With some of the tallest sea cliffs in Australia, Cape Raoul is a daunting promontory jutting south from the Tasman Peninsula. While it is listed as one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, this hike is longer and harder than other tracks on that list at 12 to 14 kilometers (7.45 to 8.7 miles) round trip. The out and back bushwalk follows a track through wild vegetation in Tasman National Park, first ascending 200 meters (655 feet) and then descending 240 meters (790 feet) to reach Cape Raoul. The track is narrow and the hiking is tough at times, but there are stunning cliff-top views along the way to justify the effort, leading to postcard views of the 200-meter tall cliffs of dolerite columns at Cape Raoul.
The walk begins from a car park at the end of Stormlea Road at the southwest corner of the Tasman Peninsula (in the southeast corner of the island of Tasmania). A sign at the start of the track offers this description:
This walk takes you through heath, woodland, and rainforest vegetation to stunning coastal seascapes that feature rock platforms, towering cliffs, offshore islands and swirling seas. The track has a natural bush surface and some rough uphill sections. The cape is subject to strong winds and hazardous cliff edges – please supervise children.
The trail is wide as you get underway, heading uphill along the edge of a forest bordering a pasture. The trail gets narrow quickly, passing through scratchy chest high-brush (long pants and long shirts recommended). Pass a small pond on the left and continue through the rough brush and ferns. As you enter a forest of tall eucalyptus trees, the track will widen temporarily. At the top of this section that looks like an old road, you will come to a flight of stone steps on the right just before a metal gate. Turn right up these steps on a single track venturing deeper into the forest. A short distance farther, and 0.8 kilometers from the start, you will pass a sign at the boundary of Tasman National Park.
The trail continues through dense forest where a downed tree can be used as a log bridge to cross a gully. The forest (and trail) will thin as you turn uphill and come to the track’s only marked junction, 1.5 kilometers from the start. A trail to the right goes to Shipstern Bluff, which has a popular surf break. Stay to the left to continue toward Cape Raoul.
As you continue up the track, you may start to wonder if you’ll ever see the ocean on this coastal hike. After another half a kilometer (2 kilometers from the start), the trail suddenly reaches the edge of some very tall cliffs where you finally get an ocean view, and it’s a knock out!
The cliffs are just inland from the coast, rising 400 meters above Raoul Bay. The bold rock face is surrounded by pristine coastal beauty. Take in the view south down the cliffs toward Cape Raoul, which sits on a lower plateau with green vegetation on top supported by sheer orange cliffs.
From this vantage, there is a view south toward Cape Raoul and east across the blue waters of Storm Bay toward Bruny Island, but the coastline to the north is not in view. To look up the coast in this direction, you’ll need to find a path to the right, going along the cliffs to an outcropping with clear views to the northwest. From here, you can look down on the cove at Shipstern Bluff and out over more wild Tasmanian coastline.
Retrace your steps back to the overlook and follow the track south along the edge of the cliff. There are no railings along this hike, so watch your step. The track backs away from the rock face and returns to the forest, ascending gradually through trees and grasses. You will cross the high point of the hike, 2.5 kilometers from the start, and turn downhill, leaving the top of the high cliffs for the lower plateau on Cape Raoul.
The trail weaves its way down a steep hillside covered in mossy rocks and trees. At the bottom of the slope, you will squeeze through some shorter trees and suddenly find yourself out in the open again. The track escapes the forest next to a gully that drops 300 meters down to the coast. It’s a big wild world, and you’re just walking through it. Take the track around the far side of the gully out to the cliff’s edge for the next great coastal overlook.
From this lower cliff-top viewpoint, you can look northwest along the face of the cliffs you were just standing on at the previous viewpoint. Shipstern Bluff is visible on the coast farther to the northwest across Raoul Bay. Take a look back up the hillside inland from the cliffs (Mount Raoul), where the track you came down is completely hidden by a dense canopy. This is a beautiful spot to catch your breath, 3.5 kilometers from the start.
Continuing south, the track hugs the top of the cliffs, at times weaving through a forest of short trees and brush. There are sporadic views up and down the dramatic coastline to spur you on. The trail progresses gradually downhill toward the end of the cape. Keep an eye out to your left where you’ll discover views east over more of the beautiful coastline at the south end of the Tasman Peninsula, including Tasman Island which lies just off the end of a promontory to the east.
As you pass a clearing on the right, on the edge of the cliffs, the trail will curve to the left through low brush. There are a few false tracks breaking off from the actual route and the trail gets narrow and hard to follow in this area. Do your best to stay on track and you will spot cairns (piles of rocks) along the correct trail to Cape Raoul. The track makes its way along the edge of a grassy depression just behind the cape. This is a seasonal tarn that can fill with a shallow pool of water. At the bottom of the depression, you will find a clear view of the imposing cliffs that make Cape Raoul so impressive.
This is the view you walked six kilometers for, so take it in! Walk along the edge of the depression and find the best perspective of the cliffs to the south. This superb vantage looks down the kilometer-long 200-meter tall sea cliffs that make Cape Raoul such an icon. The cliffs are made up of dolerite columns, a volcanic rock that creates long, imposing pillars. These incredible cliffs drop all the way down to the ocean where white waves are repelled off the dark rock.
The already-difficult-to-follow track appeared to end here on a trip in April of 2014. Each path into the brush on the far side of the depression that would have lead farther down the cape appeared to dwindle and dead end. If you want to continue out to the end of Cape Raoul, you will need to push through this scratchy brush. Aerial photos reveal that the trail comes back together beyond the brush and continues another kilometer to the very end of the point where it splits to two overlooks.
The hike to Cape Raoul is 12 kilometers round trip if you turn around at the viewpoint by the depression and 14 kilometers round trip if you press on to the very end of Cape Raoul. On the return trip, there is actually more elevation gain, an ascent of 225 meters to the high point, followed by a 200 meter descent over the final 2 kilometers. Alongside of the car park there is a privately run campground with several grassy sites that can be booked for $5 per person. The operators of the campground, Raoul Bay Retreat, are adding a B&B next to the campground in the summer of 2014-2015. The campground has a primitive toilet that can be used before starting the walk (donations accepted) as there are no toilets along the track. Pets and bikes are not permitted on Cape Raoul Track. A National Parks Pass is required to visit Tasman National Park. A single day pass will cost $24 or you may purchase an 8-week pass good for all of Tasmania’s National Parks for $60 (all prices in Australian Dollars as of September, 2014).
Directions: Take Tasman Highway (A3), 25 kilometers east of Hobart to the town of Sorell. You will come to an intersection in the center of town where A3 makes a 90-degree turn. Take the road leaving A3 at this intersection, which is Coles Street/Arthur Highway (A9). This will be a right turn if you are coming from Hobart. Drive 69 miles to Port Arthur and continue on to Nubeena Road (B37). Take this road for 8 kilometers and turn left on Stormlea Road (following a sign for Stormlea). Drive 9.5 kilometers to the car park at road’s end where the track begins.
Trailhead address: Stormlea Road, Stormlea, TAS 7184, Australia
Trailhead coordinates: -43.195255, 147.777145 (43° 11′ 42.91″S 147° 46′ 37.72″E)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Australian trails, campgrounds, and lodging.
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