Tasmania’s jaw-dropping Three Capes Track is traditionally a hut-to-hut hike. But for those looking to save some cash and sleep under the stars instead, there’s always the camping version – The ‘Free’ Capes Track.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Pydairrerme people who have occupied and cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Hike the stunning Three Capes Track at a fraction of the cost
- Explore some of Tasmania’s beautiful coastline self-paced and self-sufficient including areas of Tasman National Park you wouldn’t see otherwise
- Encounter wildlife including echidnas and wallabies
- An incredible experience for those who are new to multi-day hiking trips all the way to the most seasoned adventurers
What is the Free Capes?
Before completing the Three Capes Track my friend and I were explaining how we would do the camping version to try and save some money, to which a local replied ‘Ahh, the FREE capes!’.
We were so excited to learn there was a mysterious more affordable option, and after a lot of research for our five-day hiking trip, we saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Australia.
While technically, you only see two of the three capes doing it this way, you get to experience them completely differently, while saving the cash you would spend doing the official hike to put towards your next fun adventure.
- The Free Capes camping track (this trip!) – self-sufficient camping
- The Three Capes Track – the official hike staying in cabins along the way
- Fortescue Bay explorer – set up camp in Fortescue Bay and explore the area on day trips
Day 1 – Waterfall Bay to Bivouac Bay
Duration: 5 hours
Starting the hike at the ‘Tasman Coastal Track’ sign we could barely make out the incredible cliff views through rain and thick fog.
While there was a clear path to start, some sections were quite overgrown. It took a while for us to get used to the number of leeches turning up in all sorts of fun places as we pushed through the overgrown trail. Once we were closer to the campsite we very thankfully never saw them again.
It was very slippery, lots of climbing over rocks and stumbling / falling down the steep sections made for a very fun day.
Bivouac Bay is a very basic campsite (no bookings here – first in best camped!) with cleared space for tents, a pit toilet, and a little creek where you can top up your water. Bring your own toilet paper and take your rubbish with you to help keep this site a beautiful stop for everyone!
We had the place to ourselves other than some wildlife and a lovely older couple walking by who were very concerned about our tiny hiking tent surviving the rain.
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
Day 2 – Bivouac Bay to Fortescue Bay
Duration: 2 hours
The rain was non-stop which made day two’s short walk much harder than expected. Everything was drenched and it was a lot colder than we were anticipating (this did NOT feel like summer). The trail winds around the edge of the water until Fortescue Bay, a long and beautiful white sandy beach. After walking along the sand for a while, we spotted a gap in the bushes that lead to our campsite for the night.
Fortescue Bay is a well-facilitated campsite that even has a little store with things people often forget to bring. Though good for emergencies, I wouldn’t rely on it. It’s recommended to book this site in advance, though out of peak-season, it’s not required.
Campsites here are $13 per night. As Fortescue Bay is accessible by car, there are a lot more people around and facilities available, like undercover picnic areas and BBQs.
We quickly hung all of our clothes up to dry and went for a swim in the FREEZING ocean. A hot shower was very welcomed to finish the day, after purchasing some tokens for them at the main office.
It’s important to note that from here the trail can only be hiked in one direction. This is to prevent the spread of Phytophthora Root Rot in the national park and you’ll also see boot cleaning stations along the trail.
Day 3 – Fortescue Bay to Bare Knoll
Duration: 3 hours
A quick morning yoga session and some breakfast prepared us for the day. While packing up we spoke to one of the park rangers who recommended we stay at Bare Knoll, a much nicer campground with good water supply after all the recent rain.
Before leaving Fortescue Bay, be sure to check if anyone knows the water supply levels at Bare Knoll – if they’re low or non-existent, you’re definitely better off detouring to Wughalee Falls and refilling water.
Heading off, we were amazed at how quickly the scenery changed from the previous days. While there were some raised or paved sections of the trail, it was mostly dirt and we encountered a lot of native Australian wildlife up close including echidnas, wekas, pademelons and the adorable Fairy wren.
The campsite was well set up to have as little impact on the landscape as possible with around eight raised wooden platforms to choose from to pitch our tent.
Day 4 – Cape Pillar return to Bare Knoll
Duration: 7 hours
The big day had finally arrived! We’d seen the weather was forecast to rain in the afternoon so we had an early start to try and avoid it. We left our tents set up with our big packs inside and just took a day pack for this section of the hike.
