The Three Capes Track in the Southeast corner of Tasmania is an inviting experience to witness jaw-dropping views of Australia’s highest coastline and dolerite cliffs that take you to the edge of the world. With vast views out to the Tasman Sea, this walk is a must do! It’s short, easily accessible, and can be self-guided. The landscape and scenery on this peninsula will be unlike anything you have seen before, taking you back in time to 185mya – the Jurassic period. Inviting walkers from all around the world, this walk is enjoyed by many casual and avid hikers, has a beautifully maintained track, and is home to diverse flora and fauna.
As there is heaps of literature that gives insight into the paid Three Capes Experience, my trail notes will discuss the zero-cost, self-guided experience.
Note: the unpaid route differs from the official experience.
- Free – self-guided, 2 unpaid campsites
- Epic views – dolerite cliff faces, “the blade”, lighthouse views
- Moderate effort – gradual elevation gain on clear paths
- Photography paradise – cliffs, fungi, wildlife: pademelons and yellow-tailed black cockatoo’s, wildflowers: white flag-iris and common teatree, and much more
Port Arthur Historic Site
This site has a rich history in convict imprisonment from 1830-1877 (almost 50 years!). Over 12,000 convicts were imprisoned here and were responsible for building a habitable peninsula. They were involved in great labor including building their housing, a hospital, church, flour mill, roads, ships and boats. They are the island’s original hard labourers. This era depicts significant regional building progress in some of the harshest conditions.
Port Arthur closed its prison doors in 1877, and today it brings people from all over the country and world to learn the history that shaped the iconic region it is today, and enjoy the many activities this region is famous more, including hiking, camping, photography, sight-seeing incredible geological formations like: the Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen, Tessellated Pavement, and Eaglehawk Neck, famous wineries, surfing, sea kayaking, rock-climbing, scuba-diving, and more!
a spot as lovely in its position, as it is ugly in its memories– Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co. 1887
At Eaglehawk Neck, be sure to check out the best little coffee truck, Cubed Espresso. They are situated in the most beautiful viewpoint on the coast, offering amazing local coffee, and the best salted chocolate chip cookies, with outdoor seating looking out to the coast.
Day 1 – Cape Pillar Track to Bare Knoll Campsite
Trail Stats: 18 February 2020 / 9.64km / 2.58hrs / 300m up / 62m down
I booked the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys bus from Hobart to Port Arthur. There is no transport available From Port Arthur to Fortescue Bay. Unfortunately, even though Penicott picks walkers up from Fortescue Bay, they only provide this shuttle service to those who have paid for their walking experience (which includes shuttles, a boat transfer, and hut accommodation).
For me, doing the unpaid experience, I followed my Google maps “walking” route to Fortescue Bay with an attempt to hitchhike. There were 3 sections to my walk from the Port Arthur historic site to Fortescue Bay. The first section was along the main road, the second section took me via an old forest road (which is closed to vehicles) that eventually merges onto Fortescue Road, and the third section is finally on Fortescue Road. I walked over an hour (I am not an avid or confident hitchhiker), and I only got picked up on Fortescue Road (without actually signaling), which cut 2 hours of further walking for me (thank you Stefano and Rei!).
From Fortescue Bay, I took the Cape Pillar Track. Find coordinates for the track start here: 43°08’40.5″S 147°57’35.5″E. There is a logbook sign in station shortly after entering the track.
This track is very easy to follow. It’s fully marked, gentle elevation gain and includes some boardwalks along the way. There is a second unpaid campsite called Wughalee Falls Campground. However, upon speaking to some track workers along the trail, they said that getting to Wughalee involves a steep descent and ascent and it’s quite average, whereas Bare Knoll is right off the Cape Pillar Track with new tent pads and a drop toilet. As this was my recovery multi-day walk, I opted for the Bare Knoll Site.
Day 2 – Day Trip: Bare Knoll to ‘The Blade’ & Cape Pillar
Trail Stats: 19 February 2020 / 19.30km / 6.46hrs / 666m up / 664m down
Refill Water at Retakunna Hut before setting camp at Bare Knoll (no water at the Bare Knoll or Wughalee Falls campgrounds)
After enjoying a sleep in and a slow morning, I packed only a day bag and headed out to the Blade and then further onto Cape Pillar. Though the kilometers are long, it is an easy walking day. Yes there is elevation, but it’s only in 2 sections and they are short. The last few hundred meters to both The Blade and Cape Pillar are steep. Other than those two sections, there elevation is gradual and gentle along the gravel paths and boardwalks.
