Standing atop the cliffs of Cape Huay and looking across the wild coastline of the Tasman National Park, while the Pacific Ocean beats thunderously at its base, a spectacular display of nature’s full force unfolds. This jagged promontory drops dramatically in impressive dolerite columns into the turbulent waters below, while the Roaring 40s winds unleash their fury.
The trail to Cape Huay is just one of many stunning hikes that departs from Fortescue Bay, a secluded cove of calm water, sheltered behind these National Estate-listed cliffs that have been identified for their geo-heritage significance.
It’s a one hour drive down the Tasman Peninsula, to the east of Hobart, followed by a slow 14 kilometres along a heavily rutted dirt road, to these pristine sands and one of Tasmania’s favourite camping grounds. It’s not just the shaded sites nestled behind the sand dunes, or the perfect curve of white sand right on your doorstep, that delights: this area of natural beauty, situated within the Tasman National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
Hiking trails stretch in both directions along the dramatic coastline, while the rugged coves and clear waters, home to an abundance of fish, make for tranquil kayaking and fishing. In addition, some of Tasmania’s most challenging cliffs and rock formations are situated within the park’s boundaries, luring rock climbers and abseilers. For a weekend immersed in Mother Nature, Fortescue Bay makes one of Tasmania’s best getaways.
Loaded into my 1973 Holden Belmont Ute I scoot out of Hobart late Friday afternoon, eager to beat the peak-hour traffic and have time to set up camp before nightfall. There are more than 40 camp sites with adjacent bathroom facilities available at Fortescue Bay, and in peak season, bookings through Parks Tasmania are essential. At other times you can just turn up and talk to the ranger on site, or use the honesty box to pay park fees.
By the time I arrive, families are slowly returning from an afternoon spent at the beach, while fishermen pull into the boat ramp, loaded with the evening’s dinner. I set up my tent, light a campfire and settle in for a night of star-gazing.
Early bird calls wake me and I head to the beach to watch the sun’s first rays peek over the horizon. The calm waters of Fortescue Bay provide perfect kayaking conditions and I spend the best part of a day exploring the rugged coves, rock formations and cliff faces of this majestic watery wonderland. Stunning giant kelp forests descend to the depths underneath me while rare Euphrasia, a pretty flowering plant, dot the forested slopes above.
I anchor the kayak in a small cove and hike along a trail that hugs the coastline, undulating through native scrub and wildflowers, with beautiful views back towards Fortescue Bay. Wild places like these make Tasmania such a special place to live.
The next day I follow the trail that departs from the boat ramp at Fortescue Bay, and travel in the opposite direction, hiking through sheoaks and banksias into a recently-burnt out section of dry sclerophyll forest where fresh green shoots can be seen determinedly pushing through. Eventually the vegetation becomes sparser, clinging to the earth, as I reach the exposed cliffs of Cape Huay.
Although only a four-hour return hike, this is one of Tasmania’s best short walks, offering unparalleled views across this untamed landscape with its dolerite columns. The aptly named Totem Pole at Cape Huay, and The Candlestick just to the north of Fortescue Bay, are among the region’s most impressive rock formations, pummeled by the heaving ocean at their base, and abseilers and rock climbers often attempt these precarious challenges.
I take a final dip in the chilly, translucent waters of Fortescue Bay before loading up and returning to Hobart. With a fresh appreciation, I realise how easy it is to sometimes take magnificent wild places like Fortescue Bay for granted when they are at my door.
Spending the weekend immersed in Tasmania’s natural beauty, and exploring it from every possible angle, is nourishment for the soul and makes the working week almost bearable.
Article and photos by Pip Strickland – see her website “The Adventures of Pip” at http://pipstrickland.com/