During the April 2016 school holidays Graham, James and I walked the Three Capes Track. After a bicycle accident (serious knee re-arrangement) in 2015 I needed a goal to get up and about again, and this was it! But like all resolutions Graham and I fell short of our fitness goal. Life always seems to get in the way of all good resolutions, doesn’t it?
Did I mention that I was lucky to be the winner of the Three Capes Track Facebook promotion? We were reimbursed for two tickets ($792)!
Three Capes Track : Day One
After checking-out of the nearby Stuarts Bay Lodge we were the first to arrive at the Three Capes check-in counter in the Port Arthur visitor centre. In fact we arrived before the visitor centre had even opened. We must have been keen; or worried about getting a good parking spot for our vehicle in the Port Arthur long-term parking area. No worries–first there too! We checked-in, left our backpacks at the desk, then wandered aimlessly around the site. Great day for sightseeing.
We turned up at the boat ramp too early–first again–then waited nervously. Did we really believe we could lump those backpacks for four days? Hey! those people over there look like three capers. People with backpacks started arriving. Lots of them (school holiday). The boats left in two shifts (11:30 and 14:00) with ~20 people on each boat.
Boat ride to Denmans Cove
The catamaran ride was exhilarating. James loved the speed of full-throttle. (So did I!) We sailed close to incredible cliffs. New Zealand and Australian (white-face) albatrosses landed then took off from the waves. High up on the rock face we saw two sea eagle nests.
Shags were roosting on lower rock ledges (rather than usual ledges much higher up). Apparently they moved when the sea eagle chicks fledged, because the young eagles were picking off the shag chicks.
We sailed near Tasman Island, then landed at Denmans Cove. It was an easy landing. This is not always the case. In fact if the sea is too rough a helicopter is used to transport walkers to the start of the track.
Our first lunch was tuna and crackers with a snack pack of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate. It had been cold on the catamaran, so a cup of hot tea was welcome. By the way this was the only occasion we used our camp-cooker (Trangia), so this is a piece of kit you can leave at home. We were the last to leave the beach at 13:00.
Short walk to the Surveyors Cabin
At around 23deg C we soon became hot and the layers started coming off. We enjoyed stopping at a small inlet (Surveyor’s Cove) where previous sojourners had erected stone cairns. Apparently this is where boats bring in supplies for the Surveyor’s Hut. Here we met two ladies–friends travelling together. These two women, each with their own families, were school friends meeting up for an annual adventure. Go girls!
The walking was easy till the first set of stone steps, then the steady uphill climb became tiring. The packs (15kg-mine, 10kg-James and 18kg-Graham) started digging into our backs and squashing our toes.
James spat the dummy. He started dragging his feet and falling behind. The four km walk was becoming very tedious!
Finally, Graham left his pack on the track and went back for James. I resolved to reach the hut, leave my pack then return to assist Graham. I arrived at Surveyor’s Hut at 15:30. Thankfully by the time I found our room and toilet, Graham and James arrived. They were the last to arrive.
At each new hut, the ranger introduced her/himself and spoke to us about the region. For example: some not-so-scary tales of snakes; history of the area; what to expect the next day…
About the huts…
The toilet block
My first two impressions of the Surveyors Hut were 1) the toilet block is a long walk from the accommodation; and 2) thank heavens the toilet was a long way from the accommodation! Because the smell was strong and unpleasant. Two sinks with cold water taps and soap were provided outside the long-drop dry toilets. There was plenty of toilet paper and no shower. Under the toilet block you can see “pods”. This is the crap that the helicopters need to take away. By April 2016 there had been 4000 people walk the track, so I guess the pods were full.
Bonus! As prize recipients, each ranger allocated us our own four-bunk room at the quietest end of the bunk house. Individual rooms (four to six beds) were arranged as interconnecting modules. The hut easily accommodated our 41 walkers. Air flow was through timber slats in interior walls and external doors. Fixed glass windows slanted outwards to prevent collision with birds and bats. No curtains, so it is best to wait till dark before changing as there was little privacy. The foam mattresses have a vinyl cover. I found my bed very comfortable, provided I didn’t sit up too quickly and hit my head on the upper deck. (James found this highly amusing)
A feature of each hut was the beautifully constructed out door areas, with decks positioned to allow the best views. Comfortable chairs and yoga mats were great for taking in the views and socialising. Some intrepid walkers even managed to stow a bottle or two of wine to enjoy while watching the sun go down!
Well equipped kitchens (two in each cook house) were separated from the bunk rooms. Plenty of benches, gas cookers, pots, pans and utensils for everyone. Provided care was taken to conserve water and gas, there was plenty of these too.
Kitchens and meals
On the first night we dined on three Army-style retort meals (beef vindaloo x2 and beef and gravy) heated in a saucepan of hot water; with a hot chocolate drink and pita bread. This was surprisingly good and very easy to prepare. I watched others busy chopping vegetables, frying, boiling, then cleaning saucepans and piles of dishes, while we ate out of the retort pouches. Generally there was little interaction between the small travelling groups at meal time.
