What kind of walk can you get for $25 million? Yes, that is what the Tasmanian government has spent to develop and build The Three Capes Track. Ten years in planning and four years in construction, it has intrigued me ever since I first heard about it. Finally, on 23 December 2015, the three hut complexes and 47 km of trackwork were completed and it was opened. Now here we are, a few months later, ready to find out first hand just what has been achieved.

The coastline of the Tasman Peninsula is famed for having some of the highest sea-cliffs in Australia, made even more impressive by the almost vertical dolerite columns which form them. The best examples of these cliffs are found on three capes, Hauy, Pillar and Raoul, which jut sharply out into the Tasman Sea. These are the focal points of the Three Capes Track, but in visiting them, the walker also passes through a range of pristine vegetation habitats, from low windswept moorland, to coastal heath, dry and wet sclerophyll forest, cloud forest and temperate rain forest. The combination promises a great walking experience.

With major upgrading of existing track and the creation of new track, plus the construction of three accommodation complexes on the route, this track opens this superb region to a much wider cross-section of the community. No longer do you have to be an experienced bushwalker, able to carry heavy backpack and camping gear, to access this superb area. For some, fearful of potential impact, this is not a good thing. However, I suspect that more people who experience wilderness, the more people there are who will fight for its protection. All this is part of what we want to discover about the Three Capes Track.

The 300m cliffs of Resolution Point on Cape Pillar

Strictly speaking, at present it is still a "Two Capes Track", as the walk includes only two of the three impressive promontories on the Tasman Peninsula, Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar. The inclusion of Cape Raoul awaits the construction of another hut and more track, though for those who wish, it can still be visited as a separate day-walk on a bush track. In the end, better that we can walk in this wilderness now rather than later - after all, we can always do it again when the last section is finished.

Cape Hauy


Cape Raoul

The Blade at Cape Pillar

Part of the fee charged for doing this walk includes a visit to the ruins of the infamous Port Arthur Penal Colony, where many of the more intransigent convicts of Van Diemens Land were sent between 1830 and 1877. As can be seen from the photos below, it is a well-preserved and well-interpreted reminder of a very different time in our history. Walkers should arrive a day early and check it out.

Port Arthur Settlement from across the port

Ruins of the Penitentiary building (built in 1843, burnt in 1897)

The shell of the hospital on Settlement Hill

The restored asylum building

Ruins of the convict church (built 1836, burnt 1884)

Day 1 - Port Arthur to Surveyors Hut (4.5 km - 190m ascent - 40m descent)

It was a bit like checking into an airport, as the fair Nello and I lined up to collect our track passes and 86-page guidebook at the Port Arthur Visitors' Centre. Then it was down to the pier to join some of our fellow walkers for the boat trip across to Denman Cove, official start point of the Three Capes Track.

The boat trip, however, was not just about ferrying people across the width of Port Arthur, but a one-hour excursion to take in its features. With Captain Finn at the helm, giving an excellent commentary, we passed between Point Puer (location of the 19th century boys penitentiary) and Isle of the Dead (where at least 1200 convicts and staff from the penal settlement are buried). History covered, we then visited deep sea-caves in the mudstone cliffs, the kelp forests of Safety Bay, and the high dunes of Crescent Beach, before heading out to the entrance of the port where albatross and gannet soared or skimmed the waves.

Mudstone cliffs of Point Puer

Big dunes at Crescent Beach

The silhouettes of Point Resolution and Tasman Island

Then it was time for a bee-line back to Denman Cove, directly opposite the ruins of the convict settlement. Finn edged the front of the boat on to the sandy beach, lowered the gang-plank and we all disembarked. It was already lunch time and there was no need to hurry to the hut, a little over 4 km away. The huts hold 48 walkers, but today we were only 24 and every party would get their own room.

The official start of the Three Capes Track

Denman Cove - start of the walk

Landing at Denman Cove

No phytophthera! - boot-cleaning station

View along the shore of Port Arthur

By the time we set out, the grey cloud that had hovered over us during the boat trip began to lift and the sun was soon peaking through the gaps. We passed the three-poled wooden sculpture that marked the start of the track, scrubbed and disinfected our boots in the steel phytophthera control gate, and headed along the track. The first thing one notices is the quality of the trackwork, 1.2 m wide compacted gravel surface, lined with rock on its downward side to prevent spread, steeper sections built of flat stone steps with every place that looks like holding water traversed by solid wooden bridges or long sections of duck-board. Walking the Three Capes Track was not going to be technically difficult.

