Thursday, 26 April 2018

Cape Raoul Track (Tasman National Park)

The first cape of the Three Capes, the Cape Raoul Track takes hikers to the cape not visited by the Three Capes Track. Largely staying within forests, the track leads to occasional but spectacular views of the wild coast including outstanding views of the 200 metre high sea cliffs that the area is famous for. Finishing at Cape Raoul itself, this is a worthwhile walk and a good prelude to the Three Capes Track

Distance: 14 km (return)
Gradient: A long continuous descent to Cape Raoul along switchbacks and steps, and then a continuous ascent on the way back
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and boardwalks
Quality of Signage: Clear trailhead and markers along the way, with clear information boards at all trail junctions
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4-5 Hours
Steps: Many steps in place, particularly leading up to and down from Cape Raoul
Best Time to Visit: All year round, except on very hot days or during severe storms
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply. 
Getting There: The trail starts near the end of Stormlea Rd. From Nubeena Rd (Route B37), take Stormlea Rd almost to its end. The trailhead and car park is clearly signed along the road

After completing the Overland Track in December 2016, Alissa and I had to ask ourselves 'what now?' for future hiking trips to Tasmania, and naturally the topic of the Three Capes Track came up. Having just opened at the time and being pushed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service as 'the premier coastal walk in Australia', the Three Capes Track definitely seemed appealing given the almost luxury nature of the huts, however the $500 price tag did stop us in our tracks from rushing out to book the walk. Having decided instead on the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit and an east coast road trip for our second trip, a day walk option in Tasman National Park piqued our interest. The first cape of the Three Capes - Cape Raoul - is never actually reached along the Three Capes Track, however a recent upgrade to the Cape Raoul Track has brought it up to the same dry boot standard. Intrigued by incredible photos of the cape and the fact the track had been recently upgraded, the Cape Raoul Track seemed like a great way to get a taste of what the Three Capes Track is like as a walking experience.

Almost immediately, the high standard of the track could be seen, with wooden boardwalks running from the car park through a slightly swampy area.

Boardwalks through swampy areas are fairly common in Tasmania, however the most dramatic difference in trail quality was felt as we left the boardwalk and entered the forest. On every track we've walked in Tassie, the walking is usually a bit rocky, uneven and/or muddy, but the trail here had been made compacted and smooth. This made for pleasurably easy walking, and it helped that the forest walking was beautiful and engaging - at least at first. It reminded me a bit of the Boranup Forest along the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia, although the grandeur of the Karri forest is even more impressive.

A clear example of the philosophy of the recent upgrade can be seen at a creek crossing as the track passes through the forest. On something like the Junction Lake Track, they wouldn't even bother bridging the stream as it is fairly shallow. This was probably the thinking before the recent upgrades, and a slippery log crossing can still be seen as a token offering for those who want to try and keep their feet dry. The provision of the new bridge reminded me a lot of the user friendliness of the Bibbulmun Track as most of the creeks in Western Australia are dry for three quarters of the year and yet feature bridge crossings.

One of the iconic features of the Three Capes Track is the provision of artistic, sculptural benches along the walk, and I was pleased to see one of these just before the first major trail junction. The design of these benches has a certain interpretive quality to them, with this particular example designed to recall the features of an echidna.

Just after the bench, the trail reaches a junction with the Shipsterns Bluff Track. Shipsterns Bluff is the location of one of Tasmania's most famous surf breaks due to the potential for massive waves during a big swell. While tempting to go see, Alissa and I continued to the left towards Cape Raoul.

Within ten minutes of the junction, the trail reaches the first coastal lookout point. Stepping towards the fenced edge of the lookout and the furious winds of the Southern Ocean, walkers can see the Shipsterns Bluff to the right.

The views to the left are far more impressive, with the fluted Dolerite formations in the immediate vicinity and views towards Cape Raoul further to the south-east.

After our first views of the coast from the lookout point, Alissa and I were surprised to find ourselves once again walking through forest. This was pleasant forest walking, however I have to admit I was beginning to tire of the lack of coastal views. Coming from Western Australia where most of the coastal walking features low heath, I'm used to almost constant views on a coastal walk. The fact that most of the walk did not have such views was a bit of a disappointment given how spectacular the coastline is in this part of Tasmania.

From the lookout, the walking is an almost continuous descent, with the track following a number of switchbacks as it makes its way down to the cape.

