Mt Killiecrankie circuit (Flinders Is)

A partly off-track circuit on Flinders Island to the Mt Killiecrankie summit and back along the rugged coast from The Dock.

Described as “one of the most majestic islands in the Furneaux Group” and “arguably the most majestic mountain and bay combination in Bass Strait”, Mt Killiecrankie (316m) is the highest peak at the northern end of Flinders Island. While significantly less high than Mt Strzelecki, it’s a tougher walk and offers equally impressive views from the top.

There’s a few different approaches to the summit, all of them at least partly off-track… I’m taking what seems to be the “easiest” route to the top. The intended route follows Killiecrankie beach around to the northern end, where there is a 4WD track for part of the ascent.

After walking along the beach for about 2.6km (slightly easier and quicker at low tide), I pick up a signposted 4WD track that starts just above the beach (Quion Road). It’s a private road; my “Walks of Flinders Island” book suggests this as one of the summit approaches, and recommends seeking approval from the manager of the Quion cattle farm (access via this route may change if the development of a $5 million premium tourist resort goes ahead). Being on my own and not sure how to contact the manager, I set-off up the track which climbs steadily up the hill. After about 1.2km, I reach a gate, where I turn left and follow the fence line for a few hundred metres. There’s now a short section of off-tracking walking through fairly thick forest, before I reach another 4WD track.

The next section of (disused) 4WD track continues heading up towards the summit, and offers a bit of shade on a clear and fairly warm April day.  Not long after reaching this upper 4WD trail (at Palana 735917) , there’s the first views over the coast for the first time from a rock platform, and a memorial plaque to Peter Grant Hay and his wife Margaret Maisie. Hay was an Australian brewer, landowner, pastoralist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder who founded the Richmond N.S. Brewing Co. Ltd (now Carlton & United Breweries) and owned land on Flinders Island. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the plaque in my hiking guide or on-line.

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Another 200m and there’s a fork in the track; after consulting the map, I take the left-hand option. The rough track continues ascending directly towards the peak, which soon becomes visible directly ahead.

While the summit is clearly visible in the distance, there’s no obvious track to the summit from the 4WD track which continues around the base of the mountain. I find a very narrow and indistinct foot track through fairly thick scrub (Palana 737925 or 39°48’51.4″S 147°51’40.4″E) which seems the best option. This trail winds through the scrub, before emerging at a large, exposed rock platform.  In front of me are views of the coast, and behind me looms the large rock outcrop of the summit,

The notes in my guide book, while fairly accurate for the initial part of the walk, seem to bear little resemblance to the tracks I’ve found as I near the summit. I’m at the southern end of Mt Killiecrankie, which is the steeper ascent, and I can’t find any track that allows an easier approach from the northern end. While parts of the ascent appear a little daunting (in terms of height and exposure), the alternate requires navigating through some pretty thick scrub to the northern end of the granite outcrop. I manage to find a route up the last 50m of rock face, finally reaching the Killiecrankie summit after 6.2km and just over two hours walking.

The views are fantastic in all directions, with an almost cloudless sky. To the south is Killiecrankie Bay, with farmland adjacent and further inland, the Wingaroo Nature Reserve.

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To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.

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After a well-earned break on the top, it’s time to figure out how to get back… I’m reluctant to descend the same way as I came up, being very steep and exposed. Heading down the “back” of Mt Killiecrankie (the northern approach) is much easier. I follow a long series of rock slabs; just before the last boulder is a short drop on the left into a gully. From here my intent was to navigate back to the southern end of the summit outcrop, and re-trace my steps…

…but, with thick scrub all the way up the base of the rock, I follow a faint trail that leads further north. I figure it’s heading downhill, it must go somewhere and it’s a hell of a lot easier than “bush bashing” through dense scrub! The trail is marked by cairns, taking me under large boulders, across exposed rock platforms and traversing some interesting granite formations!

After about half an hour, there’s a sign pointing to “The White Eyed Man” (map reference Palana 738934). It’s a little surreal, being the only sign I’ve encountered on the entire walk, so I make the 80m detour. I’m not quite sure to expect! The White Eyed Man is an imposing rock formation, which does look a little like a pointy-nosed person looking over the coast. There’s no mention of this formation in my guide, or checking later, anywhere on-line.

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From here the track is fairly easy to follow through medium-thick scrub, as it gets closer to The Dock Road which I can see below. I’d avoided this route up as the guide book described it as being un-tracked and through thick scrub, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it the easiest route down as it meant I could return to Killiecrankie via a circuitous route!

