hiking

Hiking the Three Capes Track

tct2_munroellenSo, I went hiking a couple of weeks ago. (Yep.) And, despite apprehension about my general fitness, I survived four days of schlepping around the Tasman Peninsula with only a few blisters and a mild case of sunburn.

(I did wonder a few times — muscles burning, lungs wheezing — what the hell I was doing, but that’s enough said about that.)

The Three Capes Track in Tasmania is one of those new hiking ‘experiences’, where you pay some money for the privilege of using a well-constructed track and staying in beautiful new eco huts with kitchen facilities, dorm beds, and other, er, facilities. (Let’s just say, this was a far cry from toileting Mongolian style… They might have been long drop toilets, but there were stalls with doors and everything.)

It had been a while since I’d gone hiking. The last time I carried a full pack was January 1999 for Tasmania’s Overland Track. Then in around 2005 I spent eight days trekking in Nepal — but that time I had porters to carry my gear (thank the stars).

For the Three Capes Track we didn’t need to carry tents or stoves, but we did need to carry other gear and food — and we ate (and drank) extremely well — so it was kind of a halfway deal. I just gritted my teeth and told myself it was yet more research and, as I went up and down more steps than I cared to count, realised that Zillah (my kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons character) I am most definitely not…


Three Capes Track – Day 1

The first day is just 4km, starting from Denmans Cove near the historic Port Arthur site. We took the later scenic boat ride (sea eagles perched in the trees!) from Port Arthur, to arrive at the cove at around 3pm. We then took our time and climbed up through coastal forests to arrive at Surveyors Hut in time for a pre-dinner cup of tea.

The walk is somewhat up and down (and up) to the top of the cliff, but not difficult. It was a good length just to get me into the mood of carrying my pack. And the first sight of Surveyors Hut, as we came around a bend out of the bush, took my breath away. That thing is so huge! It’s beautifully designed, with broad decks and lots of space — not to mention a gorgeous view.

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Surveyors Hut

That night we dined in impressive style, thanks to one of my hiking companions: chicken curry with rice, steamed greens and poppadoms. And red wine (decanted into a bladder for carrying). And brownies for dessert. As I said, we ate well!

Day 2

We began the second day in leisurely fashion, taking our breakfast (instant oats with dried blueberries and sweetened condensed milk) and coffee (one of my companions carried a stove-top espresso maker!) with easy conversation. It was so nice to hang out with fellow hikers. We headed off walking at about 10am.

The second day’s walk is 11km, undulating along clifftops towards Cape Pillar, including up and over Arthur’s Peak and Crescent Mountain. The views are staggering — back towards Cape Raoul and Crescent Bay, where dune-surfing takes place, and to Cape Pillar in the other direction.

We again took our time, stopping at each of the marked “Encounters” to read from the guide book about some aspect of history, or geology, or vegetation, or wildlife etc of the place we had stopped at. These encounters are one of the great aspects of the hike — and they are the thing that makes it an “experience”, rather than a simple hike. They are marked most often by some form of creatively designed bench seat, offering a good excuse to rest for a few moments.

More than that, though, the encounters really made us stop and look and think about where we were. They made me notice the changing vegetation and look out for things I might not have noticed otherwise. The little book containing all the information is a really fabulous initiative.

We arrived at Munro Hut late afternoon, and spent the hours leading up to dinner relaxing on the deck and admiring the view (see photo with me at the top). More wine that night, and some whisky I’d been carrying. Plus a Thai vegetable curry with tofu. And Lindor balls. Yum.

Day 3

Lots of good things about day 3 (17km) — including the fact that most of it involved leaving our packs at Munro Hut and taking day packs out to the tip of Cape Pillar, where there is a rocky feature known as The Blade.

You can see from the above photos that we had glorious weather — in fact, it was hot hot hot. Again, it’s not a difficult walk, although there is plenty of up and down (and steps). We clambered up to the tip of the Blade, which overlooks Tasman Island, just to say we’d done it, but the views are better from elsewhere. There’s a lighthouse on Tasman Island and a weather station. And seals frolic in the rockpools at its feet.

