We had to get up early so that we could get to Port Arthur for late morning as we had to check in a couple of hours ahead of our 12:30pm ferry departure.
It was going to be a beautiful day…the sun was shining, mist was rolling over the Tasmanian hills, and the car was packed to the gills. Once we got to the museum when we had to check in, we unpacked the car, jammed a few last things in our packs and then got all checked in. Wilsons pack weighed 11kg, Lulu’s weight 10kg, Deb’s weighed 13kg, Robyn’s weighed 15kg, and mine topped in at 20kg. (Still under 50lb airplane limit Lindsay!)
Port Arthur is a historical site as it is the place where one of the most feared prisons existed. There were prisoners brought over here from Commonwealth countries, including Canada, for crimes that they committed.
I could put a whole document about the Prison, but here is a link to a great document with all of the information about the prison…Useful Facts About The Port Arthur Convict Era
However, the crimes that they committed were not, what would we would think by todays standards, as being “heinous” crimes that required deportation to another country. Pickpocketing, stealing a loaf of bread, larceny, adultery… but back in the 1800s, I guess people who committed crimes that were more serious were just hung or beheaded, so they had to make an example out of those with lesser crimes.
A boatload of prisoners were on their way to another part of Australia, but a storm blew in and forced them to come in to the bay around Port Arthur. They found that this area was a perfect spot for a prison as it had the remoteness of location, and it was on an isthmus with a narrow bottleneck to the rest of Tasmania. It also had a deep bay that allowed boats to come in easily. There was a large forest for timber to build structures and boats. And there was a fresh water source. Perfect. Oh ya….there is a lot of wildlife around too for some food.
After the general briefing outside the main hike reception office, about 30 of us walked down to the boat dock to catch our ferry over to the start of the hike.
The captain of the boat, which was completely open, suggested that we put on the heavy ponchos as the wind could get quite strong out in the open ocean at the mouth of the bay. So, we looked like a boat full of cherry tomatoes bobbing along in the water.
The boat went surprisingly fast, and Robyn, Wilson, and I went to the front of the boat and let the air funnel into our mouths and the slobber fly back on the people behind us…just like dogs hanging their head out of the window of a car.
Since it was a relatively calm day, the captain was able to drive us right into the mouth of two blowholes along the way, which was really cool to see.
We then headed into Stinky Bay where the boat edged up near the sandy shore and the front of the boat dropped down a ramp, just like the boats that had stormed the beaches in Normandy.
And we were off!
It was a beautiful sunny day for the hike to start on, and we knew that it was going to be relatively good weather until the last day when we were expecting some rain.
Robyn and Wilson led the charge for the whole group of us, and they were kind enough to wait for us at various benches that were strategically placed along the walk.
The benches were coupled with stories about the history of the area, history of Tasmania, history of the prison, and the local flora and fauna. It was really neat to read all about it as we went along.
About 1.583km into the hike, Lulu emphatically stated that she didn’t like hiking and started to cry. Her big blue eyes welled up with tears and she got a really good pout on.
She was wearing only one pack, but it had a lot of the food for the first nights dinner. Seeing that the first hut was only 4km in, we thought that she could handle it for this short chunk, and then after dinner her pack would lighten up considerably.
I took her pack so that she could just walk, as she had another 46.417km to go. She walked off with a determined walk and a “I’m not happy and I am not going to hide it” look on her face.
We reached the hut, which was a beautiful and newly constructed feature along the hike. The whole hike is only 3 years old, so everything is in prime shape. There were about 8 rooms, each of which had 4 sets of bunks, and lots of room. The mattresses were at least 6 inches of good quality foam with a comfy cover. So, we were looking forward to these beds each night along the way.
We were allocated to room 1, which was our room for the whole trip at each one of the huts.
The kitchens were amazingly stocked with great cooking equipment, gas stoves, fireplaces, big sinks, and lots of pots, pans and utensils. Better than some of the AirBnB places that we have stayed at!
The first hut had a barbecue as it was unlikely that you would bring meat along with you for the other nights, unless it was canned.
