Two syllables heard repeated in the rhythmic tread of my feet, pulled along by the gusting winds sweeping from sea to shore, and felt deep within each beat of my heart. Such was my experience walking the Three Capes Track.
Sounding at once like a promise and a temptation. The Three Capes delivers on both.
But first, let’s go back to the beginning…
I’d often dreamed of both holidaying in Tasmania and completing a multi-day hike, but I never seemed to get around to nudging either dream into fruition. But with the approach of a milestone birthday, it finally felt like the year to act on something truly memorable. So why not do both?
Initially I toyed with the idea of walking the Overland Track, but having never completed anything beyond a one day hike, that felt a bit too ambitious. While the Overland might not have been right (yet), the idea of a multi-day hike couldn’t have felt more perfect. But which to attempt? Tasmania has so many options. A little online sleuthing reminded me of a relatively new four day and three night walk, which seemed to tick a whole lot of boxes – the Three Capes Track.
You know those moments in life where everything says YES?!? This was one of those. I loved the idea of tackling a multi-day hike in stunning surrounds, carrying everything I needed, except for a tent and cooking gear. The Three Capes Track offers a perfect blend of independence and convenience, and the right balance between luxury and roughing it.
Here follows not so much a blow-by-blow account of everything you’ll encounter on the track (I’ll post a nitty gritty guide another time). Instead you’ll find a re-telling of my personal experience walking this incredible track. If you’re short on time, I’ll give you the scoop – the Three Capes Track is life changing and you should walk it.
Day 1: Port Arthur to Surveyors (4km)
We gave ourselves plenty of time to drive from Hobart to Port Arthur, which meant that we had ample hours up our sleeve to gape at all the lovely little towns along the way, with no stress about missing our departure. Leaving our backpacks and cold weather gear in the car, we unhurriedly explored the grounds and buildings of Port Arthur. That was, until our hungry stomachs and the driving wind forced us to head back to the car, where food and fleece jackets were waiting.
Port Arthur is beautiful, surprisingly expansive, entirely fascinating, and well worth spending at least a couple of hours. It’s easy to get a little ‘convicted out’ in Tasmania, but if this is the only historical site you ever visit, you’d be well served.
It was time to get acquainted with our backpacks, and await our boat cruise which would then take us on to the start of our on-foot adventure. The cruise, operated by Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, was lots of fun, and a great way to introduce us to the landscape we were about to explore. This is my type of cruise – there’s nothing quite like being smacked in the face with cold saltwater spray, or bracing yourself against strong gusts of wind which seemingly strike right to the chest.
Nature wakes you up and sets your senses to high sensitivity – a reminder that you’re alive and inextricably a part of the wonder which surrounds you. (Side note: if you didn’t already know that Tasmania is incredibly stunning, this cruise will introduce that concept to you in the best possible way.)
In stepping from the boat onto the white sand of Denmans Cove, I felt like the air itself was buzzing with anticipation (or maybe that was me?) – all that time preparing and dreaming of this trip, collapsed here into this single moment. Purposefully pausing here for a minute felt important – an acknowledgement that this is ACTUALLY happening and that something truly special lies ahead. And as the boat began to shrink ever smaller on the horizon, a sudden realisation that there’s no turning back. It’s time to begin.
As we set our boots to the track, it didn’t take long for the biting cold of Port Arthur to feel like it was half a world away, with warm layers soon being shed. Today’s walk was short, surprisingly steep in parts, and the weather was hot – all of which gave us plenty of excuses to pause, catch our breath and enjoy the view.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at Surveyors Cabin, where we were greeted by our host ranger Jess, who may just be the most exuberant person I’ve ever met. We dropped our packs at our cabin (with pleasure!), changed into our ‘ranch-relaxo’ clothes, and joined the rest of our group who had informally gathered on the deck. Is there anything more comforting and more enjoyable than a cup of tea after a journey? I think not.