It takes less than an hour to reach The Dock Road, emerging from the scrub next to a “4WD only” sign (although locals assure me the road is 2WD suitable and it is in good condition). From the road, there is almost no sign of the track – it’s the little gap in the bushes in the picture below right.

From here, it’s a quick 15min down the unsealed road to The Dock, which consists of a number of small sandy beaches set in a kilometre of rocky coastline. It’s a pleasant spot and I have a quick swim before continuing on my way along the coast.

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The well-marked track follows the rocky coast fairly closely, with the Mt Killiecrankie mountain range not very far inland.

I’m making fairly good progress until I reach the climbers camping area, which is near the coast (Palana 725936). There’s a path that leads up to the base of the cliffs, where it abruptly stops – the guide book suggests continuing off-track but with the time getting late and the shrub fairly thick, I eventually re-trace my steps to the climbers camping area. Here I quickly find the main track that follows the coast and resume my journey back to Killiecrankie. The going is a bit slower from here, even after I’m back on the correct trail, with the setting sun almost directly ahead and the terrain consisting of rock formations and patches of soft sand.

It’s a relief to reach the granite slabs on the headland below Old Man’s Head, where the walking is a bit easier.

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Soon after, with Old Man’s Head jutting into the sky behind me, I meet the only other hikers I’ve seen all day, heading toward The Dock.

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It’s a bit slower again for the next section to Stacky’s Bight, with the track heading inland and skirting around some steep sections of shoreline. Stacky’s Bight is a sheltered cove featuring a couple of sea arches, and would make a worthwhile destination for a shorter day-trip.

It’s now almost 5pm, and great light for photography as I navigate the last sections of rocky coastline before reaching Killiecrankie Bay, the rocks almost glowing in the afternoon sun.

I’m back at the (far) end of Killiecrankie Bay with the sun just over the horizon.

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There’s just 2km (or so) of easy beach walking before I’m back at the car; in the distance is Mt Killiecrankie. It’s been a tough walk but my favourite Flinders Island walk so far, combining a small mountain peak with some varied coastal walking.

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Location Start at Killiecrankie beach car park.
Distance 18km circuit
Grade Hard. 370m total scent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Palana 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (walks 6, 12, 13 & 18).
Book available in Whitemark or via Amazon

ssMap-KilliecrankieCircuit

Mt Strzelecki (Flinders Island)

A steep walk to the highest peak on Flinders Island (756m), which is frequently shrouded by cloud.

Mt Strzelecki is another of the three Tasmanian “60 Great Short Walks” that’s located on Flinders Island – and it’s the highest point on the island – so it’s a “must do” hike on our stay. I’m joined by Luke and our “local” (Launceston) friend Linda, who’s staying with us for a few days.

We head out from our house at the opposite end of the island (near West End Beach) around 9am, with the granite peaks of the Strzelecki ranges appearing closer as we turn onto Trousers Point Road almost an hour later.

(The Devonian-age granite peaks are part of a larger series of granite bodies that extend from north-eastern Tasmania to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, and were formed approximately 370 million years ago. Just in case you have an interest in geology!)

The start of the walk is very clearly marked, with the Strzelecki peaks directly ahead of us, as we set off around 10am. It’s a beautiful, clear day, so I’m looking forward to the view from the summit.

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The track crosses a small clearing to a walker registration “booth” where’s there a battered log-book, before it enters the low (but dense) forest.

The first “stage” of the track is not steep, but climbs relentlessly up through forest consisting mostly of casuarina trees.

After about a kilometre (and 180m of altitude gain), there’s a glimpse of our destination in the distance, and the first views from the track of Whitemark Beach to the north.

About half an hour further, and the landscape has completely changed to more open eucalypt forest with a few patches of ferns. In this second “stage” (starting at about the 1.8km mark and and 320m altitude), you can see why the rainfall on Flinders Island is highest around the Strzelecki Peaks.

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The track starts to get steeper, but rewards our progress with improving views; Mt Chappell Island can be seen off the coast, beyond Trousers Point.

This second stage of our walk is about a kilometre in length and we’ve gained another 300m altitude, as we reach the foot of the granite peak that towers above us. As we follow the base of the Strzelecki Peaks, the “third stage” of our journey is damp and shaded. We’re mostly in Sassafras-musk rainforest, occasionally emerging onto granite outcrops.

While we started our walk in full sun, there’s now swirling mist around us and views to the north are of… cloud. At the 3km mark (700m altitude) there’s a large rock platform and with limited visibility, a few groups end their hike here.

