Three Capes Track is Australia’s newest hut-to-hut backpacking experience. It is a 3 night, 4 day hike which includes a boat ride and 48km of trail. The track starts at Port Arthur in Tasmania’s southeast and finishes at Fortescue Bay. In planning a trip back to Australia I suggested doing this to my family and was joined by Mum, Dad Andrew. We booked our starting date for January 2019 almost 6 months out. They only have space for 48 walkers a day. The big drawcard on the Three Capes Track is the spectacular cliffs of the peninsula which the track hugs for most of the trip. These are the tallest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere and tower hundreds of meters above the ocean below. Another drawcard for hikers is the amenities available on the track. Each night’s accommodation is a hut where you are given a bed in dorm-style rooms and cooking facilities. This makes it perfect for first-time backpackers and families because you don’t have to carry a tent, cooking equipment, or mattress.
As far as capes go, you really only see two on the track, making for a confusing name. Apparently, when the track was originally planned they were going to include Cape Raoul, which sits on the west side of Port Arthur. They spared no expense on the amenities and trail for the first section of the hike so one can only assume they didn’t have the funds to do the planned extension to the third cape.
The starting point for the hike is the Port Arthur Historic Site, which we arrived at early to on our first day. Parking for the 3 capes track was up the hill from the normal day-use area. Instead of walking down the road to the tourist office where we were due to check-in, we managed to take a wrong turn, follow a dirt trail, and get lost. Pretty stupid on our part but we ended up having to look at a map to walk through the historic site and enter the tourist office from the backside. We were pretty early for our check-in time so we had no troubles checking in. We got given our tour booklet which had lots of information on the track ahead. I went and got coffee and breakfast from the cafe and we killed some time by looking around the historic site for about an hour. We elected for the earlier of the two boat rides (11:30am) which would give us plenty of time to start the track and reach the first night’s hut.
We boarded the boat with the other hikers starting at the same time. It seemed to be a collection of families some old, like us, and others with young children. The boat was run by Pennticott Wilderness Journeys which gives you a scenic boat ride out to view the first of the 3 capes, Cape Raoul. We also saw views of the cliffs and out to Tasman Island where we’d be hiking to in the next few days. The seas started to get a little rough as we left the shelter of Port Arthur, I was glad to have put on the dorky wind/rain jacket they supply because the seawater was pretty cold! After about an hour the boat dropped us at Denmans Cove and the start of the track.
We ate our lunch on the beach before starting the 4km walk to the hut for that day. The beach was a beautiful white sandy beach, but the presence of a dead seal made it a little less idyllic and a cool breeze kept us from taking a dip. Along the track, there are all these ‘storyseats’ which are cleverly designed seats that have a theme and story that relate to an entry in the track guidebook. These entries range from the telling of the area’s history to the native flora and fauna. For the first day, the trail stays close to the water passing the cobblestone beach of Surveyors Cove.
The first night was spent at Surveyors Hut which is situated on the headland looking out to sea at Cape Raoul. Each hut has dorm-style rooms of 4 and 8. We were lucky to have a group of 4 so we had a room to ourselves for the whole trip. You get assigned a room number at Surveyors Hut and you keep that room number for the rest of the trip. The amenities at the hut sort of blew us away. They had a bbq outside, gas stoves inside, and plenty of cooking accessories to cook up whatever you want. The huts also have a small library of books about the history, ecology, and biology of the area. We arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon and had plenty of time to enjoy the large deck of Surveyors Hut to read, drink tea and watch for wildlife. The highlight was seeing a large tiger snake right off the deck! Surveyors Hut had a scale to weigh your pack. We took turns to see who was carrying the lightest, Dad had 11.9 kg, Mum 10.0 kg, Andrew 17.8 kg and I had 12.3 kg. Later in the afternoon when all parties had arrived the ranger (and host of the hut) gave us a briefing on It was becoming obvious we’d have a bit more free time on this walk than what we are used too so I was regretting not packing extra tea. Bushfire smoke had swept in during the day so we didn’t get great views of Cape Raoul but the sunset was great and we even saw the supermoon rise.
