Friday 16 December 2016

A Long, Slow Journey 3: Strangers in a Strange Land

Walk, eat, sleep, wake, repeat. 

What sounds boring, isn’t. It is testing though, and after a few days, questions are being asked; reserves are being called upon. The rubber is literally hitting the road, or the cobbles at least.

[The Portuguese city of Barcelos, on the Cavado River] 
We’ve greatly enjoyed our time in the city of Barcelos. As we leave, it offers us one final gift. On a cool misty morning – the first hint of autumn in the air following a spell of warm, sunny days – we walk into the city’s weekly market. As if prompted by the mist, all is mellow and fruitful. Brightly-dressed locals haggle and chat over brightly-coloured flowers, fruit, vegetables and assorted stuff that's spread across the large square. This is vibrant Portugal simply being itself, full of colour and joy in the simple things of life; warmly welcoming of these strangers who buy only what they can carry, mostly fruit. We leave reluctantly.

[Barcelos on Market Day] 
As I walk on I experience an odd sense of shame. It’s not that I wish I’d bought more at the market, although that’s true. Rather, hearing stories from home about our so-called “strong” refugee policy, I am jagged by the contrast to what I find here, being a stranger in a strange land. As an Australian in Portugal I have been welcomed, shown kindness, made to feel an honoured guest. I like to think that Australians as individuals would behave in the same way to the “stranger”. But I look at our refugee policy and see only backs turned, blindfolds pulled tight, headphones pumping other stories to blank out the cries for help.

[An open door welcomes us to Balugaes] 
How and why do we behave this way? Novelist/essayist Marilynne Robinson skewers it.

Where population groups are seen as enemies or even as burdens, certain nefarious traits are attributed to them as a whole that are taken to override the qualities of individual members.

Despite our government’s frequent appeal to Christian values, this is precisely its tactic. Of course in doing so it conveniently ignores the consistent message of the Bible in relation to caring for the “stranger” or “soujourner”. Deuteronomy 10:19, for instance, tells the people not to be forgetful once they are in the Promised Land: You are to love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

A pilgrimage is supposed to allow time and space for reflection, to offer a fresh perspective on your inner life, and your life back home. This I had expected, but not the shame and anger I feel now. It is more than a spiritual match for the physical struggles of this long walk.

[Ponte de Lima's bridge by night] 
We walk on. If distance and hard surfaces have been our main physical obstacles up to now, after the town of Ponte de Lima we meet our first true climb. We leave town via the long and beautiful bridge, part Roman, part mediaeval. We pass a sculpture that wishes us a good caminho, and wind our way along the edge of the Rio Limia.

["Bom Caminho" on the bridge at Ponte de Lima] 
Once we leave the river, the contours tighten. For the first time in days we leave farmland behind, and start to climb through a resin-scented pine forest. Despite the “exotic” vegetation, it feels quite like Tasmanian bushwalking, as cobbles and gravel roads give way to roughish, steepish bush tracks.

[Getting steeper and rougher] 
And there is no town or village for lunch, so we’ve had to bring the makings of a picnic. After a 400m altitude gain we finally reach the top. We’re hot, sweaty and happy to flop down on some grassy open space. Lunch is frugal but satisfying, and we’re glad of it; glad too that our afternoon walk is downhill.

[A welcome spot for a picnic lunch] 
An hour or two later we’re even gladder when we come across a pop-up pub. It’s just a van in a pull-off beside a minor road, but it serves cold drinks. We’re waved in by some fellow pilgrims, and are soon sitting down to share some tales and a lemon beer with them. Yet again we feel welcome.

[Tim shares a lemon beer with a Dutch pilgrim]

Thursday 8 December 2016

A Long, Slow Journey 2: Into a Rhythm

I am searching for a rhythm; one that will serve me for a 250km long walk. The beat of my feet, the click of my walking poles, the in-pause-out of my breath, are its basic components. But there’s also the need for water, for rest, for food, for coffee, for toilet stops. And when I factor in time to get lost, and found again; time to find companionship, and to be silent; time to be open to all that I see, hear and smell around me, the rhythm of a long walk becomes complex, richly layered, unpredictable, mesmerising even.

