Prior to my Three Capes Track experience, I visited the tiny isthmus joining the Forestier Peninsula and the Tasman Peninsula. This is the piece of land that protected the rest of Tasmania from Port Arthur’s escapee convicts in the 1800s. Eaglehawk Neck also boasts incredible natural beauty, such as the famous Tessellated Pavement.
A strip of land that’s about 30m wide (at its narrowest) by 400m long, blink and you’ll miss Eaglehawk Neck! There’s a lovely loop walk that will take you past the 1832 Officers’ Quarters Museum. This is perhaps Australia’s oldest wooden military building. It was closed when we visited. Next, you’ll see a series of outbuildings and a statue of one of the eighteen guard dogs that were posted along the Neck to alert watchmen of escaped convicts trying to cross. Finally, you’ll reach the beach. Parks and Wildlife Tasmania have created an intriguing map of the historical landmarks in the area. The guard dogs were even posted on platforms to prevent convicts escaping by sea!
Continue walking north along the beach and you’ll reach a flat, patterned rock shelf. The siltstone forms a beautiful, tile-like pattern. It is known as the Tessellated Pavement. You can view it from a platform above. Alternatively, walk along the rock shelf if the tide isn’t too high. The natural patterns make for stunning photographs.
Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement are just over an hour’s drive east of Hobart. Allow extra time for stops on the way and for exploring the Tasman Peninsula. There is ample car-parking at both sites, including additional parking at the Eaglehawk Neck Community Hall.
You’d think that you’d have to pay to visit a place that is so historically significant and such a natural wonder, but you don’t! You can even access the Officers’ Quarters Museum for free when it’s open. Enjoy your visit!
Nestled in a bay, between wild capes and raging seas, is a very significant part of Tasmania: Port Arthur Historic Site. The area is home to cultural sites of the Pydairrerme people and is surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Tasman Peninsula. Originally, it was a penal station that played a vital role in the colony. More recently, it was the site of a heart-breaking event that lead to nationwide gun law reforms. Now World Heritage Listed, Port Arthur Historic Site is remarkable.
The site is extremely picturesque. Ruins stand in sparse, grassed areas: a penitentiary, a hospital and a church. There are also more than thirty restored buildings, giving a glimpse of past elegance and ways of life. Each building and ruin contains information about the lives of individual convicts and workers.
My favourite building is the Commandant’s House. The wallpaper, the multi-levelled hallway, the wood panelling… It is a very grand place! The restored buildings are opened from 9:30am, with a staff member on hand to answer your questions. Our host gave us an informative and fun insight into the house. Look for the time-travelling Commandant, the trapezium-shaped door and a letter written by a very accomplished five-year-old!
I’ve never visited Port Arthur Historic Site during Spring before. I’m very glad that I did this year! The gardens are beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the Commandant’s House garden – a secluded area that gave a hint at what the original garden may have looked like. The site is vastly different from my childhood visits – significant and tasteful landscaping has taken place, adding to the beauty of the site.
The beauty of exploring Port Arthur Historic Site is that you can walk through the buildings and see what life was like for the convicts, soldiers, Commandants and other staff for yourself. It’s like being a child again, exploring imagined forts and dungeons… except that these buildings are real. There is a poignancy to walking through each building, to pulling closed the door to your church stall and to standing in the darkness of the solitary cell.
Port Arthur is about 1 hour and 45 minutes’ drive east from Hobart. Take your time travelling as there are many beautiful spots to stop at on the way, including Eaglehawk Neck and Tasmans Arch. There is ample parking at the site. Be aware that renovations are taking place; the visitor’s centre will look spectacular when these are completed though. You could easily spend an entire day at Port Arthur. The site is dotted with places to eat, shop and research, including small museums and cafes. The gift shop even sells last-minute supplies for those beginning their Three Capes Track experience. There are short walks to do in the area too.
Tickets to the Port Arthur Historic Site cost $39 per adult, $32 per concession and $17 per child. There are optional extras to purchase too, such as a tour of the nearby Point Puer Boy’s Prison. Family tickets are available. Included in your ticket are a complementary 40-minute guided tour and a 20-minute harbour cruise. If you’re running short of time, or If you’ve visited Port Arthur Historic Site before, skip the tour but do the cruise! If you’re heading off to the Three Capes Track, entry to the site is complimentary for two years.
Staying on the Tasman Peninsula for a while? Read about my recent experience on the Three Capes Track or visiting the sea caves at Eaglehawk Neck. Alternatively, read about my adventures in Tasmania’s south.
Walking the Three Capes Track is a remarkable experience. All at once, you have stunning views, aching muscles, artfully crafted accommodation to look forward to and, in the middle of nowhere, a beautifully designed resting place that tells part of the story of the area. You journey from Port Arthur to Denman’s Cove. From here, you walk 46km over four days from Denman’s Cove to Fortescue Bay, via Cape Pillar, Mount Fortescue and Cape Hauy. It’s incredible. The third cape, Cape Raoul, isn’t yet part of the walk – I am told that, in the future, it will be part of the walk too.
