Walk­ing in the Tas­ma­nian wilder­ness.

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS IMO­GEN EVESON

FROM MEDIEVAL BELL TOW­ERS in Europe to re­mote moun­tain­sides in Mon­go­lia; there’s al­ways some­one, some­where, climb­ing some­thing. And to what end? It’s a quandary that hits at the foot of an­other steep as­cent. So far, the Cape Hauy track has felt like a pun­ish­ing se­ries of steps – up, down, up and round again like an Escher draw­ing – that have co­in­cided with a late-in-the-game re­al­i­sa­tion that I’m re­ally not much of a hiker. It’s lucky, then, that the Three Capes and Tas­man Penin­sula trip I’ve signed up to is fairly gen­tle in terms of Tas­ma­nian hikes. A se­ries of in­vig­o­rat­ing day walks, it’s a chance to dip in and out of the Three Capes Track: the four-day, 46-kilo­me­tre cliff-hug­ger that opened in De­cem­ber 2015 and has quickly be­come one of Aus­tralia’s es­sen­tial coastal walks. Over three days, I’m ex­plor­ing the best bits of the Tas­man Penin­sula – the small thumb­nail of land that lies a lit­tle over an hour’s drive from Ho­bart to the south-east and, apart from its rugged good looks, is well-known for be­ing home to the Port Arthur His­toric Site. Along with 11 fel­low hik­ers (mostly from all cor­ners of Aus­tralia, plus a few trav­ellers from over­seas) and two guides, I’ll be walk­ing through some of the most strik­ing parts of the Tas­man Na­tional Park coast. But rather than be­ing an overnight hike, whereby you carry your sleep­ing bag and food on your back and spend nights in huts along the way, our base for two nights is the same com­fort­able B&B, we have a minibus to shut­tle us be­tween walks, and our third day isn’t re­ally a walk – it’s a cruise. Which will suit this rookie fine; a fact that day one’s up­hill chal­lenges soon makes clear. We spend the first morn­ing visit­ing Port Arthur be­fore head­ing to nearby Fortes­cue Bay, where our guides Pip

and Will pre­pare a pic­nic lunch. It’s a peace­ful spot that marks the start of the day’s nine-kilo­me­tre loop, where bush fringes a cres­cent of sand and still wa­ter, and a Ben­nett’s wal­laby says hello – lin­ger­ing con­spic­u­ously while we eat. We pause for long enough to breathe in the air: that dis­tinc­tively Tas­ma­nian-grade oxy­gen that leaves eyes brighter and spir­its higher. As we start wind­ing our way to­wards the cape, the air be­comes spiked with aro­mat­ics: a tes­sel­la­tion of eu­ca­lyp­tus, heath and pine. The sun beats down through the gaps it can find in the over­story and the track’s ups and downs re­ward with glimpses back to the shim­mer­ing bay, or dra­matic views of the an­cient coast­line. The 180 mil­lion-year-old do­lerite col­umns and cliffs that char­ac­terise Cape Hauy and much of the Tas­ma­nian land­scape it­self make this a pop­u­lar area for climb­ing and ab­seil­ing. Upon reach­ing the cape we get ver­tigo sim­ply from look­ing at the slen­der sea stacks that shoot from the ocean just me­tres from the cliff-edge: the so-called ‘Can­dle­stick’ and ‘Totem Pole’ are cat­nip for daredevil climbers. Back at Fortes­cue Bay, we are shut­tled to our home for the next two nights; a homey B&B with a large wrap­around ve­ran­dah over­look­ing the peace­ful Lit­tle Nor­folk Bay. With five guest bed­rooms, a din­ing room and a cosy liv­ing room, it’s com­fort­able, invit­ing and a lit­tle quirky. In the morn­ing, our res­i­dent hosts Lorella and Lyn­ton cook a buf­fet break­fast in their big coun­try kitchen:

a hearty and de­li­cious spread that in­cludes ce­re­als, breads, pre­served and fresh fruit, soft boiled eggs and com­potes made with fruit from their or­chard garden. We make sand­wiches and wraps from the in­gre­di­ents our guides have pre­pared and tuck them into our day­packs ready for the walk ahead to Cape Raoul. Cape Raoul is one of the name­sake ‘Three Capes’ – but as it is not yet linked to the of­fi­cial track (con­struc­tion work is un­der­way for this ex­ten­sion), walk­ers on the Three Capes Track can cur­rently only view it from a dis­tance. Which is a shame for them, be­cause it’s gor­geous: a 14-kilo­me­tre round trip through tall stringy­bark for­est, old she-oak wood­land and coastal banksia scrub, with mo­ments of great beauty and drama un­fold­ing on the way. The first of these comes af­ter a steady as­cent: the bush falls away to re­veal a panorama of pri­mor­dial cliffs and Cape Raoul it­self stretch­ing out into the ocean. We sight world-renowned big wave surf­ing spot Ship­stern Bluff and, not too far off on the hori­zon, Bruny Island. Walk­ers who ven­ture here dur­ing spring and au­tumn might also spot mi­grat­ing whales. A plateau daubed with coastal heaths and dwarf banksias – capped pink and yel­low – marks a nat­u­ral pause in the land­scape and, while all is calm today, you’ll of­ten find it sur­ren­dered to the in­tense winds that Cape Raoul is known for; some of the strong­est in Aus­tralia have been recorded here. Our guides pro­vide great lessons in both the Tas­ma­nian bush and com­mon sense: “shout out if you start to feel any hot spots on your feet”, Pip had said be­fore we started out. Three hours in, I do, and she swiftly pro­duces a ban­dage that pre­vents it from turn­ing into a blis­ter. The pair point out yel­low-tailed black cock­a­toos and green rosel­las, as well as ed­i­ble and not-so ed­i­ble bush foods: we taste moun­tain berries – bright pink, high in vi­ta­min C and bit­ter­sweet – but leave the gleam­ing pur­ple ap­ple berries to dan­gle on their stalks. Con­ver­sa­tions among the group in­spire talk of other hikes in Aus­tralia and around the world: “The more you walk the more you dis­cover how much there is to walk,” Pip says. We’re trav­el­ling with Tas­ma­nian Ex­pe­di­tions, whose dy­namic guides shep­herd small groups of hik­ers on all man­ner of trails through the Tas­ma­nian wilder­ness, in­clud­ing the more chal­leng­ing Over­land and South Coast tracks. Pip’s