This day trip is my favourite section along the Three Capes Track. It’s one of Australia’s most southerly points offering vast views of dolerite and the great Tasman Sea.
From here, it’s a return walk back to Bare Knoll. Enjoy a steady stroll back, and don’t forget to pack a snack. It’s a long day!
Day 3 – Bare Knoll to Fortescue via Cape Hauy
Trail Stats: 20 February 2020 / 14-15.5km / 3.55hrs / 725m up / approx. 700m down
Note: I forgot to stop my watch before getting a lift to Port Arthur so some stats for this day are my best guesstimates)
Refill Water at Munro Hut before going back to camp at Bare Knoll
I got a head start from Bare Knoll as I knew I had a bus to catch and still needed to hitchhike my way to Port Arthur to make it on time. The walk from Bare Knoll passes through the Retakunna Hut, where you can refill on water without needing to treat it (according to the rangers there). I didn’t treat my water, but this will vary per person.
The trail passes through the Retakunna Hut for one last water refill. Thereafter, the trail weaves through thick forest, steeply ascending for a few kilometers before leveling out again. With undulating terrain and small glimpses of the view out to the coast, this walk will have you breaking a sweat; it’s the hardest of the 3 days.
Eventually you reach a junction where you can turn right to take the track to Cape Hauy. I have done Cape Hauy in the past as a day trip, so I did not add this to my walking itinerary. Instead, at the junction I continued towards Fortescue Bay. Easy, undulating, and a mostly descending track takes you back to the Fortescue Campground where you can sign your name out of the logbook.
From here, follow the Fortescue Road and try to hitch a ride to Port Arthur where you can get on the Pennicott Bus back to Hobart. You must pre-book this bus, you cannot hop on and pay at the door. There is very limited Telstra service along this whole track, so if you need to change your departure date, do so prior to leaving the ground around Munro Hut, as here, there is a stronger Telstra connection.
I got very lucky and caught a ride shortly after walking along Fortescue Road all the way to Port Arthur (thank you Danning!). At Port Arthur, you can enjoy perusing the gift shop and grabbing a bite to eat.
Why is “My Blood Runs Cold” written on the boardwalk? (See photo below in gallery)
It’s all about snakes! They are referred to as cold-blooded because they barely generate any body heat and instead use heat from the environment, like warm soil, to keep their body working. They are most active during mating season (late summer to early autumn). They eat frogs and skinks.
Snakes travel at the same pace of a human walk. But they strike quickly. They have compromised hearing and vision, but they react to the vibrations of footsteps. Snake bites are rare in Tasmania and most try to avoid humans. Know you snake safety and practice how to use a pressure bandage in the case you need to treat yourself or someone else on trail.
Tread carefully along the edges of the lookouts. The Greek God of Wind, Aeolus, can be unforgiving on the peninsula. There are areas of wind-pruned vegetation and shallow soils along with an exposed plateau that has been affected by fierce winds. These winds are believed to have been much worse during the last glaciation, which drove sand up the sea cliffs, and today they would be considered only a ‘moderate breeze.’
All in all, as an avid trekker, I found this walk to be a nice recovery trek. It offers stunning views, a pleasant and easily followed track, and enough elevation gain to still make it feel like you’re working.
- Tasmania Parks Pass
- Guy Rope – a good item to have for shelter set up on the summit or on wooden tent platforms
- Rain Pants and Rain Jacket – re-treat your rainproof gear with
- Nikwax – get a tech wash & DWR re-proofing spray
- A sleeping bag & liner – the liner adds warmth and keeps the bag clean Peak Design Capture
- Camera Clip (for the photography buffs!)
- 1-2 extra days worth of Emergency Food & enough Fuel
- Gaiters – good snake protection
- Camper’s Pantry – local Tasmanian Freeze-dried food!
How to Get Here
Option 1 – Personal or Hired vehicle
- Drive to Fortescue Bay
- Heaps of free parking and paid camping available here
Option 2 – Transit
- Pennicott Wilderness Journeys will take you from Hobart to Port Arthur and back
- Bookings are essential
– Basic / Intermediate –
- Trail consists of gravel, boardwalk, forest floor
- Exposed cliff drops