Rocky Cape National Park
Rocky Cape National Park is full of surprises. You may only want to make a quick visit to the Rocky Cape lighthouse with its sweeping views, but there is much more to see if you take the time.
Before you know it you're finding out there's more to this park than meets the eye. Aboriginal heritage, ship wrecks, rock formations turned sideways, beautiful hills running down to the sea and an incredible variety of flowering plants. It makes the many corners of this small park worth closer inspection.
Rocky Cape National Park is situated on the north-west coast of Tasmania about two hours drive west of Launceston. The park has two approaches. From the west, turn left off the Bass Highway (A2) into Road C227 with park access clearly marked. From the east, turn off the Bass Highway 12km from Wynyard, to Boat Harbour Beach. About 1.5km from the highway take Irby's Road and travel 8km to Sister's Beach.
When driving at night please take care as you are sharing the road with wildlife.
Facilities and camping
Rocky Cape is mainly a day use park, so no camping areas are provided. Limited private accommodation can be found at Sisters Beach and Boat Harbour, east of the park. West of the park there is camping with facilities at Rocky Cape township and Crayfish Creek, and camping at Peggs Beach Conservation Area (see Camping and Cabin Fee Information for details). Supplies are available at some of these settlements as well as at the Rocky Cape turn-off on the Bass Highway.
Within the park there is a picnic area with tables and a gas barbecue at Mary Ann Cove. Toilet facilities are available at Burgess Cove and Mary Ann Cove in Rocky Cape National Park. Drinking water is not available in the park. The Sisters Beach holiday area has electric barbecues, toilets and drinking water provided by the local council.
Although it's a small park, Rocky Cape offers visitors a wide variety of coastal experiences, from small sheltered beaches to banskia-dotted hillsides with sweeping views out over Bass Strait. Here you can also learn about Aboriginal life on the north-west coast when caves were first occupied about 8,000 years ago.
Swimming, fishing, boating and bushwalking are popular activities. The park offers a fascinating variety of walks, ranging from less than 20 minutes to a full day. These take in Aboriginal rock shelters and caves, scenic hills full of wildflowers and birds, and tranquil beaches, bays and rocky headlands.
Water activities Rocky Cape is an ideal place for rock pool rambling. The rocky coastline features wonderful pools brimming with multicoloured seaweeds and delicately patterned starfish. There are some good swimming spots too, notably at Sisters Beach and Anniversary Bay. Boats may be launched at Mary Ann Cove and Burgess Cove (Rocky Cape National Park) and at Sisters Beach. Be sure to check tide and weather conditions. Limited water skiing can be done on Lake Llewellyn just east of the Sisters Beach Village. There is also fine scuba diving around Rocky Cape. However conditions can be treacherous and diving is recommended only for the experienced. Beach and rock fishing are also popular.
North Cave/Lighthouse. (10 - 20 minutes return) The walking track to North Cave starts 200 m back from the Rocky Cape Lighthouse (at the western end of the park). This easy walk winds through coastal heath towards the dark gash in the cliff that was once an Aboriginal shelter. Please respect the wishes of the Aboriginal community and do not enter the cave. Informative signs tell you more about the history of this special place. Nearby a platform offering panoramic coastal views has been built. Once back at the start of the track, continue up to the lighthouse for additional views.
South Cave. (10 - 20 minutes return) From the car park at Burgess Cove another short walk leads to South Cave. This large cave has been almost filled with shells, bones and other remains resulting from thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation. Please do not enter the cave as this would be disrespectful to the Aboriginal community. Take a look at our signs which will tell you more of the story.
Banksia Grove/Caves Circuit. (Up to 1 hour return) This fascinating walk leaves from near the Sisters Beach boat ramp at the eastern end of the park. The clearly defined track climbs into the heath-covered hills. You soon reach Banksia Grove, an extensive stand of saw banksias. This tree-sized variety of banksia is common in parts of mainland Australia, but is found only around Sisters Beach in Tasmania. It has spectacularly large cylindrical flowers. When these ripen they develop seed capsules along the drying flowers. These capsules give mature flowers the face-like features which author May Gibbs fictionalised as her 'bad banksia men'.
From Banksia Grove take the link track towards the coast. Here you'll find an Aboriginal shelter, Lee Archer Cave, set dramatically above the rocky shore. A platform allows viewing of the cave while protecting midden material. Please keep to this platform.
