Stories of the trail…
The track to Huay: steps and more steps
TIRED of those mind-numbing step-up exercises you do in the gym? Then take the track to Cape Huay. You will get lots of step-ups-and-downs without the boredom of looking at some blank wall and breathing the aroma of sweaty bodies.
We set out on this ten kilometer up-and-down walk under the clear blue sky of the Tasmanian spring. We returned under a sky of cloud. I watched it coming. It started on the last leg, just before reaching the end of the track at the cape as a high layer of wispy Cirrus fibratus, and ended back at the Fortescue Bay trailhead as a thickening layer of darkening altostratus underlaid with a scattering of puffy cumulus.
The track starts in the eucalyptus forest at Fortescue Bay and ascends into coastal heathland dotted with outbreaks of flowering species. Heath is a common ecosystem of Australia’s coasts. It is a low-growing, tough, wiry and close-packed vegetative community which can be hard to push through were you tempted to wander off-track.
Reaching the top of the first long flight of steps cut into the soil and paved with sandstone, the illusion is of reaching flatter country and that this is how it will continue all the way to Cape Huay. That, unfortunatley, is a trick of the terrain and the track makers. The gently-ascending section atop that first flight of steps is the prelude to a longer, steeper flight of steps that take us into a saddle then climb again as we near the end of the cape. And, of course, every set of downhill steps becomes a set of uphill steps on the return journey. Such is the up and down track from Fortescue Bay to Cape Huay and back.
This is the type of landscape that people stop and look at and declare beautiful. That’s true enough. It is also a landscape that suggests violence. Those cliffs of exposed and weatherworn dolerite rising a couple hundred metres above the sea, the way the cape rises to end sharply in a high, vertical precipice where the turgid sea smashes against its base… these are not gentle features. They are the product of upheaval.
I must have looked out and seen Cape Huay across the sea when I did the walk to Cape Pillar… when?…more than 40 years ago? Guess it was that long ago. What I remember of that walk is being with a group from the local bushwalking club, traversing a rough track through coastal heathland, camping not far from the cliffs and walking out to the tip of the cape with Tasman Island and its lightstation just offshore and sea cliffs falling over 300m to a wild sea below.
Pillar came into view as we reached the saddle at the bottom of the long set of steps that leads to the climb to Cape Huay. There it is. I stand there looking as my mind reaches back over the decades to that long-ago walk in country that was new to me. I think, too, of my good fortune at having returned to this island after all those years. It was a return to these wild places, to broad seas and wide skies, forests and moutains and to these capes on the Tasman Peninsula.
In a couple places the old track to the cape is visible where it in intersects the new and disappears into the scrub. Without the steps of the new track, would the old one where it winds across the terrain and through the healthland have been easier walking? Would it have saved expense were the old track to have been upgraded rather than building a new track of sandstone steps?
There is something about the old tracks you come across here and there in the bush. They trigger questions: Who made them? Were they developed from rough pads trampled by the bushwalkers of long ago? When were they last used? Where do they go? It’s that last question that leads you to turn off and follow them a distance. Sometimes they end in a wall of wiry scrub where nature has reclaimed them. Sometimes they just fade away.
Three Capes: an authentic bushwalk, or not?
There are three capes on the Tasman Peninsula where it juts out into the Tasman Sea — Huay, Pillar and Raoul. For decades, bushwalkers have reached them along rough, poorly maintained tracks. Now, Huay and Pillar are linked by the Three Capes Track.
It is debatable whether the 48km, four day, three nights, Three Capes Track offers an authentic bushwalking experience in the traditional Tasmanian sense. Bushwalkers have said as much, including a mainland friend who did the walk with his family.
Sure, there is movement through the bush between accommodation lodges that are luxurious by conventional bush hut standards, however the track is far different to its predecessors of past times. Walkers can follow the Track in only a countereclockwise direction and must move on from the lodges every morning. This puts them out into the rain and wind when the weather is coming in and some say this poses potential wet weather safety risks.