Wilson, Robyn and I wanted to leave our mark on the trail, so we constructed the largest inukshuk that we have built to date. We scoured the woods to find big rocks, and some of them were heavy enough to require two of us to move them. It was pretty good, we must say, and probably not one that will blow over or easily get pushed over.
There was a group of families and friends from Melbourne there having a get away. They were super nice and we got to know them quite well by the end of the trip. One of their friends came along, who was a professional photographer, to take pictures to document the groups trip. We had a great time talking photos, and photography techniques. I have to really try out some of the techniques when I get the chance.
The families had teenage kids, so Robyn had fun with them and they were nice to our kids as well. They are all very active, so after the day of hiking, they went for a run down the trail to see what the next day had in store. Or they did a group bodyweight workout. I have put on some pounds on this trip, and my bodyweight workout would have been harder since my gravitational pull is much greater than it used to be be before we left home. So we just watched them and got to know their parents. Oh to be young again!
The sun went down and we tucked the kids into bed, but I stayed up to take advantage of the fact that there were no street lights or building lights out on the track. The moon was bright, so it wasn’t as brilliant as it could have been but it was still fun to take some of these photos.
Then off to bed for day 2, which was going to be a 12km hike.
We woke up in the morning, and thought we would be proactive to get our bodies ready for the day ahead. So, Deb and I got out on some yoga mats and stretched everything out for the day.
We had a breakfast of oatmeal, granola, and fruit to get our energy levels up and we packed up our cabin. Deb reorganized the packs so that Lulu’s pack was considerably lighter, and met her approval of what she would wear for the day.
There were some cool things that happened at the hut, in that there was a helicopter that came in to pick up the hut ranger and host so that they could go out on a training day, and before he left, he showed us a small hut that the WWF used in Antartica, and was repurposed to here as an extra place to sleep should they need it. It was basically an above ground septic tank with windows and a bunk bed with some insulation in the walls.
Not the kind of luxury that I would expect for an antarctic trip! Rather than going through forests and terrain that would have been fairly easy to navigate around when they were building the track, we headed out into some denser forests, and almost like sub-alpine scrub along the way.
The ranger the night before had told us that when the first people were out here, they were trying to make an overland pass to a particular climbing rock called the candlestick. They had scoped it out from the sea and thought that it would be possible to get around to the site by land…since getting onto a rock structure in the middle of the water (yes, this rock structure jutted straight up out of the Southern Ocean like a candlestick). Smart idea.
However, when the two men who went ahead with the plan to build the overland track started, they found that the bush was a bit thicker than they had anticipated. So much so that one of the guys had to throw himself backwards onto the prickly bushes wearing a backpack to tramp it down, while the other guy used a machete to cut the bushes down.
Legend has it that the pants that the guy who was flinging himself at the bushes was wearing were eventually destroyed on the backside, to the point they looked like assless chaps. So, genius that he was, he turned them around and put the front at the back and eventually wore them out as well.
It took them a bit longer than anticipated to make the track due to the dense forest and bushes, but they eventually got it done.
The weather stayed the same over the course of the day, overcast and a bit humid, but the microclimates changed as you went from Red Gum Eucalyptus forests to open plains with crazy winds (aptly called Tornado Alley), to alpine scrub, and then the dense bushes that they flung themselves against when building the track.
There aren’t a lot of stories that you encounter along the way other than some of the stories about the track that each of the benches spelled out, so it was a lot of alone time. Quiet time. Thinking time.
I was at the back of the back of the pack as I was taking lots of pictures, so it was really nice to get inside my own head and think about things.
I am so blessed. Not only to be able to go on a trip like this with the ones that I love and cherish, but in general. We have amazing friends and family that love and support us in all of our crazy adventures and ventures. live in an amazing community and live in a beautiful home of the lake. We both have jobs that we worked hard to achieve, and make a difference in the lives of others.
Above all, Deb and I have, through thick and thin, stayed true to our four words that we vowed to each other on our wedding day. Family. Fun. Love. Friendship. At the end of it all, that is all that matters.