The Blade and Tasman Island

The Blade and Tasman Island

After the return trip from Cape Pillar, it took less than an hour carrying our packs to reach Retakunna Hut, which sprawls and nestles in a bushland setting. It’s serene and beautiful there. Finally it was time to eat the dinner food in my pack, and I was glad to get rid of the potato, carrots, snow peas and half a dozen fresh eggs I’d been carrying! This was combined with tuna and couscous and other bits and pieces to form a hiking version of nicoise salad.

Day 4

We rose early on Day 4 (dawn! I swear it’s true!), because although only 14km it’s actually the longest day from a time point of view and walkers need to be finished by a certain time to catch a bus back to Port Arthur at the end. We were on our way by 8am and reached the top of Mount Fortescue by 9am, once the morning drizzle cleared and before the clouds had burnt off.

Once the clouds did burn off, the day turned scorching hot. Day 4 is only 14km, but I admit to being generally fatigued by the final day (unfit, remember?) and this was the hardest day for me without doubt. It’s a gorgeous walk, though. The first climb of Mount Fortescue and its descent is through beautiful rainforest. Then we came out onto the clifftops on the other side, where the views are again stupendous. The geology of this part of the world is certainly striking.

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Towards the end of the walk, we all downed packs for a side trip to the tip of Cape Hauy. This was not really too far, but it was hot, I was tired, and there were steps. Steps up and steps down. More steps.

Steps.

And hot.

This was definitely the hardest section of the entire walk for me, most likely a combination of the heat and fatigue. But it was all over in a couple of hours, and then it was time for the final descent to Fortescue Bay, where the bus was picking us up at 4pm. We arrived by about 3pm, which gave us time to relax before getting transported back to Port Arthur.

3CT Map


Overall, the Three Capes Track was a fabulous experience and it was a privilege to see such a beautiful and remote part of the world. We did have some discussions about the model for the hike — the section from the start to Munro Hut can now only be done as part of the Three Capes Track Experience, meaning independent hikers are excluded. However, they can still get to the tip of Cape Pillar, and Cape Hauy is a day hike from Fortescue Bay.

I’m not sure I’m on board with excluding independent hikers, but I do feel that these facilities make it possible for a greater breadth of people to participate. It certainly suited me at this stage of my life. I absolutely love trekking and adventure, but I do not absolutely love carrying a full pack. Moreover, sleeping on memory foam mattresses certainly beats my old and very thin thermorest. (Interestingly, the most popular demographics for the Three Capes Track are 1) over 50s, 2) women, 3) families.)

It was fabulous to explore another corner of my country, but there are still many many walks around the world I want to do. Some of them wilderness hikes, others through more civilised areas. On my radar at the moment are: the Mont Blanc circuit in Europe, the Appalachian Trail in the USA, the South West Coast path in the UK (plus many others), and the pilgrims way through southern Europe.

Which one shall I do next?

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Many walkers might have sat in the pub for an extra day instead of braving the SW Coast Path in the rain… Or caught the bus instead. But they would have missed out on a unique experience (that might have put my travelling companion off hiking for ever…).

Having delayed our plans for a day already, we were keen to walk the SW Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Clovelly, even though it was raining. We knew we would get wet and bedraggled and possibly miserable; but it wasn’t too cold (~16 deg C) and we were feeling energetic and adventurous. Also, I figured it would be good research for us, both fantasy writers, to experience the whole ‘trek in the rain’ thing.

So off we went. The first half of this 18km trek took us over the cliff tops — and up and down them as well. It was strenuous as expected, but beautiful too. I loved it.

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But we did get very wet. And muddy. This is me about an hour in…

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The path is very well marked with signs bearing the SW Coast Path acorn symbol, or else a simple acorn and accompanying arrow attached to a post.

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After a couple of hours of up and down (into a fierce headwind of rain — rain in the face is so much fun… and our glasses fogged up), the track moves into woodland, which spoilt the view, but did provide a measure of protection from the weather.

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Eventually, slightly more than halfway I think, we arrived at the ‘village’ of Bucks Mills. Though cute, Bucks Mills was very disappointing from an amenities point of view. No refreshments at this time of year, not even a pub/inn. We were really hoping for somewhere out of the weather, where we could sit down and have a hot cup of something (hot toddy?). There was not even a toilet. Pft!

