the (new) Cape Pillar Track for another two kilometres – I am now following the official Three Capes Experience route – before I reach 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 hike. The view is incredible: Tasman Island lies directly head, and the cliffs of Cape Pillar can be seen on both sides of the rocky promontory.

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I continue after a short break and my first chocolate bar, re-tracing my steps back along Cape Pillar and past Munro Hut. Not long after Munro Hut I reach 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.

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The Cape Hauy track snakes up and down along the second cape of the walk, with views back up the coast to Fortescue Bay where I’ll finish the walk. The track is exposed and I’m glad I’ve brought sunscreen!

Not quite as spectacular as Cape Pillar, but worth the 2km detour, the second cape** of the trip towers 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 a Two Capes walk… the third cape is Cape Raoul, which is stage 3 of this project and will add another 32km of track and two more huts.)

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Another 5km or so and I’m back at Fortescue Bay, for 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 it? For families with small children or people that really can’t manage more than 10-15km per day of fairly easy walking, yes. 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.

Location From Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula (90min from Hobart)
Distance 41km “lollipop” walk. 1120m total ascent.
Grade Hard due to length. Moderate for Cape Hauy / Cape Pillar only.
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap “Peninsula Walks” or Tasman Peninsula 1:50,000
Resources Three Capes Track web site for details of 4 day/3 night walk
Photos Google Photos gallery
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Map of Three Capes track, showing route and Three Capes Experience walk.

14 thoughts on “Three Capes in A Day

  1. 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.

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  2. 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?
    Cheers
    Lindsay

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    1. 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.

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  3. Hi great article. Just wondering could you camp for 1 night to break the walk up and if so would you need to book ?

    Happy Hiking!

    Cheers,
    Katie

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  4. 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.

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    1. 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!).

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  5. 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.

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  6. 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!

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    1. 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?

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