[Finding our way through a eucalypt-lined lane] 
I further complicate it by carrying 1.4kg of camera gear around my neck; part millstone, part magic lantern. Before we’ve gone 50 metres, I’m the clucky parent trying to record those first steps, calling everyone to stop for a photo. It becomes a frequent cry, one the others will get used to, and sometimes choose to ignore.

[Lynne, Tim and Merran caught by the camera] 
We’re barely accustomed to following the yellow arrows through the cobbled and tiled lanes, when we reach a small café offering sellos (passport stamps). Pilgrims wanting their compostela (certificate of pilgrimage) need to have two stamps per day in their credencial to show they’ve actually walked the caminho. Not knowing where our next coffee or stamp will come from, we gladly stop for both. This too will be part of our daily rhythm.

[A beautiful example of Portuguese tiles] 
Early on Tim earns his stripes as our chief way-finder. We dub him Tim the Navigator, a nod to the 15th century Portuguese prince/explorer Henry the Navigator. Yellow arrows can only get you so far. Using his mobile phone’s GPS, Tim is able to point us to a suitable sit-down lunch venue. The village café is packed with locals, surely a good sign. Better still the locals, taking us to be pilgrims, make room for us and help us with our orders. We end up going for the “pilgrim menu”, a three course meal, including wine, for just 8 Euros each! A fine way to cap off a morning's work, we think.

But after that the afternoon grows harder. Part of that is in a literal sense, as a lot of our walking is on ancient cobbles. Picturesque they may be, but after 20km or more, their unyielding unevenness starts to tell. Our feet are gripping and bending at unaccustomed angles. Soon my smallest member – the little toe on my left foot – is paining me. The others too are finding aches and blisters in various places. Already the caminho takes a toll.

[Map of the long road ahead; courtesy Portugal Green Walks] 
Conversely we’ve also heard that the caminho provides. As we walk alongside a eucalypt plantation, we recognise some Tasmanian blue gums and I find a large five-lobed gumnut wedged between some cobbles. It feels like a personal welcome to us from Portugal. 

[A Tasmanian blue gum nut nestled in the cobbles] 
And then as we pass a farm gate in a crooked, stone-walled lane, a farmer calls out to us. He’s recognised us as pilgrims, and wants to pass on a small blessing. He signals us to wait, and hurries into a field to pluck some plump, ripe tomatoes. He returns and presses one on each of us, asking only that we remember him in prayer when we get to Santiago. The caminho provides indeed, asking for prayers instead of GST.

[A kind farmer, 2nd from right, supplies us with tomatoes] 
On that first day we’re very ready to stop by the time we reach the village of Arcos. Our hopes rise when we start to see pilgrim houses, and fall when Tim’s device tells us our accommodation is on the far side of the village, perhaps another 2km. That too becomes part of the rhythm: tempering hopes; managing disappointments; walking on regardless. But eventually humble, moving feet overcome the distance. And a hot shower and a good lie down help to heal any disappointments. Our first day done, we’re starting to find our rhythm.

[Walking towards Arcos, Portugal] 

Wednesday 23 November 2016

A Long, Slow Journey 1: A Preparation of Sorts

[Walking through rural Portugal] 
I am walking. Just walking. I did it yesterday; I hope to do it every day that God sends. Under a clear blue sky, dressed in regular walking clothes, wearing regular walking shoes, carrying a regular day-pack, I am simply putting one foot in front of the other.

But every now and then I hear a small clinking sound, almost a ringing. A scallop shell strapped to the back of my pack intermittently knocks against a buckle. And it reminds me that I’m on a pilgrimage. I am walking in the footsteps of thousands who have trodden this same path over many centuries.

[The pilgrim shell on my daypack]
I know there’s more to pilgrimage than a symbolic shell and a well-trodden path. The Macquarie Dictionary, for instance, calls it

a journey, esp. a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of devotion.

While that’s partly true for Lynne and me, we have also chosen a pilgrimage as a way of marking a significant birthday. And we’re hoping that a long, slow journey on foot might prove an antidote to what writer Marilynne Robinson calls the ‘joyless urgency’ of our times. There are other reasons too, some we know about, some we’ll discover.

