A complete guide to hiking Tasmania’s Three Capes Track
Tasmania’s newest and most innovative walk, the Three Capes Track seeks to take hikers on a journey, seamlessly infusing unrivalled comfort and context into the untamed beauty of the Tasman Peninsula. Now widely regarded as one of the best bushwalks in the entire country, experience the otherworldly dolerite pillars and rugged coastal scenery that are entirely unique to the Capes, fall in love with the romantic desolation of the landscape, and immerse yourself in nature— all before retiring to a public hut that could be straight out of Architecture Australia. I was totally and completely blown away by the entire Three Capes Track experience, and it would be genuinely challenging for me to think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend it to. This guide contains everything you need to know about walking the Three Capes Track, including the booking process, daily trail notes, the huts, what to expect on the trail, and heaps more.
About the Three Capes Track
In late 2015, after more than 10 years of conceptualisation, design and rigorous construction, the incredible and highly anticipated Three Capes Track was opened to the public. A complete reimagining of Tasman National Park’s existing network of trails, this enormous project saw more than 35km of track laid from Denmans Cove to Fortescue Bay and out to each Cape Pillar and Cape Huay, requiring more than 18,000 helicopter flights each carrying 800kg of materials, a team of several hundred people working around the clock, and a $20million federal grant. The result is staggering. Now inarguably Australia’s best-maintained hiking trail, the Three Capes Track incorporates all the success of New Zealand’s famously amazing hut system with the wild beauty of the Tasman Peninsula for what is honestly one of the most incredible hiking experiences you’re likely to have south of the equator.
And like NZ’s Great Walks, a large part of what makes this experience so notable is its accessibility to walkers of all experience levels. At only 4 days and 48km, it is substantially shorter than Tasmania’s other premier multi-day hike, but also features infinitely flatter trails with none of the rocks or roots, a hut system with reserved spots so you don’t need to carry a tent, and beautiful kitchens that allow you to prep your mountain meals without bringing your own fuel, stove, or cookpot. You can read more about these stellar huts and their amenities under “What to expect on the trail”.
As the included transport to the start of the track, enjoy a scenic cruise along Cape Raoul, the beauty of which is only a small preview of what’s to come, and then disembark at Denmans Cove to begin an incredible 4-day, 3-night adventure on the Three Capes Track. Over impossibly well-graded trails and through equally impossible natural scenery, this 48km walk leads you up and over mountains, out to two more breathtaking capes, through lush rainforests and scraggly wind-whipped ridges, and finally culminates at the idyllic Fortescue Bay. Every moment on the trail is scenic, but there’s actually so much more to enjoy than just the view.
Encounters on the Edge
At check-in, all hikers receive a copy of Encounters on the Edge, a custom-compiled booklet of information for your walk. In addition to maps and guides, the booklet also contains 40 stories, each designed to be read at a unique seat (or sometimes just a spot) along the trail. Some of these stories focus on the convict history of the Tasman Peninsula, some on the geology of the area, some on the local flora and fauna, and others still on the development of this track.
The Three Capes Track truly is an immersive experience, and Encounters on the Edge has been thoughtfully crafted to provide depth and context to the many thousands of steps you’ll take along the way. I really encourage you to stop and read at each of the storyseats, many of which are artistically fascinating in their own right (having been created by UTas design students and staff), rather than just blazing along the trail from Point A to Point B. Slow down and look at your surroundings, connect with the rich culture and history, be present in nature, and I promise you’ll leave with an even greater appreciation of this incredible part of the world. Check out some of my favourite storyseats under “What to expect on the trail”.
Booking the Three Capes Track
Only 48 hikers are allowed to depart each day on the Three Capes Track, but it’s extremely simple to reserve your spot using the online booking system. Reservations can be made about 13 months in advance, and I’d recommend trying to grab your spots at least 6 months out, particularly if you are inflexible with dates or if you’re hiking during the holiday period (summer or long weekends). Passes are $495 per person, considerably more than any other public walk I can think of in Australia, but the quality of the trail and the huts (plus the included transportation) warrants the fee, in my opinion.
Included in the booking fee
- Pass for walking the 4-day Three Capes Track
- Reserved accommodation for all 3 nights in each of the beautiful huts
- Scenic cruise from Port Arthur to the trailhead
- Bus from the trail back to Port Arthur
- Pass to Port Arthur Historic Site valid for 2 years (see “Other things to do on the Tasman Peninsula”)
In addition to selecting the dates for your walk, you will also need to make a few choices regarding your transportation to and from the trailhead. I’ll revisit this under “Getting to and from the Three Capes Track”, but essentially there are 2 boats bringing people from Port Arthur to the start of the track (11.30am or 2pm) and 2 buses returning people to Port Arthur 4 days later (2.30pm or 4pm). If your plans do later change, it’s possible to request a different boat or bus, but that’s entirely subject to availability. On our hike, several people were able to swap with another group for the time they wanted, but again, that’s obviously not a guarantee, so choose wisely!