The track’s ups and downs re­ward with glimpses back to the shim­mer­ing bay, or dra­matic views of the an­cient coast­line.

time is split be­tween guid­ing walks and kayak­ing tours, while Will is also a stu­dent of ecol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion: both peo­ple you want to have on your team. And while this trip for me is an in­duc­tion into more se­ri­ous bush­walk­ing – my sights now set on overnight hikes – for oth­ers in our group it is a gen­tler jaunt. With the rel­a­tive lux­u­ries of a B&B stay, meals pro­vided, and our guides tak­ing care of lo­gis­tics, it’s a chance for the more ex­pe­ri­enced walk­ers to take their foot off the pedal and fo­cus on the best bits. Once at the cape, we set­tle down near the edge to eat our sand­wiches and soak in the awe­some view: blue sea and sky on an epic scale, jagged do­lerite col­umns ris­ing from the waves that crash at their base. The next day, we find our­selves at the feet of these capes: rid­ing the choppy wa­ters on a white-knuckle cruise. It lends a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to the sea cliffs and col­umns: it’s even more hum­bling to be in their shadow. We buckle in to our jet-pow­ered boat and set out on the three-hour Tas­man Island wilder­ness cruise, head­ing for the high­est ver­ti­cal sea cliffs in the south­ern hemi­sphere at Cape Pil­lar that stretch 300-plus me­tres out of the wa­ter. The weather has turned moody and feels all the more ap­pro­pri­ate for it. We dip in and out of arch­ways and deep-sea caves and get buf­feted by waves – the closer to the front of the boat you sit, the more ‘roller­coaster’ it feels. The wa­ters today are con­sid­er­ably tame: on wild days, the swell in the South­ern Ocean likely reaches around 18 me­tres (but don’t worry – in such ex­treme con­di­tions, the boat would not ven­ture out). The cruise trav­els be­tween Port Arthur and Ea­gle­hawk Neck, and the ex­act route

de­pends on the day’s weather and wind con­di­tions. The wa­ters are ripe for wildlife-spot­ting: al­ba­tross and sea ea­gles, div­ing gan­nets, cliff-nest­ing cor­morants and pere­grine fal­cons all pop­u­late the area. Today we see al­ba­tross and sea ea­gles, in ad­di­tion to the colonies of Aus­tralian and New Zealand fur seals that live on the rocky shores of Tas­man Island. We cir­cum­nav­i­gate this small patch of land and steal a glimpse of the pre­cip­i­tously placed light­house and keep­ers’ cot­tages that once com­prised one of Aus­tralia’s most iso­lated light­sta­tions. The light­house is au­to­mated today – still a bea­con for sea­far­ers en­ter­ing Storm Bay, in­clud­ing those sail­ing the Syd­ney to Ho­bart Yacht Race – but the island has re­mained un­in­hab­ited since the last keeper moved off in 1977. The Three Capes and Tas­man Penin­sula walk is a chance to feel Tas­ma­nia at its end-ofthe-world wildest, with­out throw­ing your­self com­pletely to the wind: maybe next time. Af­ter all, the more you walk the more you want to walk. And this in it­self an­swered my ear­lier ques­tion. What is the point of climb­ing to the top of things? In this case, it was to hit that sweet spot: the home run back down the trail when the af­ter­noon sun is soft and hon­eyed, the eu­ca­lyp­tus smells even sweeter and you don’t feel the pack on your shoul­ders any­more.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: Bush meets sea (and a sliver of sand) at Fortes­cue Bay; Do­lerite col­umns, the ‘Totem Pole’ and ‘Can­dle­stick’, at Cape Hauy; Her­itage B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion; A long way down – reach­ing the tip of Cape Raoul; Pink moun­tain berries; The...

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: A jet-pow­ered boat rides the choppy wa­ters; Say­ing hello to a Ben­nett’s wal­laby at the start of the Cape Hauy track ; A view of the pen­i­ten­tiary at Port Arthur. OP­PO­SITE: The shim­mer­ing wa­ters of Fortes­cue Bay.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Colonies of Aus­tralian and New Zealand fur seals live on the rocky shores of Tas­man Island; Re­turn­ing from Cape Hauy; The still wa­ters of Ladies Bay at Port Arthur His­toric Site. OP­PO­SITE: Spot­ting sea caves and stri­ated cliffs...

An aerial view of Tas­man Island and its light­house, which sits off the tip of Cape Pil­lar.

FROM TOP: An aerial view of the stun­ning Cape Hauy; Walk­ing a sec­tion of the Three Capes Track .

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