Day Three | Cape Pillar Return
Start - Cape Pillar Lodge
Length - 13.9km (Return)
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Path, Boardwalk
Vertical Climb - ~400m
Time - 3-6 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Guidebook
Cost - See TWC or Tas Parks Website
Date Hiked - 21st October 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Waking up in paradise with the morning sun streaming through the window and another day of hiking on the Three Capes was not the worst way to begin a Sunday. My body clock had adjusted to east coast time but I was still excited to see the sunrise from the Cape Pillar Lodge so was up early.
Ahead of us today would be the start of the truly stunning scenery and a few of the iconic scenes that everyone pictures when they think about the Three Capes. Grabbing my camera I headed off to the relaxation lounge where the best views of Munro Bight and Cape Hauy could be found, interrupting Giselle in the process as she was enjoying some morning yoga. While not quite as spectacular as the sunset from the previous night, the stillness of the morning air made for a serene experience just sitting there on the wooden deck soaking it all in. This is probably the first time on the trip where I fully present in the moment with no distractions or thinking how this scene would look in the photos.
Speaking of photos, I have all my photos from this day so can relay all the beauty from my own camera back to you (thanks again to Uncle Hal for coming to the rescue). With the sunrise thoroughly enjoyed I headed back to the room to see if Caris was up and about yet. Given we were returning to Cape Pillar Lodge after the days hiking there was no need to pack everything up so it was a more relaxed start to the day not worrying about getting everything together. So we didn't have to use our 50L packs to carry water and lunch, there were some new Sea to Summit lightweight day packs for us to use and this made things a lot easier. After enjoying another yummy breakfast we had some chill time to get our things together, relax in the lounge or have a morning shower.
On the cards for today was a 14km return trip to Cape Pillar through some absolutely stunning landscapes and towards the southernmost point of the Three Capes Track. Lauren had the troops gathered at 9am ready to depart and ran through what the day would look like. Given it was another relatively short distance we would be given freedom to move at our own pace and experience the day as we saw fit. We descended down the switchbacks from the lodge to the boardwalk and made a sharp left to rejoin the official Three Capes Track. The start of the day is pretty inconspicuous with a stroll through some lovely forest scenes but given what wass expected of the day, I couldn't wait for this section to be over and to get into the amazing cliff walking. What was very enjoyable along here was the abundance and variety of wildflowers as we made our way over Lunchtime Creek (marked by another piece of public art) and onto the start of the open section.
Climbing up some stairs I spotted some flowers at the top that I wanted to photograph and as I bent down to get closer I noticed something in the bushes. It noticed me too and slowly slithered off into the thicker undergrowth. My first nope rope (snake) sighting on the Three Capes and I managed to get a picture of its tail before it was gone forever. Feeling buoyed by this (I rarely see snakes on hikes because I wasn't sorted into Slytherin) I was in an even better mood as we moved onto the first of the ocean views for the day. Albeit a very brief glimpse, they had me excited for what was to come as the water was perfectly still and a lovely blue colour. Coming across the boardwalk section, there was a rock formation that looked suspiciously like the scene I had just encountered with the back end of a snake forming from the boardwalk (the head of the snake would be much further up the trail).
This long boardwalk section takes you on the side of a hill complete with sweeping views of the ocean and down below the bleak greens of Corruption Gully. With the direction of the track very clearly disappearing down the valley and then away over the hill, this little corner of the landscape felt like you were on the precipice of the great walking that was promised. The handrail of the boardwalk was lined with She-Oak, both male and female (more on that later), and a Currawong flew right by us, landing on the branches of a distant She-Oak. There is a photo in the gallery I took of the Currawong as it sits on the branch overlooking the distant crowd that had gathered on a seat in the distance, a shot I almost forgot about when editing up the photos.
Cape Pillar was in the distance but its famous jagged shapes were hidden behind a rounder set of hills so we moved on into the valley and back up the hill, eager to reach the cliffs. As you round the corner more sections of the cape open up including your first peak at "The Blade", a dolerite spire reaching out from the peninsula towards the heavens before dramatically crumbling away into the ocean below. Further ahead is one of the more interesting pieces of art on the track, "Sex on the Cape", a circular bench with phallic like metals rods jutting from the middle. This is meant to symbolise the reproductive nature of the She-Oaks that are found in this area as Lauren explained to the group when we stopped.