When you book your Three Capes Track experience, you have choices. You can choose to take the 11:30am boat or the 2pm (1:30pm from May – August) boat. Your ticket to the Three Capes Track includes a two-year pass to Port Arthur Historic Site. You could spend an entire day wandering through the site if you want to. Being locals, we’ve seen it before and were happy with a few hours then the earlier start to our journey. Rather than doing a very, very long post about the entire walk, I’ve written a full post about each day. Here are the links to the full posts, with highlights:
Enjoy complimentary access to Port Arthur Historic Site. Cruise around the bay to the start of the walk. Have a snack on the beach before walking for 1.5 – 2 hours to Surveyors. Incredible views of Cape Raoul and beautiful accommodation await you. Enjoy!
Up we go… up Arthurs Peak and Crescent Mountain. You’ll be rewarded with views of Cape Pillar and Cape Raoul. It won’t be long until you’ve made it to your destination: Munro – accommodation on the cliffs! What a fantastic view of Cape Hauy and Hippolyte Rocks! Have a hot shower and read about the wreck of the Nord.
Cape Pillar and The Blade. What a highlight! Stunning views of Cape Raoul and Cape Hauy. Directly in front of you stands Tasman Island. The lighthouse, the old tramway, the houses… a bygone era on display in such wild surroundings. Walk back to Munro, pick up your pack and head to Retakunna.
The finish line is near. All that remains between you and it is a mountain, Cape Hauy and an aching body. The views, both up close in the rainforest and further afield of the capes, are worth it. Should you walk out to Cape Hauy and back? Yes, you should! Beautiful 360’ views plus the Totem Pole and Candlestick (famous to rock climbers) beneath you make standing at the end of this this cape particularly spectacular. A short walk later, you’re standing by the clear waters of Fortescue Bay, waiting for a bus back to Port Arthur. What an incredible journey!
What to Bring
Pack (one of) each item on the packing list provided by Parks and Wildlife. Remember that, although it is very luxurious, this is a hike and you need to self-cater. Make sure that your rainwear is good quality and covers you from head to ankle and that your boots are worn in. Blisters, bruises and getting wet are annoyances that you just don’t need on a journey like this. For the first night (or two), pack fresh food to enjoy. After this, dehydrated will do. You’ll need some trail mix to keep you going during the day. As a Tasmanian, I’m always devastated when tourists who go bushwalking end up hurt (or worse). Always, always, always carry water, sun protection, a jacket/jumper, rainwear, sturdy footwear, food, a first aid kit and a phone with you, even on short day walks.
What Not to Bring
My aching back reminds me that this section is of particular importance! I would NOT bring any luxury items with me. My mistake was packing a spare change of clothes (you need one outfit plus one contingency for wet/cold weather), a spare towel and small containers of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser. Despite having a lovely hot shower on Day 2, I didn’t use these items at all. Things I didn’t bring and would strongly advise others not to bring are luxuries like make-up, extra food (you can only eat so much!) and gadgets. Enjoy going bush, in every sense of the word!
Your cruise leaves from Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. This is 1 hour and 45 minutes’ drive east of Hobart. There are many fantastic spots to explore (or detour to) on the way, including Eaglehawk Neck, Dunalley and Richmond so take your time. Alternatively, arrive early and explore Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula like I did. It’s a fantastic area.
At $495 per adult ($396 per concession/child), the Three Capes Track experience may seem expensive, but you’ll soon see where your money goes. Firstly, you’ll have a (short) Pennicott Wilderness Journeys Cruise and two-year access to Port Arthur Historic Site. The limit on walkers (48 per hut) means that you can have “alone in the wilderness” experiences. You are treated very gently, from the track underfoot to the thick mattress awaiting you of an evening. Once you’ve seen the rangers (and even the helicopters!) in action, as well as the story starters and some of the trickier sections of the track, you’ll appreciate that it’s a bargain!
We set off from Port Arthur: my husband, myself, and, of course, the Ancient Marnier. The first part of your Three Capes Track experience is a boat ride from Port Arthur to Denmans Cove. You’ll motor past Crescent Bay (with it’s amazing sand dunes) and Mount Brown, with views of two of the capes. This is a shortened version of the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ Tasman Island Cruise. Up close, we saw a seal, sea caves, and an eagle’s nest. Seeing Cape Raoul, Cape Pillar and Tasman Island from the water gave us a sense of their grandeur and a taste of what was to come.
Landing at Denmans Cove is tricky! The boat pulls up to an isolated cove, backs up to the beach, lowers a ramp and then it’s up to you. Time your descent with the receding wave and commit fully to stepping off the ramp and you won’t get your feet wet! Make sure that your bag is strapped to you before you disembark.
Rest on the beach for a while. This is the only beach you’ll stand on until the end of your journey so make the most of it! After a short stop for lunch, my husband was raring to go so off we went! The track start is just up the river a short way and is obvious. Tasmanian artist Alex Miles has designed stunning pieces that introduce you to the start and finish of the track and to each hut. After a snap with the art, move on to the boot-washing station (it’s straightforward and a vital step in stopping the spread of plant diseases). From here, it’s a climb upwards. Not sure why “15 minutes” is engraved on a bench? Read the book that you were given by staff at Port Arthur.