Some Tasmanian bushwalkers allege that the cost of constructing the Three Capes Track and other iconic tracks that are planned reduces national parks service expenditure on maintaining existing walking tracks. The cost of several hundred dollars to walk the track is another issue, putting it beyond people on limited incomes in a state with the lowest incomes in the country. The construction of iconic tracks is how the state government commodifies wild places and packages them as an experience, attracting a different, more affluent class of walker with the funds to spare. Fortunately, all three capes can be visited using bush campsites or as daywalks without the upmarket accommodation and fee.
Some of the people we met on the Cape Huay track were on the last day of their Three Capes walk. All we spoke with enjoyed the experience, including a couple Tasmanians from Hobart.
With accommodation provided, there is no need to carry a tent or bushwalker’s stove to prepare meals on, making for a lighter-weight pack. Despite this, it was hard not to miss the huge packs some carried and the serious walking boots they wore. What they carried in those packs is anyone’s guess. The basics for a four day walk can be carried in a small overnight pack when you are not carrying a tent or stove, as the two Tasmanians were doing with their smaller Aarn packs with their front balance pockets. As my partner suggested, it looked as though people packed bulky clothing not made for bushwalking. Likewise their leather boots more suited to rugged mountain terrain. Her conclusion was that most are not bushwalkers, the Track appealing to a different type of walker looking for something with an element of adventure, but something easy.
A visually inspiring walk
Allow at least four hours for the Cape Huay track, five or a little more will give you time to linger, to look at the rugged Tasmanian coastline and realise that there is no more land until the New Zealand coastline. The walk will exercise your leg muscles with all those steps, however this is a day walk worth doing.
What to bring? Let’s start with sturdy footwear. You don’t need boots made for trekking in rough mountain country. A pair of walking shoes or runners will suffice. Take wet weather clothing. Tasmania is noted as a place where the weather can go from sunny to cold and wet within a half-hour. With that possibility, a wool pullover or fleece will keep you warm. The usual bushwalking equipment like a small first aid kit, sunglasses, hat, pocket knife (seldom used for little more than spreading peanut butter or vegemite on crispbead biscuits), suncream, water and food should be carried in a small pack. The walk, like others on the Tasman peninsula, is in a fuel stove-only area. That means no open fires other than in the campsite at Fortescue Bay.
You will need a parks pass which can be bought from a kiosk at the Fortescue Bay trailhead when it is crewed in summer. Locals might buy an annual or two-year pass that gives access to all national parks in the state. There is a walker registration station at Fortescue Bay where as a safety precaution you can log your contact details, route and return.
The signposted, 12km, all-weather gravel road to Fortescue Bay leaves the Arthur Highway about four kilometres from Port Arthur. The Bay offers cheap campsites that you can book ahead or on site when the ranger’s station is crewed. This makes it a suitable base camp by your vehicle for day trips to capes Huay and the longer walk to Cape Pillar as well as the track along the sea cliffs that heads north from the bay and takes you to Bivouac Bay and Canoe Bay and beyond. Fortescue Bay campsite gets crowded in holiday season. The rangers’ station is uncrewed through the colder months.
There is much to explore on the Tasman Peninsula in addition to the walks to the capes. As an early convict settlement, Port Arthur is a historic site. There’s a charge to enter and a guided walk is avilable for history buffs and the curious. The visitors centre has a cafe. Also on the peninsula are popular tourist sites like the Tasselated Pavement — a geological formation on a rock platform by the sea — Tasman Arch and Remakable Cave, a sea cave. There are shops at Port Arthur township and there is a variety of accommodation options on the peninsula. Based at Fortescue Bay campite or Port Arthur caravan park, visitors could easily spend five or more days exploring this part of Tasmania.
Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania—Cape Huay
Tas Trails—Cape Huay
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