A challenging circular walk that starts with sweeping views from a high ridge before following a riverbed down through a narrow gorge back to the start.
Finally, my first “real” walk in Namibia, in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The park was originally created as a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s mountain zebra in 1968 and expanded over the following decades. It’s now 49,768 square kilometres in size, making it the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in Africa. The section I’m walking in is the Naukluft Mountains, which a mountainous region with large, varied rock formations that supports five different vegetation communities.
Unfortunately, with all the other activities we’re doing, I only have one afternoon free to tackle a walk in the area. The shortest walk is the Olive Trail, a 10km circuit. It’s a 126km drive on dirt roads from Kulala Desert Lodge, where we’re staying, to the start of the walk. Leaving a little after midday, it takes almost two hours to get to the Naukluft park office – longer than I had anticipated (the roads aren’t great!). Paying my fee at the office, I was given a rather sceptical look at my late starting time for the walk, as I start out around 2:30pm up the well-marked track.
Starting near the Kudusrus Campsite, the trail is named after the wild olive trees that populate the area. The trail starts immediately to climb up the slope – it’s a constant but gradual ascent, and fairly easy walking despite it still being fairly warm.
The views also get better as I gain altitude, looking back down the trail to the valley below and the mountain range beyond.
After about 2km, the trail leaves the edge of the escarpment and continues to climb, a little less steeply, along a dry riverbed towards the top of the ridge.
Finally, after 2.4km (and a modest ascent of 320m) I reach the plateau. From here there are some great views again down onto the other side of the ridge. Below me is the valley that I’ll follow back to the car, and I can see the trail winding down the other side of the valley to the creek bed.
It’s easy walking for the next kilometre or so, along the top of the ridge, and then down into the valley. The track gets rocky and uneven as it descends, but it always well marked by white arrows or markings on the rocks.
Having reached the valley, I follow the dry riverbed “downstream”. Its fairly rocky underfoot but not difficult walking, and the valley is still fairly wide.
The vegetation changes along the valley floor, with plants such as the quiver tree growing out of the rocks. Named the national plant of Namibia, the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is a member of a group of succulent plants known as ‘Aloes’ that grows to tree-like proportions.
The valley starts to get narrower, and the cliffs taller and more dramatic as I continue down the riverbed.
As it narrows, the valley becomes more canyon-like, with towering cliffs on both sides. The ground is increasingly uneven underfoot and there are bigger rocks to navigate: my speed is slower that anticipated and I have a nasty fall in my attempt to maintain a quick pace back to the car.
I push on as quickly as I can: I’m attempting to appreciate the beauty of the valley/gorge, while conscious that I’m supposed to get back to the camp before dinner… What’s not really helping is that the valley, now feeling more like a canyon, has massive boulders blocking the entire width of the narrow gorge. Careful clambering is required to get past these obstacles.
Finally, I reach a section that’s less than two metres wide, with a vertical drop of a few metres and sheer cliffs on both sides. I have a brief moment of panic, as I try and work out if I should give up and return the way I’ve come from.
I then realise there is a chain attached to the left-hand side… I’ve reached the section described as: “A ‘slight difficulty’ but nonetheless highlight of the trail, is at the end of the gorge where you have to use a ‘chain’ bridge to cross rock ledges”. Trusting this rather slim chain, which seems to take my weight, I slowly make my way across the section, arriving at the other end with some relief. (My bruised toe and sore ribs from my earlier fall is not helping!)
It’s a spectacular sight in the late afternoon light, as I make my way through the last, narrow section of the gorge before it opens again.
Shortly after this narrow section, there are a few more pools with water. There are many butterflies around, but I don’t see any another animals – with more time, this would be a good spot to wait and look for some of the larger animals that inhabit the Naukluft area.
I then manage to take a wrong turn, following a wide track that continues straight ahead. I soon realise my error and turn back – the Olive Trail veers south-west down a different valley. (There are arrows confirming the way, but this spot – about 7.1km from the start – is a bit confusing as it intersects with another, unmarked, 4WD track that seems the obvious choice. But it would have taken me a long, long way in the wrong direction!)
Once I’m on the correct route, the last section (about 2.5km) is quick and easy walking. I make good time back to the car, finishing in exactly 2.5 hours.
With the sun getting low in the sky, I’ve now got a two hour drive back to Kulala Desert Camp for dinner. It’s been worth the long drive though – a fantastic walk with a huge variety of terrain, vegetation and scenery.
A couple of short, evening hikes to some of the Damaraland peaks around Camp Kipwe, with stunning views over the desert landscape.
Camp Kipwe Circuit
We arrive at Camp Kipwe, in the Damaraland area of Namibia, at around 3pm. The rest of the family is keen to have a swim and enjoy a quiet afternoon, so I take advantage of my “free afternoon” to explore the area on foot. I’d found some information on-line that states: “This region is ideal for walking and guests are encouraged to explore the area surrounding Camp Kipwe”. So I set-off in the direction of the nearest small hill. It looks a reasonable height, but in reality is less than 50m – and it seems to be a pretty straightforward “climb”.
