Where we went: cape raoul
When we went: summer, 2019
Our summer’s blogging was severely interrupted by my ill health, but I’m keen to play catch-up on what we got up to. This year started on a fairly low note for us with me requiring an urgent colonoscopy (literally the 2 worst words to hear back-to-back) and I’ve learned 2 very important lessons for this fun medical adventure (3 if you count the fact that I now know my resting heart-rate usually features the number 69, which groggy me found so funny that I had to notify every nurse, the anaesthetist, and the gastroenterologist): the first is that you’re going to need wet wipes and they’re not going to tell you that you’re going to need wet wipes; the second is that when they give you the sheet of paper saying you should be able to resume a normal routine in 24 hours that does not apply to those who were admitted under the ‘urgent’ umbrella. With that in mind we chose the Tasman Peninsula as our few-days-post-colonoscopy walking track. This decision was based on the Peninsula’s relative proximity to Hobart City, the general flatness of the walks available, and the presence of a gin distillery that offers cellar door tasting.
The Tasman Peninsula is a good mix of rugged wilderness and easy travel, perfect for an intermediate hiker (or the mildly infirm) with longer and more challenging walks for the intrepid (or less infirm). We settled on the Cape Raoul walk which is advertised as a 5 hour return journey with few steep sections. It is only accessible on foot and offers views over the jagged dolomite cliffs and roaring seas that earn Tasmania its status as a wild/adventure tourism destination. National Parks passes are essential, and there are no amenities beyond a long-drop toilet at the beginning of the track so you will need to have sorted that out before getting here. Parks Passes are available online, and from the tourist information centre on the waterfront end of Elizabeth Street. Passes are also available from some of the larger Parks in the state, so if you are planning on visiting a few parks you might want to buy a pass that will see you covered for more than just 1 day. No amenities also means 2 other things: no drinking water (so pack a lot of water before you leave), and no rubbish bins (so carry a bag for your rubbish with you). Sommelier and I spent a very distressingly large amount of time clearing the rubbish of strangers from the surrounding picnic areas.
Taking it very easy we only left the city at around 8am having packed our travel essentials: a 10 litre water container (bought from Woolworths, you really don’t need a fancy one), sunscreen (SPF 50, Tasmania is almost always in the danger-zone of the UV index), sunglasses, a small bar of soap (pilfered from a hotel – there is often no soap provided in public toilets in Tasmania, don’t know why), bandages (for snake-bite reasons), cold weather gear (it was a 30 degree day, but you can never be too careful in Tassie), and food. We packed roughly 2 litres of water each for the walk and left the 10 litres in the car. I demanded that we stopped at the Tessellated Pavement on the way, because I’m a big fan of weird geological features, and we happened to be driving past at the lowest tide point of the day (that was complete fluke, I actually only checked the tides map after we had already driven past and I made Sommelier turn around). The walk to the Tessellated Pavement is a very short one, and it is near a hotel where I assume one could purchase a coffee if one hadn’t already succeeded in poking their fiancé until they made them espresso that morning. Featuring naturally formed, square-shaped rocks the Pavement is a great little driving interlude although it can only be properly appreciated at low tide. There is also a little picnic area at the beginning of the walk (which is where our relationship with the rubbish of strangers began).
We reached the Cape Raoul carpark at around 10ish in the morning, having wasted a huge amount of time searching for a rubbish bin, before eventually abandoning the mission and just lugging our collection of stranger rubbish home to our own rubbish bin (muttering very darkly about the sorts of people who litter in national parks). The main carpark was already full, and we were mildly surprised by the sheer number of people heading out. The track begins with a boot washing station, it is impossible to enter without walking through it. It is also essential that you clean your boots properly before travelling any further, even if you have only been walking in other parts of Tasmania, even if your boots are brand new, and even if it makes you feel a little silly to do so. I like to sing ‘working at the carwash’ while I scrub my Blundstone boots to a quarantine standard of cleanliness (that’s a lie, I can’t actually sing so I tend to mutter “scrub, scrub, scrub –spray — WOOSH! Spray — WOOSH!” much to Sommelier’s embarrassment). The start of the walk tracks through tall gums and is heavily shaded. Before long there is a fork in road, the right leading to Shipstern’s Bluff and Tunnel Bay and the left leading to Cape Raoul (we hoped to have the strength to do Shipstern’s Bluff as well today but agreed not to push ourselves harder than necessary). In no time at all the track turned from gum trees to coastal heathland and we were surrounded first by groves of native pinkberry plants (not very imaginatively named, they have pink berries, you’ll know them if you see them) which for some reason Sommelier refused to eat, even though I assured him that I was ‘pretty sure’ they were edible, and then by banksia, sheoaks, everlastingbush, and the low lying scrubby heath one would expect of a coastal cliff. It is possible to just walk to the Cape Raoul lookout, which is a very short walk that will take you to a fenced off rest area overlooking the dolomite towers, but we were very keen to do the entire walk (I heard a rumour that there were seals to be sighted at the end of the walk, and I loves me some seal sighting) so we left the rather over-crowed lookout for the return journey.
