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Backpacker Magazine – November 2013

Most Rugged Coast: Tasman National Park

by: Dennis Lewon and Nancy Bouchard

A narrow catwalk leads to the blade at Cape Pillar (Photo by Ben Fullerton).
A narrow catwalk leads to the blade at Cape Pillar (Photo by Ben Fullerton).
Tree ferns hang over the Mt. Fortescue trail. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Tree ferns hang over the Mt. Fortescue trail. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)

Stand at the point of Cape Pillar, atop sheer cliffs plunging 500 feet to the roiling sea, and it’s easy to see why 19th-century convicts were confined to the Tasman Peninsula: There’s no easy way off. The fluted ramparts line the coast along the Cape Pillar Circuit, making this part of the peninsula feel like a vast fortress perched at the edge of the Tasman Sea. The 25-mile route starts at Fortescue Bay and makes a grand loop connecting Cape Hauy, Mt. Fortescue, and Cape Pillar. For the perfect three-day trek, start early and hike to Cape Hauy for the best light and fewer people (it’s a popular dayhike; you won’t see many others the rest of the trip). Leave the main trail to walk out to the cape—the detour takes less than an hour and you’ll see the Totem Pole, a freestanding sea stack that attracts climbers from all over the world.

Next, climb Mt. Fortescue on a rough path that tunnels through a bizarre rainforest called a wet eucalypt forest. There’s no view from the overgrown, 1,600-foot summit, but no matter, just walking under the tree ferns is worth the effort. (Note: Check on current trail conditions when you go. This trail will be improved as part of the Three Capes Track, an ongoing project to upgrade/expand the park’s trails and add backcountry huts.)

Join the Tasman Coastal Trail, an inland track that slices through brush and bogs to reach Cape Pillar. Camp at Perdition Ponds, less than 2 miles from the cape, and layover a day so you can explore the jigsaw cliffs and scale the Blade, a wild outcrop that juts away from shore, toward Tasman Island. Head out to the point at sunrise, hang your feet off the edge, and look south toward Antarctica. Not a bad place to be trapped.

• History
Two kinds: recent (the island’s 19th-century legacy as a penal colony; google Alexander Pearce) and ancient (aborigines lived here for 20,000 years; see shell middens at Freycinet).

• Leeches
OK, they may not be a reason to come here, but they’re certainly no reason to stay away. Here’s what you need to know about these bloodsuckers. 1) They’re not dangerous. 2) They’re still repulsive. 3) You’ll want to rip them off as fast as possible. The recommended method is to slip a slim, hard-edged object under each end, to release the suction. Too slow? Brushing them off usually works, as does salt, soap, alcohol, and hand sanitizer. Officially, those methods increase the chance of infection, but we used Purell with great success.

• Bountiful World Heritage
Tasmania’s 30-year-old World Heritage Area (20 percent of the island) is the only one that has met seven of the 10 natural and cultural criteria UNESCO sets for qualification (only one is needed). Payoff? An unrivaled combination of wild scenery and native history.

• Best Post-hike Meal
After Walls of Jerusalem, get the Tiger Burger (molecreekho- in Mole Creek. Trust us.

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