The top is quickly reached, and even the relatively low elevation gain provides 360-degrees over the Damaraland desert. The vegetation is very sparse, with the dry landscape broken up by a number of rocky outcrops and mountains.
To the south, the Aba-Huab River is marked by the denser and greener vegetation; while the riverbed is dry and water rarely flows down the watercourse, the deep roots of the trees are able to reach the underground water table.
Sending up the drone yields an even better view of the arid landscape, with the taller mountains to the north-west, and the long line of trees to the east marking the path of the dry Aba-Huab River.
View looking north-west
View looking east along the Aba-Huab River
From here, it seems logical to head down the other side of my mini-mountain, and complete a small circuit around our camp up and over the next three outcrops.
The next mini-peak is directly opposite Camp Kipwe, and you can see from here how the huts are nestled into the boulders.
From the end of this outcrop I’m right at the edge of the Aba-Huab valley.
Ahead of me is the last mini-peak of my circuit…
This one proves the trickiest to climb, although it too is only about 30m high, consisting of larger boulder than the previous outcrops. It takes a few attempts to find a viable route to the top!
There’s another great view from the top over the Damaraland desert: looking east there’s Camp Kipwe down below (the smallest outcrop in the middle) with some of the higher peaks beyond.
Descending on the other side proves a bit quicker. I make a slight detour to have a closer look at a tree that stands out by it’s whiteness against the red landscape. I learn later from one of the guides that it’s a Star Chestnut Tree, which grows mostly on rocky outcrops and hill slopes. The trunk is smooth and appears very white due to a powdery white substance (bloom) that rubs off – this white bloom only occurs on trees growing in the arid western parts of Namibia.
From here it’s quick walk around the Camp Kipwe outcrop, and back to the camp in time for sundowners. I don’t know it (yet), but in the distance is a larger mountain that’s the target of tomorrow’s evening walk…
Mountain Climb with Stanley
During sundowners, at the top of Camp Kipwe which overlooks the desert with peaks all around us, I ask one of the staff “have you climbed any of the peaks?”. To my surprise, Stanley points very definitively at one of the higher mountains and replies “I’ve always wanted to climb that one”. “How about tomorrow”, I suggest, half-jokingly… and his immediate response is: “I’ll be ready at 6pm”.
The following day, after our afternoon drive, I grab a water bottle and head-torch, and we set-off. Although the very top looks attainable, our plan is to reach the top of the odd-shaped boulders at the front of the mountain.
We look for a way up to the left of the “funny boulders” – there are some steep sections initially, but the going is not too difficult. There’s another Star Chestnut Tree on the steep slope, standing out starkly against the red desert.
As we get closer to the boulders, we pick a path around the back of the boulders – they are enormous, and the only way up is to find a way through the gaps!
Finally we find a suitable rock ledge at the front of the outcrop, with 180 degrees over the desert below us, as we wait for the sun set to set. (Unfortunately, poor planning on my part means we don’t have a Gin & Tonic in the backpack!).
An aerial photos shows where we are, at the top of the first few boulders. Well below the mountain peak, but with more time it looks feasible to reach the top of the mountain. Next time!
To the east the desert and rock outcrops continue well into the distance. The Aba-Huab valley is clearly visible, marked by the ribbon of trees through the desert.
To the west, the sun is setting over an equally vast stretch of desert.
It’s not a bad spot to end the day… Once the sun has set, we head back down, finding an easier path down the western side of the mountain. There’s a few large bounds between boulders, and we make the bottom of the mountain by nightfall.
From here, it’s a short walk back to the camp. Thanks Stanley 🙂
Around Camp Kipwe, in Damaraland (western Namibia)
A short, circular walk within the Okonjima nature reserve, with extensive views over the 20,000ha park.
With a few hours spare between our morning and afternoon activities at Okonjima, I pick The Giraffe Trail as the most interesting of the three formed tracks – and my first Namibian hike! We’re staying at the Plains Camp, which is inside a 2,000ha fenced area that’s within the 20,000ha Okonjima nature reserve. Rehabilitated cheetahs, wild dogs, and hyaenas roam the reserve. But not, I am assured, the smaller fenced area where the walks are located.
That’s a reassuring thought, as I head off in the heat of the day from the parking area, which is a short drive from Okonjima Plains Camp where we are staying for two nights.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Occasionally the footpath crosses one of the 4WD tracks, with arrows pointing the way to where the track resumes on the other side of the road.