Setting out from Denman Cove

19th century Penitentiary ruins on the far side of Port Arthur

The track undulated gently as it sidled along the steeply sloping eastern shore of Port Arthur beneath the dry sclerophyll forest, looking out through the tree-trunks to the distant ruins of convict buildings. We soon reached the stony beach at Surveyors Cove, from where the track began its well-stepped climb to cross a duck-boarded marshy area and emerge at a high button-grass clearing, where Surveyors Hut stood.

The stony beach at Surveyors Cove

Cliffs in front of Crescent Beach with Cape Raoul in the background

The well-constructed path

Arriving at Surveyors Hut

"Hut?" - our jaws dropped a little as the understatement of this word to describe the sprawling complex of steel, galvanised sheeting and wooden walkers accommodation, surrounded by wide multi-tiered decks, sunk in (see Box). These "huts" have taken walkers' accommodation to a new level and, having seen the trackwork and, now, the building infrastructure, I was beginning to see where the $25 million went.

Steel-framed with blackbutt decking - the ultimate wilderness "hut"

The view of Cape Raoul from Surveyors Hut

The front deck was the place to gravitate to, lounging in the deckchairs in the sun, coffee in hand, looking out over distant Cape Raoul, while getting to know the people who would share this journey with us for the next few days, and listening to Luke the ranger tell us a bit about the history and construction of the Three Capes Track. If nothing else, this walk was going to be unique.

Tracks, Huts and Walk Infrastructure

The first sight of the track gives a big clue as to where some of the money went in developing this walk - a 1.2m width of compacted granite lined with slabs of rock, all of which would have been flown in by helicopter, 800 kilo at a time. That makes for an impressive number of helicopter flights. A little later on we saw the well-spaced stone steps that led walkers easily up the slopes, and the timber bridges and wide duckboarding that crossed creek and wetland. I could see how the track cost an average of $300 per metre to build. I had started out concerned that the track would be over-engineered and, as a result, spoil the wilderness experience. However, by the end of the walk, I no longer had this worry as there were already signs, particularly in the rain forest, that leaf-litter and the spread of plants were "softening" the track and that it would eventually blend back into the landscape. The one exception to this was the overuse of duckboard, a necessary feature to protect sensitive wetlands, but which seems to extend way beyond areas that need protecting on parts of the track.


As mentioned, the huts built for this walk take wilderness hut construction to a whole new level. Steel-framed Surveyors Hut, consists of two kitchen hubs, complete with solar lighting and gas cookers, and is well-equipped with cooking pots and pans, plus a small library of books. Nearby, but separate, are two sleeping quarters, each with two 8-bunk rooms and two 4-bunk rooms. The windows of both eating and sleeping buildings are all tilted down to prevent bird-strike and all rooms have ventilation and screened doors as well as glassed doors. The timber used in these buildings is Tasmanian oak and they are surrounded by wide multi-leveled blackbutt decking.

Ten 15,000 litre tanks hold the rain-water captured from the large roof area - half for hut usage and half as a reserve in case of bushfires. Six 500kg gas tanks ensure supplies will not run out quickly. Not far away is the raised toilet and wash block, where 16 plastic tanks, moved by winch when replaced, store the sewage that is then removed by helicopter for normal treatment. This of course means that the helipad is also not far away, as are the separate ranger's quarters.

All of these outbuildings are connected by wide duck-boarding so that the vegetation around the huts is not trampled. Finally, to show the detail of thought, there are USB charging ports for those who cannot bear to be parted from cyberspace for even three days, yoga mats for those who want to stretch aching joints and complementary ear plugs for those who find themselves in a room of snorers. Yes- this is another level in hut design.


Day 2 - Surveyors Hut to Munro Hut (11 km - 330m ascent - 230m descent)

The overnight rain had cleared by the time we got up, but had left a grey-washed sky in its place. We had a leisurely breakfast on the deck - again there was no need to rush off, as it was only 11 km to our next hut. Fellow walkers were heading off down the duck-board that led into the eucalyptus woodland, and finally we took it too.