Following Bucks Mills the track got easier through more woodland, still up and down, and less slippery and steep. We still had a few hours to go, though. We skirted meadow and woodland (chasing flocks of pheasants — beautiful birds), until we came out to Hobby Drive, the old coach road, which wound around the last few spurs, eventually (after about 45 mins of weary trudging) bringing us to the top of Clovelly village.

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We still had a 15min trek to our B&B in Higher Clovelly [Tip: Stay in the village if you can — there are only about three options though], and by the time we reached it we were beat. We hadn’t sat down all day. But there is nowhere to eat in Higher Clovelly, so our kind hosts at Fuchia Cottage drove us down again to the top of the village, a little later on.

After that effort, we decided not to trek further along the Coast Path, so instead spent today relaxing in the picturesque village of Clovelly. It has been privately owned for centuries (weird) and is very geared towards tourists. It’s quiet this time of year, which is nice. We made friends with several of the local cats, who are very friendly and like to pose for photographs. This is ‘Beau’, who followed us around for a while.

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Down at the water’s edge, we watched some local fishermen (who I’m convinced are hired as a tourist attraction, because they spent a lot of time explaining what they’re doing and posing for photos) gut ‘fish’ (sharks for the Spanish market), and gained a gorgeous view of the village from the old stone quay.

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It’s been a relaxing day after two days of walking. I think we both needed it! The weather has once again been rather grey and rainy, but we did glimpse the sun a few times. I think perhaps autumn is starting to set in…

South West Coast Path: Instow to Westward Ho!

The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk around the coast of SW England, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. As soon as I heard about it, when planning my current trip, I resolved to hike a couple of legs. Today the plan was to hike from Westward Ho! in north Devon to the picturesque village of Clovelly. However, we left it too late to arrange our luggage transfer, so we had to delay that a day, leaving a day up our sleeve.

[Tip: In the off season, contact the luggage transfer people before 6:30pm on the day before you want the service, even if it says you have until 7pm…]

With our extra day, we decided this morning to catch a local bus to Instow, the start of the previous leg according to some guidebooks, and walk the 18km back to Westward Ho! in the interests of ‘training’. It is described as an easy leg, and we might as well have been walking as not.

The walk mostly follows the estuary of the River Torridge, down and back, so we had views of our destination for most of the day. We began in the hamlet (not even a village) of Instow — where there is nonetheless coffee — and a pretty view of Appledore.

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The walk from here follows an old rail trail, shared with cyclists — which I dislike intensely. It was long and straight and flat, and I thought there was much to be said for the high-tide ferry between Instow and Appledore.

But then we would have missed Bideford, which is a pretty little port town with all the amenities, including banks. Little was open on a Sunday, but I can recommend historical Cleverdons Restaurant and Tea Rooms for a range of meals, both light and more substantial. We both had soup (choice of several) for just 3.25.

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Bideford marks the turnaround point, and we headed back downriver towards the sea and Appledore. The track here got much more interesting, but I still think the ferry a good option if it’s high tide. Low tide is very interesting, though, as the river estuary is essentially a massive mud flat with beached boats. This is the view back to Instow from near Appledore.

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The village of Appledore was the highlight of this leg. It’s largely 16thC: narrow twisty laneways, old houses with interesting name plates, gorgeousness plus. We had promised ourselves a cream tea, and found the perfect spot in Susie’s Tea Rooms.

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We had been walking for about 2.25h up until this point (1h Instow to Bideford, 1.25h Bideford to Appledore), and judged we had about 1.5h to go from Appledore the long/coastal way to Westward Ho!. As the crow flies, they are quite close, but the coast path takes you out around Northam Burrows Country Park, which feels a little, er, pointless at times. Nonetheless, we ploughed on around the point, and battled a ridiculous headwind on the approach to Westward Ho! along the beach. It took a little longer than expected. We did, however, enjoy this stunning view of Appledore in the late afternoon sun.

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Westward Ho! itself is a new village, filled with holiday accommodation and surfers. Our B&B — Brockenhurst B&B — is very nice and centrally located, right opposite The Village Inn Hotel, where I am currently enjoying a quiet one while I use their WiFi. It’s fine and comfortable, but not in any way historic, which I have come to expect from England. We are staying here a second night, and tomorrow it’s on to Clovelly!