We eventually reached the second hut, which was a crossing point for two days of hiking groups since day 3 went out and back on a peninsula from that hut. So the volume of people was twice as much as it normally was.
The other drawing point was this was the one hut that had hot showers. Yup…piping hot solar showers! There was a line up of people from our group, and then a couple of people from the other group (trying to sneak in for an extra shower!) to scrub the dirt off of them.
Luckily, it wasn’t so crazy hot that we were sweating a lot, but enough that two kids that are starting to go through puberty needed a thorough scrubbing.
At the huts, there were books that you could read (and they were considerate to put the same books in all of the huts so you could pick up where you left off before without having to carry a book), lots of games, yoga mats, maps, binoculars and lots of tables to sit around.
The kids hooked up with other families and fired through Trivial Pursuit, Phase 10, UNO, Go Fish, and Scrabble. Everyone was settling in and were more friendly as we had spent a couple of days together.
Wilson and I decided to go for a little extra hike down the trail that we were going to do the next day. It was way easier hiking without a pack for sure.
Wilson has really taken a liking to hiking. He seems comfortable with himself and his surroundings. At ease and happy, which is fantastic to see given the fact that he is usually the anxious and pessimistic one in the family.
We headed back to the hut and made dinner for the gang who were playing cards and other games with the other hikers.
Dinner was spaghetti and garlic bread. I tried a new technique to heat up garlic bread without an oven, which worked and kept the bread moist, even though it had dried out over the two previous days. I buttered the bread with garlic butter, then wrapped it in foil. Then I put the wrapped bread in a pot with boiling water, but put something in the water so it wasn’t touching the water. It worked! I watched some YouTube vides before we left and they actually ran the bread (not sliced yet) under water and then put it in the oven for a short time to “revitalize” bread. Will have to try this when I get home.
The bathrooms at the huts were really nice, and dry clean. Cleaner than some of the places we stayed elsewhere in the world! Each of the drop toilets had interesting toilet facts posted in each of them to help you take your mind off of the fact that you are in a drop toilet.
Off to bed exhausted, we were all really looking forward to the next day of hiking as the big costal cliff views were going to be presenting themselves to us. That, and the fact that we could leave our packs at the hut since the majority of the hike was an out and back 19km hike.
This was going to be the big day. For many reasons…it was a big hike day, and it was Robyn’s birthday!
Not just any birthday, but her 18th birthday! Legal drinking age in Australia and Tasmania! Too bad we were n the middle of nowhere with not a drop of booze for 50km.
The lucky birthday present for Robyn was that she didn’t have to wear her backpack for the majority of the hike that day. Neither did we for that fact. There was a shed that we could store our packs in at the start of the out and back hike that covered 14km of the 19km hike.
So, Golden Candy Sparkles was told the night before that she would have to go somewhere where she would be protected, and she must have listened. She was nicely packed with just her head popping out of one of the packs. We made sure that she was in a position where she wouldn’t get knocked or touched while we were out hiking.
The trail initially meandered through some forested areas, but eventually opened up to so low scrub with breaks on the costal side so we could see out to the Southern Ocean and at times Tasman Island.
Interesting fact about Tasman Island is that it has its own small community on there. The community members get their adult teeth pulled out when they all pop through so that they don’t have to worry about dental decay, as there is no dentist on the island, and fresh water is hard to come by on the island. Who cares about teeth, what about bad breath! Yikes!
There were several signs along the way warning of the sharp drop off cliffs that we would be walking along, and the hut host the night before warned us that the Tasmanian government wanted to keep this walk as natural as possible, so they didn’t install handrails, other than at the end of the third cape that we would be walking the next day.
That night, the hut host told us that we would be walking through the Rakocuna, which is the Maori word for “Creaking Tree Limbs”. This was because the towering eucalyptus trees sway in the winds coming off of the ocean and make a creaking sound.
The eucalyptus trees are the worlds tallest flowering plant. Bet you didn’t know that! The tallest is a towering 138.3m tall. Holy, that is tall.