As was to be expected at the end of our first day, sleep was welcomed, yet fitful.
Day 2: Surveyors to Munro (11km)
We didn’t get a super early start today, deciding to take some extra time to redistribute our packs (plus, repacking a sleeping bag is surprisingly challenging … lol). But when we did finally head out, our feelings were mixed – it was sad to leave, yet exciting to be on our way. I think the path out from Surveyors may have been our favourite exit – perhaps due to the way the path curved enticingly off into the forest, or because our first full day of hiking lay ahead.
The wildflowers were in bloom, the sun was shining, and we were powered by a breakfast of porridge. We made our way through eucalypt forests, windswept heathlands, and enjoyed the most incredible views out across the water. In the guide book, Arthurs Peak is described as gentle, but I’d say it’s more of a moderate gradient – your legs will know they’re working today!
This is the day I remembered that beauty fatigue is all too real. Walking this track you’ll pause to enjoy a beautiful view or take a photo, thinking that you’ll never see anything quite so breathtaking again. But then turn another corner or crest another peak and surprise, surprise, you’ll discover an equally, if not more stunning view to behold.
We took a break to enjoy our first cup of tea on a seat overlooking the ocean, and managed to succeed in not getting blown away by the strong winds blustering around us. Further on down the track we spotted our first (and only) snake snoozing by the track, which we later figured to be a chilled out Tiger Snake.
I won’t lie, the pack was starting to feel a bit heavy as the day wore on, so it was a great relief to step out from under it at the end of the day. And better yet, reward my weary (and no doubt smelly) body with a hot shower. So luxurious! Not everyone had a shower, but it was an absolute highlight of the trip. Showering under open skies, surrounded by bird calls and the rustle of eucalyptus leaves, was magic.
Sleep came more readily this evening, even though a toilet break was required at some point in the dark of night (at least it wasn’t raining!). The cabins at Munro are situated further from the toilets than at Surveyors, so a torch is an essential! It’s easy to forget just how dark it gets in the forest, especially when a bit of cloud cover is at play. The bonus of night-time toilet visits is that you get the chance to do a little spotlighting – I encountered pademelons and a possum along the way.
Day 3: Munro to Retakunna via The Blade (17km)
Our longest walking day was overflowing with an abundance of beauty (but then again, every day felt like that), and journeyed us through a diverse range of landscapes and vegetation. It felt very strange to leave our backpacks behind and travel with just our daypacks, but it made today much more enjoyable, especially with The Blade awaiting us.
It might seem strange, but it was a little exciting to actually have to use our rain gear today (even though it was just for an hour or so), to protect against the worst of a heavy shower. Multi-day hiking necessarily involves you packing a lot of ‘just in case’ items, so when you get to use something you’ve carried all this way, you feel like it was so worth the effort. Of course, the weather in Tasmania is as variable as the landscape, and it wasn’t long before we were back to sunshine and clear blue skies.
Spectacular views out to the ocean were our constant travelling companion, but nothing compared to what we encountered at The Blade. You’d be forgiven for thinking that with a name like The Blade, that it’s inaccessible and off-limits to all but the most experienced climbers, but the opposite is true – it’s impressively easy to make your way out to the point. There are steps, lots of handholds, and it’s possible to stay protectively surrounded by large dolerite boulders … so it’s certainly a spot for even those not a fan of heights to enjoy. The effort is well worth it.
Wildlife was bountiful today, with highlights provided by a pair of yellow-tailed black cockatoos and a solo echidna (which would end up being the first of many encountered during our Tasmanian trip). We enjoyed our lunch in the welcome shade of Seal Spa, however the seals proved to be relatively elusive, with just a couple spied way off in the distance.
Returning back along the same track to pick up our backpacks at Munro, it felt like being reunited with an old friend. I’d become accustomed to having the weight of my backpack on my back, and I’d honestly missed having it there. Feeling whole once again, onwards we headed to Retakunna. Of all the sites, Retakunna was my favourite. I loved it’s sprawling, open design and how the surrounding grasslands invited the outside in.
