Sitting at the edge of the Blade, a soaring dolerite column at the end of Cape Pillar, with Tasman Island bursting from the sea to the front, and the coastline advancing and retreating off to the right, can make a person feel very insignificant. At 300 metres above sea level in Tasman National Park, the Blade is the highest sea cliff in the Southern Hemisphere, a vertiginous landmark that irresistibly instils a humbling respect for and wonder of nature.
Naturally, it’s one of the highlights of the Three Capes Track, a four-day hike in Tasmania’s jagged southeast. When it opened to the public in 2015, the 48km trail with boardwalks and gravel paths was an instant hit, even though the only option for visitors was to stay in modern, functional national park huts and bring their own food.
That changed last year with the introduction of Three Capes Lodge Walk, which includes accommodation in the form of two luxurious eco lodges artfully hidden along the track that enable adventurers to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery without sacrificing creature comforts. At the end of a day led by insightful guides, hikers can decompress in hot showers, nibble on canapés in front of a fire, enjoy freshly cooked meals accompanied by Tasmanian wine, and retire to rooms with large windows looking out to the forest.
My four-day hike traverses a heart-stirring trail that rises from sea level, taking in a cloud forest, undulating coastal heath and sheer-drop cliffs in a region rich with history. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman landed on the island in 1642, its first railways were built by convicts in the 1830s and Point Puer was the British Empire’s first boys-only prison, with inmates as young as nine years old. I learn all this during the first moments of the walk, as we slowly climb the hills above the official starting point of Denman’s Cove, a short boat ride from Port Arthur, itself a 90-minute drive from central Hobart.
With a maximum of 14 people allowed on the Three Capes Lodge Walk at a time, and the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service permitting only 48 hikers each night in the cabins for the normal route, the beautifully maintained trail is blissfully empty. Taking five years to build and requiring 18,000 helicopter flights to transport gravel, timber and other materials, it’s devoid of slushy sections and rocky terrain, making it passable year-round.
On an easy first day, my group strides past towering she-oaks, brown-top stringybark trees and silver peppermint bushes, with the occasional stop at benches made by design students. We see the outline of Cape Raoul, its shape broken because it was used for target practice by naval ships in the last century. In the autumn sun, the sky mottled with clouds, a light breeze on my face, and plants such as sword-grass and banksia everywhere, the setting feels almost Mediterranean.
By late afternoon, we arrive at Crescent Lodge, accessed by a faint trail off the main track. One of the three guides — Charlotte, Josh and Gus — arrived earlier to prepare some hors d’oeuvres of cheese, charcuterie, crackers and condiments, accompanied by Tasmanian wine.
Over these bites, we soon settle into the rhythm of old friends. Our enjoyment is amplified by a three-course dinner taken on a huge wooden table that includes lamb stew and panna cotta with mixed-berry coulis (the ingredients and drinks served are almost exclusively from Tasmania). After the meal comes a rundown of what to expect the following day, followed by more wine in front of a fire and some old-fashioned, digital-free conversation. I notice a possum outside sniffing at the lodge windows, eager to get inside to sample the amiable ambience.
The dark ash-coloured timber lodge took a year to build and is sealed with a fire-retarding coating. Plate-glass windows wrap around its main lounge, while terraced rooms and a separate Relaxation Pavilion are set among the trees. The lodge was planned with the environment in mind: showers use low-flow recycling systems so water isn’t wasted, solar panels and wind turbines help generate energy, and buildings sit on stilts to reduce footprints. Rooms feature large windows that can be opened to cool and ventilate the space, and the firm bed with soft sheets deserves a special mention as I fall into a deep slumber, serenaded by the haunting sound of wind whipping through trees.
The next day’s early start is preluded by freshly baked bread, smooth tangy yoghurt and crunchy granola. We set off in the clear morning air and I soon fall into the tempo of the walk’s pleasant metronomic crunch of gravel underfoot. We learn about epicormic growth and how fire helps the forest to regenerate (seed pods drop from trees when triggered by heat and smoke). At times, the guides point out the different flora — candle heath, cheeseberries, dogwood, casuarinas, blanket leaf, snow gums, sassafras, stinkwood leaf, mountain pinkberries, a weird bush nicknamed bushman’s bootlace for its strong stalks — and birds such as the flame robin, yellow-tailed black cockatoo and green rosella. I spot a fern covered in small water droplets, and as the sunlight hits it, it appears swathed in crystals.
The Tasman Peninsula, one of the guides explains, was created by epic tectonic shifts. As Gondwana pulled apart, magma rose, cooled and cracked, creating the vertical igneous dolerite. The trail passes through microclimates, including a section of cloud forest that feels like Tolkien’s Middle Earth with its huge boulders covered in moss and lichen.
The next two nights are spent at Cape Pillar Lodge, set on a zigzag walk above the track. The set-up is reassuringly similar to the first, except that it comes with a spa and on-site therapist. After a day of ambling, we settle in with some olives and pineapple cake, followed by a dinner of chicken pot pie with mushrooms, and some local riesling and pinot noir. My favourite spot is the pavilion, where I watch the sunrise each morning. The nascent light slowly illuminates the tall eucalyptus trees and coastline, firming up Cape Raoul’s shape with its strengthening rays. As I sit on the outdoor deck and warm up to the sounds of bees, birds and breeze, the feeling is transcendental.
By the third day, I’m able to identify Tasmanian laurel and pepperberry, though I continue to confuse black currawongs, an endemic bird species, with ravens. As we tread a boardwalk winding through undulating plains, our guide stops to discuss aboriginal history and explains how people have lived on the island for 40,000 years. We hug the coastline until the steep-cliffed Tasman Island comes into view. From the Blade, it’s a breathtaking sight — the windswept, precipitous and forgotten outpost seems almost medieval in its austerity.
On the final day, a walk through a forest is immensely moving. The guides space everyone two minutes apart and ask us to walk in silence to better appreciate our surroundings. Devoid of distractions, I see how the fallen trees provide growth, marvel at the sculptural beauty of burned-out hollows and listen to the creak of branches in the wind.
The walk ends at Fortescue Bay, where a few of us swim in the bracing sea. After drying off and raising glasses of champagne for a farewell toast, we officially end the trip. In this place of inspiring beauty, my joy is doubled in the camaraderie of new-found friends.