With most of the walk being enshrouded in forest, any breaks in the trees were a welcome sight. One section runs along the coastal edge of the cliffs, with excellent views back to the north-west. The old Cape Raoul Track used to continue closely along the edge, however this track is now closed with the new track running further inland. This is a shame as the views on the new track are once again blocked by trees, but I can imagine the decision to reroute the track was made to prevent erosion damage and to ensure that the higher traffic of walkers won't result in an increase in deaths from people standing too close to the cliff's edge.

From there on, the walk continues down a series of well constructed steps. It would have been a real challenge to transport all these stone steps to this remote section of coastline and goes to show that no expense has been spared to get this track up the Class 3 tourist-friendly standard of the Three Capes Track.

Once again, with so much of the walking being a forest tunnel, the rare glimpses of the coast are to be savoured. Being further along the way to the cape provided some excellent views back along the coast. The views reminded me a lot of the South Coast of Western Australia, particularly Torndirrup National Park.

The Torndirrup comparisons became more pointed once we cleared the forest and were walking through low coastal head towards the one of the best viewpoints along the track.

After so much walking through forest, it was great to finally see the incredibly tall walls of fluted Dolerite along the cliffs. The cliffs of the Tasman Peninsula are some of the tallest in Australia, and seeing these in person was worth the effort of getting here.

Rounding the corner of the cliffs on the final leg of the walk to Cape Raoul, the track passes a large series of flats. In the background we could see the hill we had descended from towering overhead.

The height of the heath increased as we continued along, and again contributed to the tunnel-like feel of walking along this track. We were relieved then to reach another trail junction. The track to the left went to a lookout point overlooking the cape, with the track to the right running right to Cape Raoul itself. We decided to go and check out the cape first so we continued onwards to the right.

The views at Cape Raoul were spectacular, with the track ending at the start of the blade-like formation of the cape. Alissa and I went as far as was safe, however I'm sure many braver and/or foolhardy walkers head further along the cape for even better views.

Looking across to the east, Alissa and I could see Cape Pillar and Tasman Island. Cape Pillar is the second of the Three Capes. Being able stand at the tip of Cape Pillar overlooking Tasman Island would be incredible, and it something that does make me want to do the Three Capes Track (or maybe the Free Capes Track) some day. 

While Alissa stayed at Cape Raoul, I went around to the other lookout point which overlooks the cape. In some ways this was the more impressive vantage point as I really got to see the fluted columns of Dolerite that jut out into the wild ocean. If you look carefully towards the top right you will see Alissa standing at the top of Cape Raoul looking down. This should give you a sense of the immense scale of these incredibly tall sea cliffs. 

After enjoying the views, Alissa and I retraced our steps back to the car park. The initial walking was pretty easy going as we went past some of the same views we had enjoyed on the way to the cape. 

Once returning into the forest, the return journey is an almost continuously uphill journey along a seemingly endless series of steps and switchbacks until reaching the first lookout point. From there the walking is a lot more gentle and downhill, and Alissa embraced the down hill section by gleefully running, skipping and jumping along the way!

Alissa and I have observed that 10 am is the time most tourists head out to do anything while on holiday, and while we were the second lot of hikers to arrive at the car park, we were far from the last. We ran into a number of large groups along our return journey, and I can imagine that this walk is going to become more and more popular once people realise it is the first cape of the Three Capes Track. The Parks and Wildlife Service have obviously worked this out as they have constructed a lot of parking bays at the trailhead with overflow down the road, and we could see that a toilet block was going in shortly. Based on experience, I would suggest getting here early to avoid disappointment. 

The Cape Raoul Track was definitely a worthwhile walk, with the incredible views of the sheer Dolerite cliffs making for some of the most dramatic coastal scenery we've seen in Australia. The problem I have with this trail is that it is more a journey to an incredible destination rather than an incredible journey in its own right, with the vast majority of the walk being through a corridor of trees. While the forest was initially very beautiful, I found the lack of views became increasingly frustrating the further along we went as it meant than the vast majority of the track did not focus on the coastline. Compared to coastal walks in Western Australia like the Bald Head Walk Trail in Torndirrup National Park or the Bigurda Trail in Kalbarri, the sea cliffs there are no where near as high as what we encountered at Cape Raoul but the walking is interesting and engaging from start to finish. Since I prefer a great journey more than a great destination, I consider the Cape Raoul Track as something that was worth doing once, but I can't say it is a walk I would be rushing to do again. 


  1. Thanks. Enjoyed reading about the newly done track. Nice photos.

  2. This is such a great post. I am traveling to Tasmania next week and am excited to take this walk. Thank you for taking the time to share these photos and such clear descriptions of what to expect.

  3. Hi, great pics and info. Wondering if you did Cape Huay and Cape Pillar as well?