Although it’s not unbearably hot, there’s not much shade. The walk is through Terminalia woodland, which refers to a species of deciduous tree that is native to southern Africa. While it’s early Spring, there’s still no leaves on the trees and not much shade. Other than me, the only other animals stupid enough to be wandering around in the midday sun are some guinea fowl. Endemic to Africa, we referred to them as “bush chickens”. The helmeted guinea fowl commonly found in Namibia are great runners, and can walk over 10km in a day. When startled, they run rather than fly, and they generally don’t come across as particularly intelligent birds…
About half-way along the circular walk there’s a a short and rocky trail that leads from the main trail to a viewpoint that’s at the edge of the long escarpment.
From this lookout there are sweeping views over the Okonjima Reserve, which consists of vast areas of woodland surrounded by the Omboroko mountain range
An aerial view shows the generally flat and lightly-wooden terrain, punctuated by the low mountain range.
The way back is similar – the landscape doesn’t really vary at all on the walk, and it was the lookout over the park that was my main reason for picking this walk over the others.
Reaching the car after just over an hour of walking, I’m glad to get out of the sun. On the short five minute drive back to Plains Camp, I see more animals resting near the road than on my hour of walking!
A half-day walk with nice views in the lower Blue Mountains – be prepared for some short but tough climbs.
It’s been a while since my last Blue Mountains bushwalk, and Lost World Lookout has been on my to do list for a while. I’ve finally found half a day to tackle this hike, on a sunny Spring Sunday.
The start of the walk is easy to find, and is not too far from the main highway – although once we’re on Farm Road, there’s a parking area just before the unsealed road narrows a little, with a few parking spots. We leave the car here – we could have gone a bit further to the end of the road – where there is a larger parking area. From the carpark it’s a very short (100m) walk to Martin’s Lookout, where there is a small plaque in memory of Reverend Raymer, a local bushwalk who died in 1953. The view from here across and up Glenbrook Creek is fairly ordinary by Blue Mountains standards – I wouldn’t bother driving here for this lookout. On the other side of the valley is our destination, Lost World Lookout. A small crucifix is just visible at the top of the cliffs.
Most Blue Mountains walks take you down into a valley, and then back up. This walk takes us down to Glenbrook Valley, up the other side and then back down and up! The track starts descending from Martins Lookout.
It’s a well-built track that goes past a few nice caves and overhangs as it heads down to the bottom of the valley. After a final set of stone steps, a sign marks the intersection of the Kings Link route we are taking up to Lost Worlds Lookout.
We need to cross the creek here and head up the other side… but there’s no obvious track. There is a pair of rather old underpants wrapped around a branch – but we’re not sure if this is a remnant of the last flood or an improvised marker. After a brief search, we spot a cairn on the other side of the narrow creek that marks the start of the track up the other side of the valley.
The walk up this side of the valley is fairly steep and less shaded than the track down – I’m glad it’s not the middle of summer. There are a few places where the path is not obvious, but a number of cairns mark the way. In some sections very solid stone stairs leave no doubt we’re on the track.
The track reaches the top of the valley at Bunyan Lookout, which has views back across Glenbrook Creek and sandstone cliffs of the valley. There’s a large, sandy area which would make a nice camping spot – as long as you’ve got enough water with you!
The ascent has been surprisingly slow; it’s only about a 200m vertical climb from Glenbrook Creek to Bunyan Lookout. But it feels like a lot more. From here it’s flat again and doesn’t take us long reach the turnoff from Kings Link to Lost World Lookout, with another 10 minutes or so of very easy walking to the lookout.
Directly opposite the small plaque that we saw the start of our walk is a white crucifix on the edge of the cliff at Lost World Lookout, which also commemorates Reverend Raymer.
Although the view from here is as not impressive as further up the mountains, there are nice views over Glenbrook Valley, with the Blue Mountains stretching as far as the eyes can see to the west.
After a few photos from Lost World Lookout, we descend (via the same route) – which is much quicker than the way up!
A brief stop at the bottom and a few more photos of Glenmore Creek, which has a decent flow of very clear water, despite the lack of rain for many weeks. Despite being in the lower Blue Mountains, the last water quality report found Glenbrook Creeek to be in good health (although the water needs to be boiled before drinking).
From here we take a slightly different route back, following the Kings Link Route along Glenmore Creek. There are a few nice camping spots along the creek, which gets quite wide in places.
It’s only about 500m before we reach the junction with an unnamed track that goes steeply up to our Martins Lookout (the track is marked on our map). Somehow we seem to have lost the main track – which a short distance uphill from the creek that we’ve been following quite closely – and we have a short scramble to reach the intersection.
From here, it’s about half an hour back up to the top. It’s taken us just over three and a half hours to cover ten kilometres. We saw five people in total during the walk, including a couple we had a chat to enjoying lunch at Lost World Lookout, so it’s a good weekend alternative to the busier Blue Mountain routes. Definitely not the most scenic of walks you could do, but nice views, interesting rock formations and some physically challenging sections of track.