After returning to the junction, climb steeply down to Wet Cave. Towards the rear of this aptly named cave you will often find a pool of water. From the cave the track drops down to the coast. A rock-hop of 100 m or so leads you back to the Sisters Beach boat ramp.
Note: Aboriginal sites such as caves and middens are fully protected by law. Please respect the historic and spiritual values they represent by leaving them as you found them.
The Postmans Track. (Various times: 1 - 2 1/2 hours) Named after the route used for horseback postal deliveries early this century, this track circles the easternmost section of the park, near Sisters Beach. (Don't confuse it with Postmans Pass, which is near the Rocky Cape end.) Leaving from the roadside near Lake Llewellyn, the signposted track climbs east into the wooded hills known as The Two Sisters, making a wide sweep of them before reaching the cliffs above Walkers Cove. The track returns to the eastern end of Sisters Beach. It is a comfortable 1 - 1 1/2 hour walk if cars are left at each end. Alternatively continue along the beach till you reach the road and return to your starting point, making a 2 - 2 1/2 hour circuit.
Rocky Cape Circuit Walk. (2 1/2 hours return) A walk from the Rocky Cape area into the heath-covered hills. Offering extensive coastal views, especially if you take the side track to Tinkers Lookout (291 m), the track is surrounded by a variety of flowering plants and shrubs. From spring to summer you can see spectacular displays of Christmas bells, often in the company of boronia, tea tree, heath and pea-flowered shrubs. To complete the circuit take a left turn just after the lookout and follow Blandfordia Spur towards the coast. Access to the coast is via the side track to Cathedral Rock. Return inland via Postmans Pass.
The Inland Track. (3 1/2 - 4 hours one way) From the Rocky Cape end this track follows the Rocky Cape circuit track to Postmans Pass, then continues inland over the Sisters Hills (almost 300 m high) before descending to Sisters Beach. There are magnificent views down to the coast and back inland. The whole track is almost 15 km from start to finish and can be completed in less than 4 hours. However with side tracks leading to Doone Falls, Broadview Hills and Anniversary Bay, there are plenty of ways of taking a half a day or longer to complete the walk. (If walked from the Sisters Beach end, ascend from near the boat ramp into the Sisters Hills and follow the track towards Rocky Cape.) Leave a car at either end, or arrange to be picked up where you finish.
The Coastal Route. (3 1/2 - 4 hours one way) This is a rugged coastal alternative to the Inland Track. Follow the Rocky Cape circuit up to Postmans Pass then towards Cathedral Rocks, which can be visited as a short side trip. Continue along the very rocky coast to Anniversary Bay. Follow the beach to its eastern end where the track can be picked up again. Take the track over the headland and hills to Banksia Grove then down to Sisters Beach. (You can visit Lee Archer and Wet Caves as an interesting side-trip from Banksia Grove before returning to Sisters Beach.)
If coming from the Sisters Beach end, climb up to Banksia Grove before descending to Anniversary Bay. Follow the rocky coastal track from the end of the bay past the Cathedral Rocks turn-off and on towards Rocky Cape. The walk can be made longer by taking side trips. Leave a car at either end, or arrange to be picked up where you finish.
Tang Dim Mer - A Rich Heritage
The human history of Rocky Cape begins many thousands of years ago - even before Tasmania was separated from the mainland. This area would once have stood out as hills above the Bassian Plain which connected Tasmania to the mainland. Those who first came to occupy the southernmost parts of Australia over 35 000 years ago, would have traversed these hills.
Aboriginal occupation and use of this area began shortly after seas reached their current level about 10 000 years ago. The richness of the area's resources is shown by the vast cave middens that reveal the accumulated materials of 8 000 years of continuous occupation. These provide one of the largest and most complete records of the lifestyle of coastal Aboriginal people anywhere in Australia. The middens indicate that at various times seals, scale fish and a variety of shellfish were major items of food. These were supplemented by other game and by edible plants such as grass tree and fern. Middens also reveal a range of tools used for gathering and preparing food and for other cultural activities.
The length of their association with Tang Dim Mer (one of the Aboriginal names for the area) gives it special significance to today's Aboriginal community, who maintain an ongoing presence at Rocky Cape. The area is visited frequently for cultural, spiritual and recreational purposes, and the Aboriginal community is actively involved in planning for its management.