Of the many pilgrimages available, we’ve chosen to walk the Caminho Portugues. It is one of a dozen different caminos* (“ways”) that converge on Santiago de Compostela, a city that’s sacred to some because the relics of St James the Apostle (Santiago in Spanish) are said to rest in its cathedral. The best known camino, the Camino Frances, leaves from France and travels across the Pyrenees into northern Spain. Our lesser-known pilgrimage travels north from Lisbon in Portugal to Santiago in north-western Spain.

[Typical waymarks on the pilgrimage: photo by Lynne Grant]
Given the time we have available, we’ve chosen to shorten our caminho by leaving from Porto. It is a journey of around two weeks, divided roughly 50/50 between Portugal and Spain. Our friends Tim and Merran, who have previously done an Italian pilgrimage, are excited to be joining us on this journey.

We’ve each tried to prepare physically and mentally for the walk. But as is so often the case, life has intervened. In Lynne’s case, a dose of the ‘flu before our departure has cut short her physical preparations. And Tim and Merran have had to squeeze too much work into too little time just to be here for the pilgrimage. 

[Pilgrims outside Porto Cathedral] 

[Preparing for a pilgrimage?] 
The day before we leave, we spend a few hours walking around Porto, noticing pilgrim waymarks, visiting the cathedral, practising our walking ... and eating. As preparations go, it’s not ideal. But as we’ll come to hear from many-a-pilgrim over the coming weeks, it is what it is.

[Porto on a busy Sunday]
So, ready or not, on a blue-skied morning in early October, the four of us are transported to the village of Mosteiro on the outskirts of Porto. It’s a nondescript starting point for our 250km journey. The cobbled village square doubles as a car-park. It gives onto a few private buildings, a public laundry (open) and a public toilet block (closed). A few cars are parked there, and some elderly men chat together around one of them, while two women outside the laundry carry on a loud conversation. It sounds like they’re having a serious disagreement, ‘though we will soon learn this is how many Portuguese conversations are carried on.

[Leaving, ready or not.] 
If our farewell party is a little preoccupied, at least we have each other. With smiles to counter our apprehensions, we tighten our laces, shrug on our daypacks, exchange blessings, and start walking.

* In Portuguese, the word is spelled caminho.

Friday 11 November 2016

Cycling in Catalonia 2: The Mediaeval Villages

Mediaeval is a fuzzy, ill-defined term. But bumping your bicycle through a cobble-laned mediaeval village, its church, castle or fort hogging the high ground, its bell tower ringing each quarter of the clock, is an utterly tangible experience.

[A cobbled lane in the village of Peratallada]

[Lynne and Chris on foot in the village of Pals] 
After a couple of days cycling around the Costa Brava coast, we’ve been ferried inland, bikes and all, and dropped among the small mediaeval villages that dot the hills between Palamos and Girona. We’re enthralled by the depth of on-going settlement in one place; enchanted too that we can fortify ourselves for the ride, be it with a quick café con leche and pastry, or a more leisurely menu del dia. These are not mediaeval theme parks, they are working villages.

[A wooded country lane between villages] 
As we ride between the villages we see, hear and smell the evidence of that. Cattle are farmed for both meat and milk, ‘though they’re more often smelled than seen, as they’re usually housed in barns. More pungent still are the pigs, surely the favourite source of meat in Catalonia (think jamon/ham; chorizo sausages; even galtes/pig’s ear). It’s also ripening time for grapes and figs, and their sweet tang leavens the other rural aromas. We pause and taste a few figs, with mixed results.

[Looking towards Sant Iscla d'Emporda] 
The riding is mostly easy, on undulating lanes, tracks and the occasional road. Our itinerary is loose, determined partly by the map and partly by the honey-pot pull of what we see ahead. Each distant village is given away by some grand stone edifice on a hill; sometimes a church, occasionally a castle. 