We woke to cloudy/smokey skies so once again didn’t get the view over to Cape Raoul. The walk for day 2 is an 11 km hike to Munro Hut over Arthurs peak (which is more like a hill). Some of the trail gets exposed to the sun and I did get warm on the walk. There were plenty of storyseats to experience on this day which kept us busy along the trail. The one that interested me the most was of the people who pioneered the trail out to Cape Pillar looking for the first ascent. We got to Munro Hut at lunchtime. The hut has a fantastic view out to Cape Huay (our destination for Day 4) from a boardwalk lookout. After eating lunch we decided we didn’t want to sit around for the whole afternoon so we walked out to Cape Pillar for the afternoon (the walk to Cape Pillar is recommended for day 3 of the itinerary).
The track out to Cape Pillar is 14km and had the longest stretch of boardwalk I think I’ve ever seen. One section seems to stretch along for miles! Once the trail follows the cliffs you get amazing views of Tasman Island, the Blade, and other rock formations like Cathedral Rock and Dad’s favorite ‘The Trident’. We saw many people on their 3rd day of the walk going back towards Munro Hut. When we got all the way out to the Blade at 3 pm we got the cliffs all to ourselves! The highlight of Cape Pillar is definitely the walk up the blade, which follows a narrow knife-edge ridge that directly faces Tasman Island. You get a good view of the lighthouse on Tasman Island and can marvel at the block-like columns towering hundreds of meters from the sea. We walked all the way back to Munro’s Hut and felt significantly more tired than the other walkers. My feet were aching from all the walking on boardwalk. There is a shower at Munro Hut but it was broken so we weren’t able to make use of it.
Andrew is a crazy person so he woke up early to get sunrise in out at Cape Pillar. The rest of us opted for more sleep so left at 9 am and we met him out there at a more respectable time. We had to vacate the dorm rooms for the next guests but we were able to leave our overnight packs in a storage shed. The long walk out to the cape felt more tedious the second time but it was nice seeing the sights we’d seen the previous day in the morning light. It was a cooler windy morning than the previous two days but we were lucky because it kept the smoke/haze away. On the way back we read all the story seats from the trail guidebook.
Once we got back to Munro, we grabbed our gear from storage and headed off the final hut, Retakunna. With the trip out to Cape Pillar, it was a 19km day. Retakunna was in a eucalypts forest where we enjoyed relaxing on the deck in the sunshine for the afternoon.
Day 4 was set to be another 14km day. The hike out of Retakunna goes over Mt Fortescue which is the highest point of the trail. At only 482m the climb is short and over quickly, they’ve also done a good job of ensuring it’s gradual. The track goes through rainforests to get up and over Mt Fortescue with large tree ferns mixed in with the eucalypts. We powered up the climb and passed many groups who’d left before us. Again we got cliff views and this time we got to see a rock arch formed by a headland eroding from underneath!
At the junction with Cape Huay, we left our big packs and hiked out to the cape with just a daypack. Here we came across more people who were just hiking Cape Huay as a day hike. Cape Huay is like a smaller version of Cape pillar, it has tall sea cliffs and the trail ends at a lookout over the features called the Totem Pole and The Candlestick. These features are popular with climbers but the easiest route on the Totem Pole is a ridiculous 5.12 mixed trad. Disappointed no one was there climbing it but with grades and stiff, I wonder how many climbs it gets a year. The candlestick is easier (5.10) but the rock quality is poor.
We made our way back to our backpacks and hiked what felt like a million stone steps downhill to the white sands of Fortescue Bay where we’d meet the shuttle and end our trip. We had plenty of time to kill as we waited for the shuttle. We took a swim in the bay and had icecreams from the kiosk!
The three capes trek was definitely way bougier than hikes my family is used to but we still enjoyed our time. The huts were really nice quality and were great to not have to carry camping gear. I think this is great for a young family or people going for their first backpacking trip. If I was to make the trip out to Cape Pillar again I’d probably just do it independently and stay at the national park campground near Munro Hut.