End of Farm Road (off Burns Road) in Springwood.
5.4km via normal return route, according to map.
Approx 10km as walked.
In search of somewhere new to visit in the school holidays, we’ve booked a week on Flinders Island, which lies between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. It seems to offer both hiking opportunities and less strenuous sightseeing by car – as well as lots of beaches for the kids to swim at!
Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands in the Furneaux Group, which are dotted across Bass Strait to the north-east of Tasmania (between Tasmania and the mainland). The island is closer to Tasmania than the mainland, and is located right on the 40° south latitude – also known as the Roaring Forties (although we didn’t experience any of the wild weather for which the island is renowned).
The island is about 62km in length and 37km across with a total land area of 1,333 square kilometres. About a third of the island is mountainous, with ridges of granite running the length of the island. The coastal areas are predominantly covered in thick scrub, with a wide strip of sandy dunes along the shoreline (although there are large areas of cleared land that support over 50 lamb and beef farmers).
Some of the Furneaux Group islands were recorded in 1773 by British navigator Tobias Furneaux, who commanded one of the support boats James Cook’s second voyage, and the southern islands were charted by Matthew Flinders in February 1798. (James Cook named the group of islands after Tobias Furneaux, and Phillip Parker King – also an explorer – later named the largest island Flinders Island after Matthew Flinders.)
Flinders Island was frequented by sealers and Aboriginal women (who had been taken from mainland tribes) in the late 18th century; when seal stocks collapsed in the late 1820s many sealing families stayed in the Furneaux Group, subsisting on cattle grazing and mutton-birding. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a proper settlement scheme was initiated, drawing settlers from mainland Tasmania and central NSW to Flinders Island’s eastern shore. Sixty years later, in the 2011, the population of Flinders Islands was 700 people with a median age of 45. [Source: Wikipedia]
Looking across from Whitemark to the Strzelecki ranges
A plaque on Mt Killiecrankie commemorating an early European landholder
When to go (and for how long)
There’s not really a “bad” time to visit Flinders Island – although the climate is surprisingly varied for an island, with recorded extremes of -3.5 degrees in winter to 41.5 degrees in summer. Initially I’d planned to visit in early January, before discovering the flights were at their most expensive and accommodation options limited. I was more successful in booking our family trip in the April school holidays – which in hindsight was a good result. While summer would have been ideal for swimming in the many beaches and coves, it would have been less pleasant for hiking. Autumn was ideal – just warm enough for the kids to have a quick swim (definitely too cold for the adults!) and perfect for exploring the island on foot.
As for how long to stay? We had eight days on the island and could easily have spent up to a couple of weeks. There’s lots to see, and had we stayed longer we could have enjoyed a few “quiet days” at our well-appointed beach house, or ventured out to one of the neighbouring islands (by chartering a boat). A week was needed to really explore all corners of the island, especially if you’re planning a few weeks.
Getting there and around
There’s really only one option for getting here (unless you own your own boat!), which is flying with Sharp Airlines from either Launceston (Tasmania) or Essendon (Victoria). The 19-seat turboprop plane takes about 30min from Tassie and an hour from Victoria – every seat is a window seat (except for one, which I’m assigned on both flights!), so you get nice views coming into Flinders Island.
Sharp Airplane on the runway at Whitemark
Flinders Island coming into view
There is a ferry from Bridport in Tasmania that is operated weekly by Furneaux Freight, allowing you to bring your own vehicle. It’s an 8-hour trip with a schedule that is dependent on tides and weather conditions… we had considered this option before realising our trip out would have meant a departure time of 1am!
Once on the island, a car is essential unless you’re on an organised tour. There is one option – Flinders Island Car Hire – which is located at the airport. Despite having a ground transportation monopoly, the prices are reasonable ($75-$80 per day), albeit the the cars are up to ten years old. The staff at the car hire desk are very friendly, meeting each flight and providing local advice and maps before sending you on your way. Although most roads are unsealed, we found them all to be in good condition and easily navigated in our 2WD rental car.
Our car for the week from Fraser Island Car Hire
The (mostly) dirt roads are all well-maintained
Food & Accommodation
There’s many places to stay – even in my initial attempt to book a trip in January, there was still availability a month or so prior. In April, a few places were booked a couple of months prior but we had a lot of choices: we ended up booking West End Beach House, towards the northern end of Flinders Island. A great choice – the house was well appointed, and in a very private location overlooking the ocean (the beach being a 5-10min walk away through the sand dunes, behind the house). Sawyers Bay Shacks is another option that looked appealing.
West End Beach House nestled in the bush behind the sand dunes
Descending the last sand dune before the beach!