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We continue – we’re now only 60m from the summit – although it’s clear (no pun intended) that with the clouds sweeping over the peak we won’t be “rewarded with views of mainland Tasmania” as my guidebook promised!

After the last few hundred metres through thick scrub and then along a broad ridge of granite, we’re on the rocky peak!

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The thickest cloud is to the north, and doesn’t look like abating anytime soon… although once we’re back at the the bottom I can’t see any clouds around the peak. I don’t know if we’re just unlucky with timing: the general advice is to go early as the cloud builds over the day. [I go back a few days later, starting at 4am both to avoid the cloud and catch sunrise from the peak – but the cloud is even thicker, to the point it’s raining when I get to the last section – and when I’m back at the bottom it looks clear at the top!]

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You could argue that the mist adds to the atmosphere. Maybe. And there are still some nice views, with the Strzelecki Peaks to the south and Fotherington Beach below, with Big Green Island in the distance and East Kangaroo Island barely visible behind it. But definitely can’t see mainland Tasmania in the distance!

We hang around on the summit for about half an hour, before deciding that it’s highly unlikely that the clouds will dissipate anytime soon and we head back down. It’s taken us about 2.5 hours up, with frequent rest breaks, and 1.5 hours to go back down.

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Location From Whitemark, travel south (towards Lady Barron) on B85 and turn into C806 (well sign-posted) to Trousers Point. The track to the peaks is marked on the left-hand side of the road.
Distance 6.6km return
Grade Moderate. 755m ascent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Loccota 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.10). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon
Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks

 

West Head Army Track

Steep but short walk down from West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to historic World War II gun embankments on the coast.

A new track opened in May 2016, the West Head Army Track follows the original wartime track down to the West Head Battery (WHB). The battery hosted two 4.7-inch ex-naval guns supported on 800kg pedestals (the only dual 4.7” gun battery in Australia), an observation post, ammunition storage and two searchlights. West Head was a key defence site that played a strategic role in the protecting Pittwater, the Hawkesbury River (and in particular the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge and Woy Woy railway tunnel) and northern Sydney. Heavy equipment was originally transported down the track via a purpose-built railway, using a rail system with a counterweight pulley to transport materials.

The restored track starts from the West Head lookout car park, and is clearly sign-posted. On a Saturday afternoon, there were a few people on the track (but it wasn’t busy).

The well-constructed track winds down the side of the slope through light eucalypt forest (it’s fairly warm in the afternoon sun!) and after 300m reaches a set of steel stairs.

Just beyond the bottom of the stairs and at the bottom of a cliff is the highest surviving structure, the Observation Post.

From the Observation Post there are views out across Broken Bay to the Pacific Ocean, with Lion Island to the left at the entrance to the Hawkesbury River.

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Continuing down the track, which from here is a bit rougher but still easy to follow, leads to the first covered concrete gun casing, which housed one of the 4.7” guns. (This structure is closed.)

Less than 100m to the south is the second gun casing, which can be entered. In the middle of the covered gun casing is the 7-ton gun pedestal, which was transportd into position via the old army railway.

The final surviving structure is the ammunition magazine, which is cut into the cliff, with the southern emergency exit of the magazine mostly blocked by a fallen boulder. Happily ensconced in a corner of one of the underground rooms are a few bats, a species of microbat that are found in caves, tunnels and basements in the Sydney basin.

From here it’s back up the track and up the steps…  despite the warning signs that the track is hard and involve “scaling ladders”, it’s really not a tough walk and the only ladder is the very solid steel staircase pictured below. The entire walk should take no more than 30min, plus some time spent exploring the historic structures.

For more information on the history and to put some context around the site, 4HResearch has a useful Web site. A scale model of the site, below, shows the observation post, two circular gun casings, the picket hut (centre right, only the foundations are now left) and the ammunition magazine to the left of the hut.  The steep railway track cutting is to the left, and a horizontal railway track connects the two gun casings and the picket hut.

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Source: www.desireempire.com
Location Park at the end of West Head Road (at the lookout)
Distance 1.3km return. (30-45min). 105m total ascent
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round
Map Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources National Parks Web site
Notes
  • The gate to West Head is locked at night – from 8:30pm to 6am during daylight savings periods and 6pm to 6am at other times of the year.
  • In times of extreme fire danger, walking trails may be closed.
  • Park entry fees apply, from $12 per vehicle.