[Riding away from the mediaeval village of Pals] 
And then there’s Ullastret. On the approach to the village of Ullastret, we can see something else, low yet significant, on a hill outside the village. We’ve been told there are Roman ruins hereabouts, and Chris and I exchange “Yep, that’s where I’d build if I was Roman”-type comments. It’s uphill and a bit bumpy getting there, and we’re puffing as we dismount at the historic site’s ticket booth. The entry fee includes an audio commentary and we’re soon learning that the site is more complex and interesting than we’d anticipated.

[An ancient cistern at Puig de Sant Andreu] 
Roman occupation is just part of the story. Puig de Sant Andreu, as the site is called, turns out to be one of Spain’s most significant prehistoric Iberian settlements. The Indegetes tribe occupied the site well before the Romans, from the 6th century BC until around the 2nd century BC. Not much of their settlement remains, as it was largely constructed out of wood and mud. But we get to wander among some water cisterns and grain silos that have been excavated. And the on-site museum contains some other fascinating artefacts, including a beheaded skull pierced by an iron spike!

[Underground grain silos and other ruins] 
The old Iberians must have had the same opinion of the site as we and the Romans did. It commands views as far as the Pyrenees over the well-watered, agriculturally rich Emporda region. We learn that the flatter lands below the site, which are now fields, once had large fish-stocked lakes with small well-defended villages around them. For all of the changes at the site: whether its the demise of the Indegetes, the coming and going of the Romans, the short-lived invasion of the Moors or the rise and fall of mediaeval lords, there has always been a reason to rebuild. Crops, livestock and wine seem to have flowed from this land for as long as records have existed.

Later we sit down to a typically meaty Catalonian lunch in the “merely” mediaeval part of Ullastret. But it’s not only the food that we need time to digest. Our minds are filled with thoughts of the rich life of this place; of its 26 hundred years of continuity, productivity, disruption, invasion, warfare and recovery; of its people living, working, loving, laughing, crying, fighting, dying and giving birth.

[Time for a drink ... and a think] 

[Leaving Ullastret] 
They’re the kinds of thoughts that make history come alive, and that connect us to past lives that may not have been as different as we imagine. That said, we’re very glad to be heading back for hot showers and warm beds at the end of our “mediaeval" cycling days.

Monday 7 November 2016

Cycling in Catalonia 1: The Tamed Coast

You’d go a long way to find someone with a good word to say about Lance Armstrong. But in Catalonia, in north-eastern Spain, Lance is still something of a hero. For some years he and his Tour de France-winning team based themselves in Girona, training in the tough Pyrenean foothills behind the Costa Brava, and pouring a lot of their dubiously-gained wealth into the local economy.

That’s the last you’ll hear from me about Lance, except to note that the resulting popularity of cycling is a good thing for riders here. Catalan drivers afford cyclists amazing courtesy. It’s also the last you’ll hear about tough hills. The three of us, myself, my wife Lynne, and our old friend Chris, are in Catalonia for some decidedly more relaxed cycling.

[Chris and Lynne at Palamos, Spain] 
The area is not only sunny and beautiful, it also has a maze of off-road cycling trails. Rather than cycle touring, were based for the week in a townhouse in the old village of Calonge, a short ride inland of the resort town of Palamos. From there we can explore a wide area, but return each night to our comfortable base.

We’ve exchanged Tasmania’s spring, a time of wild winds and riotous wattle blossom, for the settled warmth and pale fields of a Spanish autumn. On an early ride we pause in a maize field. Its foliage has browned, and the ripe husks rattle in the breeze. A Catalan flag flaps lazily from a nearby tower, reminding us we’re in Catalunya rather than Spain.

[A drink break in a maize field] 
Our local host has encouraged us to greet the locals with bon dia rather than buenos dias. Given the brutality of the Spanish Civil War, and General Franco’s vigorous attempts to outlaw Catalan language and culture - right into the 1970s – this is no mere nicety. It is strange to be riding through such beautiful tranquility knowing that within my lifetime it’s also been the scene of heartless repression.