Other than the type of accommodation, the main decision you’ll need to make is how close to “civilisation” you want to be… There are dining-out options at Whitemark and Lady Barron, and a supermarket at Whitemark (and a much smaller one at Lady Barron). And that’s about it. We were a good 45min drive away, so we had planned to stock-up every few days and cook our own dinners. It would have been pretty tedious driving at dusk/night every day to eat out for dinner.
As far as dining out goes, we met some friends for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern (Lady Barron) at the end of our stay, which wasn’t bad. Although the seafood options on the menu weren’t caught locally, there was a decent range of food and prices were reasonable. It seemed almost impossible to buy locally caught fish (there were rumours of a local who sold fresh seafood out of the back of his truck at the local pub once a week – but he hadn’t been seen for a few weeks). I did manage to track down a purveyor of crayfish – and bought a freshly caught and cooked cray that made a delicious evening meal. We even got a tour of the crayfish and abalone holding tanks that are located at the Lady Barron wharves.
What we found consistently impressive: the local meat, which we bought at the butcher in Whitemark. While the Flinders Island (human) population represents only 0.02% of Tasmania, Flinders Island farmers produce approximately 15% of Tasmanian beef production and 9% of Tasmanian lamb production. (The chicken schnitzels were also fantastic, although they were “imported” as there’s no commercial poultry operations on the island). For a coffee fix or pre-prepared meals, A Taste of Flinders (next door to the butcher) was a regular stop.
The general plan was to see as much of the island as possible in ten days (we do manage to cover a lot of ground), and I wanted to fit in a few hikes. The “highlights” of our trip:
Best beaches – Trousers Point was the stand-out (it just missed out on the The Mercury’s Tasmania’s Top 10 Beaches list) and has a picnic area with free BBQ. Also very picturesque are Killiecrankie Bay, Sawyers Bay and the bays and beaches around North East Rock.
Best hikes – Mt Strzelecki is worth the effort, but you need a very clear day. I found Mt Killiecrankie even more rewarding, but tougher than than Strzelecki (as it’s partly off-track). For coastal walks, Castle Rock deserves it’s place as one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks.
Best Lookouts – For vantage points that can be reached by car, Mount Tanner to the north offers good views and is good spot to catch the sun rising or setting. Walkers Lookout is the one to visit, for the best views of the island.
Getting to West End (Day 1)
Due to flight scheduling challenges (we’re coming from Sydney), it wasn’t feasible or cost-effective to get to Flinders Island in one day. So, we flew to Launceston on the previous day, arriving late afternoon. Today we had time for a visit to Platypus World in the Tamar Valley before our flight from Launceston Airport. Check-in was very quick and straightforward, and after a half hour wait we took off on our fairly short flight to Whitemark, where we picked up our car around midday.
Having picked up our car, we set off northwards on Palana Road. The road is initially sealed and passes through open farmlands, with views over the coast from Emita. After about 20min, at the junction to the C801 to Memana, the sealed road turns to gravel and it starts to feel like we’re the only ones on the island!
Another 20min or so further, and we turn left onto West End Road. The light is starting to fade, so we take it fairly slowly as there’s a lot of wildlife around. I later read in one of the guides at the house that due to ideal conditions and lack of predators, there’s about 400% more wildlife on Flinders Island compared to mainland Tasmania. Which explain the huge amount of roadkill, considering the relatively light traffic on the island. We spot a wombat by the side of the road, and a little further on a rather pale (and shy) echidna. We discover later that Flinders Island has an echidna population that includes an uncommon subset of pale or ‘albino’ echidnas.
We finally make it to our West End Beach House, just in time for a fantastic sunset and a quick swim on the beach (well, not for me, it’s way too cold but my son is part-seal!).
It feels like we’re on holiday!
North West Coast (Day 2)
We commence our island exploration with a tour of the west and north-west, continuing along West End Road and up to Mount Tanner, which is far as we can go with a 2WD car. We’d been told to avoid this road, but it seemed to have been recently graded, and was no problem for our car as it wound up the hill to the 332m summit of Mount Tanner. At the top is a microwave communications tower built to connect the island to Victoria and mainland Tasmania in 1967. The views from here stretch in all directions: to the north (below) is Killiecrankie Bay and Mount Killiecrankie.
On the way back down, we spot a tiny frog that’s almost blended into the gravel, which the kids helpfully shepherd off the road…
Having descended back the same way, we head south, past our house and toward Whitemark. Our next stop is Long Point and the Arthur Bay Conservation Area (off Palana Road, on the west coast). One one side of the narrow road is the ocean, and on the other side a sheltered bay that has a viewing hide to observe the many sea birds.
While the kids and Mum have lunch and observe the bird life from the hide (I don’t have the patience required for bird-watching), I walk back along Long Point Beach and around to Sawyers Bay. Between Long Point Beach and the start of Arthur Bay is Blue Rocks, an outcrop of lichen-covered boulders, with the Mt Strzelecki ranges in the distance.
