Welcome to the beautiful city of Port Arthur, a place where history seems to seep out of the walls and rise majestically out of the floors of the ancient heritage buildings. Initially a penal settlement, Port Arthur was largely built by the convicts. This heritage is ever present in this city, and can be felt through the beautifully preserved buildings to the masses of graves of the captive men and women. It is essentially this rich heritage together with the beauty of the region that has made Port Arthur Tasmania’s premier tourist destination. This stunning city is a historically significant tribute to the early settlers of Australia, and will draw you in and take you on a journey to the early days of our nation, chilling, enticing and intriguing you along the way.
The most visited attraction here would have to be the Port Arthur Historic Site, which has drawn in tourists since the early 1900’s. The site has been preserved over time as a cultural relic, a symbol of our convict past that was so cruel yet so crucial to the emergence and growth of Australia. Over thirty ruins and old buildings are nestled on the forty hectares of rolling green gardens, around which you can take informative guided tours, or simply wander them at your own pace. The penitentiary is the biggest and most imposing ruin, but the seperate prison, where prisoners were punished with solitary confinement, is definitely the most chilling. You can also pay a visit to the commandant’s residence, the church, the hospital and the dockyards, and visit the museum which is located in the old asylum.
When the sun goes down and the moon comes out, there is no better way to enhance your historical convict experience than to take a historic ghost tour through the site. There is somewhat of an omnious feel here in the dark, and the story telling from the guide as you wander through the jail and the church is guaranteed to chill you to the core.
While the chances of you actually seeing a ghost are fairly slim, the forbidding and gloomy air of the Historic Site at night is sure to raise a few hairs and provide you with some spooky memories! These tours are limited in size and are very popular, so be sure to book in advance. Another chilling journey to the past is a tour to the ‘Isle of the Dead’, a small island positioned just off shore. Over 1100 convicts and free men were buried on this island in the mid 1800’s, and a tour of the headstones is a fascinating and morbid insight into their history.
It is not only the history and heritage of Port Arthur that makes it a great place to visit. Its position on the spectacular Tasman Peninsula means that it is surrounded by thick rainforest vegetation and rugged landscapes. Majestic cliffs, beautiful ocean views and stunning geological formations nicely contrast with the strong convict history, providing a depth to the appeal of the region that intrigues visitors. The power and presence of the sea is evident along the battered coastline, and this makes for some breathtaking scenery, perfect for photographers.
Just a six kilometre drive from the Historic Site you will find the Remarkable Cave, an amazing cavity in the coastal rock into which the waves crash and echo in a mesmerising motion. There are other examples of the sculpted coastline nearby, with a four to five hour walk beginning at the cave and spanning to Crescent Bay. This walk will reward you with some amazing sights that you won’t soon forget.
The alluring landscapes of the Tasman Peninsula provide a wealth of activities for visitors and locals to choose from. There are countless safe swimming beaches for a relaxing day with the family, but there are also beaches with roaring surf conditions that will keep the adrenaline junkies and avid surfers happy.
If heading out on the water is really your thing then you can hire sea kayaks and explore the white beaches and the rocky inlets of the coast whilst paddling around. There are a total of thirty-five designated walks in the area that will transport you through the changing features of the region, ranging from rolling sand dunes to steep, rocky cliffs. Some of the walks only require a gentle stroll, while others are more complex and may take a day or two. Be sure to plan beforehand where you wish to walk to and how long it is going to take so that you are well prepared.
Horse back rides are also on offer and are an excellent way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace. Fishing is also a popular pastime of locals and visitors. Many people actually camp on the shores of Fortescue Bay, where the smooth waters are home to many different varieties of fish, and where it is also safe to swim and paddle around. This is one of the most popular spots in the region, so don’t expect to have it all to yourself.
Ultimately, your visit to Port Arthur will be an inspiring experience that will surprise and enlighten you. It encourages you to think about history, and has the effect of reconnecting you with the traces of our past and making you more appreciative of the present. Intriguing and captivating, a holiday here is sure to entertain and educate you and your family. A hire car will give you the freedom you need to explore the Peninsula fully, and discover all the secrets it’s been storing over the generations.