Steps for making an online booking
- Visit the online booking system and select your desired date of departure
- Select either the 11.30am or 2pm boat departure from Port Arthur to Denmans Cove
- Select either the 2.30pm or 4pm bus departure from Fortescue Bay to Port Arthur
- Enter your name, DOB, address
- Submit payment using Visa or MasterCard ($495)
Before you submit payment, there’s an option to add comments to the booking. If you would like to request to be placed in the same bunkroom with friends or family who made separate bookings, you should include their names here and the hut rangers will try to put you together for the duration of the trip. Bunkrooms are 4 or 8 people, so if you don’t have those numbers, you will still have some new friends rooming with you.
Checking in for your walk
On the morning of your scheduled departure, you will need to check in at the Three Capes Track office to obtain your pass and collect your Encounters on the Edge booklet. The office is located on the lower level of Port Arthur Historic Site and opens at 9am. It’s also possible to store any luggage in the office if you don’t have a car parked on site.
Even though you need to wait until the day of your hike to check in, you can still visit the office on an earlier day and collect your free pass to Port Arthur Historic Site, which I’d really recommend! See more under “Other things to do on the Tasman Peninsula”).
Getting to and from the Three Capes Track
Getting to Port Arthur
The best way to get to Port Arthur is to drive about 1.5hrs from Hobart and park for free during your hike (there’s a designated long-term car park for the Three Capes Track about 500m from the Visitor’s Centre and the bus will return you directly there after you finish). If you are coming across from the mainland on the Spirit of Tasmania, check out this post. However, if you’re just flying in for this hike and don’t have a car, it’s fairly easy to get from Port Arthur to Hobart using a bus.
Three Capes Track recommends these bus companies specifically:
Transport to and from the trail
What was hands down the most challenging aspect of our Overland Track trip, transport for the Three Capes Track is included in the price of your booking and is exceptionally easy.
Port Arthur to Denmans Cove
On the way to the trailhead from Port Arthur, you’ll enjoy a 1.5hr scenic cruise along Cape Raoul before reaching Denmans Cove and disembarking for your hike. The guys that operate these boats give you full commentary along the way, pointing out wildlife and discussing the geology of the area, so I really found this to be a highlight! There are 2 departures daily, and you should have chosen one when you made your booking (11.30am or 2pm). Meet at the jetty about 15min early.
Fortescue Bay to Port Arthur
After completing the fourth and final day of the walk, you’ll board a bus in Fortescue Bay to drive about 20min back to Port Arthur. The bus driver offered to drop us directly at Port Arthur Historic Site, the long-term car park, or in town (probably more convenient for catching a bus). Like the boat, there were two departures for you to select from at booking (2.30pm or 4pm), but we did find that there were some extra spots on each bus in case people arrived very early and wanted to leave sooner or (more likely) in case hikers were running behind. Still, I wouldn’t rely on this! Contact details for the bus are listed in the third hut (Retakunna) in case you want to try and change your booking.
Three Capes Track itinerary
Everyone who begins the Three Capes Track on the same day will follow an identical itinerary, as your beds are reserved in each hut along the way. There’s always the option to skip one of the side-trips if you are worried about the distance, but I’d strongly discourage that— the capes are such a big part of this walk, it would be devastating to miss them!
Day 1: Denman’s Cove to Surveyors
Trail hours: 1.25hrs
Highlights: Scenic boat cruise from Port Arthur to Denmans Cove; incredible views of Cape Raoul from the boat and Surveyors Hut; smoky scenery at Surveyors Cove
Campsite: Surveyors Hut
Day 2: Surveyors to Munro
Trail hours: 3.75hrs
Highlights: Stunning views of Crescent Bay and Cape Raoul from Arthur’s Peak; lush eucalypt forests and rainforests; echidnas rustling around in the bushes; sea cliffs of Munro Bight and distant Cape Hauy
Campsite: Munro Hut
Day 3: Munro to Retakunna via Cape Pillar
Trail hours: 5.25hrs
Highlights: Unrivalled views of Tasman Island, The Blade, and Cathedral Rock; exciting walk along the cliffs of Cape Pillar; panoramic views of the peninsula’s iconic dolerite columns; some of the trails most inventive storyseats
Campsite: Retakunna Hut
Day 4: Retakunna to Fortescue Bay via Cape Huay
Trail hours: 5.75hrs
Highlights: Climbing Mt Fortescue, the track’s high point; incredible views of The Totem Pole, The Candlestick, and back onto Cape Pillar from Cape Huay; refreshing swim in crystal-clear Fortescue Bay
What to expect on the trail
I’d actually go so far as to say that the Three Capes Track is the best, most well-graded track I’ve ever hiked. Even on the biggest climb of your journey (which isn’t actually that big, but still), you’ll hardly even notice that you’ve gone uphill until you arrive at the top. No roots, no stray rocks, absolutely no obstacles to your walk, which means you can focus on the scenery and the storyseats rather than the terrain.