Spotting the end of the boardwalk and connecting up the snake head to the rocky snake tail we had seen before, we were once again on firm ground (on a place called Perdition Plateau). After investigating a small tarn that was brimming with tadpoles, the first glimpses of an epic dolerite cliff could be seen through the heath. Eager to explore I hurried on (we were almost at the back of the group by this stage) and soon enough we were confronted with an impressive chasm of great depth. Being able to go right up to the edge was a thrill and necessary to understand just how steep the drop off was (about 300m straight down). I edged closer, much to the discomfort of Caris, before deciding that I would get a better view from the other side. Lauren was near us at the time and said that the safest method was to crawl on your belly and have someone hold your ankles.
Rounding the chasm there is a rocky section on the other side that allows you better views of both the chasm and the base of the dolerite cliffs where the sea and cliffs rage war (it was little more than a stir when we were here). I went as close to the cliff as I felt comfortable to take photos before carefully retreating back to the track and continuing on. With views back to Cape Raoul, this was the start of some of the best walking on the whole Three Capes and an experience I don't think I will be forget in my lifetime. Winding your way along the cliff face the views just keep getting better and soon you are confronted with your first glimpse of Tasman Island, a solid but lonely presence that will be your main focal point for the rest of the journey to Cape Pillar. A solitary lighthouse stands tall on the plains of this unforgiving island at the tip of the Tasman Peninsula with today's calm seas masking what is an important beacon in this wild and windswept part of the world.
Occasionally you'd reach an exposed spot and a gentle reminder that yes, these are the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere, reaching upwards of 300m in some places (change the map option from RWGPS to satellite and zoom in on the cliff sections). Keeping the 2m rule in mind (always stay 2m away from the edge of a cliff) I took some more photos and continued on. The path veers away from the cliff edge in places, breaking up the views with a dalliance of flora spotting (the banksias here were amazing). Returning to the edge of the world there is an open spot where you can sit on the rocks and enjoy some of the best views of The Blade and Tasman Island together. I took a few snaps and made a note to spend more time here on the return journey. Further on there is another named spot (there are plenty along this stretch) called "The Lightkeeper's Daughter", a call out to a story from the guidebook telling tales of what life was like for the families who lived on Tasman Island looking after the lighthouse until the 1970s.
Another winding section leads through more thick scrub and our first sighting of a Pineapple Heath plant for the day with it's spiky flowers adding the appearance of danger to the otherwise indifferent looking scrub. Fleeting glimpses of The Blade in the distance brings more excitement as the track once again finds itself on the edge of the cliffs with views southwards towards the endless cold of the Antarctic. Looking down below, your gaze is drawn towards a series of three dolerite shafts soaring out of the sea like King Neptune's Trident (and aptly named The Trident too). The track then takes an inland route as it descends in a series of snaking turns. This change of route is to take advantage of the stunning views north towards the highlights of the final day - Munro Bight, Mount Fortescue and Cape Hauy. At the bottom of the descent is a place called Curiosity, another point high on the cliffs where you are greeted with more spectacular scenes looking back at the high cliffs you have just visited and across to Tasman Island.
You could easily spend hours here marvelling at all the little details protruding off each cliff face but as we had fallen a little behind we moved on to the junction where you could either head to The Blade or the edge of Cape Pillar. The group had settled at a viewing area called Seal Spa, just a little way past The Blade so we joined them and enjoyed a spot of lunch. This area was nestled high up on the cliffs and framed Tasman Island perfectly with The Blade. This allowed a closeup view of the amazing spires that make up the structure of the The Blade and provided a grounding for the climb that we would later take on. Some of the group had already attempted the hike up there but given we were a bit behind we decided to save that for the return journey.