Day 4: Retakunna to Port Arthur via Cape Hauy and Fortescue Bay (14km)
The last day of our walk was our first true early morning start, giving ourselves plenty of time to make our scheduled bus back to Port Arthur. Heading out in the cool and quiet of sunrise made experiencing the climb up Mt Fortescue and through the moss-covered rainforest, that much more mystical. The guide book describes the climb as gentle, and while the track meanders beautifully up the slope, you’re still very aware that you’re heading up hill. It was cool enough to start out wearing gloves and a beanie, but part way up Mt Fortescue I was well and truly warm enough to peel the layers back to my base layer t-shirt.
Ken, our host ranger at Retakunna told us the day before that he considered this to be the best day of the walk, and there’s a good chance I’d agree. Or at the very least, put today on par for beauty with the walk out to The Blade. We passed through an incredible, if not somewhat bewildering diversity of landscapes today – rainforest, open woodland, coastal heathland … all of which are the very best examples of their kind.
In heading out to Cape Hauy (which is optional), we took the opportunity to leave our backpacks at the junction point, travelling on with our day packs. There were A LOT of stairs ahead of us, so keeping ourselves as light as possible was a definite advantage. Even though it’s not necessarily an easy trek out to Cape Hauy, it’s stunningly beautiful and not to be missed! We stopped for a cup of tea and a snack before braving the return trip (and all those stairs) back to the junction.
After reuniting with our backpacks, we continued on the mostly gentle and generally downhill track to Fortescue Bay – but don’t be thinking downhill means easy. By day four a lot of people’s knees were NOT loving the downhill sections. However, the end is in sight, and there’s still plenty of beauty to encounter along the way (including an echidna about 100 metres from the finish).
When we reached the beach, it felt like an echo of the day we arrived at Denmans Cove – only now instead of acknowledging what lies ahead, it was about appreciating how far you’ve travelled on your own two feet. A perfect place to shed the hiking boots and get a little sand under the toes. With a serious craving for coffee and salty chips, we were happy to find both available at the little Fortescue Bay kiosk – it felt like such a decadent treat, and I’ve definitely had much worse cups of coffee. From there, it was just one rather bumpy bus ride back to Port Arthur and true civilisation (where a shower thankfully awaited us).
Reflections from home
This walk is a life changer, offering so much on so many levels.
There’s the obvious externalities … The landscape is incredibly beautiful. The track has been considerately constructed to enhance your walking experience, and with respect for the sensitive landscape it winds through. The overnight facilities are cleverly designed to offer just the right amount of luxury, without feeling as if you’re ever rudely intruding on the environment.
And the less obvious internalities … Carrying yourself and your pack from start to finish on a 46km hike is of course a fantastic achievement. But as you move yourself further from point A and closer to point B, the start and finish of your journey become less relevant. Your focus shifts to the present environment, on what you’re experiencing right then and there; a living, breathing practice of mindfulness.
Simplicity is a true pleasure as you become intimately attuned to your environment. Thoughts narrow to the essentials: the likelihood of rain, how far you are from shelter, when you’ll next access food or water, and how long until you’ll need to rest. The worries of your life back home seem of little consequence when you’re busy existing out in there in the natural world.
Being responsible for carrying all you need, accessing water from rainwater tanks, composting food scraps, and taking out all your rubbish are all important reminders that it’s easy to live more sustainably. From this experience, I felt reinspired to step a little lighter on the world and leave a far smaller footprint.
It’s entirely possible that out there on that track – somewhere between day one and day four, you’ll find a part of yourself. But some words of caution – if you find that piece, you won’t feel complete. Quite the opposite. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start seeking out further adventures to see what else might be found. Journeys into nature, like the Three Capes Track, give us this rare chance to dive deep into ourselves … an exploration to which I for one, could happily devote a lifetime.