One of the highlights of the walk today was going out to “The Blade”, which is a fantastic narrow hike out to a point which overlooks everything and then quickly drops off down into the ocean.
We continued on the hike to the end of the second cape which provided absolutely awesome views. However, I told everyone to walk ahead as I was taking some pictures. Then doing my double check of everything, I couldn’t find my GoPro. I knew I had it on me as I took pictures with it up on top of the Blade.
So, I ran up to the top of the Blade again. Nope, not there or in any of the bushes along the way. It wasn’t at the bottom of the blade where I had left my pack while we went up there.
Head scratching, I remembered giving it to Wilson and he must have put it in his pack.
So, I got my trail run for the day, as I ran along the trail to get to the end of the cape. Eventually I caught up with Deb and we had a nice, and rare, walk alone together while the kids were hiking with other people. Except when I got a bit too hot. I had to take my pants off. Right down to the undies. I didn’t care who saw me. I am what I am. Take it or leave it.
This was the last night that the large group was going to be together. All of the Aussies were starting to get into the Christmas spirit, and most (if not all) of them had never heard of Elf on the Shelf.
During the hike, Golden Candy Sparkles was a bit of a celebrity to say the least. Everyone wanted to know where she was hiding when they got up in the morning, and since she was often poking out of one of our backpacks, she positioned herself well for a nice view of the walk.
The aboriginals walked the track the day before the track opened for the public, and they blessed the land with traditional handprint paintings over the course of the walk. Most of us didn’t see any on the first part of the walk, so we were on the lookout and we found it tucked away in the woods!
The other thing is that we came across this giant birds nest, or some sort of structure. Not sure who built it or what built it…the rangers didn’t even know! Aliens?
The kids were worried that I wouldn’t find the way, so they left me a nice note. However, later I found out that it wasn’t for me! At least I wasn’t the only dad that kids were worried about wandering in the wrong direction!
We got to the last hut, which was just a beautiful as the rest, and settled in for a nice relaxing night.
We cleaned up in the sink and went to the bathroom. The bathrooms were super nice, at last for a campground, and they had super interesting facts in each of the toilet stalls about “The Loo”.
We had a nice curry dinner, and then we got everyone in the Christmas spirit with a group sing song of some Christmas carols and dancing. It was kind of odd how few of the carols that the Aussies knew. Frosty, Dreaming of a White Christmas, O Christmas Tree….strange…to name a few. Nonetheless, it was fun!
We knew that today would be the hardest day. Not only for the fact that it was our fourth day of hiking, but that the path would go through a dramatic and diverse landscape ranging from rain forest to open plains, and then onto a walk out to the edge of the last cape on the walk.
We woke up, and put on our backpacks, and said goodbye to the last hut on the track. We were the last ones to leave, but we didn’t really care too much, other than the fact that we needed to get to the end by 4pm to get the last bus back to where the car was.
We walked maybe 500m before we started to climb. That was the theme for the day….up and down, repeat.
The first climb we encountered was Mount Fortestcue, which was mostly in humid and dense rainforests.
The thing that always impressed me along the walks were the size of the ferns in these forests. It reminded me of the dinky little ones that we have at home, and our reintroduction of ferns to Trillium Point Road. (Larry and Ev, you would be jealous and they would compliment the wall nicely…hahaha).
The ferns were so big that they looked like palm trees. The water in the air, and the sun that was just poking through the thin layer of clouds made the green colours all around us just pop out.
Water was dripping off of everywhere, and the intricate spiderwebs caught the light of the sky as well.
After walking for so long, and spending enough time in your head, you start to see things around you….maybe reality, maybe misinterpretation (no, I am not going crazy). I have said it before, but when you do photography (Deb might not agree with this statement), but you tend to be more observant of the world around you. Maybe not what is happening in the world around you, but the physical world around you, and how that physical world moves, and the elements that make up the world move together.
I love watching how streams flow around rocks, clouds roll over hills and mountain tops, the way that grasses blow in the wind, or how completely still the world can be at times and we are the things moving through the landscape.