Duckboard heading out from Surveyors Hut

Vista of Port Arthur

A short way down the track, a clearing offered us a broad vista of the length of Port Arthur. A seat had been built here with the curious name "Punishment to Playground", from where one could reflect on the distant ruins of the notorious Port Arthur penal settlement. It was part of the novel track interpretation created for the Three Capes Track (see box). After checking the guidebook to read what it had to say about "Punishment to Playground", we pushed on steadily to the crunch of gravel or the twang of wire-covered wooden board beneath our feet.

Scrubby eucalyptus forest on the way to Arthurs Peak

Rock platform near the summit of Arthurs Peak

Spatterings of white, pink and yellow of autumn wildflowers brightened the shrubbery as we passed. Ahead lay the rounded, tree-covered hump of Arthur Peak, and we were soon climbing its northern slope. A couple of rock ledges at the cliff edge on the way up, and again at the top, offered superb views over the entrance to Port Arthur to Cape Raoul beyond.

Mt Brown and Crescent Beach with Cape Raoul in the background

View from Arthurs Peak towards Cape Pillar

The sheer 312m seaward cliff of Arthurs Peak

Resolution Point and the tip of Tasman island

Then it was steeply down, separated from the cliff edge by a metre or two of scrubby bush. Only when we reached a point called Jurassic Crack and looked back, did we appreciate just how dramatic Arthurs Peak is - it may be an innocuous rounded dome from the land, but its seaward side is an almost vertical 300m cliff face. It was as if half of the peak had been chopped off - amazing!

Looking over the inland side of Arthurs Peak to Port Arthur

The moorlands of the Ellarwey Valley

Looking out to sea from Jurassic Crack

The cloud forest of Crescent Mountain

Tearing ourselves away from this view, we climbed steadily up the seaward side of Crescent Mountain. For a few hundred metres near the high point, the vegetation changed - suddenly rocks were covered with moss and tree-trunks draped with lichen. The track became damper and more enclosed as we crossed this small pocket of cloud forest.

Mossy steps up into the cloud forest

However, that soon turned back into drier eucalyptus woodland as we descended to reach the coastal moors of the Ellarwey Valley. The cold south wind swept across the open knee-high heath and we were glad to re-enter more protected woodland as the track started a steady climb up to Tornado Ridge.

Wet sclerophyll forest on Tornado Ridge

Moss cover log in the wet sclerophyll forest

The edge of the Ellarwey Valley

Open forest on the climb out of Ellarwey Valley

Here the forest trees gradually became taller and the understory more dense - ferns began to line the track and the rich scent of wet eucalyptus became more pervasive. It was a lovely section of forest, as we gradually descended to reach a track junction - left to Retakunna Hut, right to Munro. We turned right, climbing gradually through ferny undergrowth and gnarly-limbed eucalypts. Crossing Bare Knoll, we found ourselves walking deep in a thicket of casuarinas, the wind swooshing through the soft needles of their canopy (one of my favourite sounds).

Path through the casuarina heathland

Munro Hut

A few more twists and turns and another long stretch of duck-board, and we emerged at the clearing of Munro Hut. This time it wasn't a shock to find such a superb hut complex in the middle of the bush. Perched near the cliff edge, it had a platform extending out to take in the stunning views of the cliffs of Munro Bight, stretching north as far as Cape Hauy. The huts were also north-facing, which sheltered us from the strong southerly wind.

The view from Munro Hut

The cliffs of Mt Fortescue and Cape Hauy

A patch of late afternoon sunshine lights up Hippolyte Rocks

Munro has one feature that the other two huts do not - a rather modern version of a bucket shower, which with the help of a kettle full of boiling water, became a hot shower. Luxury at the end of the walk - we grow more and more impressed with the Three Capes Track.

Artwork and Interpretation

There are 36 seats, pieces of art or seat/artwork combined at various places along the track. While sitting on a seat looking over towards the old convict settlement, I twigged as to why 60 of the 86 pages of the guide book are devoted to seemingly disconnected stories with strange titles. As a part of the track interpretation, you are offered the chance to stop or sit at these artworks and read why the places are special or what you can learn from them - sometimes historic, other times about the landscape, its inhabitants and ecosystem function. It is an interesting concept - at first read of the book before setting out, I thought it all a bit silly, but, seeing it in context, I have been swayed to the view that it is a good way to inform walkers about the land through which they are passing and even to get them to think a bit more deeply about it.

The fair Nello and I embraced the idea so thoroughly that, somewhere along the way, we decided to award prizes for the artwork - and the results are:

Third prize: "Who Was Here?" - for the audaciousness of creating a sculpture of wombat poo with the functionality of also serving as a seat.

Who Was Here?

Second prize: "Windsong" - a seat combining simplicity and graceful lines, matched to the landscape in which it lies.


First prize: "Eye See Bright" - combining beauty, complexity and subtlety; you might even wander by and miss these small mosaics embedded in the timber boarding beneath your feet, just like you might miss the natural gems of wildflowers scattered in the bush.

Eye See Bright


Day 3 - Munro Hut to Retakunna Hut (17 km - 380m ascent - 400m descent)

What a day! We have just returned to Munro Hut after spending several hours walking along the most dramatic sea-cliffs that we have ever seen, in Australia or elsewhere.

The day began with a golden circle of sunlight on a leaden sea, as rays broke through a gap in the cloud cover - promising. We set off early to make the most of this walk out to Cape Pillar (considered the highlight of the Three Capes Track), dropping our backpacks in a storage shed and heading down the duck-board highway with only light daypacks. We would be returning to Munro on the way out and there was no need to carry extra weight.

Sunrays on the Tasman Sea

Heading out from Munro Hut

The forested slopes of Lunchtime Creek

Sun patches on the silvered sea

The track headed out along the steep, forested slopes of Lunchtime Creek, eventually crossing its lushly vegetated, but dry, bed and starting a steady climb up into the tall scrubby heathlands. As we climbed, the heath became shorter and, on reaching the Windsong seat, we could stop and look back over the valley to the hills of the hinterland.

View back towards the inland

A narrow slot in the cliff line

The great duckboard "Wall of China"

Then it was on to Hurricane Heath, a vast expanse of low, scrubby casuarinas - ahead, we could see the end of the cape for the first time. A long section of duck-board wound around and over the scrub-covered slopes, looking a bit like a miniature Great Wall of China as it disappeared in the distance.

First glimpse of The Blade

Homage to the humble stamen

Dolerite columns of Resolution Point

Suddenly, we were at the cliff edge, looking across to the incredible dolerite columns of Resolution Point. Some 340m below us, the sea surged up against the base of the cliffs. It was not for the faint-hearted to peer into the void - I didn't but the fair Nello did.

Resolution Point through a gap in the sea cliff

View towards The Blade and Tasman Island

Thus began a series of rock ledge vantage points, look-outs and look-downs, offering new and dramatic perspectives of the cliffs of Cape Pillar. Sheer-walled Tasman Island began to appear more and more at each view point, and finally the dark silhouette of The Blade came into sight, jutting skywards out from the cape. With three sides vertical cliffs and one side a rocky staircase, The Blade was a formidable sight. What set my heart beating a little faster was the knowledge that the pinnacle of The Blade, 260m above the sea, was the end of the track.

Cliffs leading up to The Blade

Track through the tall scrub

A sheer 260m drop to the sea

Looking down on Trident Rock

Looking back along the sea-cliffs

Some more well-crafted track

For a while, we left the cliffs and wound our way down through tall banksia/casuarina/tea-tree scrub and a small hollow of mossy cloud forest to reach the foot of The Blade.

The track to the top was well-engineered and there was only one point where you could look over the cliff edge on both sides - slightly unnerving. The rocky stairs ended at a point overlooking Tasman Island and its lighthouse, and, if you climbed out onto a flat block of rock facing the void, you could look down on the line of dolerite columns beneath that completed this landform. The fair and not-exposure challenged Nello did - I contented myself with the views over Tasman Island and back along the length of Cape Pillar.

The grand panorama of Cape Pillar from The Blade

View from The Blade - along the knife-like rock
columns to Tasman Island

There is only room for a few people on top of The Blade, so we headed down to allow others to take their turn, reaching the base and wandering around to a place called Seal Spa. From here, the stark profile of The Blade and its dolerite needles could be seen in all its glory. It was the perfect place for lunch, with the faint bellowing of fur seals drifting up from the rocks of Tasman Island, 200m below.

Homage to dolerite (looking down on to
the narrow channel between island and cape)

At last - blue seas and sunshine

Tasman Island and The Blade from Seal Spa

From Seal Spa there is an old foot pad leading to The Chasm - I followed it out for a way, clambering steeply up a scrubby nearby slope to a point where The Blade appeared between a gap in the leaves. There was no time to follow this overgrown track to its end, so I returned and we bade farewell to Cape Pillar and retraced our footsteps back to Munro Hut.

View across to distant Cape Hauy

Sunny view of Resolution Point

The Blade (yet again) from the slopes of
The Chasm track

Sea-cliffs just west of The Blade

The wind was picking up, but, for the first time blue sky was appearing to the south, which gave a different perspective to the seascapes we had seen on the way out. We enjoyed them all over again on the return journey.

Farewell to Cape Pillar

Tasman Island in the sun ....

.... and the lighthouse on the island

Back into the lush eucalyptus forest

After stopping at Munro to pick up our backpacks, we continued to retrace our steps of yesterday to the track junction (but why was it twice as long today?). At the junction, this time we turned towards Retakunna Hut and, after a short distance, the now familiar form of the track huts appeared on the boundary of woodland and button grass plain, below the rounded top of Mt Fortescue.

Mt Fortescue rising above the trees

Retakunna Hut

The button grass flats near Retakunna

Sunning on the deck at Retakunna

The sun had now spread inland and it was very pleasant to lounge in the deckchairs, soaking up its rays at "Retakunna sous Soleil" reminiscing about a spectacular day on the Three Capes Track.

Day 4 - Retakunna Hut to Fortescue Bay (13.5 km - 590m ascent - 820m descent)

The sunshine yesterday afternoon proved to be very ephemeral, replaced by a strong north-easterly wind that drove the rain in on the wide hut deck. Then, around 5am, a thunderstorm rolled across, giving a spectacular light show as it headed on out to sea. That seemed to clear the air for, by the time we got up, all was fine if veiled in grey cloud.

Heading across the button grass towards Mt Fortescue

A curious piece of art work

We set off early, bearing in mind a 2pm pick-up at Fortescue Bay, the end of the Three Capes Track. Moving quickly through the duck-boarded woodland, we reached the lower slopes of Mt Fortescue and a gradual climb on well-formed gravel track began. The light decreased as we entered denser and taller wet sclerophyll forest, reaching a series of steps that zig-zagged their way more steeply up the slope.

The ascent of Mt Fortescue ....

... up into the wet sclerophyll ....

... on to the temperate rain forest ...

.... where fern and myrtle grow

Not only were the steps leading us upwards, they were leading us into the still half-light of the cool temperate rain forest that covers this protected south-eastern side of the mountain. Myrtle beech and tree-ferns began to appear, as we wound our way past moss-covered rocks and tree-trunks, canopies tangled above to block out the light. It was so quiet, the loudest sound was the dripping of water on to a bed of moss. With the saturating humidity and steep climb, the vegetation was not the only thing dripping.

Fortescue forestscape

View of Cape Pillar from Mt Fortescue

The steps finally brought us out to the ridge, where we continued this lovely walk through the dark world of the rain forest, breaking out near the cliff line for a brief view back towards Cape Pillar, and a perspective of where we were.

Mossy path through the rain forest

Beneath the tall tree ferns

Then it was back in to the green and mossy half-light, where tiny blue fungi provided the rare alternate splash of colour. We had commenced our descent, winding down beneath magnificent groves of tree-ferns, as gradually we left the rain forest and regained the tall eucalypts of the wet sclerophyll.

Wandering through the fern grove

More cliff top views opened out to show the profile of the Mt Fortescue sea-cliffs, and, to our great pleasure and surprise, patches of unforecast blue sky and sunlight began to appear. Even the birds in the canopy above seemed to be singing more loudly in the sunshine. The forest opened up a little as we made a steep descent and climb out of a creek, passing more rock ledge viewpoints, with panoramas of distant Cape Pillar, until finally we reached the Cape Hauy junction.

Orange-tinted dolerite cliffs

The Fortescue cliffs

Zooming in on Cathedral rock and Cape Pillar

Panorama of the cliffs of Munro Bight


An impressive sea arch

At the junction, we stopped for a break, before swapping our backpacks for lighter day-packs and heading out towards the cape. The track dropped steeply away, made easier by the long sets of stone steps, the expansive views over the entry of Fortescue Bay to the north and the sheer orange-tan sea-cliff to the south.

Sunlight on a silvery sea beyond Cape Hauy

View north across Fortescue Bay

Another climb, descent and climb brought us out to the end of the cape and a small viewing platform. Beyond the thin railing the cliff dropped almost vertically down to the sea into a narrow chasm, where the improbable dolerite needle known as The Totem Pole (a holy grail for rock climbers) lay invisible to our eyes.

The track winding out to Cape Hauy

View southward past Monument Rock to distant Cape Pillar

Just beyond, the dolerite shards of Mitre Rock and The Lanterns angled sharply up again from the sea to complete the tip of Cape Hauy. Looking southwards past the sheer cliffs, the silhouette of Cape Pillar dominated the horizon at the far end of Munro Bight - hard to imagine that, only yesterday, we were out there, standing on top of The Blade.

Cliffs of Munro Bight

Peaking through the gap in the cliff line

The cliffs of Mitre Rock and The Lanterns

Fluted dolerite columns of Cape Hauy

Retracing our steps, the climb back up from Cape Hauy under the fierce sunlight ensured that our walking gear was once again soaked in sweat. As we sat at the junction, the slight breeze that we were enjoying began to strengthen and, looking to the west, another band of grey cloud was rolling in, already starting to hide the tops of inland hills. It reminded us of what the boat driver said a couple of days ago - "if you don't like the weather in Tasmania, come back in ten minutes".

The golden staircase

Heading back though the heathlands of Cape Hauy ...

... and the scrubby forest of the interior

We hurried on, wanting to beat the rain into Fortescue Bay. With the wind now rushing through the canopy, we scurried over hill and vale, beneath the open dry woodland, before a series of steep, orange-rock lined steps took us down towards the water's edge. From here it was but a short stroll around the edge of the bay to the lovely white sand beach at its head and the end of the Three Capes Track.

View over the tree-tops to Fortescue Bay

The beautiful beach at Fortescue - end of the track

We had beaten the rain, we thought patting ourselves on the back as we ate our lunch with our fellow walkers who, in twos and threes, crossed the finish line - but the rain never came, the cold front passed through as quickly as it arrived and the sun returned. The vagaries of Tasmanian weather never cease to amaze.

Thus ended our adventure on Tasmania's (and Australia's) newest walking track. I confess to having been a little sceptical about a "designer track" built to such high standards, but I have been won over. The landscapes and cliffscapes through which it passes are truly magnificent and the huts take the concept of walkers' huts to a new level. They are a wonderful spot to pass the evening and are very conducive to socialising with your fellow walkers. I still think that the track itself has been over-engineered - hardening an earthern track with gravel, yes, but so much duckboarding, no - it should be kept for areas around the huts where there is a real risk of vegetation getting trampled and for sensitive habitats such as wetlands, not as an easy option for crossing large areas. In some more open areas, it is an eyesore. That whinge aside, thanks are due to Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service for creating this walk - it will encourage more people into extending their bushwalking experience.

I'd also like to thank Luke, Robin and Donnalee, our host rangers at the huts, for their knowledge and good humour, and to the fellow walkers with whom we shared this journey for the pleasant times spent over meals in the huts and sharing our amazement at the breath-taking cliffscapes. It was a great walk, wasn't it!

Sign marking the end of the Three Capes Track

Bonus: Shipstern Bluff Circuit (12.5 km - 510m ascent - 510m descent)

As I have mentioned, The Three Capes Track is currently only a two capes track. The third cape, Cape Raoul, will have to wait for more funding before it officially becomes part of the track. However, it still can be visited along a more usual bush-walking foot track, as can its neighbour, Shipstern Bluff. The fair Nello and I wanted to at least see the third cape from nearer rather than further, if not walk out to its end. For a day-walk, we had to choose between Cape Raoul and Shipstern Bluff. The track to the former stays high with classic cliff views, while the track to the latter gets down to the sea, at the base of the cliffs. As the Three Capes Track itself is primarily a cliff-top walk over its four days, the choice was easy - down to Shipstern to complement the last few days. In addition, Shipstern Bluff is one of the best "big wave" locations in the world. who wouldn't want to see a place where surfers are towed out on jet skis to ride 12m high monster waves.

As we drove out on the dirt road leading to the trail head for the walks, we noticed a blue sign near a farm gate that said it was the start of a road leading to Tunnel Bay and Shipstern Bluff - "so, there are two ways in, we can make a circuit" we thought; so much better than returning via the same track. So, parking at the track head car park just a little further on, we walked back a few hundred metres down the dirt road and turned into the farm gate.

Amongst the tall trees of the Tasman Peninsula

Pasture lands near the track head

A pademelon hopped by and native hens scurried out into the paddocks as we passed to quickly reach the homestead yard, where an information board showed a map of the walk ahead and large signs directed us down and around the homestead. Just beyond this turn, we came across a small tank, filled with spring water for passing walkers. Now, the owners of this property deserve a plug, not only because they have allowed access across their property but because they are clearly very considerate people - thank you.

Reflections in a forest pond

We quickly found ourselves in some lovely tall stringy bark forest, following a wide and well-formed track (old convict road?). The descent changed to a climb as the road led us up and onto a ridge between two creek systems. From here, it followed a long spur down towards the coast, gently at first, as views of the thickly forested surrounding hills appeared through the tree trunks, then steeply as the road dropped down into a deep creek system.

Steep road down into the forest

We then headed more directly towards the coast, following the side of the creek system, as the vegetation changed from tall and shaded forest to more open woodland to coastal mallee to heathland. The change in the track from gravel to sand gave further proof that we were nearing the coast.

Following the creek to the coast

The approach to Tunnel Bay

Then, through the heath ahead, we noticed a dash of blue between pale ochre cliffs - we were closing in on Tunnel Bay. Soon, we were stepping across the blue-grey water-smoothed boulders that line the beach and heading towards the cliffs on the right, where a large slot explained the name of this bay. We could look right through the slot to the water and cliffs beyond - this was the tunnel of Tunnel Bay, and with other cracks and passages cutting through the cliff, it was a great place to explore.

The tunnel at Tunnel Bay

Tunnel Bay itself

Rocky beach at the back of the bay

Then, it was time to head on, retracing our steps briefly before starting a steady climb up through the scrubby coastal heath to the top of a ridge. Here a junction in the sandy foot-track directed us either back to the carpark or to Shipstern Bluff. We chose the latter, heading out along the length of the headland, before gradually descending its northern flank. Across the heath, we could see the long sheer-sided silhouette of Cape Raoul stretching out into the Tasman Sea.

Looking over the heathland to forest covered hills

The road to Shipstern

Panorama of Cape Raoul

Picking our way down the steep and somewhat overgrown foot-track through the dry bracken, we emerged onto a jumble of rocks that lined the shore. Behind, the massive granite cliff from whence they fell, rose vertically above.

Bracken-covered slopes leading to the bluff

Zooming in on the dolerite columns of Cape Raoul

Wave breaking at the bluff

The bluff was impressive, but nothing compared with what lay around the corner - a massive rock platform, scattered with huge boulders, jutting out from the sheer face of Shipstern Bluff. We followed it around as it gently sloped up to finish at a deep sea cave, which blocked further progress.

The broad rock platform below the bluff

Cliff line extending south-west from Shipstern

The massive granite face of Shipstern Bluff

It was time to head back to have some lunch with our backs to the cliff and watch the 1-2m waves exploding in white foam on the rock jumble - not the big seas we had hoped for, but spectacular nonetheless, especially when backed by the jutting prow of Cape Raoul.

Wave breaking

Retracing our steps up to the junction, we continued our circuit back towards the carpark - at first crossing the flat heathlands as the track led us towards the start of Cape Raoul, before steadily climbing up the flank of the cape ridge beneath dry eucalyptus forest. Nearing the cliff edge, an open rock platform offered a superb view back over Shipstern Bluff and the coast beyond.

Climbing the slopes of Mt Raoul

Cliff top heathland below Cape Raoul

Mt Raoul rising above the heath

Then the climb continued to the ridge, before commencing a long descent back towards the trail head, through increasingly tall and lush forest. The grassy pastures appeared ahead and we stepped out into the car park at the end of the road. Our foray into the walking tracks of the Tasman Peninsula was over.

View of the coast from the lookout at the beginning of Cape Raoul

Return through the forest

The coastal scenery here had been spectacular, especially looking up at the cliffs from below, and to see Cape Raoul and complete the cape trifecta was a bonus. I think that doing a circuit walk is better than walking in and out on the "official" track - it is shorter, involves less climbing and goes through some rich and diverse forest landscapes. Our visit to Shipstern Bluff seemed more complete for doing it.