Hiking the Three Capes Track – Day One

I have always wanted to walk the Three Capes Track, a four-day hike around the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, but it is very popular and tickets are restricted and I never seemed to find the time to sort it out. I was delighted, then, to hear from my good friend Elizabeth that she was flying in the next month to do the trek, and that one of her party had cancelled. I instantly snaffled the spare ticket.

One week before the walk, I was cutting firewood up in my forest when I twisted awkwardly and hurt my leg. For a couple of days it was middling sore, and then it got so bad that I couldn’t sit or lie down, let alone walk. I went for remedial massage at my favourite Chinese doctor, and she did her best but shook her head and told me that I had torn one of the tendons in my hip. She gave me some lovely pain-relief patches which stopped the pain but didn’t help me to walk, and recommended that I buy a back-brace.

Our tickets were for Monday, and it was now Thursday. Off-the-shelf medication was having no effect, although the back-brace allowed me to stand unaided. I had ransacked my medicine cabinets for spare opiates, but none of them touched the incapacitating pain, so I begged my GP to give him something that would allow me to walk. He equipped me with Meloxicam for inflammation and Pregabalin for neuropathic pain. The published side effects were a motley selection, among them “unable to think”, “make bad decisions”, and – my favourite – “hold incorrect beliefs in the face of evidence”. Hiking in the wilderness for four days, what could possible go wrong?

Pregabalin needs a bit of tuning to each individual, so I upped the dose until I could make it through the day. My brain certainly felt a bit soupy, and I had trouble with simple arithmetic. My family told me that I was responding slowly but seemed happier than usual.

By Saturday, I could reliably walk a few tens of metres, so in the evening I strapped on an empty backpack over my back-brace and experimentally walked up and down the street. It was only moderately painful, so I jumped over a small creek. I didn’t fall or cry out. I had 48 kilometres to do next week. I recorded in my diary, “Only two more sleeps. I can do this!”

On Sunday, Elizabeth came to stay, and on Monday we drove over to the Port Arthur Heritage Centre to check in for the walk. Officially we had also purchased tickets for the Heritage Site itself, but there wasn’t really time to do anything about it, so we grabbed a bite to eat instead and joined the other twenty-odd hikers on the sea dock.

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife have joined forces with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys to provide a boat service across the bay to the Tasman Peninsula. I’ve taken Pennicott Wilderness boats several times, and they are always good. My favourite is the Bruny Island cruise, but even though the Three Capes boat is nominally a ferry service, this one didn’t disappoint either.

The actual route across the bay is variable and weather-dependent (or, to be more accurate, swell-dependent, due to the big rollers that typically come in from the Southern Ocean). On our trip, the sea was uncharacteristically smooth, and so we enjoyed a jaunt to see colonies of cormorants and long-nosed fur seals, before arriving at the shelving beach of Denman’s Cove.

The Three Capes Track begins with a sandy wade to shore from the landing-craft style ramp at the bow of the ferry.

The track began between two large rocks at the edge of the beach, with a wooden sculpture. Almost immediately, we found ourselves sharing the path with a small but determined echidna, which wobble alongside us completely unperturbed until distracted by a nice rotten log full of ants.

There were spring flowers everywhere, and we dawdled a bit to admire them, and a selection of views across the water to Port Arthur as the path slowly climbed up toward the cluster of cabins known as ‘Surveyors’.

There were two tempting beaches along the way, not only Denman’s Cove but also Surveyor’s Cove. We knew that we would not be back down at sea level for several days, and it would have been fun to stay and frolic awhile. The water was warm, the sun was strong, and there was very little wind, but the idea of getting to our first stop, the Surveyors Cabin, was equally appealing.

We really hadn’t known what to expect, since the word ‘cabin’ can cover a multitude of sins, but these were spectacular. Spotlessly clean with well-organised bunks, well-equipped camp kitchens, and plenty of space outside to sprawl and admire the sun setting behind the spires of Cape Raoul.

Each cabin is overseen by an on-site warden, who stays in a cabin of their own on the edge of the site. It sounds like an ideal job; they pack in all their supplies, stay for a few days greeting walking parties and cleaning up after them, hike out for a long weekend, then pack in to the next cabin in the cycle.

The ticketing system ensures that there are never more than 48 walkers in one place at one time, which sounds like a lot of people, but in fact it all felt spacious and uncrowded, and it was always possible to find space to put a kettle on or to find somewhere comfortable to sit.

Since the first day was so short and we didn’t have to worry too much about spoilage, Elizabeth and I had elected to bring a one-off meal of steak and wine, and so dined that night in some style. Since we were packing all our food in and rubbish out, the rest of our inventory was freeze-dried to save weight. We ate and chatted, washed up, put the organics in a compost bin, and carefully rolled up the rest of the waste into freezer bags.

There was a well-stocked library and a supply of games, but as dusk fell, most of us drifted off to bed.

My bunk room was calm, dark, and comfortable. There were larger and smaller rooms, and the beds had been allocated according to the demographic of the group. I was sharing with a single man and a father and son; Elizabeth with the ladies and children in the group that she had booked with.

Each bunk was equipped with a foam sleeping pad, and we had all been advised to bring a sleeping bag and ear plugs (as defence against snorers), and to roll up some spare clothes as a pillow.

Tomorrow we would be heading into the thick bush of Cape Pillar. But for now, some rest.

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