Reproduced with permission. © Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service
Walking tracks tend to have some sort of reasonably long-ago reason for coming into being. The Overland Track was opened up by prospectors, trappers and hunters. Maori people used to walk the route of the Milford Track to collect greenstone (pounamu). The West Coast Trail in Canada was made primarily as a way back for shipwreck survivors.
But the Three Capes Track really is something made by, and for, walkers.
In the early 1970s, the Hobart Walking Club (HWC) began cutting a scenic track between Waterfall and Fortescue bays on the Tasman Peninsula, then best known as the location of former convict settlement Port Arthur. Named the Tasman Track, it officially opened in 1980, by which point, according to the HWC’s tracks subcommittee, it had absorbed about 2300 volunteer workdays. Later in the 1980s the HWC made other tracks from Fortescue Bay to Cape Pillar, to Shipstern Bluff and Tunnel Bay, and re-cut the exisiting track to Cape Raoul. In 1992 they created a new track over Mt Fortescue, which linked the Cape Pillar and Cape Hauy tracks.
A few years later, in 1999, several disparate parcels of state reserve and forestry land on the Tasman Peninsula was proclaimed as Tasman National Park. Under the management of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS), the several HWC-made tracks that traversed Waterfall Bay to Cape Pillar was renamed the Tasman Coastal Trail.
In 2005, then Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon instructed PWS and Tasmanian tourism authorities to investigate the potential of a new multi-day walk to rival the Overland Track. A seasonal walker-fee system had been introduced on the Overland and the track’s popularity hadn’t been affected. Was there another place in Tassie, Lennon wondered, that might prove similarly attractive to walkers?
Extensive market research of walker desires narrowed the possibilities down to a handful of locations, but members of the scoping team were virtually unanimous in selecting the Tasman Peninsula.
Their reasons included its proximity to Hobart airport, the resilience of the landscape, and net benefits to the peninsula community – particularly the creation of new jobs.
A $100,000 feasibility study followed, its findings released in 2007. The study identified the Three Capes route and the work needed to upgrade or realign existing routes, and create new ones, to complete the track. It recommended huts with mattresses and cookers (thus reducing walkers’ pack weights), and an Overland-type booking system for peak season, during which up to 60 walkers a day would set out on the track at a set fee. The economic case reckoned that Three Capes walkers would bring an additional $19 million to the Tasmanian economy and generate more than 70 new jobs on the Tasman Peninsula.
Joint state and federal funding of $25 million for stages one and two – to the east of Port Arthur, with tracks reaching capes Pillar and Hauy – was secured in 2010. The first stage, an upgrade of the existing path between Fortescue Bay and Cape Hauy, was completed in May 2012. Jokes about “two capes track” aside, the 46km of new track linking Denmans Cove, Cape Pillar, Cape Hauy and Fortescue Bay, along with three new huts (now known as “cabins”), officially opened just before Christmas 2015.
On 19 December 2016, tenders were awarded to upgrade the tracks to lookouts at Cape Raoul – the third of the ‘Three Capes’ – and world-renowned big-wave surfing spot Shipstern Bluff. More than $7 million of state and federal funding will see these tracks, on the western side of Port Arthur, upgraded to the same dry-boot standard as the stages one and two track, and will allow walkers to access the remaining key points on the Three Capes route.
At this stage, there’s no timetable to complete the track as it was first envisioned, as a five-night, six-day 65km experience starting at White Beach, on the western Tasman Peninsula, and ending at Fortescue Bay. Given the popularity of the existing track, it’s hard to imagine that there’s any urgency.