While a container was provided for disposing of food scraps, we had to carry out all other rubbish. The retort empty pouches were easy to squash, then carry in a clip-lock bag.
Solar power lit up the cook house, while sunset was lights-out in the bunk house. Some people stayed up late chatting, drinking, playing cards/board games or reading books. James kicked a ball with a few teenagers, while Graham and I fell onto our beds early on the first night.
Three Capes Track: Day Two
For Graham and I this was the hardest day. Partly because James offloaded all his gear to us and partly because our sore muscles were settling-in. I gained all James’s food items; so I carried an extra 5kg. Of course this meant that James had no food with him and just 1L of water.
We had instant rolled oats (individual flavoured sachets) made with UHT milk and a big mug of tea for breakfast. (Yes. Graham had carried a 1L UHT milk for the day.)
James went his own way
After our hut ranger took our photo, James bolted off down the track without food, but with a very light pack.
Graham and I were left to pack up and set off at a leisurely 09:00. We didn’t meet up with James till the end of the day. James had teamed up with three-teenage members of another family. Apparently they took pity on him and shared a couple of chocolate bars with him during the day.
11 Km to Munro hut
It was cool, with a light breeze and about 20deg C as we set out on day 2. It was an easy start through low coastal heath and scrubby eucalypt forest filled with bird song. We were rewarded with views out over Port Arthur early in the day.
Then the track started to climb. My (now much heavier) pack made the stone staircases feel endless. But we were rewarded with amazing coastal views. We met up with a group for morning tea: hot coffee made with condensed milk and Anzac biscuits–yum! Handy hint: Take a small (500ml) thermos of boiling water per person for making hot drinks and soup. But don’t take the Trangia on this walk.
We continued the uphill climb, being rewarded at intervals by spectacular views. At midday we met up with a group celebrating a birthday. We sat, perched on rocks, singing ‘happy birthday’ enjoying the most awesome view of the day. Namely, views across sparkling Crescent Bay and beyond to Cape Raoul.
Then there were more stone steps But this time we were rewarded with the cool dappled shade of the cloud forest. This was my favourite section of track–shifting shadows, bird song, tortured low scrubby trees, orchids on the side of the track. We stopped on a shaded section of boardwalk to have our lunch: instant soup, cheese, banana bread and hot coffee. We finished our thermos of hot water.
My legs and thighs were hurting and my legs felt wobbly as we arrived at Munro Hut at about 15:30. We were immediately greeted by James, who had been there for hours! He made us a cup of Sasafras tea from leaves he had collected on the track.
Then a real treat–a cold bush shower! Joining the line-up on the deck waiting for the shower was an enjoyable social event. Graham had collapsed on his bed, so he missed all the tall tales and dad-style jokes. He showered later, in the half-dark.
The real magic at Munro Hut is the view. The hut sits high over Munro Bight. It was pure joy to sip on a hot chocolate while watching the light fade over the water.
Dinner was a retort meal with mashed potato, tinned fruit with jelly and a cup of hot chocolate each. Really quite good. For the rest of the evening, James had found a good-natured and willing victim to play chess. James won, of course.
With throbbing knee (yes, that knee) and shins; sore shoulder and back muscles, I went to bed feeling fearful about the longer walk ahead the next day.
However, the clean fresh air of the night wove its magic and I woke up re-invigorated. My sore muscles forgotten and no throbbing arthritic joints. I even joined a group of eager photographers at first light in an attempt to get the iconic sunrise-over-the-water photo. But gathering clouds shrouded the sun. Or was I just too late to capture the shot?
Three Capes Track: Day 3
The official track handbook refers to day three as drama and adrenalin. A day of dizzying heights, when you know your’re truly alive. The views across the water and the majesty of the sheer dolerite cliffs are memories for a life time. So, far-too many photos could never be enough on day three!
I have just two disappointments for day three: Firstly, we didn’t share the walk with James and secondly, Graham and I didn’t sit together on the tip of The Blade.
James left ahead of us, preferring the pace and company of a young family. Strange, I felt that we were walking at a good pace, yet other groups kept passing us–even after we caught up with them. Perhaps it is group dynamics to be ‘competitive’ out on the track; or are we much older than we admit?
Only day packs needed
On day 3 our load was made easy by leaving our heavy packs at Munro Hut and only carrying day packs and water. Although this was the longest day, the walk was easy. There were only a few stone staircases. we walked mostly along board walks with gradual elevations. There were beautifully crafted seats and natural clearings for tea breaks, amazing views and changing landscapes of eucalypt forest, tea tree and heath.
It was a day for walking slowly, breathing deeply and enjoying scenery, scents and sounds…and being passed by other groups walking at a more cracking pace!
The art works
Adding to the interest of the track experience were the art works, each telling a story (described in the official handbook).
