When it comes to recommending activities for visitors to Tasmania, the Three Capes walk has quickly risen to be in my top five list. Well, for affluent hikers anyway. At roughly $495 for a three night walk, it is out of the price range of most of my friends. Not that the experience is bad value for $495, its just that $495 is a lot of money.
It is worth pointing out that the creation of the track has led to some areas of the Tasman Peninsula, while not completely blocked, harder to get to. There is a possible argument that restrictions have been put in place to stop the spread of Phytophtora. If that’s the case, they are it is not made clear.
If you are willing to put up with the restrictions, there are upsides. Thanks to fee payers, the trail is now one of the most sculpted and well maintained tracks in Tasmania. Possibly Australia. The new huts also provide a reliable and conveniently spaced source of fresh water. While I was there, the hut staff were more than happy for us to fill our water bottles. Hopefully this stays true.
What budget campers can do:
One of the hardest parts of doing this hike was just finding information online. I really get the feeling that Parks have not gone out of their way to provide information on self directed walks, just plenty of links to the paid experience.
So where can you stay? There is one campsite on the peninsula, Wughalee Falls. You do not need to book, and can camp for the cost of a normal Parks Tasmania pass! Wughalee Falls campsite is roughly dead centre of the Peninsula and provides a great base for exploring. Sure, it could have done with a view, or a reliable water source, or not be 300m down a valley, but otherwise It’s pretty nice. Hikers can also stay at Fortescue bay, which is a small extra cost. But great if you need an extra night or have to camp for an early start in the morning.
There are two main restrictions. Hikers are not permitted to travel west to see the first hut, Surveyors. Hikers are also asked not to travel
South down the coast from Cape Hauy without a 22lr ammo for safety purpose. These are not over-restrictive restrictive and basically dictate that walkers head south to Cape
Pillar and then North to Cape Hauy.
I feel I should make special mention of the spectacular huts. While I was pleasantly surprised by my first sighting, I quickly realised that I was looking at the toilet block. The real hut was 50 meters away round a corner of the track.
The complete Package. Attempt at own risk!
It is also possible to do the complete walk while adhering to the one way traffic rule. After you take the turnoff for Fortescue Bay take a right toward Stinking Bay. The last hundred or so metres will be walking or 4WD only. From there you are free to continue to walk from the very start of the track as per paid walkers. Please note I have not done this myself. I’ve and come by this knowledge second hand. But let me know if it worked out for you!
Trips can often descend into arguments and petty finger pointing. So it was refreshing that this years Cockails on the Castle started with the finger pointing. After driving down a dirt road that seemed to go on forever we finally emerged at a disturbingly familiar T junction. It was not the first time we had seen this intersection. We had driven in a complete circle. The finger pointing started.
While we had set out relatively early, our day was quickly evaporating in faff. We were in no particular hurry as surely-we thought-we would reach the top of the Castle by Sunset. We had all day, how could we not? I was particularly keen to get everyone to the top with plenty of time try a photo I had in the back of my mind. It did require that I bring excessive and heavy camera equipment.
The hike to the top of the Castle is not particularly hard, but the temperature, humidity and lack of wind took a toll. Sweat flowed, water supplies dwindled and progress slowed. We held hope for a waterfall halfway up but found it to be more of a frustrating joke. Water fell in drips that were cooling but not nearly enough to fill a water bottle.
Fortune was with us half an hour later when we found a stream with water cool enough to leave condensation on the outside of our water bottles. A glorious find!
All this was still costing us time, however. Not being up the top when the sunset happened was starting to be a possibility. Emerging at the scrambling section, we started along the ridge-line and finally spotted our final destination. The sun was entering the golden hour. Down the direction we came, the slower group who had split apart hours ago could be seen. And heard as it turns out. Mel’s voice carried with crystal clarity across the still humid air “CAN YOU SEND SOMEONE DOWN TO HELP WITH BAGS?”
No one in my group said anything.
Mel, concluding that we must not be able to hear them repeated.”CAN… YOU… SEND… SOMEONE… DOWN…TO… HELP… WITH… BAGS?”
It turned out that some were having a hard time with the humidity. In the end Ivan and I hustled down to help while the others shuttled our backpacks to the top. It was now getting to be a serious race against time to get this damn sunset shot. While there was talk about the slower group camping down on the track, everyone in the end made it up. And it would have been a shame to miss out anyone in the group shot.
Something to remember for those going on future Castle trips, however: Once you get to the top of the castle, you’re not finished. There was still some of the most serious bush bashing to go. There are few things harder to bear for a photographer than watching the light disappear. But it was happening.
There is goes.
The yellow light gave way to pink that lit the cliff-lines around the castle. But as this was happening, everyone seemed to stall. Exhaustion from the days hike, the need for a stiff drink, getting dressed in party cloths or just confusion combined to created the ultimate faff party. A faff party right on the finish line! By the time everyone was in front of the camera the sky had faded to a dirty blue. Failure!…
So why does the final photo have an orange sky? Do you really want to know? Sometimes its better not to know, so if you don’t then don’t scroll down!