More familiar is my feeling of disorientation here in the northern hemisphere. Whereas at home I have an intuitive knack for knowing my way around, in this part of the world I’m easily lost. It probably comes down to where the sun is in the sky. Here it leans in from the south; at home from the north. Without thinking I use the sun to help me to know where I’m going, so here I become Pedro Equivocado*. I’m glad to have Chris and Lynne with me: Chris with his long experience of this hemisphere (originally from Tasmania, he’s been working in England for decades), and Lynne with her more logical take on navigation.

[I leave the navigation to the experts] 
Our days, and our paths, are divided between coastal rides and hinterland rides. We start with some easy coastal rides. Although Costa Brava literally means “wild coast” or “rough coast”, it doesn’t take us long to decide that nomenclature came from sailors rather than cyclists. The broad and pleasant beachfront at Palamos has largely been concreted and tamed, its main street crammed with hotels, shops and eateries. Although we’re not here in the high tourist season, it’s still buzzing with people and bursting with boats. We pause for a coffee and to enjoy the kind of vibe we’re unlikely to choose for the long term.

[Cycling along the beachfront at Palamos] 
Of course there’s more to Palamos than the beachfront. It’s one of the few working ports in the region. Fishing boats take pride of place at the eastern end of the bay, where there is also a fishing museum. Nearby the “old town”, with its pleasantly higgledy-piggledy streets, is packed with shops, some for tourists, some more for the benefit of the locals.

[Part of Palamos' fishing fleet] 
We ride around the coast from here, and start to see some of its more rugged aspects. The already contorted metamorphic rocks have been further hammered by wave action, creating a deeply indented and rocky coast interspersed with sandy bays and beaches.

We’ve been told that one, Platja del Castell (Castle Beach), is particularly beautiful, and one of the few “untouched” beaches left in the Mediterranean. We have to work a little to get there, as it’s somewhat off the beaten track and the sun is beating down strongly. Once there we’re happy to pause for a long drink and lunch.

[Platja del Castell from the nearby headland] 
As we cool off, we have to agree that it really IS a lovely beach. But “untouched”? Backed by a little forest, with just two buildings immediately adjacent, the beach certainly retains a natural prettiness. But today there are hundreds of people, dozens of boats, a couple of demountable cafes, plus walkways and toilets. And yes, there are quite a few cyclists too. As we munch our calamari and sip our beer, I have to acknowledge afresh how tamed the Mediterranean is.

[Every little cove has visitors] 
With its ancient record of human settlement and exploitation, and a surrounding population that approaches half a billion, I shouldn’t be surprised. There is a constant human pressure and presence here. You might consider the Mediterranean world a small scale experiment in what we’re doing to the wider world. Forests and wildlife have retreated to remote pockets, mostly at altitude. As for this small sea, its exploitation is a guide to what may happen – has begun to happen – to the vast oceans we’d like to think of as invulnerable.

That’s reinforced a few days later when we decide to have our first swim in a little cove closer to Palamos. As we’re getting into our swimming gear, we notice a group of older men scooping something out of the water with little nets. There’s a language barrier, but it’s clear that they’re removing stinging jellyfish from the water. After a while they signal, and tell us – we think – that we might try a dip in one corner of the cove. We ease ourselves into water that most Tasmanians would find acceptably warm. In other words it’s cold. The sand is coarse and hard on our feet, and its littered with waste. And in the water there’s plenty of plastic flotsam alongside the occasional jellyfish. Soon after we take the plunge Chris winces, pretty certain he’s just been stung. It’s not the perfect recipe for a long swim, and we soon decide we’ve had our Mediterranean swim.

As we click through the gears on the ride home, I see that for me as a Tasmanian, this trip is also about making mental shifts. I have to stop expecting wild, and settle for pretty; to turn down the nature knob and crank up the culture one. Because there’s no doubt the Costa Brava has both of those, as we discover yet again at beautiful seaside villages like Calella and Llafranc. And as we’ll find by the spadeful when we venture into the hills.

[The pretty - and busy - beach at Llafranc]  

* = Wrongway Peter

Thursday 8 September 2016

Three Capes Track: First Impressions

There's a new kid in town,
Everybody's talking 'bout the new kid in town *

We all know that kid. She/he turns up part way through the year, dressed to the nines, driving a flash new car while the rest of us walk or ride a bus. We experience that curious mixture of admiration, envy and suspicion.