The walk is not very steep at all, there are steep sections, but they are manageable. I highly recommend wearing boots that provide ankle support though as there are tree roots and rocks and all sorts of ankle-rolling dangers. There were a lot of other people walking along with us, but the path is so long and winding that they were mostly out of sight and ear-shot (except at the very cliff-faced part of the walk where all the plants were ankle height). The path hugs the coasts at a safe distance, we could always hear the waves crashing below us and the occasional drone of a boat. The light sea-breeze was a very welcome addition.
The heathland gives way to some fairly barren, very exposed cliff sections that I took the most pleasure in. As it was a clear summer’s day, we had sweeping views over the sea, the rocks below and the small little islands all around. I imagine, given the right season, this might be a reasonably good whale watching site (assuming one carried binoculars around with them) and the path passes over and beyond the dolomite towers so you get a really good look at them. They look, in my opinion, as though giant termites built a citadel that the sea never could properly wash away. The rocks are all very angular and protrusive and more than a little sinister looking. We stopped for a little break to watch the waves crash into the base of the termite mound (not it’s official name) before continuing on to the seal lookout.
Seal lookout is a 5 minute detour just before the end of the Cape Raoul track. It is a rocky but well worn path. Sommelier was in the lead and completely missed a snake just off the path that darted under a rock. He didn’t even see it when I called out to him and pointed to the tail that was still sticking out from under the rock. Now, I really quite like snakes. Tasmania doesn’t have a lot of variety in the snake department; there are only 3 snake varieties in Tasmania and all of them are venomous. They are also all quite timid. Sommelier actually had never seen a snake in the wild before we started dating. Now we encounter snakes on a fairly regular basis, a fact for which he blames me (even going so far as to accuse me of being a parselmouth –which is particularly rude given I’m so obviously a Gryffindor!), and he does not accept my explanation for this phenomenon, namely, that the snakes were always present, he just isn’t very good at seeing them. I think it was Whip Snake, although I only got a very quick glance at its snout before it retreated further under its rock. Whip Snakes are the least dangerous of Tasmania’s snakes, but there is so much overlap in the identifying features of the 3 snakes that it is best to assume that all snakes are tiger snakes and treat them with all the caution owed to one of the deadliest snakes in the world.
We always carry bandages with us when we walk because the recommended first-aid for all Tasmanian snake bites is broad, tight bandaging. Start at the extremities of the bitten limb (after directly bandaging the bite site) then bandage as tightly and as far along the limb as possible (we carry a minimum of 4 bandages to assure effective coverage). The reassuring news is that the anti-venom for all Tasmanian snakes is the same, so identification of the snake is not necessary. My advice for avoiding getting bitten is to always step onto rocks and logs (rather than over them) in case a snake is basking on the other side, and to always examine any ‘sticks’ that flick up and hit you in the ankle (especially if the stick in question is hissing). We stopped on the path and waited for the person behind us to catch up so that we could inform them that a snake was hidden under a rock just off the path, and continued on our way while they did the same, establishing a friendly little snake safe reporting system.
You hear the seals at Seal Lookout long before you see them. Their laughter and caterwauling reverberates up the cliffs at an astonishing volume. They are a significant distance below but we could still easily make them out as they played in the waves and sunned on the rocks. It is the closest that I have ever been to a seal in the wild (not counting Sammy who hangs out at the Hobart docks), but there are paid boat tours that can get you much closer If you are passionate about seal sightings.
We retraced our steps, saying goodbye to the snake still under its rock (in English, not Parseltongue), and walked to the last point on the Cape Raoul walk. We stopped for lunch and a long rest sitting right next to the cliff at the end of the walking track watching the water churn itself to a pale blue below us, and a few nesting sea birds roosting in the crevices of the cliff face. The salty sea breeze very gently ruffling our hair, and the smoke haze of the bushfires just starting to obscure our view in the direction of Hobart.
It was at this point, literally the furthest possible point from the car park, that I admitted to Sommelier that I felt rather unwell and my attempts to ‘walk it off’ had failed. Fearing an episode of uncontrollable vomiting (you don’t qualify for urgent medical procedures without some pretty spectacular symptoms) Sommelier insisted that we come back another week to do the Shipstern Bluff walk (he also insisted on a higher than average number of rests on the walk back). The return journey takes you back along the same path as before, but I have the relative navigation skills of a discombobulated bat with an inner ear infection so seeing everything from the opposite side was still a whole new world for me. We did see a group of people rock climbing down some of the cliff faces, if such activities are to your liking then you may find that information to be of interest. The steepest part of the journey is the return, and even then, feeling very sick, only a few days post medical procedure, out of water, and still arguing about whether parselmouths can even occur in any houses other than Slytherin (Sommelier feels that they have to, but ‘the magic is so rare that we might never know for sure’ — he’s such a Hufflepuff) and we still made it back up the track. It is a long walk, but an easy one. It’s blend of accessibility and challenge made for the perfect walk for the mildly infirm and her long- suffering fiancé. We agreed, as a couple, to keep exploring the peninsula on our walking days to slowly, and safely, build my strength within a very comfortable proximity to Hobart and its hospital.