Our last stop for the day is just a bit further north, where there’s a short walk from Emita along the coast to the imposing Castle Rock. (I did the 4km one-way walk; after dropping me off the rest of the family parked near the rock, which you can also get to via a short 4WD track from the car park – it’s well worth it, especially at sunset.)
Castle Rock walk (4km one-way) One of the Tasmanian “Great Short Walks”. The trail traverses secluded beaches, weathered sandstone formations and grassland before reaching Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland. Full hike details
Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary (Day 3)
Another clear and sunny day awaits us… today we’re driving to the Patriarch Conservation Area, on the eastern side of the island. On the way, we make a small diversion to Tobias Furneaux Lookout.
The views aren’t spectacular, but they do give you a view over the interior of the island.
Continuing along the well-graded Memana Road (C803), we stop a couple of times to photograph the Cape Barren Geese. They are “a most peculiar goose of uncertain affiliations, which may either belong into the “true geese” and swan subfamily Anserinae or into the shelduck subfamily” [Wikipedia], and are one of the unique birds that live around the Furneaux Group. Considered an endangered species only about 40 years ago, a breeding program to increase their numbers of geese was so successful that in recent years the numbers of geese have grown to plague proportions. As a result they are now allowed to be hunted in certain times of the year – which is probably why they take flight as soon you get too close.
We arrive at the Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary mid-morning, which is a habitat for abundant wildlife and bird life including wombats, wallabies and Cape Barren Geese. There’s an an A-frame building with bunk beds and cooking facilities inside, and a shaded (free) gas barbecue area outside. A big container of wallaby feed ensures that a large population of almost “tame” wallabies around the building!
Unfortunately, the relaxed vibe is broken when my wife goes searching for some birds to photograph in the nearby pond… and a snake rears it head out of the water and makes a beeline for her!
The area is named after the “Patriarchs” – three granite mountains that were named after Matthew Flinders, as they stand out on the low plains. I had allowed time to hike to the summit of one of them, the South Patriarch (the route is described in “Walks of Flinders Island”). It’s an untracked walk, and after a brief attempt to traverse the thick scrub (particularly heavy due to a bushfire a few years ago that resulted in heavy re-growth) I give up. I’m discovering that off-track walking on Flinders Island requires a certain level of long clothing and commitment!
Being now mid-afternoon, we head back to our house at West End.
After a brief stop at the house, it’s back in the car for the 15min back up to Mount Tanner to take some sunset photos. The late afternoon light is fantastic!
To the east are clear views of Killiecrankie Bay, and on the other side of the telecom tower the sun is setting over the ocean.
After dinner back at the house, I make a final trip for the day back to Mount Tanner, to take advantage of the clear skies and watch the moon, which is rising just after 10pm. The photos don’t really do justice to the amazingly clear views of the milky way, and the orange glow of the rising moon. I could stay here a long time. But it’s getting late chilly!
Mt Strzelecki (Day 4)
Today’s plan is to start relatively early, and take advantage of the continuing fine weather for an ascent of Mt Strzelecki, the highest peak on Flinders Island at 756m.
Mt Strzelecki (6.6km return) Another of the three Tasmanian “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The well-marked track climbs steadily and relentlessly to the peak, through a variety of different environments. Full hike details
It’s well worth the effort, despite the potentially spectacular views in all direction being partly obscured by cloud. The general recommendation is to go early (which we did) – the mountain seems to attract clouds and create its own weather at the top.
We cool off afterwards at the nearby Trousers Point Beach, with Mt Strzelecki reminding us of its presence in the background. Frustratingly, the top now looks clear of cloud!
After driving back to West End there’s time for a swim at West End Beach, followed by a short circular walk along West End Beach and back up West End Road to our house. The sunsets haven’t disappointed so far!
It’s pretty chilly outside… but not too cold for the kids to enjoy some marshmallows over the firepit before going to bed.
Killiecrankie (Day 5)
Another long walk – and some fossicking – is planned for today. It’s the warmest day so far, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.
We drive to Killiecrankie Beach, a little to the north. It’s one of the places to search for the Killiecrankie Diamond, and we have our shovels and sieves that we hired a few days ago in Whitemark. The “Killiecrankie Diamond” is a type of clear topaz that has been washed down from the granite mountains.
Leaving the rest of the group to (hopefully) pay for our holiday** with their fossicking efforts, I head off around Killiecrankie Bay with my sights set on reaching the top of Mt Killiecrankie. It ends up being the most rewarding, but also the longest and toughest walk I do on the island.
Killiecrankie Circuit (18km) A partly off-track circuit to the summit of Mt Killiecrankie summit, which offers
360-degrees over the island. The circular route back follows the rugged coast from The Dock and around Old Man’s Head. Full hike details
I don’t finish the hike until just after dark, walking back around Killiecrankie Bay as the sun sets over the ocean. (It’s another great sunset vantage point, which we re-visit a couple of days later).
