Day Four | Cape Pillar Lodge to Fortescue Bay
Start - Cape Pillar Lodge
Finish - Fortescue Bay
Length - 17km (Return)
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Path, Boardwalk
Vertical Climb - 767m
Time - 5-8 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Guidebook
Cost - See TWC or Tas Parks Website
Date Hiked - 22nd October 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
I'm not going to lie, I was starting to warm to this luxury hiking malarkey after waking up at Cape Pillar Lodge for the final time and walking down to the lounge pod for a moody sunrise display. A subdued palette of orange and grey greeted me this morning and it was an appropriate send off for my last day on the Three Capes.
On the itinerary today was our longest distance at 17km and the most challenging of the four day experience. Because we had a bus waiting for us at Fortescue Bay and a drive back to Hobart, it was decided by Lauren that an early start would be a good idea. After another lovely breakfast and some fresh brewed coffee we loaded up our packs and gathered on the deck ready to depart on the days adventure. Descending the switchbacks for the final time, we actually headed the wrong way down the boardwalk as Candy wanted to show me a Tasmanian Waratah she had seen on the previous day and I wasn't sure if I photographed it. We rejoined the group and began the familiar hike up to the public hut where we stopped and enjoyed the fantastic views from the wooden platform, along with eyeing up our foe for the first part of the morning, Mount Fortescue.
Lauren had a chat with the ranger at the public hut and she explained that there was a family of blue wrens that had moved into the scrubs around the main building. With another perfect day on the cards we marched off into the forest on the section we'd hiked in on that second day from the four ways intersection. Taking in the mixed scenery of creepy tunnels, exposed sections full of wildflowers and wet forest, it wasn't long before we reached the four ways intersection and the fleeting views of Mount Fortescue through the trees. We waited for everyone to arrive (we weren't the last ones for a change) and a plan was made for the day as one of the group members had developed a bit of an injury.
With everyone in the one location we began the "new" hiking for the day and the exposed boardwalk section to the Retakunna Hut. If you were doing the self guided Three Capes option then this would be your accommodation for the third night, having explored Cape Pillar, picked up your pack from the Munro Hut and walked the three kilometres here. Unfortunately we didn't stop here so I had to take my pictures on the move but it looked like another fantastic place to stay being right on the edge of the open plains and at the foot of Mount Fortescue. The morning sunshine was glorious and it felt like a great day to climb a mountain and explore another cape.
The wildflowers were out on display in the open section heading towards the edge of the forest so I took full advantage and snapped away while I could. Lauren was waiting with the faster members of the group at the base of the hill and soon it was time to begin the 250m vertical climb to the 488m summit. I'd gone a few days without music and with a couple of kilometres of climbing to get through I decided that I might do this alone and Caris could make her way up at her own pace without the pressure of trying to keep up with me. Entering the forest I was in heaven with an abundance of the impressive Stringybarks around and the emergence of a wetter style undergrowth. Passing a large Stringybark I felt like this was the beginning of one of the better sections on the track and maybe a glimpse at what the terrain would look like on the rest of my Tasmania trip.
A sharp left turn proved this theory right as the path changes to a series of small wooden stairs and rocky pavers through increasingly mossy and fern filled terrain. One thing Caris had noted about the Three Capes was the lack of rubbish and as I ascended one of the stairs I thought that observation had come to an end with someone dumping a heap of blue tape all over the forest but as I got closer it turned out to be another art installation. It certainly was a contrast against the greens and greys of the forest and without the guidebook (we didn't get the free copy that you receive doing the self guided option) I have no idea what it was meant to represent. This was highly enjoyable forest to walk through with more ferns starting to appear and good photographic conditions with this side of the mountain being somewhat shaded from the morning sun.
As it turned out I wasn't going much faster than Caris with all the photos I was taking so I found a boulder to rest on and waited for her along with Candy and Hal. Caris came around the corner not long after and didn't recognise me at first but once she had I think she was pleasantly surprised to see me waiting. I figured that we had been hiking together for the whole trip and I'd only be waiting around with relative strangers at the top so would enjoy the hike with the group. This next section was of great quality with a darker and damper feel to it and an inescapable covering of moss. Unfortunately as we were near the summit this meant the sun was a little stronger and with little cloud cover around the contrast between light and shadow was very harsh and the photos suffered because of that.
It was still an amazing experience as we slowly ambled through the landscape, soaking in all of the sights, sounds and smells of the first real temperate rainforest of the trip. I was in awe of the mosses here and one section looked like its own mini forest with a thick variety of wavy vegetation competing for the available light. The giant man ferns were becoming more and more apparent and I took great joy in seeing the Fibonacci patterns of their new frons as they unfurled. Passing a barren spot of land that serves as the helipad, it was clear that we were near the summit and sure enough we met up with the main group at the lookout. A clearing on the side of the hill offered up some fantastic views looking back towards Cape Pillar with Tasman Island just peaking in the distance. A series of tags attached to a nearby tree indicates how far some of the sea creatures that pass this area have to travel on their migratory routes but unfortunately we couldn't spot any while we were there. What we could spot was our accommodation at Cape Pillar, being a tiny spot on the side of the cliffs. Even zooming in on my camera it was barely recognisable so if you didn't know it was there then I don't think you'd notice it.
