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