Freycinet Peninsula

A rewarding hike that combines picturesque bays, turquoise water and majestic views of the Tasmanian coast.

The Freycinet Peninsula Circuit has been on my “to do” list for a long time. It was originally intended as a long one-day hike, but with my 8-year son (Luke) showing increasing enthusiasm for hiking and camping it became a 2-night/3-day adventure. It’s been many years since I’ve walked with a 20kg pack and the first time Luke’s been on an overnight walk. So this could be a great experience… or the chance to see how effective my emergency beacon is!

We arrive in Launceston the evening before our walk and stay with a Taswegian friend overnight, so we can make a relatively early start the following day for the 2.5-hour drive to Coles Bay. There’s time for an egg and bacon roll before we hit the track – the last palatable food for the next 48 hours.

Day 1

At 11am we’re on the track from Wineglass Bay car park to Hazzards Beach. It’s a slow start, with a friendly wallaby posing for photos at the trackhead. Despite signs saying “don’t feed the wildlife”, this wallaby was very tame and was obviously used to receiving food from tourists. At least it had been fed fruit, and not bread which is bad for them. I was happy it was a friendly one; the signs along the road to Freycinet were rather ominous and warned of kangaroos that would flip your vehicle with a single paw. It’s not surprising that international visitors are scared of our wildlife!

The first 5km is relatively flat, following the coast from the car park to Hazards Beach (said to be named after local whaler, African-American Captain Richard Hazard). It’s pleasant walking, despite being a warm day and carrying having a heavy pack, which I’m not used to. There are views out to the west over Promise Bay towards Swansea and the Eastern Tiers.

After about 1.5 hours we’ve almost reached Hazards Beach; just before we get there we spot an idyllic bay. Across the (almost warm) turquoise water is Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham, which we climb tomorrow. Unlike the exposed beach, it has plenty of shade. And another friendly wallaby. We stop here for lunch and a swim.

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Reluctantly, we leave the bay around 2:30pm, continuing our walk along Hazards Beach. This doesn’t disappoint either, and we could easily spend a few hours lingering here. Except that we have a campsite to get to.

There’s a campsite at the end of the beach, which is shaded and fairly empty. From here the track follows the coast through low scrub and casuarina trees, but while there is some shade this section of track feels much longer than the 4km that it is. We’re glad to reach Cooks Beach.

A short walk along Cooks Beach brings us to our camp site, and the end of Day 1. We’ve covered about 17km, but it’s been easy walking. We set up camp a stone’s throw from the ocean, on a small hill just before the entrance to the official campground. There’s water here from a tank at Cooks Hut a stroll away, where we chat to the friendly Park volunteers before enjoying a hot chocolate and tea as the sun sets. Apart from my lamentable attempt at cooking sausages on my camp stove, it’s been a fantastic day.

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Day 2

We awaken early the next day. To be specific, Luke wakes up early and tells me I need to get up. I’d be happy to snooze another couple of hours. We’re underway around 7am, heading back along Cooks Beach to the turn-off up to Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham. Today will be a big day.

From the northern end of Cooks beach, the track ascends steadily up to and then along the East Freycinet saddle, gaining about 375m over 5km. It’s tough going after a very “flat” first day and carrying a heavy pack, but we’re walking through dry sclerophyll forest and in shade. It takes us just over two hours to reach the side-track to Mt Freycinet. I feel slightly bad telling Luke that climbing the highest peak in Freycinet is not optional, and we leave our packs at the bottom.

The climb is steep: only 750m in distance, but climbing from 375m up to the top at 620m. There are cairns and orange markers designating the rough track that goes directly up the side of the mountain, with some boulder-scrambling at the top. The views towards Wineglass Bay as  you reach the summit suggest it’s worth the effort. Luke doesn’t share my opinion. I am currently the Worst Dad in the World.

The view from the top is incredible (although I am not yet forgiven). You can see the main track continuing up over Mt Graham to the north-east. Directly north is a magnificent vista that takes in Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay, with Hazards Lagoon in the middle and “The Hazards” in the background. If you’re doing the Freycinet Peninsula circuit, it’s worth making the effort.

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The view north over Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay

The descent is much quicker. We re-shoulder our packs at the bottom, and start our second ascent up Mt Graham (579m). The track is now in full sun as it climbs steadily up through low heath to our second summit of the day.