I had asked Lauren earlier if the other side of Mount Fortescue was as green as the climb up and she had said that it wasn't as nice so to my great surprise the descent down towards Cape Hauy was even better than the climb up. The ferns were bigger and more plentiful and the trees were thicker with greater coverings of moss. This was paradise to me and really not something I had expected coming into the day so I think that made it a little more special. Having done really well to get up Mount Fortescue in good time, I expected us to travel down it at roughly the same pace as the main group but Caris had other plans. She had slowed right down and I couldn't blame her so while I took a million photos she stopped frequently to enjoy the rainforest. Eventually we were separated from Candy and Hal as we all "hiked our own hike" through to the Cape Hauy intersection.
The temperate rainforest section lasted for quite a while and this pleased me to no end. A pirate themed (to me anyway) rest spot called "Once upon a time" was the best of the best when it came to the rainforest scenes and I could have sat there for a very long time. Given we were falling behind (but weren't the last group) we moved on and continued the descent towards the sea cliffs. Passing some strange fungi arrangements including a black layered affair that was pretty hard to the touch we eventually caught a glimpse of the ocean again and noticed the changing of the vegetation from rainforest back to something a little drier but still very enjoyable. Near the "Pillars of the South" rest spot where you can marvel at Cape Hauy up close for the first time, Lauren had backtracked to see how we were travelling. Given the tight schedule I think she wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to do the Cape Hauy side trip if we wanted to.
Caris at this point was struggling a bit after three days on the track with limited preparation before we came out due to illness but was still in good spirits and wanted to finish strong. A series of stairs dropped us further down towards the cliffs (it would be an almost 400m drop in elevation) and the start of a lovely wildflower carpeted forest. Walking on the edge of the cliffs you were back to the dry forest and blooms of white wildflowers covered the undergrowth providing a fantastic scene to walk through. Occasionally there would be a rocky platform providing amazing views looking back at Mount Fortescue and Cape Pillar. Down below was the calm waters bumping up against the cliffs and at one spot we saw a rock arch jutting out into the ocean. After a kilometre or two of me saying "the group is just up here" and "not much further" I stopped predicting the distances as Caris was getting annoyed at me. At the top of a little hill we ran into the main group who were enjoying a spot of lunch at another little spot with epic views and I think Caris was very pleased for the long break.
Given we were a little behind the main group and time was getting tight, Lauren announced that those wanting to do the Cape Hauy side trip would have to leave within the next 5-10 minutes. I had a feeling Caris wanted to see Cape Hauy but after it was described as down then up then down then up (then back the other way), she decided to enjoy a longer lunch and see how she was feeling after that. For me that meant I had to eat lunch very quickly, have a drink and put the pack on. I joined Candy and Hal as they made their way to the trail junction that ends the one way walking from the four ways intersection and joins the two way trail that forms the Cape Hauy day hike. At this point it is common for the Three Capes walkers to drop their packs and do the side trip with only a drink bottle and it appears that plenty of people had done this so we added our bags to the pile and began the journey towards the end of the cape.
Standing at the top of the hill you can see the trail snake its way up and over a series of dips and rises that turned out to be quite steep. I initially stayed with Candy and Hal as I slowed up to take a lot of photos but soon I found myself further in the distance and wanting to stretch my legs. Having spent three and a half days at a voluntarily relaxed pace it was good fun to work up a sweat and get the heart racing. This was the perfect place for this as there is very little in the way of flat ground but the desire to stop and photograph the stunning landscape meant I wasn't just powering along without enjoying the views. Reaching the bottom of the first dip there is an impressive cliff to the right and a couple had decided to go off track to try and explore it. Given the perfect weather it was no surprise to see a lot of day walkers and after three days of not seeing too many hikers, the trail seemed a little crowded (but not really). Rising up and over the series of hills to get to the end of the cape offered up differing views as Fortescue Bay came into sight for the first time.
To the left of the track is a big sinkhole that would be fun to get closer to but I'm guessing for safety reasons they don't take the track closer, even with a raised platform or lookout. Having the luxury of being spoilt for views it was a case of making sure you still looked at the ground every now and then to make sure you didn't trip up, such was the quality of the scenery. As you round the track closer to Fortescue Bay it changes from a fairly easy gravel track to something slightly rockier with cliffs not too far away from the edge. The end point comes into view as you reach a little drop and it isn't long before you arrive at the finishing wooden platform overlooking the spectacular cliffs and into the deep blue of the Southern Ocean. The final dolerite cliff rising from the ocean is thoroughly impressive and I understand why the wooden platform is there (one of the only safety installations on the track) as the drop down is very steep and it would be quite easy to have an accident. You have to get right to the edge of the railing to be able to spot the "Totem Pole" down below, a tall, thin column detached from the main cliffs and a fun challange to the rock climbers that visit the area. Apparently they throw a rope from the nearby cliffs over to the Totem Pole and climb up and down it. Given the journey to get next to the Totem Pole looks extremely difficult I don't think you'd ever catch me down there attempting such an activity.