When you reach Surveyors, you won’t believe it. It is superb accommodation. Finely-crafted cabins. A large deck with picture-perfect views of Cape Raoul. Deck chairs (Alex Miles’ designs appear on the fabric). Luxuriously thick mattresses. Drop loos that don’t smell (at least not in Spring-time!). A pellet fire. Bliss! Settle in and enjoy your time in paradise.
Each evening, your lovely host ranger (thanks Will, Ken and Joel!) will give you a weather update. This will help you to plan your day on the Three Capes Track. We decided to walk Days 2 and 3 in one go due to poor weather predicted for Day 3. This was a massive day and resulted in a minor injury for me but the views were amazing!
I really enjoyed the story starters on Day 2. You’ll come across wooden wombat poos, a love-nest in the woods and a beautifully sculpted resting place in Ellarwey Valley. Cloud Forest has an intriguing story and reading it on the spot would be a great idea. Your surroundings are very unique! It’s Spring and I really enjoyed the variety of native flowers on the walk between Surveyors and Munro.
Arthurs Peak and Crescent Mountain
I found Day 2 to be the hardest day of the Three Capes Track experience. Your pack is still laden with food and you have to walk up two steep sections: Arthurs Peak and Crescent Mountain. Going up generally means glorious views though and we were not disappointed! Cape Raoul, Mount Brown and the dunes at Crescent Bay were a lovely sight. The Ancient Mariner also spied our previous night’s accommodation, Surveyors, as well as an additional hut that has been built as part of an upcoming gourmet walking experience.
Words of warning for Day 2 and onwards are that you will pass across helicopter routes and near cliffs. These hazards are clearly signposted, with instructions on what to do if you hear a helicopter and the minimum distance between the track and the cliff’s edge. The good news is that the views (downwards, upwards and across!) are stunning and, when you are standing on the track, you feel quite safe.
When you reach “Four Ways”, as the rangers call it, turn right to Munro, Cape Pillar and The Blade. Have a rest at “High Life” but don’t forget to look up! You may spy an eagle’s nest. Within the hour, you should arrive at Munro, with excellent views from the deck (and helipad) and a welcome hot shower.
As I said in my previous post, we did most of Day 3 of the Three Capes Track (the walk out to Cape Pillar and The Blade) as part of Day 2. We knew that the weather was going to be rotten on our third day. This meant about 7.5 hours of walking in one day and a minor injury for me but the views were worth it! The absolute highlight of this walk is standing atop The Blade, with 360’ views of Cape Raoul, Cape Hauy and Tasman Island, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Leave your pack at Munro in the “garden variety Garden shed,” as ranger Ken instructed us. This is down the track, just beyond the sleeping quarters. Not having to carry the extra bulk is a huge relief! From here, keep walking “until you can’t walk any further” (again, instructions from Ken!). Take note of your surroundings as you go: Forest, button-grass, cliff’s edge, windswept scrub. Each has its own beauty.
The track on Day 3 is particularly brilliant. See just how big a blue whale is from the markers on the track. Walk along the back of a 2.4km duck-board snake. Spy tiny flowers, hinted at in mosaics. Descend white, wooden steps, curving their way towards The Blade. Step out onto a tarn (small, shallow lake). It’s a very snap-happy day!
Take the time to go out to the “Seal Spa”. The seats are particularly well-formed and the views of Tasman Island are magnificent. You can see parts of the old tramway, the lighthouse and the three houses. The Ancient Mariner spent eight hours becalmed beneath Tasman Island a few years ago. Despite previously saying, “I’ll be happy if I never see that lighthouse again!”, even he lapped up the views!
When you reach the end of the track, keep going at your own risk. Mind you, the steps continue to be well-formed and the views from The Blade are awe-inspiring! There is also a certain kudos to be gained from saying, “I’ve stood there!”. The Ancient Mariner was not inclined to reach the top due to vertigo but eventually made it. His main disappointment is that the photo someone took of him there shows his face… and none of the backdrop! Oh dear! I can assure that he made it to the top!
From The Blade, you’ll back-track back to Munro for a bite to eat, a toilet-stop and a last chance to read the (astonishing!) story of the makers-model of the Nord that is housed within the hut. From here, it’s an hour and a bit to Retakunna, the wildlife paradise (wombats and wallabies!) where you’ll spend your final evening. We arrived to see the helicopter in action – workers being flown in and out.
The entire set-up of the accommodation is first-class. Everything has been thoughtfully crafted, from the helicopter-ready poop pods and gas frames to the sliding doors on the communal huts to the poo facts on the toilet signs. The library in all three huts remains the same (one of our fellow walkers found a minor discrepancy!) so that you can pick up the same book and keep reading when you reach the next hut. It is a bushwalking experience unlike any other!