Mt Graham is not really a peak – there’s a 100m pad up to the “summit” from the main track, with views of Mt Freycinet to the south and Wineglass Bay to the north. The views are not as dramatic as Mt Freycinet, but being a “flat” peak (Mt Freycinet is more a collection of large boulders) you get uninterrupted 360-degree views. Strong winds and some cool mist suggests how quickly the Tasmanian weather can change.

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From here the track descends to Wineglass Bay, but remains exposed and it’s another section that feels much longer than it it really is. Wineglass Bay still looks far away…

I’m unsure whether there is water at Wineglass Bay, so I’m hoping that we can replenish our water supplies on the way down. We find a few unappealing, brackish streams before eventually striking a clear stream that crosses the track (Graham Creek) and we refill our three 1.5L water bottles. I explained to Luke that, worst case, we could suck the nectar out of banksia flowers (although most were pretty dry).

Finally, we reach our camp for the second night, after 16km and over 1000m of climbing. Wineglass Bay is rated one of the best beaches in the world (by Traveller.com, UK Telegraph and Lonely Planet to mention just a few publications) and it is just spectacular. Clear, blue water and white sand with the peaks of The Hazards forming the background.

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The only downside is the number of mosquitoes. The large campground, which is right on the water, is not full despite it being a summer weekend. But as all the premium water-front plots are taken, we find a nice secluded camp site toward the back of the campground. Big mistake. I feel as we are the guests of honour at the Tasmanian National Mosquito Conference. I’ve never seen so many mozzies. We quickly cook our dinner (another culinary miss, with Luke declaring my expensive Back Country Honey Soy Chicken packet a bunch of inedible vegetables), watch the sun set and climb into our tents. Despite this, we sleep well and are ready for the final hike out the next morning.

Day 3

Another early-ish (7:30am) start – we are both ready for an egg and bacon roll and a cold drink at Coles Bay, after our last few meals… It should be pretty easy as as we’re walking around Wineglass Bay along the beach, although the sand is soft and we can feel our muscles! Wineglass Bay looks pretty impressive from this angle too, this time with Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham in the background.

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The track ascends from the the north end of Wineglass Bay. Being a popular day-walk, the track is now of a considerably higher standard, but we’ve got a 200m climb up to the Wineglass Bay lookout. We start seeing a lot more people, for the first time in three days.

It’s not a bad view over Wineglass Bay… but we’ve been spoilt by the last two days and the weather is a bit overcast for the first time (although it soon clears). There’s many people here, with the lookout rated as one of the “most photogenic destinations” in the world, according to Traveller.

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It’s now all down-hill for the last two or so kilometres, on a well-graded track that feels more like a highway than a trail after the rest of our hike. We’re welcomed by another friendly wallaby, as we make our way back to the car-park (and our well-earned egg and bacon roll). It’s been exactly 40km in 48 hours. We’ve both had a great time on our first overnight hike, and thinking about where we might go next…

Lessons and Suggestions

It’s been many years since I’ve done an overnight walk… and we’ve done pretty well with our preparation and gear. Next time, I’ll definitely be packing insect repellent. Some light-weight thongs or “slippers” would have been helpful around camp. And you can never bring too much wine…

If you’re not up for overnight-camping, there are are a few companies that offer Freycinet trips, often using boats to avoid sections of hiking and including accommodation in a lodge near Coles Bay:

Hike details and map

Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 40km circuit. 1180m total ascent. 1-3 days.
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Parks and Wildlife “Freycinet Peninsula Circuit” overview
Photos Google photos albums – Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3
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Map showing Freycinet Peninsula Circuit route and elevation gain.

Three Capes in A Day

A one day “express” version of the new Three Capes Track in Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula

There’s been a bit of controversy over the new Three Capes Track, which is on the Tasman Peninsula about 90min south of Hobart. 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 0n 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 all seem friendly, 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 when I’ve having descended 300m back down to the cliff line again, with the views getting more impressive as I get closer to Cape Huay.

The Cape Huay 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.

(** 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.)

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 Huay / 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.

Dragon’s Back

An easy walk on Hong Kong’s main island, offering great views for relatively low effort and very easy access.

‘Dragon’s Back’ refers to a hiking trail along the ridge between Shek O Peak and Wan Cham Shan, with the highest point at 284 metres. It forms part of the 5okm-long Hong Kong trail (Section 8) and has been named “best urban hike in Asia” by TIME magazine in 2004. It’s very quick and easy to get to the trailhead. It was the ideal choice for a half-day hike with a work colleague, before our flights back to Australia in the evening.