Some of the rocks here are among the oldest in Tasmania - Precambrian quartzites that are found in a broad band over much of western Tasmania. Their age has allowed time for much uplifting and folding, which has produced the often contorted patterns we see today. Those near the Rocky Cape lighthouse are typical. Since they were laid down as sandy sediments up to one billion years ago, they have experienced great changes in pressure and temperature. They have been covered by other layers of rock, deformed by major movements in the earth's crust, and in places have had molten rock forced up through them. Now revealed at the surface, these very hard rocks continue to be slowly eroded by the action of water, wind and waves.
The most spectacular erosion has taken place around the caves. These are known as sea caves because they were eroded by the sea when it was up to 20 m higher than today. Sea levels vary with the amount of ocean water held in the polar ice caps. This is dependent on climatic conditions. But the land itself can also rise or fall due to the movement of the earth's crust. The north-west coast of Tasmania is still rising very slowly.
The rocks around Rocky Cape had joints which eroded more rapidly than the surrounding rock and created caves. When sea levels dropped to where they are today, the caves were left above the shoreline, making them ideal for coastal rock shelters. North Cave is the most easily-accessible example. It is about 20 m above sea level. Try to imagine what it was like when the sea rushed into the cave. Amazingly, caves similar to these are also found beneath the sea, created by wave action when sea levels were lower.
Around Anniversary Bay there are outcrops of siltstone. They are of similar age to the more common quartzite, but were originally laid down as fine-grained silts (rather than the coarser sands that formed the quartzite.) The siltstones are so deformed and tilted that they make walking along the coastline quite difficult.
Rocky Cape has a rich diversity of vegetation. Coastal heathlands, which dominate the hillier parts of the park, contain hundreds of different plant species, many of which flower colourfully in spring and summer. Heath is frequently found on poorer soils, such as those here, which result from the weathered quartzite. The plants are generally low-growing and wind, salt and fire-tolerant. In fact some plants, including many of the 40 orchid species found here, lie dormant underground until fire passes over them.
Wind is another crucial factor. Plants such as wattle and she-oak, which elsewhere are taller and even tree-like, become ground-hugging in these wind-swept heathlands. Spread amongst these are many wildflowers such as purple iris, yellow guinea-flower, white-flowering tea tree, pink and white epacris, boronia and the spectacular Christmas bell (pictured over the page), which flowers from November to February. Xanthorrhoea, with its grass-like skirt and tall flower spike, is also very common throughout the park.
In areas more protected from fire and wind, pockets of trees emerge from the heathland. Small clumps of forest can be found in gullies on the south and east-facing slopes, such as those around Doone Falls. These mini-forests contain eucalypt, wattle, paperbark and banksia, as well as plants more commonly found in wet forest.
One other outstanding plant community is the stand of saw banksia in the hills overlooking Sisters Beach. This giant of the banksia family is restricted to this small part of Tasmania, though it is common in mainland Australia. See if you can see any young banksias here. They require fire to open their seed pods before regenerating. A lack of seedlings may indicate a lack of recent fire.
The plant disease Phytophthora is killing plants in this park. The fungal disease rots the roots of certain native plants, eventually killing them. You may see examples of collapsed grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and dead banksias in a number of locations here. Because Phytophthora root rot can be carried in soil and water, one way to prevent its wider spread is to clean soil from your boots before visiting any other areas. (Even plants in your home garden can be affected by Phytophthora. Wash mud into drains or away from native plants).
A Full Circuit Walk. (6 - 8 hours return) You can combine the coastal and inland routes to make a full-day circuit walk of the park. This 25 km walk showcases the best of the park, allowing walkers to experience the rugged coast with its tranquil bays, and the gentle hills with their superb views and abundance of fascinating vegetation. The circuit also overcomes problems with vehicle pick ups. Starting at either end, follow instructions for the coastal or inland routes described above. If you don't have time for the full circuit, or if weather deteriorates, shorter circuit walks can be made by using the Blandfordia Spur or Anniversary Point tracks as short cuts.
PO Box 715
Smithton TAS 7330
Phone:03 6452 4997
Fax:(03) 6452 4999
Information for this National Park has been supplied courtesy of Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania