Early morning flight to Hobart almost thwarted when I’m certain I’ve left the only piece of equipment I really need at home… my hiking boots. The heart flickers, the boots are sitting quietly in the bottom of my pack, hoping not to be noticed, phew.Hobart has put on a picture perfect morning, that cold crystal clear sky I’ve come to know from the cleanest air in the world.
Eastcoast hire car pick up was super slick and suddenly we are away but not before we’ve picked up some minimal packaged satchels of tuna for lunches on the Three Capes track. You see all our food must be both lightweight and minimally packaged as all rubbish must be carried out so ideally no tins or bulking wrappings. Each and every meal calculated as if we are going to the moon.
We weave our away along secondary roads towards Dodges Ferry where we run into Nick and Rhonda sitting on the back of their camper chewing on sandwiches. Finally arrive at White Beach late in the afternoon and after sitting all day decide to stretch the legs on the beach. I’m drying in the sun like a lizard after an icy, wheeze induced swim at White Beach when Nick and Rhonda saunter past on a sunset walk. Nick lures us back to their camping ground with the offer of a cold beer.
Harpers on the beach B&B produces a polished dinner of salmon pate, beautiful mako shark fillets sitting on a bed of cous cous. The rich dessert comes, we eat it greedily it will be storage fuel for the next four days of trekking. The same philosophy is used at the breakfast table. When asked for our choice Kylie looks up and smiles “the full English breakfast of course”
Day 1. Ferry and 4kms.
We can barely move as we carry our packs into the Port Arthur tourism centre. The easy going ferry crew takes us to the start of our walk whilst raving about the beautiful morning. The boat races out to the mouth of the harbour and Arthur’s Peak. The swell gently lifts us up and down. Laconic Fin, the skipper tells us tales of other times when monster swells coming from Antartica lift the ferry high in the air turning passengers green and it’s not envy. Today it is docile and we guess he will return here after dropping us off at Denmans Cove for a spot of fishing.
We soon forget about the boat trip as we trudge ever upward following the coast towards our first hut at Surveyor. It’s a short but lovely walk only broken for lunch eaten on the pebbly beach at Surveyors Cove. The Surveyors huts aren’t much further after lunch. They are sensational state of the art affairs with million dollar views. We stretch out on the timber decks in canvas chairs enjoying the afternoon sun but feeling our leg muscles begin to tighten.
The weather forecast is for gradually deteriorating weather. Kylie the optimist refuses to hear of it and slaps on some extra sunscreen.Our camp guide, Donnalee gives us a pep talk on the huts and tomorrow’s walk in fact she is besotted by our unplanned toilet stops. Donnalee discusses at length that we should bury any trace of a toilet stop. “At least 15cm below the ground “ she demands “so that I could come along and have a picnic on top of it.” The whole group squirm at the thought.
There is envy on the first night as fresh meat is grilled. We all know it will be dehydrated something from tomorrow onwards. Steak sizzles, sausages are turned whilst onions fry. One poor soul has left his group of four’s supply of tender meat at his last motel. He is constantly belittled, outright ridiculed. “I gave him one job” his mate cries… “one job !” The two had met many years ago in Antartica I bet they checked their lists twice back then…
Day 2. 11 kms.
As we prepare to leave camp early the following morning I spot a large white mass gliding through the trees towards the water then a bright red funnel. It’s the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth arriving in Denmans Cove. The ship’s passengers will pull open their blinds to the sight of the stark convict ruins of Port Arthur. What a magnificent image to wake to. As we climb to the top of Arthur’s Peak we get occasional glimpses back of the ship at anchor. Will they be allowed off in this time of the corona virus ?
Meanwhile we walk on through diverse country, from clifftops to swamp plains to thick gnarly gums. Birds flit about, lizards bask in the sun and we jump high at the late sighting of a white lipped snake then try to act like it was nothing. The highlight at Munro hut is the showers which when coupled with a bucket of warm water becomes a rejuvenating elixir to my stiff body. We bask in patchy afternoon sun all aware that the weather forecast is dire and we will slop about tomorrow in guaranteed rain. Damn.
In the camp kitchen people are busy boiling kettles of water. Bags of powdery substances, dehydrated roast lamb, spaghetti bolognese, even apricot crumble are magically transformed into tonight’s dinner. The packets should come with a blindfold as the flavours and texture are questionable. Nick reads the roast lamb packaging to find the same meals were used by NASA for their space exploration. If it’s good enough for them…. But a walker’s hunger is not up for discussion, the meals fill the hole in our stomachs, end of story.
The real problem was the satchels of red wine, they are simply too small. Next time we leave the first aid kit behind and replace it with more red body numbing lubricant. Sunset is barely over when I stumble to my bunk and fall asleep to the gentle rumble of the nearby sea. Others evidently fall asleep to the gentle rumble from my top bunk. Disposable earplugs in the kitchen.
Day 3. 19 kms.
I chase a possum out of a backpack at bedtime but if I’d known it belonged to the three young New York renegades from next door I’d have left the possum to it. The three rise at 5.30am then fuss about for 45 minutes with head torch then pack and repack their bags. Only my precarious position in the top bunk stopped me from giving them an old man’s bollocking.
The day started with threatening clouds. We walked at pace trying to beat the forecast heavy rain and cloud cover which would conceal the panoramic clifftops. The rain held off till we were able to gawk out from the precarious stony lookouts to the pounding seas below. Waves rolled evenly, untouched since they formed far out at sea and grew bigger as they passed over the continental shelf 11 kms out. Here they finished there journey slapping hard against the towering rocks. Whack, like the sound of a cannon being fired.
We climbed ‘the blade’ clinging on to anything that looked sturdy as the wind buffered us on the exposed point. We felt uneasy, vulnerable and certainly capable of being flung far below by the whipping wind. Just off the coast the small Tasman island sat empty. Now quietly bereft of the families that once manned the lighthouse and somehow enjoyed living way off the grid. The three family homes, the winch to haul them from the ship snaring rocks and the faded white lighthouse the only features.
We turned from admiring the cliff top vistas to see the forecast storm looming out at sea. Soon the dark menacing clouds racing were racing towards us. We frantically began stuffing our tuna wraps into our mouths and pulling on wet weather gear. Then it hit us a stinging heavy deluge. We hunkered down inside our coats the cold rain mainly on the outside the steamy heat from our bodies wafting up as we walked. There was still a ten km trudge into Retakunna hut for the night.
Wet through and eventually shivering we stripped in our huts wiped ourselves down with towels the size of a handkerchief then found our warmest driest clothes till we felt human again. The group congregated in the steamy kitchen refuelling on equal parts food and mass body warmth. More dehydrated meals eaten, in fact everything left in our packs eaten. We will not carry one gram of unnecessary weight out tomorrow. The room is filled with the aroma of damp, stewing socks, jocks and undergarments hanging close to the wood pellet heater. Twitching nostrils as you navigate past the heater.
Day 4. Final day. 14 kms.
The wind howled during the night. So hard it sounded more threatening than any rain on corrugated iron could. Tired walkers had left their gear, wet and limp strewn about on the outside decking. It was probably going to be left behind come the reality of daylight and the thought of stuffing the heavy, sodden mass into their backpacks.
Our New York neighbours rose at 4.30am this morning. Considering the sun doesn’t rise till just after 7am I am curious as to exactly what they will see ? I wish them a slow death at the hands of a red-eyed, frothy mouthed murderous marsupial. Communing with nature has still yet to convert me to a serene, easygoing hippy.
The first hour is a steady slog up Mount Fortescue. The track leads through a heavily treed forest, the overhead canopy barely giving us a glimpse of the day ahead. The forest floor is littered with fungi of colours only seen in fairy tales. Wispy moss clings to insipid branches unable to grow to maturity due to a lack of penetrating light from the forest roof above. Finally we break out of the forest onto a peninsula of low lying scrub pruned neatly by the incessant wind.
An intersection in the track is our signal to drop our packs and make our way to Cape Huay. The steps down are big and you can see many of them ahead. The thought that you must climb them to get out is something that keeps returning in my thoughts.
Finally at Cape Huay we peer over the edge at the spindly totem pole, a sea stack rising 65m high above the surging sea and try to imagine what makes rock climbers gravitate here from all over the world ? Evidently you must first swim to the totem with your ropes and clips then climb steadily upwards on the Dolomite column with the sea incessantly pounding the base. Brave, fearless, a little crazy. Pass…
Like yesterday we turn to find somewhere to eat our remaining tuna wraps only to have squally wind and showers bomb down on us. Soon we are away from the coast and the sleety rain climbing steadily back towards our packs left at a crossroad on the track. We hoist them onto our backs one last time and walk the final few kms back to civilisation at Fortescue Bay.
A happy in his job bus driver yaps all the way back to our car park and civilisation. The backpacks are flung into the hire car and we head back for a shower. Dinner has been discussed at length. It is at the Fox and Hound is better than we all expected. After an abundance of fresh air and days slogging along in the bush a cold beer and a chicken schnitzel that hangs over the plate was always going to taste divine… glorious in fact.
Day 5. Cape Raoul extra. 15 kms.
Somehow I stagger from my comfortable beds towards the bathroom my calves taunt. Trigger tight bands of gristly muscle a reminder of yesterday’s step climbing up then down out to Cape Pillar. Kylie and I laugh as we lay on the bed our legs raised rubbing fisiocream into our tight calves. A real surprise for any other guests walking in the B&B’s garden. It’s time to go and feast on our cooked breakfast before meeting the others at the rendezvous point for today’s walk.
Cape Raoul greets us with a splattering of thick, fat raindrops. The windscreen wipers start to slap madly. We tentatively step from the cars throw on now familiar rain jackets, drop our heads into the wind and start climbing the heavily trees hill towards the coast. My legs are far from happy and it takes some time for the muscles to stretch to full stride. We pad along with the soft squelch of forest litter comfortable under foot. A few familiar walkers from the Three Capes huts plod along and we nod the silent walkers acknowledgement. Rain filled clouds loom towards us the sea a pale reflection under the gloomy clouds.
Eventually we reach the coast to be mesmerised by the mighty cliffs towering high above the sea below. A white frothy lace skirt clings to the base of the cliffs. Wave after wave rhythmically pounds to a resounding boom. Barking far below is a colony of seals tucked away from the prevailing winds and enjoying a lazy afternoon before heading back out to sea for another feast.
The track is finally busy after finding no one else at the car park this morning. It’s a nice meander along the coastline and when we turn towards home we are inspected at close range by those prehistoric yellow tailed black cockatoos. Their cry so distinctive, their bulky size and bullet heads designed to crack the hardest nuts on the coast. They put on a show before wheeling through the sky and onto their next meal.
One final hill then it’s all downhill to the now overflowing car park. Enough time to clean up to an acceptable level to re-enter civilisation. We all feel elated and lucky at what we have seen under our own steam. What a great five days escape it’s been into pristine Australian bush. What a great job Tasmanian National Parks have done to make it accessible to all.
Tasmania, I’ll be back, Jeff