** After collecting many small and shiny rocks, the helpful lady at Killiecrankie Enterprises (where we’v hired our fossicking equipment) explains that we have a nice collection of quartz. But not a single Killiecrankie Diamond.
Trousers Point (Day 6)
Disappointed by the less than perfect view from the summit of Mt Strzelecki two days prior due to cloud around the peak, I set the alarm clock super-early. I’m up at 3:30am and back on the summit track by 4:30am. I plan to catch the sunrise from the summit and get some clear shots from the highest vantage point on the island!
Alas, my second summit attempt is a complete disaster, with not just heavy cloud but rain falling near the peak. After returning to the car, I drive to Walkers Lookout, which is also mist-bound. Looking at Mt Strzelecki from Whitemark, the entire mountain range is shrouded in thick cloud. (I’m increasingly less convinced by the “climb early in the morning before the clouds form” school of thought. And slightly paranoid that the Strzelecki mountain gods have taken a dislike to me.)
Radio tower at Walkers Lookout
Mt Strzelecki covered in cloud
I head to Trousers Point: the plan is to meet the rest of the family here for lunch after they’ve purchased some local beef sausages for lunch. The weather is quickly improving, and the clear water is very inviting, despite the temperature being in the low twenties.
It’s never too cold for the kids to swim, of course… and in a clear case of the mountain gods mocking me, the top now seems completely free of cloud. I don’t have the energy for a third ascent.
This a great spot for a BBQ – like a few other places on the island, the BBQ facilities are free and spotless. This would be one of the top picks on the island for a BBQ or picnic – and yet in our three hours here we see only one other group of visitors.
After lunch, I undertake the Trousers Point Walk, the third and last of the “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The return walk is just over 4.5km in length and takes me about 45min of brisk walking. It’s the shortest of the Great Short Walks, which follows the coastline along the Trousers Point headland. It’s also the least great of the Great Short Walks. It’s a nice walk along the rocky shore, with some interesting rock formations, but there’s far less variety than the other two Great Short Walks.
On the way home, we detour past Walkers Lookout again – this time it’s a far more impressive vista than the 20m visibility I had earlier in the morning. There are clear views in every direction, with signage that points out the major features in every direction. The Strzelecki ranges can be seen in the distance to the south and the Patriarchs to the east. For lookouts accessible by car, this is definitely the best one.
View from Walkers Lookout to the south
Signage points out the key features in every direction
Looking south to Pillingers Peak and the Strzelecki ranges beyond
There’s still a few hours left in the day, but we head back to our house to avoid driving at dusk. It’s been another great day on Flinders Island.
Palana and the North East (Day 7)
We haven’t explored the north east corner of Flinders Island yet, so we head off in this direction, taking the North East River Road all the way to the north-east tip of the island (Holloway Point).
For the last few kilometres the road follows the North East River, which resembles a tidal estuary more than a river. There’s thousands of tiny crabs swarming on the mud flats of the river, and it’s teeming with birdlife.
At the end of the road, there’s a few parking spots and a toilet block. Although my guide book says the road can get busy in summer, there is no-one here today, so we can have the place to ourselves to explore and look for shells.
On the south side of Holloway Point, a long and rocky promontory, the North East River flows into Bass Strait. There’s a small sheltered bay and a nice, long stretch of sand along the mouth of the river. It would be a great spot to swim on a warm day – today, it’s too cold even for the kids!
A short walk away, over the rocky promontory, there’s another north-facing beach that’s more exposed.
It’s a great spot for photography, especially today with the weather and light constantly changing.
We spend a couple of hours here, before heading to Palana, on the western side of the island. Palana Beach is the most northern beach on Flinders Island; there’s a number of beach houses you can rent here, but (like our house at West End) it’s a long drive to the nearest restaurant or grocery store.
At the end of Palana Road is a very sheltered harbour or bay with a jetty. There’s also a very solid concrete bunker. There’s no explanation or signage – and it’s the only one of it’s type I’ve seen on the entire island. Later research indicates it’s a World War II bunker.
Harbour and jetty at Palana (Flinders Island)
World War II bunker at Palana
Access to Palana Beach (which is poorly signposted) is a few hundred metres back along the road. The very last section is a bit eroded and we fear our 2WD car won’t make it, so so we leave the near the turn-off to the beach and walk down the last 250m.
It’s a nice beach, but not as nice as Trousers Point or even our last stop at North East River Inlet. I walk down the beach to the end – there are some steep sand dunes toward the far end, and a mini-lagoon where the water is a bit warmer.
At the end of the beach, there’s a good view of Inner Sister Island directly ahead (there’s also an Outer Sister Island). One of the largest of the approximately one hundred outer islands in the Furneaux Group, Inner Sister Island is a granite and dolerite island, that supports seabirds and waders and is grazed by sheep.