After leaving our bags at Hong Kong station, we take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station and then Bus 9 from the bus terminus to the start of the track on Shek O Road. Any concerns about which bus stop to alight from are quickly allayed by the fact the entire (fairly full) double-decker bus consists of Dragon’s Back hikers. This is not a hike to do if you’re seeking solitude.

We set off up the path from the windy and scenic road to Shek O around 11am; the trail rises steadily from the bus-stop and is well-marked. It’s a warm day (I suppose every day in HK is either a warm day or a hot day!), and the shade at the start of the walk is appreciated.

It doesn’t take long for the trail to reach the undulating ridge. We’re now in full sun, sweating profusely and glad we’ve brought a decent amount of water with us. But no umbrellas, which some hikers are carrying! The views start to open up as the trail follows the ridge.

From Shek O peak (284m) which is about a kilometre from the start, the views are magnificent: Shek O village and beach is below us, and in the distance to the east you can see Clear Water Bay Peninsula and islands in the eastern sea (below).

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To the west (below) is Stanley Peninsula across the other side of Tai Tam Bay, with Lamma Island in the distance.

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The trail now follows the spinal ridge of the Dragon’s Back for about three kilometres, through thick vegetation that’s rarely high enough to provide any shade from the midday sun. There’s a few more vantage points, including Wan Cham Shan peak (265m).

Towards the end of the ridge we get tantalising views of Tai Long Wan village and Big Wave Bay below us at the end of the trail. Contrasting with the greenery of the hills are the dense urban developments on Kowloon in the distance.

Eventually the trail descends from the ridge, and it’s possible to leave the walk after about five kilometres. We continue to Tai Long village, exchanging what was a dirt trail to a paved road (closed to traffic) for the final three or so kilometres. We are in shade again, and it’s easy walking down to the end of Hong Kong Trail Section 8 at Tai Long village. Where we enjoy a well-deserved beer on the beach, discovering the very appropriately-named Dragon’s Back Beer from Hong Kong’s first micro brewery.

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Tai Long Beach and village seen from track on the opposite side to Dragons Back trail

A couple of beers later, we are ready for the final stage of our journey… the walk from  Tai Long village to Shek O. There are options to get a bus or taxi for this last bit but, but that’s not for hard-core hikers like us 🙂 Regretting our decision half an hour later as we trudge along Big Wave Bay Road, we arrive at Shek O village at around 3pm for a late lunch, before catching a very full Bus 9 back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station and onto the airport.

Location MTR to Shau Kei Wan station; then Bus 9 to start of walk (20min).
Distance 10.5km with approx 250m ascent. Allow 3-4 hours.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Avoid hiking after heavy monsoon rains.
Map  HM20C2 1:20,000 Map 15
Resources Hong Kong Trail official Web site
Photos Google Photos album

Map-DragonsBack.jpg

Enchanted Rock

A massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas, with a short climb offering views across the surrounding basin

Texas is not really known for mountains (or hiking)… so with a spare day after my conference in Austin, I set-off in search for a hill to climb. About 95 miles from Austin is Enchanted Rock, a prominent granite dome (technically, an “enormous pink granite pluton batholith” and “the largest such pink granite monadnock in the United States” according to Wikipedia). I figure it’s as as close to a mountain peak as I’ll get in Texas.

I arrive early – just before the park office opens at 8am – and pay my entry fee after a short wait. There are already a few people out and about, and it’s obviously a popular place for camping. A few sites suggest arriving early on weekends and especially on public holidays, as entry is closed once the carpark is full. With limited time, I plan to do the Summit Trail and part of the Loop Trail. It’s a chilly morning as I set-off up the hill.

It quickly warms up as the sun rises – but it’s a short and quick climb of just over 100m to the top of the dome. There’s not much of a track or signage once you’re on the side of the dome – but you really can’t go wrong. There’s already a few people on the top, including a small group that seems to have completed a session of Sunrise Yoga. I’ve no interest in yoga, but if I was going to do it this wouldn’t be a bad spot. The views in all directions are pretty good, despite the relatively low elevation.

After wandering around the top of the dome for a while – it’s a big area  – it appears possible to descend the back of the dome , rather than re-tracing my steps down the Summit Trail. I head down a natural gully between Enchanted Rock and the neighbouring Little Rock; it’s steep but with no exposure or danger. I soon reach the Echo Canyon Trail, and follow this north up to Moss Lake. Moss Lake is a very beautiful, reflective place – would have been a nice spot for a snack, except that I hadn’t brought any food…

I was about half-way now, having walked just over two miles (3.7km), and from here I join the Loop Trail, heading west (I could also have returned via the Loop Trail in an eastward direction – there seemed to be more more to see going west.) I detour slightly to check out the Scenic View Trail. There’s really nothing to see from here. It’s easy walking for the two miles (3.4km) back to the carpark, but a pretty monotonous landscape.