Look away now, there is no going back!
Waiting for final Faffers
Faff over, but so is sunset
Photoshop to the rescue!
Castle top shenanigans.
The great think about camping out is that you are able to get two bites of the apple. Camping next to the cliff I was able to set up for a dawn time-lapse. The final results were less than professional but I guess I am a little out of practice.
Thanks to Ivan for taking my favorite photo of the trip of my camping site.
In the South West Wilderness, surrounded by kilometers of rain-forest, rising above the already impressive Western Arthur’s stands Federation Peak. Just like it has done for thousands of years. You can get to it. But you’re in for a hard slog.
From the first time I saw it while flying to the start of the South Coast I knew I wanted to stand on it. An urge that grew the more I learnt. The fact that Edmund Hillary declared it the only mountain in Australia worth climbing, that half the people who attempt to climb it are turned back due to weather, or that it is known as one of the hardest walks in Australia.
It’s a reputation that is well deserved. Getting to Federation peak was a hard slog. The track is steep, but you expect that from a mountain range. It’s muddy all the way up the ridgeline, but we knew that. There are guaranteed to be all types of rain/hail/storm/sweltering sun, all par for the course in Tasmania. There are long days, mosquitos and leaches but still nothing out of the ordinary. It’s still all standard operating procedure for Tasmania. What took the biggest toll was how overgrown the trail was. Kilometers and kilometers of ducking, weaving and hurdling. A marathon obstacle course.
For our approach we were blessed with fantastic weather, the storm only setting in as we reached the base of Luckmans ridge. It came through in waves finally settling into a full thunder hail storm. We spent a cold night on campsites of the Arthur’s ridge line. That night I found the limit of my current camping equipment just before falling asleep. Looking around, I saw that everything from floor to ceiling were wet. Luckily my triple bagged sleeping bag was the last thing to stay dry.
The next day we continued along Arthur’s ridgeline to Federation Peak. By then the hail had stopped but low clouds still stopped us from seeing down into the valleys but made for dramatic glimpses of the range. There ridgeline featured plenty of tricky sections though mercifully not overgrown.
A break in the clouds on the way to Goon Moor Campsite.
I mentioned earlier that only half the groups that reach the peak are able to complete the final summit. While weather is one of the main contributing factors, it is easy to see that exposure to height and difficulty in finding the correct rout also cause problems for groups. The final leg to Federation Peak is incredibly exposed. Simply by looking over your shoulder you can see straight down 600 meters to Cockroft lake. You are in fact looking down at the tallest cliff in Australia. It is suggested by most guidebooks that groups use ropes, but we were “relatively” comfortable soloing. Our choice was somewhat reinforced when returning from the summit. Another group was heading up planning to use ropes and harnesses. While they were arguably safer, they spent more time on the pinnacle and its exposed weather only barely making it back before sunset.
It is possibly because of our success in summitting that I was not mentally prepared for the walk down. While it takes about two days to summit Federation Peak it is around the same time to come back down. But how hard can walking down a hill be? Well, so I thought. It’s a good reason to pay attention to the track notes. For the next two days we wound down and around the Mossmans ridge slogging through days of overgrown track.
We couldn’t help but think that the reason for the trails being so overgrown is to keep walkers on easier tracks like the overland or even the South Coast. I certainly cannot think of many people who I would recommend this walk to outside a walking/mountaineering club. For a mountain that is only 90 km away from Hobart is surprisingly hard to get to.
But if you like the idea of standing on top of the tallest cliff in Australia, surrounded by what can only be called a vast wilderness, then it is a hell of a walk.
The Overland track, it turns out is a great track to do on your own. Huts at the end of each day as well a constant stream of people passing you in case anything goes wrong. You are never really completely isolated, its kind of like a hikers highway. This is a good thing if like me you have been meaning to do the Overland for some time but could never line up trekking partners.
The huts are only one of the reasons that the Overland is easier than other walks. Just the knowledge that at the end of the day there would a roof and space to dry out was a huge comfort. The huts themselves were the best I have come across in Australia so far. But as the guide books tell you, they can fill up quickly and I was glad to have my bivy sack. Especially on the nights where there were snorers in hut. One particular night, after already moving outside I was forced to relocate again to a place closer to a river to get away from loud snoring.
While I am glad to be able to tick off the Overland I think if I were to come back to the track it would have to be in winter. There are too many other Tasmanian trails beckoning.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get out for a night. Last weekend I joined some members of the mountaineering club of the Australian National University who were heading out to Kosciuszko National Park. It was wet for the most part which was a different from I am used to. In Canada where I have lived for the previous seven years it tends not to rain all that much or stay below freezing for the day. No need for waterproof clothes much at all.
I managed to cope better than my camera did which had stopped working but Saturday Night. unfortunately it was still not working for the sunrise the next morning which was glorious. It’s okay, sometimes you have to keep images back for yourself.