The only consistent place (and often the ONLY place) to find water on the trail is at the huts, all of which have rainwater for your drinking and cooking needs. There’s no need to filter this water, so feel free to leave your filters or iodine tablets at home. That being said, make sure to carry plenty of water with you each day, as it will likely be the only water you have until you arrive at the next hut!
Three Capes Track huts
Without question, this track boasts the best public huts in all of Australia, and I’d even go so far as to say they are strong contenders internationally. Each of the 3 huts you stay in along your hike— Surveyors, Munro, and Retakunna— are unique and beautiful in their own way, fitting effortlessly into the landscape to bring comfort and luxury to a hut experience that has historically been about cramming as many people as possible into a small, dry room. Here are the common ammenities you can expect in each and the special treats available at specific huts:
- 2 indoor kitchens with plenty of seating for meals
- Gas stoves, kettles, and a wide assortment of fry pans and pots for you to cook with (need to bring your own cutlery and food)
- Also in the kitchen, rain water sinks (this is untreated water, but no one seems to filter it and the rangers might give you an odd look if you do, as it’s totally unneeded)
- BBQ— only at Surveyors (you can backpack in with frozen meat and have a feast on the first night!)
- Collection of boardgames and a library (all huts have the same books, so you can start reading in one hut and continue in another)
- Large outdoor decking with lounge chairs
- Yoga mats
- 4 or 8 person bunkrooms with comfy mattresses, hooks for clothes, benches, etc
- Bathrooms (with TP!), sinks with running (rain) water, anti-bacterial soap
- 2 hot showers— only at Munro (use a bucket to empty heated rainwater into a sack, hoist above your head inside one of the corrugated iron scrolls, and set to slowly drizzle while you enjoy the best shower of your life)
Even though this guide won’t cover camping, it would be remiss of me not to mention that there are two small campsites along the trail which technically make it possible to do some of the Three Capes Track without paying $495. The camps weren’t marked on our maps and there’s next to zero information about them online, but because we passed right by them on days 2 and 3, I do know that Wugahlee Campsite and Bare Knoll are both near Munro Hut. Even though it cuts out a good portion of the walk and really changes the experience, you can do the 29km “Cape Pillar Track” from Fortescue Bay in 2/3 days (or even add in Cape Huay at another 5km) by staying at these camps. Each only has a half dozen tent spots and it doesn’t appear that you can reserve these, so make of that what you will, but the cost is just $24 for a Parks Pass.
As I ranted and raved about previously, the imaginative storyseats along the trail were one of my favourite parts of the Three Capes Track. All up, you’ll encounter 40 of these seats (some of which are not actually seats at all) and each one corresponds to a story or piece of information in the Encounters on the Edge book. An added bonus of all these seats— they are marked on your maps, so it’s actually a great way to chart your progress along the trail if you like knowing where you are!
Safety on the Three Capes Track
Safety concerns along the Three Capes Track are somewhat mitigated by the well-staffed huts, immaculate trail, and consistent mobile reception, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. In my opinion, these are the three most important safety considerations for any hike in Tasmania, and they absolutely still apply to the Three Capes Track:
- Be prepared for all weather
- Be ready to respond to a medical emergency
- Be able to call for help if the situation requires
Be prepared for all weather
Weather on Tasmania’s coast may not be as extreme as it is in the mountains, but conditions can still change in an instant. Much of the Three Capes Track follows the cliffs without any physical barrier, so it’s important to be wary of the conditions (particularly the wind, which can reach 170km/hr on the Capes) before you get too close to a ledge. There haven’t been any incidents on this track since it opened, but it would be good to keep it that way! Exercise basic wilderness precautions by giving the edge a wide berth, packing appropriate wind and rain gear, and knowing when to turn back from the Capes.
