Where we went: Cape Queen Elizabeth (Bruny Island)
When we went: early Spring 2019
Proposed length of hike 3 hours: time for us to complete it 4 hours (whoever measured these walks was definitely running)
Note: This is now one of my top 3 favourite hikes in Tasmania
We woke up with the sun on the day of our planned hike because we once again deliberately left our hotel curtains open. Breakfast was provided by the hotel, which was a relief, because breakfast can otherwise be very hard to come by on Bruny.
Much like our East Cloudy Head walk, we had done no research at all (and were unable to do any now as there was no internet at the hotel), but we had missed out on the lighthouse the day before so we spent the first half of our morning visiting the monument to early anti-shipwreck technology before heading out to hike.
The Cape Queen Elizabeth walking track begins opposite the Bruny Island honey pot. There are not many parking spaces available, and we got the last one. We logged in at the logbook and set out on what Sommelier assured me would be a 3 hour walk (it took us a little over 4 hours). The track runs alongside the airstrip for a short period and we were frequently frustrated by the number of planes buzzing very low over us as they came into land/just took off, so we picked up the pace a little to get ahead of them. After a time we came to a fork in the road, one path leading down the hill to the beach, and the other leading up the hill into the heathland. A friendly couple with a baby strapped to them informed us that “the tide was too high to access the arch.”
“ah,” we said, “oh dear,” we said (and this time we actually said ‘dear’, because there was a baby present, and because we had no idea at all what arch they could possibly have been referring to) and so we took the path that lead up the hill, utterly perplexed and still unable to google due to lack of signal. The moral of that story is to do your research; there is actually a really famous arch at this beach and you can see it too, you just need to know it is there.
The Cape Queen Elizabeth Arch, we now know, after taking a second trip at lower tide, is a naturally formed arch in the geometric rocks that make up much of the beach at Miles Bluff. It is about a 1.5hour walk when taking the low tide pathway – which takes you past several other stunning rock formations and through a little cave. It is an easy walk at low/mid tide, but, contrary to what we were led to believe, is by no means the only path that leads to the elusive arch. The high tide path that goes up the hill will get you to the arch in about 2hrs. Turn right once emerging onto the beach and it is very close to the track but completely indistinguishable from the other rocks unless it is being faced head-on.
Up up up we climbed, and the going was tough as we were stiff from previous hikes, and the sand was soft and beachy, but we made it with minimal grunts and curse words and we saw a very still and very pretty lizard on the way. From the top of the hill we could see The Neck behind us and white sand beach below us. The trail descends through relatively dense coastal plant life down to the beach, and some very high sand dunes.
We were greeted by a few birds, a calmly stirring sea, and a glance over some very toothlike rocks. We chose not to explore the rocks on account of the birds and our suspicions that they had hidden their nest nearby. The track curved along the beach, pleasantly sheltered from any wind by the shape of the land. The aeroplanes were less audible over the sound of the sea, and less visible thanks to the rocks.
In what seems to be a bizarre characteristic of hiking trails in Bruny the beach aspect of the walk gave way to an abandoned 4wd track (I can only assume Bruny used to be the place to come and drive around on the beach, before the food tourism took over). The 4wd track leads into a pleasantly shaded gum forest with occasional snippets of sheer cliff faces and the beach (the aeroplanes now, mercifully, scarce) and we were treated to the very enthusiastic trilling of birds in the trees above us.
For much of the way Sommelier and I could walk side-by-side, which made a pleasant change from the East Cloudy Head track, where we could barely squeeze through in single-file. I do always enjoy the chance to stand next to my partner in crime and reflect on the fact that we have access to intensely beautiful things, we just have to take a bit of time to go and see them. The path consists of a lot of tangled roots and tripping hazards, so shoes with good ankle support are a must (we both wear Blundstones). We walked quite slowly and kept an eye on the ground looking for tripping hazards (there are enough lookouts and stopping areas that you can still appreciate the views without rolling an ankle). It was while scanning the ground for tripping hazards that I noticed snake tracks intersecting with the soft sand of the path and we slowed down to more carefully inspect the roots lying across out path, lest they actually be tiger snakes. Still keeping an eye on the tracks we came suddenly to a clearing filled with soft sand, Bower Spinach plants (which smell deliciously savoury and are known to make excellent habitat for most reptiles and some birds), a few noticeable burrows in the ground, and a series of distinct, intersecting tracks made by some animal with no legs that lives in holes in the ground that moves by dragging its body across the dirt (the most likely culprit being snakes). Stomping our feet and carefully picking our path so that we always had a clear visual of the way ahead we walked through snake-city without any incident, not even a single sighting. Be warned though, there are snakes in the area so keep an eye out, watch where you are putting your feet and stick to the path wherever possible.
It took me some time to realise that there were almost no markers on the trail, nothing beyond a few, very helpfully posted signs that read ‘walking track’ just in case any hikers grew unsure of their position. This is how I prefer my walks to be, less sterile and more of a sense of discovery and adventure. Because it is an unused road it is very easy to follow the path and so markers are unnecessary until right at the top. The only marker that I saw, on the entire hike, was a little pink-plastic tie on a bush at a fork in the road that, frankly, did nothing at all to clarify which of the forks was the correct fork to be taking. The closer to the top we climbed the more everything started to vaguely resemble the same, overgrown path that we were taking, and we were constantly mildly unsure that we were on a trail. We did eventually find some cairns and picked our way to the end of the road. The trouble was finding our way back again, and we got mildly lost in the scrub, and took a while to get out.
The view from the head of Cape Queen Elizabeth, over houndstooth rock, Adventure Bay and the open Great Southern Ocean (keep an eye out for whales, we didn’t see any, but people do) is exactly the sense of reward you would hope for after a brief struggle through dense scrub. The cliffs are so high that the waves below are barley audible on a still day, just a pale blue swarth of churning foam way underfoot. There were several little outcrops from which one such as me, who is not afraid of heights could safely get right to the edge and look below. Sommelier is in no way like minded and did not at all appreciate my very clever joke of pretending to trip while walking out to a particularly seat-shaped rock.
We were completely alone. Just the sea, the cliffs, the bird calls and us. Unlike most other outlooks there were a few trees at the head, so we were able to sit together in the shade with our gourmet scroggin and just watch the waves form and fall in the far open ocean. A bird of prey hovered at our height for a moment before diving out of sight. There was absolutely no sign of human intrusion visible anywhere from our vantage point. We ate lunch swaddled in the immutable magnitude of nature, and our divine certainty that we were miniscule in proportion.