Maybe I am not the most observant with respect to how sometimes my actions affect others, despite my best intentions being there to be helpful and kind, but sometimes these intentions don’t always turn out results that were intended. I think Deb would agree with that.
Ok, back to the forest. There is a lot of “button grass” on the first part of the hike, and this is fire retardant grass, so it actually helps the forest and the trees grow very tall and large since they are largely untouched by forest fires. This is a very old grass that has been found in fossils in Antartica.
You see, back in Gondwonaland times (i.e. when the continents of the world were all joined together), New Zealand and Antarctica were attached. Cool.
One of the things that happened yesterday, that replicated on day 4, was how damn humid it was. I mean hot and humid to the point that I didn’t care about who was around, and I just took my pants off and walked in my underwear. Sweat soaked underwear at that too.
People gave me some strange looks, but really I didn’t care. I was never going to see these people again.
We got out of the forest and headed along the high cliff walls that dropped some 300m straight down into the ocean. Curious me, a distant cousin of Curious George, needed to get as close as I could to look down. Not too close given the fact that I had a massive pack on my back that would have further propelled me down.
We eventually got to the cross roads where we would get the chance to take our packs off and just walk about 5km out to Cape Point and back.
Aaaaand that is when it started to rain. Aaaaand that is when Lulu really started to hate the fact we were on a hike. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel…we were a mere few kilometres from the end, a warm shower, and a chance to relax without worrying about the hike the next day.
This part of the hike required a long walk down to a dip in the landscape before the final walk up to Cape Point. We passed by some of the other members in our hut crew, but no Robyn! Did she do the hike so quickly that she completed the out and back before we could even start? Crazy!
The stairs were well made, but they were stairs at the end of a long hike, so they were hard nonetheless, and I resorted to using my GoPro to take pictures so that my camera would stay dry in the ziplock bag inside my rain jacket.
We got to the end, and Deb promised the kids that I would only want one or two pictures, and then we would head back to our packs. Thankfully they smiled, but the viewpoint was spectacular.
We peered over the edge, which was one of the only places on the hike that had a guard rail, to the infamous Candlestick Rock for which the track was made.
The night before, the hut dude mentioned a story about a couple who had come out to climb the Candlestick. He was climbing ahead and a rock above came loose and fell on him, striking him in the head and rendering him unconscious. His wife came and assessed him, and knew she had to go for help. So, she left him dangling, and went down to the bottom of the rock and then climbed the face of the cliff we were standing on, and then hiked to town, another 3h away, and got help. She arrived there with help 13 hours after she left. Crazy!
We hiked back and got back to our packs which were beyond soaked now, and started the walk to the end.
The water was coming down so hard that I decided to keep a bag open to see how much water I would accumulate during our walk back. By the time we got back, I had over 20mm of rain in my bag.
We got to the end, after walking down many steps to get to the carpark in a river that was flowing faster past our feet than we were walking, and we found our dear sweet Robyn sitting there all dry and cozy.
We had missed the 230pm bus by 7 minutes. Brutal, as we had to wait 90 minutes to get onto the 4pm bus.
Thankfully, one of the other families had a kerosene camp stove they had lugged on the hike with them, and we had hot chocolate powder and some coffee/tea leftover…so we boiled some water and that warmed us up. We also got out of all of our wet clothes and put on the dry clothes that we had the foresight to protect and keep dry when we packed our bags the night before. (sorry for the lack of photos here. Too wet, too cold, too tired to take any!)
We hopped on the bus and made our way back to the prison in Port Arthur, grabbed our bags and got in the car and went to the closest pub for some food, and a wee bit of beer and wine. Since this was Robyn’s first attempt at ordering booze while legal, it was funny to watch. No one cards me any more. In fact, they didn’t even bother to card her! She willfully offered up her drivers license for the pure novelty of it all.
We headed back to the cottage where we were staying and we got all of our stuff out to dry, and thankfully the cottage had laundry for us to use.
We reached our cottage for the night, settled in, and plopped into bed to be ready to move onto Ratho Farms in Bothwell the next day….home of the oldest golf course in Australia!