Be ready to respond to a medical emergency
It’s also essential that you carry a well-stocked first aid kit in case of emergencies, probably the most concerning of which is a snake bite. I didn’t personally see any snakes during our hike, but most other people in the huts said they had, and even though no one has died of a snake bite in Tassie since the 60’s, all snakes in Tasmania are poisonous! People are bitten every year, so it is important to have the necessary items in your kit and know how to use them. Most first aid courses in Australia teach the Pressure Immobilisation Technique (also works for some spider bites), but you can get the idea just from watching a video on YouTube. You don’t need to buy a special snake kit (although we actually had one); a few elastic bandages from a supermarket or chemist will more than do the trick. Make sure you also stock your kit with plenty of bandages, antiseptic, strapping tape, and assorted drugs (painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antidiarrhoeals, and antihistamines are a good place to start, but include anything else you can think of).
Be able to call for help if the situation requires
Lastly, you need to be able to call for help if someone is badly injured (even correctly using the PIT for a snake bite, you have to be urgently rushed to hospital for anti-venom) or if weather conditions get too far out of hand and you’re worried for your safety (e.g bushfire). This is never a cheap trip, but you’ll be happy to have the option to get out of the NP if the only alternative is death. Thankfully, it is so much easier to get help on the Three Capes than on other more remote bushwalks in Tasmania, simply because there is decent mobile reception on the trail and every hut has USB charging ports. If you aren’t travelling with your phone, though, it’s a good idea to carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) on the trail. If you don’t own one, it’s possible to hire one from a Service Tasmania shop in Devonport, Launceston, Burnie, or Hobart.
Packing list for the Three Capes Track
- Hat + sunnies
- 3x hiking shirts— short sleeve
- Long-sleeve fleece— good for colder mornings
- Thermal top— for sleeping or lounging around camp
- Down jacket
- Rain jacket
- 2x hiking shorts
- Tights/polar fleece/trackies— for sleeping or lounging around camp
- 3x pairs hiking sock liners
- 2x pairs wool hiking socks
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Sandals for camp
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Face/body wipes— mountain shower!
- Microfibre towel— for your actual mountain shower
- Hand sanitiser
- First aid kit: anti-inflammatories, pain killers, antihistamines, antidiarrhoeals, bandaids, medical tape, elastic bandages, alcohol wipes, antiseptic, scissors, tweezers, needle, and anything else you usually bring (make sure you bring this even in your summit pack, I ran into an emergency on Cradle Mountain and thankfully my dad had first aid stuff because I left mine at the hut!)
- Mobile / PLB or EPIRB (see “Safety on the Three Capes Track”)
- Camera + extra batteries + power bank
- 50-70L hiking backpack
- Backpack rain cover
- Summit pack— 20L lightweight backpack that can roll into your big pack
- 2-3L bladder
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping bag— recommended rating -5C
- Camping pillow
- Cookwear: bowls, cups, cutlery, long spoon for cooking
- Food for 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and plenty of snacks— we recommend nut bars, crackers, salami, cheese, beef jerky, tuna, hot chocolate, lollies, etc
- Dehydrated mountain meals for 3 nights— you can also buy Packet Gourmet in Australia from this company
- Plastic canteen— for filling up water at the huts and easily transferring to your bladder
Check out this post for recommendations on all the best gear: BUILDING THE ULTIMATE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE KIT: THE BEST HIKING & BACKPACKING GEAR FOR WOMEN
Other things to do on the Tasman Peninsula
I mentioned previously that the 29km Cape Pillar Track can be done as an alternative to the Three Capes Track, but there are also two different day hikes either on the Three Capes or in the area that might be of interest. Cape Raoul especially makes a great addition to your walk, as these trails have yet to be connected to the offical Three Capes Track!
- Cape Huay (9km return): Drive to Fortescue Bay and walk out to Cape Huay in just a few hours for some spectacular scenery without the time commitment
- Cape Raoul (14km return): From Stormlea Road, the walk out to Cape Raoul and back will take several hours, but offers a look at the only one of the capes that isn’t actually part of the Three Capes Track (although TasParks is hoping to incorporate it)
Port Arthur Historic Site
Before you set out on the Three Capes Track, spend a day or two learning about Tasmania’s rich and storied convict history at this World Heritage-listed penal colony. As part of the free entry included with your hike, you can wander through many of the beautifully-preserved structures, such as the Penitentiary or the Silent Prison, or join a 45min introductory tour to get a good overview of convict life here in Port Arthur. For a bit extra, hop onto one of the specialised tours, like Escape from Port Arthur or the Ghost Tour, both of which we really enjoyed during our visit.
Read more: post on Port Arthur coming soon!
The Tasman Peninsula is one of the state’s most beautiful and diverse areas, home to an endless supply of coastal lookouts and fascinating geological phenomena that exist in few other places on earth. Turn the short drive from Hobart to Port Arthur into a mini-roadtrip by stopping off at a few of these scenic spots in Eaglehawk Neck, including the Tessellated Pavement, Remarkable Cave, Devil’s Kitchen, Tasman’s Arch, the Blowhole, and more.