Tasmania's newest walking experience, the Three Capes Track, is that new kid. While it has attracted a lot of admirers, there are detractors too. All of this made me keen to get to know the "new kid" personally, and find out what he's really like. Here are some of my impressions **

[The boat trip from Port Arthur brought lots of smiles] 
1) The Boat Trip ... or "The excursion you have to have". 

You start at Port Arthur, the World Heritage convict site on the Tasman Peninsula, and take what could be a simple 10 minute boat trip. Instead it lasts 90 minutes, with the boat describing a series of loops up and down the waters of the large inlet, before it delivers you to Denman Cove where the walking starts. Some critics describe it as an expensive and unwanted excursion. For everyone on our trip it was a highlight: a great way to come to grips with the lie of the land - and the water - as well as a way of including "the third cape", Cape Raoul, in the trip. (You get to see it from the water).

[A wet-footed start at Denmans Cove] 
2) The Track ... or "It's bushwalking Jim, but not as we know it". 

Constructed to "dry boot" standard, and capable of accommodating two walkers side-by-side for much of its length, this is the highest grade track work you'll find anywhere in Australia. 

Some, particularly long-time bushwalkers, consider the track over-engineered, too expensive, and too intrusive on an otherwise wild landscape. In parts - particularly the boardwalk on the way to Cape Pillar - they may have a point. But those who walk it generally love that they are not having to dodge mud or otherwise worry about their footing. Crucially this means that it will - and does - attract many first-time walkers. 

[Ready to walk: Denmans Cove with Port Arthur across the water] 
It also should be said that some of the rocky sections of track are so expertly made that they're almost works of art. The track looks as though it will last for hundreds of years. However it is a 46km walk, and there are occasional steep sections. It still requires a degree of fitness and determination.

3) The Experience ... or "Once upon a time there were Three Capes"

Q. When is a bushwalk not just a bushwalk? 
A. When it's also an experience.

The Parks and Wildlife Service team that's behind this walk speak of it as an "experience" and not just a walk. Of course all bushwalks are more than just a walk. So is this "experience" business just so much tourism wank

The way I read it, "experience" is about integrating those "other" aspects of a walk into your thinking from the very beginning. Here it is factors such as the variety of walking; its rich social aspects; the depth of stories held in the landscape; and the varied ways you're invited to approach those stories, that help to offer a seamless and rich experience. 

[Story-time in the hut: part of the social experience] 
Some examples? The track has a large number of "story starters", various installations, sculptures, or other prompts, that invite walkers to think about the wealth of stories related to this place. Rather than "signs-on-sticks", you are pointed to the informative booklet that's given to each walker. 

But does it enhance the walk? Certainly the walkers I went with thought so. They raved about so many aspects of the walk, but many singled out the wonderfully low-key interpretation, and the thought-provoking installations. 

[Inspecting a "story-starter" on the boardwalk]
Crucially those walkers universally reckoned they'd come again. There was one caveat to that, and that concerns the cost. For some of our group, the usual fee of $495 per person (for 4 days, 3 nights, incl. the boat trip, bus retrieval and a two-year pass to Port Arthur) was too much. They only came because of the special national park centenary offer of $250 per person (which has now ended).

Of course it's arguable that the level of service here, from the boat trip to the high grade track to the presence of host rangers, warrants a higher fee. And then, of course, there are the huts.

4) The Huts ... or "He sees the vision splendid of the sunlit cliffs extended"

When New Zealand trampers thought the new Anchorage Hut on the Abel Tasman Coast Track too grand, they ironically dubbed it the Anchorage Hilton. The three huts on this track attract similar jibes. They're seen as too large, too plush, too intrusive and too costly. It's fair to say they are all of these. And yet ... the walkers who use them (remember quite a number of these are first-time bushwalkers) generally sing their praises.