No more stops are planned after our very late lunch and stroll along Palana Beach… but… as we near the turn-off to Killiecrankie the sunset seems to be another nice one. Not what we’re expecting, as it’s been a fairly overcast day. We make an impromptu diversion to Killiecrankie Bay.
The colour of the sky is getting more orange as we arrive and scope out the best spot for photos.
It gets more spectacular as the sun emerges from the clouds, bathing the surrounding rocks and Mt Killiecrankie on the other side of the bay in a warm glow. We stay until the sun has fully set, and finally head back to the house.
Around West End (Day 8)
It’s a quiet day today… the weather is overcast and rain threatens. The kids and I set off for a beach stroll and Killiecrankie Diamond fossicking attempt in the morning. This time we go to Tanners Bay, just south of West End Beach. While Tanners Bay can be accessed by foot from West End Beach, we drive a short way up West End Road, where our map indicates that there is a roads leading down to the beach. We leave our car on main road and walk down one of these side-tracks… which seems to be a private road leading to a house. No-one is around, so we’re quickly on the beach, but a bit confused as to which of the tracks down to the beach are public and which are private driveways.
We’re now looking for a creek bed that would have carried the “diamonds” down from Mt Tanner, but we’re really not sure if we are anywhere near the right spot. Nevertheless, we dig and sieve away with diminishing enthusiasm: there’s not a lot of reward for our effort!
Having tried a few different spots and not far from giving up, I spot what seems to be a seal resting on the beach. Walking a bit closer, it turns out it IS a seal, which is a pleasant surprise – it’s the only seal we see on the island.
It gives us a baleful look, and (rather inelegantly) waddles into the ocean
As the sky darkens, we head back to the car – there a brief downpour on the way back, which is the first rain we’ve had in eight days (so we can’t really complain).
By late afternoon, the weather has significantly improved so I take the opportunity to do one more walk… from our beach house at West End I’m walking to Egg Beach. I start behind our house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.
Egg Beach (8km) From West End Beach, the untracked route follows the coastline, crossing secluded coves and beaches as well as rocky sections of the shore before reaching the peculiar Egg Beach. The return journey is via an old 4WD track. Full hike details
Lady Barron (Day 9)
Our last full day on Flinders Island… After meeting friends (who are circumnavigating Tasmania by yacht) for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern in Lady Barron, we have a look around the jetty area. In the distance, across Petrifaction Bay are the Strzelecki Ranges, and directly in front of us is Cape Barren Island.
Cape Barren Island from Lady Barron
The Strzelecki Ranges across Petrifaction Bay
Driving back to West End, we spot another echidna near the road.
Leaving Flinders Island (Day 10)
We wake to the first wet and miserable day we’ve had in ten days, as we finish packing and make our way to Whitemark for our flight to Essendon (Victoria) and connecting flight to Sydney. We’ve seen a lot of the island, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d visit again.
For general information the Visit Flinders Island Web site is helpful and lists the many accommodation options (many places are not listed on Stayz or other booking sites that I’d normally use).
For hiking, a copy of “Walks of Flinders Island” (Ken Martin) which I bought at the general store in Whitemark was really helpful, providing details and maps of over 50 walks from well-marked trails to off-track routes. The 1:100,000 Flinders Island topographical map was also useful for planning walks and drives (purchase on-line at the TASMAP eShop or available on the island).
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.
A plaque on Mt Killiecrankie commemorating an early European landholder
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.
To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!]
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.
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.
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).
Start of West Head Army Track, at West Head
View from the top of the West Head Army Track
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.
The West Head Arm Track winding down the hill
A set of metal stairs on the West Head Army Track
Just beyond the bottom of the stairs and at the bottom of a cliff is the highest surviving structure, the Observation Post.
West Head Army Track Observation Post
West Head Observation Post, with Lion Island beyond
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.
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.)
Track down from West Head Observation Post
First concrete gun casing
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 second covered gun casing
The 7-ton gun pedestal inside the gun casing
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.
Ammunition magazine which is cut into the cliff
Small bats inside the ammunition magazine
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.
Looking up at the West Head Army Track Observation Post
Looking back up the West Head Army Track steps
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.
Park at the end of West Head Road (at the lookout)
1.3km return. (30-45min). 105m total ascent
All year round
Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station
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.
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.
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.
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.
The track ascending Mt Graham to the north-east
Luke looking decidedly happier on the summit
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.)
View east along the coast from Munro hut
The east-facing deck at Munro hut
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’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.
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 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.
From Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula (90min from Hobart)
41km “lollipop” walk. 1120m total ascent.
Hard due to length. Moderate for Cape Huay / Cape Pillar only.
All year round
TasMap “Peninsula Walks” or Tasman Peninsula 1:50,000