The top of Enchanted Rock was worth a visit, and Moss Lake was nice (would have been ideal in the late afternoon with the sun setting on the granite dome), but the rest of the walk was fairly ordinary.

Location 95 miles from Austin, Texas (18m north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965)
Distance 7.3km (2 hours)
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map Trails Map (PDF)
Resources State Parks Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Web site
Photos

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Trolltunga

A long but rewarding day-walk, culminating in stunning views at the “troll’s tongue” that juts out 700m above a lake.

The last walk I had planned at the end of our four-week family holiday in Norway: I hoped the weather gods would look after me for one last time. Being early October, I was prepared for some cold weather but hoping it would be a dry day. Which it was – chilly but not a cloud to be seen!

Leaving Bergen in the late afternoon, I allowed three hours to reach my accommodation at Odda, the closest town to the start of the Trolltunga hike. Unfortunately, the “direct” route I chose involved two ferries… and I hadn’t allowed for a couple of long waits. My three hours became about five hours, and I arrived close to midnight at the aptly-named Trolltunga Hotel (which was very accommodating of my late arrival and efficiently checked me in with a cold beer…!). The quickest route, with the benefit of hindsight, is via the Tørvikbygd-Jondal ferry. There are public transport options, but you’d need allow full day to get there.

From Odda, it was an early morning start to reach Skjeggedal, a 17km drive via a very winding (and scenic) road. I was happy I’d started early (around 6am) and didn’t have to deal with other traffic on a road that was mostly the width of one car. From the car park at the end of the road, it’s a steep climb for the first kilometre as you ascend from 425m above sea level to about 1100m, on a well-defined track. (There used to be a disused funicular that provided alternative access, by walking up the old railway tracks – this is no longer possible as the funicular tracks have been largely removed to make way for a road that is being constructed up to the plateau.)

From the end of this initial climb, a well marked trail continues through a mostly open alpine landscape, passing by a number of lakes and crossing glacial streams. There is one more, shorter climb of 200m or so, partly on a winding, marked trail and partly up a rock face that’s marked by a series of cairns.

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Water is plentiful, and in early October there were still a lot of snow on the ground. One short section of the track that is in the shade for most of the day was very icy, and having a set of spikes or crampons would have come in very useful. After about 8km of walking there are the first views into the spectacular Ringedalsvatnet fjord, and a few kilometres further (at around the 11km) mark an artificial lake is reached.

Finally, Trolltunga is reached – a narrow piece of rock jutting out 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Some metal rings aid access down to the rock, which affords spectacular views – and was rated “the most stunning place in the world to take selfie” by Internet news and entertainment site Buzzfeed.

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The walk to here took just under five hours including breaks; the entire hike to Trolltunga and back being 8 hours (six hours of walking + breaks). This is at a fairly decent pace; I’d recommend an early start, both to give you enough time to get back in daylight and to avoid the crowds. There was one other couple that arrived just after me, and no queue to get photos from the rock! On the walk back, I encountered a number of groups making their way to the rock, and that was outside peak hiking season.

Location Odda, Norway (about 3 hours drive from Bergen)
Distance 23km (8-9 hours). 1,088m ascent.
Grade Moderate. Easy navigation.
Season/s Summer/Autumn
Map  Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources I found Time Travel Turtle’s blog post useful in planning my trip
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Map of Trolltunga hike showing route and elevation.

Fløya (Svolvaer)

A very steep and sometimes slippery trail up to the 590m peak of Fløya – great views from the saddle despite the wet and misty conditions.

My last walk in the Lofoten Islands, before boarding the Hurtigruten (coastal cruise liner) for our trip back south to Bergen.  Fløya is directly to the north of Svolvaer, overshadowing the town and attracting hikers and climbers.

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Floya, the peak at the far right, to the north of Svolvaer

It was one of the rare days during our stay in Norway where the weather was pretty miserable. We’d returned our hire car, so my hike started with a 2km walk from the centre of town; it’s overcast but not raining. I reach the church graveyard at the north end of Svolvaer on Blåtindveien after less than half an hour, and quickly find the start of the walk, which is after the last house on Blåtindveien.