[Early morning at Retakunna Hut] 
Each overnight site has comfortable dormitory-style rooms, with eight bunks in each, and mattresses supplied. Should the snorers trouble you, the host rangers can supply ear plugs. Interconnecting decks lead to separate rooms for cooking/dining/socialising. Gas cook tops, pots and pans, and basic cooking utensils are provided. Water is supplied from roof tanks, and accessed via hand pumps over large indoor sinks. Toilets are in separate buildings, with fly-in/fly-out "sputniks" to collect the waste, making the smell minimal. 

[Deckchair conversation on the Munro viewing deck] 
It's fair to say that each hut commands a stunning site. That's particularly true of the Munro site, high above Munro Bight. Its viewing deck gives truly stunning views towards Cape Hauy. The deck chairs (yes, they're supplied at each hut) can be taken onto the deck, allowing walkers unique rewards for their efforts in getting here. And sunrise from Munro's nearby helipad can be an amazing experience. It certainly was for our group. Munro Hilton anyone?

[Sharing sunrise above Munro Bight] 
5) The Development Issue ... or "Is this the thin end of the wedge?"

Some Tasmanians (in particular) are not happy with this style of development within a national park. They see it as intruding on the area's rich natural and cultural values to pander to the wealthy and the "soft". And there is a strong fear that this is a "thin-end-of-the-wedge" situation. A counter-argument is that sensitively opening an area to a wider variety of people, and not just hardy bushwalkers, can only increase the number of people who will value its conservation, and push for its ongoing protection.

After walking the track, and seeing many on it who would not otherwise bushwalk, I would lean towards the counter-argument above. The bulk of the track, and the siting of the huts, has been done relatively sensitively, given 21st century fire, building and safety regulations. Personally, I loved the experience, and would happily go back numerous times.

That said, I don't think "traditional bushwalkers" have been adequately considered in the current model. I think there should be a way for them to experience the whole track, and to have the option of camping instead of staying in huts. There is just one camping site provided, at Wughalee Creek, off the Cape Pillar Track. This is hardly an attractive or convenient site, and nor does it allow walkers to experience the first day and half of the track, between Denmans Cove and Munro. 

[Relieving sore feet at the end, Fortescue Bay] 
Given the high cost of providing the track and other services; and given the precedent of camping walkers having to pay the full Overland Track fee, I'm not arguing that Three Capes "camping walkers" should be given a significant discount. But I am arguing that a camping option for the full track should be actively considered in future.

6) The Landscape ... or "So much more than ABC"

Blasé tourists in Europe sometimes use the acronym ABC to refer to the surfeit of grand buildings. (ABC can variously refer to "another bloody castle" or "another bloody cathedral".) In the context of this walk, there were some who thought the experience would attract the ABC acronym with regard to cliffs. How wrong they would be! Simply put, the sheer variety of landscapes on this walk - from cliffs to seascapes; heath to woodland; cloud forest to rainforest - is quite stunning. 

[Walking through rainforest near Mt Fortescue] 
I've been visiting this area for many years, and thought I knew what to expect. I had little doubt that the cliffs would attract the most "wows". But I was not prepared for how extensive and how beautiful the forests would be, particularly the rainforest on the flanks of Mt Fortescue on the final day. I also underestimated the extent and beauty of the wildflowers.

[Cape Hauy, the Candlestick and the Totem Pole casting shadows] 
Of course the cliffs deserve every rave they get, and not only because of the grandeur of the outlook they provide. For the patient and observant, they can also offer views of wildlife that'll keep the jaw dropping. White-bellied sea eagles, wedge-tailed eagles, albatrosses and many other birds can be seen. In the off-shore waters whales and dolphins are frequent visitors, and both Australian and New Zealand fur seals can be spotted resting on the rocky shores.

If I had to sum up the whole experience in just three letters, they would be WOW! If you've been thinking about walking the Three Capes Track, just do it!

There's more information here Three Capes Track

[Looking towards Cape Raoul from near Cape Pillar] 
* from "New Kid in Town" by the Eagles

** The disclaimers: I worked on staff with Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service from 1991 until July 2015. I helped start up the interpretation aspects of this project, had some field trips to, and discussions at, some sites. I also sat in lots of boring meeting rooms. Before retiring, I handed the project on to some very creative staff and contractors. I paid to do this walk, and the opinions expressed are my own, and based on my August 2016 trip.