This part of the trail was mostly raised platforms that were easy to walk along with the incredible views unfolding bit by bit as we wound our way out to the cape. Some other hikers told us to climb ‘The Blade’ a little side trail before reaching the end. This was the highlight of the day and definitely worth the steep narrow scramble to the top.
Finally making it to Cape Pillar, we had some lunch with a very scenic view. Many many photos later, we started making our way back to Bare Knoll for another night.
Day 5 – Bare Knoll to Fortescue Bay via Cape Hauy
Duration: 7 hours
Many people we spoke to along the trail told us that today would be the toughest day of the hike. They weren’t wrong. It was tough going back to hiking with our full packs! We headed straight for the first section, Mt Fortesque.
Being our first multi-day hike, we struggled with this uphill that never seemed to end. We were sore and tired but very quickly forgot all of that as we saw the views from the top. Looking out, you could see Cape Pillar where we’d been just the day before. We were filled with a sense of accomplishment and amazement at how far our legs could carry us in just one day!
The rest of the walk until the turn off to Cape Hauy was pretty easy in comparison. We dropped our packs off at a little meeting spot which many people had done and carried just some water for the walk out to the Cape.
Cape Hauy pulled through with some of the most beautiful views of the whole trip and a whole lot of stairs to go with it. After going right out to the point, we headed back up to our packs and kept on the home stretch back to Fortescue Bay. We camped one more night here in Fortescue Bay before we got picked up as pre-arranged the next day.
We passed a few people who’d skipped Cape Hauy the day before due to bad weather and were back doing it as a day hike from Fortescue Bay to make sure they didn’t miss the stunning views!
The gear required for this is quite different to if you’re completing the typical Three Capes Track and staying in huts. You need to be completely self-sufficient for the duration of your trip.
- Hiking backpack
- Day pack (you’ll be grateful for this on days 3 and 5 when you have the chance to leave your larger bag behind to go out to the capes)
- Backpack rain cover and internal waterproofing
- Hiking clothes and warm clothes for night time even in summer it gets COLD
- Hiking boots
- Rain jacket!!!!
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Cooking stove + food + utensils + lighter
- Coffee and hydrolyte
- Water bladder + spare water bottle
- Water treatment – we used tablets
- Paper map – from the Information Centre in Hobart
- First aid kit
- Toilet paper
- Sealable bag to carry your rubbish in (there are no bins available)
Read more: Packing list for an overnight hike
How To Get There
On the first day, we booked an Uber to take us to the start of the hike at Waterfall Bay. Due to COVID, the regular bus wasn’t running (hopefully they are going again for your adventure!).
There are a few options of where to start the hike, including Tasmans Arch / Devils Kitchen or even further north. Given the weather was very overcast, we decided on Waterfall Bay as the closer starting point.
Getting back was a bit more difficult with not many options out of Fortescue Bay. We prearranged transport with a lovely lady who couldn’t take us all the way to Hobart, but dropped us at a busy enough intersection for us to hitchhike.
Calling local transport companies or shuttle services is your best bet, but make sure to arrange this before you start the hike as there’s very little to no service for most of the walk.
Drive Your Own Car
An alternative route is driving straight to Fortescue Bay to begin the hike. This would be a lot easier to coordinate, though you would miss a very beautiful and more untouched section of Tasman National Park that not as many see. You’ll also need to purchase a National Parks Pass for your car.
Another option would be to just stay in Fortescue Bay and do some little day trips like out to Cape Hauy and back.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gained / Days
60.5km walk / 3,729m elevation / 5 days
Hiking Three Capes Track For Free FAQ’s
What do I need to book in advance?
Transport in and out from your starting points and the campsite at Fortescue Bay ($13 per night for 2). Otherwise you’re free to roam!
Do I miss anything compared to the official Three Capes Track?
You won’t do the track from Denmans Cover to Mount Arthur, but you replace them with some more remote and less travelled sections that were some of our favourite parts of the trip.
Should I camp at Bare Knoll or Wughalee Falls?
Bare Knoll! But check there’s sufficient water supply with the Park Rangers before departing from Fortescue Bay.
Wughalee Falls is an option but requires a detour and a fair bit of backtracking in a pretty steep area. Bare Knoll may fill up quickly in the peak season due to limited space and being the preferred campsite.