The trails ascends fairly rapidly, with some short and steep sections aided by chains, and a bit of boulder-climbing or hopping required. It’s not difficult, but it is a bit slow-going on a wet and slippery track, with the rain having now started.

The trail is always well-marked as it rises through the birch forest, and within half an hour views of Svolvaer start to emerge. I’ve only seen one person so far, making a haste descent as the rain threatens to intensify.

As the route continues above the tree-line, it gets muddier and steeper. The track often traverses broad sections of mud and goes up slippery and steep slabs of rock that require care. There are clear views of Svolværgeita or “The Svolvær Goat” – Lofoten’s most famous mountain formation. Climbers leap 1.5 metres between the two goat “horns” – you can see these at the top-left corner of the photo below.

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The weather deteriorates as I climb the last – and steepest – section of the trail to the saddle below the summit (540m). To the left is the Fløya summit (590m), another 50m or so higher. (Somewhere below me and to the left is Djevelporten or “Devil’s gate”, a stone block wedged horizontally between two cliffs, that’s a popular photo stop. I meet a trio of hikers just before the summit who also missed this landmark. I’m not sure if there was another track up the mountain I overlooked, but the poor weather precludes further exploration.)

With the rain getting heavier and the wind picking up, it’s too dangerous to find a safe route up the last, very steep, slabs of rock that are now also very slippery to the true Fløya peak.

Instead I turn right (south-west) and follow the very narrow ridge. It’s about a metre in width with a vertical drop of hundreds of metres on both sides.  A little hair-raising but the views in both directions are impressive. Some short breaks in the rain allow me to take a few more photos – on a clear day it would be an awe-inspiring view!

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After waiting on the saddle for about half an hour for the rain to ease, I give up and make my way down the mountain. It’s easier going down than up – but still very slow-going as the track is even more slippery than before.

As I reach the foot of the mountain, the rain stops and the sun starts to come out again…

Location Look for sign on Blåtindveien (road), to the north of Svolvaer (on Austvågøya Island)
Distance 4km round-trip with 55om ascent. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Moderate-hard (steep and slippery track)
Season/s June-October
Map Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Explore Lofoten” (book) by Kristin Folsland Olsen (p.46)
Trip report with track notes on fjordpeaks.com
Photos Google Photos album
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Map showing Floya (Svolvaer) hiking route and elevation gain.

Justadtinden

A 12km round trip to one of Vestvågøy’s highest peaks at 738m, on an easy-to-follow path.

According to my otherwise-helpful and accurate guidebook (Explore Lofoten), this Lofoten Islands hike can be done by bike. By the end of the walk, as I’m hauling myself up vertical slabs of rock with some difficulty, I am thinking either I’m on the wrong trail – or these Norwegians are very hard-core bikers…

The walk starts of as a gravel road from the carpark on Hagskaret, and heads towards a high telecommunications tower a few hundred metres to the north. After the turn-off to the telecoms tower (don’t take this), the path becomes a narrow hiking trail with sections of boardwalk over the muddiest sections. After my last few weeks, I enjoy the feeling of dry feet and not having to plot paths through knee-deep mud! The day is overcast, but the rain is holding off.

It’s a very gradual ascent through rolling hills, with views of Leknes and the surrounding mountains to the south. After about 2km there’s a bifurcation: one trail heads off to the left (west) and goes up to Blåtinden further north. I keep to the right.

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Just over 3km from the start, the trail reaches a rocky plateau surrounded by tarns, and the trail descends briefly through a boggy marsh. My feet remain dry thanks to an elevated boardwalk. This is very civilized walking!

The trail starts ascending again fairly quickly, and the top of Justadtinden can be seen in the distance.

The weather is deteriorating, but through the occasional gaps in the mist there are some nice views back towards Stamsund and the sea.  It’s a shame it’s not a clear day.

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After a bit less than two hours walking there’s a final scramble up some steep rocks, before the top of Justadtinden is reached. There’s really no view – visibility is a few hundred metres – so I don’t linger very long. Two rocky peaks separated by a narrow gap would yield some impressive photos in clear weather. But not today.

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Location Hagskaret, on country road 815, 4km east of Leknes
There is fairly large car park just off the main road.
Distance 12km round-trip with 600m ascent. Allow 3-4 hours.
Grade Easy-Moderate
Season/s June-October
Map Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Explore Lofoten” (book) by Kristin Folsland Olsen (p.104)
One of the Top 10 Lofoten Islands hike on Switchback travel
Photos Google Photos album
Map-Justadtinden.PNG
Map showing Justadtinden hiking route and elevation gain.