Sex on the Cape. You can see The Blade in the far right of this photo. This seat resembling a native flower, caught Graham’s imagination!
Spectacular dolerite rock formations
Only a few people can sit together on the summit of the Blade. Because a group was already there (eating lunch) Graham and I had a quick look then returned to Seal Spa for our lunch. Hoping to meet up with James, we headed back without returning to the summit. Note: It was annoying that one group sat on the narrow Blade preventing other walkers from enjoying the experience.
Last stretch to Retakunna hut
Why does the home stretch seem to go on for ever? After picking up our heavy packs from Munro Hut the track to Retakunna Hut seemed endless.
On the boardwalk we met three young women who were heading out to Cape Pillar on a day walk from Fortescue Bay. They weren’t the first (free-style) walkers we had met along the way. We had also met backpackers on previous days who had been camping along the track. There are some designated camping areas along the new Three Capes Track and I saw a rain-water tank at one site. So if you don’t wish to pay for the huts, or you prefer to walk on your own, then there is an alternative.
Socialising on the track
We kept our freeze-dried Back Country Cuisine meals for the last night at Retakunna. It was not a memorable or very enjoyable experience. We won’t buy these again. However, it was pleasing to enjoy our last meal with a more social-group of people. By now people were more engaged with each other. We had some laughs with two other couples. James enjoyed playing chess each night with a man who had a strong Scottish accent.
So what was our walking group like? There were three family groups with children. One brave couple had three children–the oldest about 12yrs and youngest about 7yrs. There might have been just one couple older than Graham and me. There were two couples travelling together, two (school) friends, several young couples (early 20’s?) and one older man walking alone.
James nick-named the family in the room next to us the Bruce Willis family. This is because they appeared very regimented. Each morning their Dad reminded the boys; now remember your training today boys! as they were doing their stretching exercises.
We could hear Mr Willis barking loud instructions to his sons and wife in the dark of the early mornings. I imagine they were the first to leave each day and first to arrive at each hut. They didn’t make eye contact with us. We didn’t see them on the track, we didn’t see them eat. We felt a little sorry for the two boys.
Three Capes Track: Day Four
It was a glorious full moon rising as the clouds came in and the rain came down on our last night. I slept soundly, waking occasionally as the tempo of the rain increased.
Next morning we made an executive decision to get going early. The Bruce Willis family had already left, of course! In fact we were about the last to leave despite our efforts.
Short cut to Fortescue Bay
Then we made another executive decision to deviate from the official Three Capes Track and head back to Fortescue Bay on the old trail. So we didn’t see Cape Hauy. But I don’t think anyone else saw much of the Cape either on that very wet rainy day.
The old trail was in good condition and although it didn’t have the height or drama of the new Cape track, I enjoyed the soft outline of eucalypt, coastal heath and grasses in the mist and rain. And I enjoyed a trail without steps and climbing. We crossed paths with two rangers who were walking to Retakunna. This is the main track into the hut for the Ranger staff.
Cold and wet at Fortescue Bay
We arrived at Fortescue Bay after about three hours of walking. This was several hours before the scheduled bus departure and ahead of the other Three Capes walkers. The tourist facilities here were far from luxurious! There was only one wet leaky, smelly toilet and nowhere to sit out of the rain. We stood against an electric BBQ huddled under the only lean-to roof. Our raincoats were dripping and our clothes damp and cold.
But then just as we were contemplating hours of standing in the freezing rain, a young Eurpoean tourist came striding off the Cape Hauy track. She had just completed a walk out to the Cape, and more importantly, had a car parked near our BBQ shelter. This lovely young lady drove Graham back to Port Arthur to collect our car! So within an hour Graham had returned with our car.
Then James and I had one of those golden moments of glee, when the Bruce Willis family emerged off the Cape track just as we were getting into our car to drive away! The look on Bruce Willis’s face was worth bottling.
Fish and chips reward
By shear chance we met up again with the young European lady, at a cafe. We were enjoying a delicious meal of hot fish and chips. Meanwhile, back at Fortescue Bay the rest of the Three Capers were still standing in the rain waiting for the bus. I didn’t regret missing out on the final Cape. We exchanged contact details with the young lady and invited her to stay with us and some weeks later she stayed a night with us at Tin Dragon Trail Cottages.
We spent two days in Hobart before returning to Tin Dragon Trail Cottages. Here we stayed at the Black Buffalo Hotel in Federal St, North Hobart. It is good value (around $110 for the three of us, 2016) surprisingly quiet, comfortable, provides great meals and is close to Hobart CBD. One piece of advice is to book directly over the phone rather than on-line with Wotif or any of the other on-line distributors. Even if the on-line calendar looks sold-out, give the hotel a phone call.
If you wish to learn more about our tourist accommodation in north east Tasmania, please visit our web site: Tin Dragon Trail Cottages, facebook or instagram pages. We look forward to hosting your next stay in Tasmania!