After lunch the group made its way up towards Cape Pillar and the turnaround point of the day's hiking. A series of stairs and single track takes you up to the lookout point but on the way there are the best views of the day looking back towards Cape Hauy and your first clear views eastward across the ocean towards the land of the long white cloud aka Middle Earth. Before the high point though is a cool space where you stare out to the ocean through a narrow gap between the cliffs. It was too big to photograph in one shot, again highlighting the status of these cliffs as some of the highest in the Southern Hemisphere. Reaching the top of the stairs there is a chair called "Claim Your Moment" so I did just that and thoroughly enjoyed the impressive views showcasing the narrow strip of land we had hiked on today along with Mount Fortescue, Cape Hauy (and Cape Raoul in the very distance).
You could say this is the only spot where you could photograph all three capes together as you are standing on top of Cape Pillar looking back at Cape Hauy and Cape Raoul. Near the chair I found a small path leading to the edge of the cliff and admired some more dolerite structures below as they emerged from the sea. I even coaxed Caris over to the spot as it was relatively safe on the flat rocky platform. Further up the path was the end of the track and the furthest point we would reach on Cape Pillar. A lookout provides your last "fresh" views back towards Tasman Island and The Blade. Soaking it all in and having a bit of a laugh that it only took two and a half days on the "Three Capes" to reach our first cape, we head back the way we came, excited for the final challenge of the day and a climb up The Blade.
Making our way back down the stairs we had a quick look at Seal Spa again while it was empty before heading to the trail junction. There was a half dozen of us that hadn't climbed up it yet so Rohan the guide stuck with us while Lauren escorted the faster group back to the lodge. Dropping our packs at the junction, we began the short but steep climb up this impressive geological structure. The whole thing is no wider than 5-6m the whole way up and the path never feels dangerous unless you really don't like heights. The rocky stairs are steep in places and small platforms afford you some epic views west towards the Trident and green sea cliffs, with Cape Raoul in the distance. I have a shot of the stairs looking down as Caris made her way up and it certainly looks a lot worse than it actually is but on a windy day I can understand people's trepidation.
Reaching the top there is a sense of relief and wonder as you gaze out towards Tasman Island and the limitless blue beyond. Here is where it got a little dicey as I wanted to get a better shot of Tasman Island but in order to do so I had to navigate some gaps in the rock and it isn't exactly how far the drop is if you made a wrong move. With Caris nervously looking on, I got to a point where I could lean on some solid looking boulders and took my shots. Not wanting to be a headline I carefully made my way back to the group that had gathered on the summit and we made our way back down. Coming down is much better as your gaze is constantly directed to the awesome views, both of the wider landscape and back down to the ocean at the bottom of the cliffs. I made Caris do some natural pointing and soon we were at the trail junction ready to depart for the return leg back to Cape Pillar Lodge.
On the way home we stopped off at the place I had noted in my mind previously where we just sat there and enjoyed the peaceful serenity of what was the perfect day for hiking this corner of Tasmania. Blessed with no wind, glorious sunshine and warm temperatures, we sat on the rocks overlooking Tasman Island in silence being present in the moment (much like my day had started). Staring out at the scene in front of me I had another "I Still Call Australia Home" moment where the song is playing in my head as I smile at how lucky I am to be in this moment. The tail of the group caught up and we made our way back to the lodge for another fabulous cake, an afternoon of relaxation and a well earned glass of Pinot Noir. Sunset was once again amazing but the lack of clouds compared to the previous evening had it a notch or two below that brilliant light display.
Final Thoughts - This is what I had been looking forward to on the Three Capes!!! The high sea cliffs, the dramatic dolerite formations, the mind blowing expanse of open ocean and actually setting foot on one of the three capes.
While the first two days weren't exactly short of enjoyable experiences, this day felt like you were finally on the Three Capes that had been promised. With a there and back again day there was no need for the group to stay together so in the end Caris and I spent most of the day alone and was able to enjoy things at our own pace (i.e. me taking a million photos).
It would have been nice to spend more time with Candy and Hal today but our pace didn't match up. We still had the afternoon and evening to enjoy the pleasure of their company as we hung around the lodge so that was nice.
I apologise for not being able to provide the correct elevation data but looking at the satellite imagery, it looks like part of the maps don't match up so it has the track going down into the sea instead of staying on the cliff edge.
Truly one of the best trail days of my life and we had perfect weather to enjoy one of the best trails in Australia.
Get out there and experience it!
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