A trip to Tasmania is not complete without a visit to the award-winning Port Arthur Historic Site. A place of both beauty and horror, wandering the ruins is a fantastic way to learn about Australia’s murky convict past.
The 1.5 hour scenic drive from Hobart to Port Arthur meanders through farmlands, villages, sprawling vineyards and bays. Once you arrive, this scenery is replaced by imposing ruins set among fantastic landscapes.
The heritage-listed Port Arthur site is home to an overwhelming 60 buildings. As there is so much to see, a guided walking tour is a good way to spot the highlights and there are different ticketing options to suit your level of exploration.
One of these highlights is the ruins of the Penitentiary. Built in the 1830s as a flour mill and granary, it was then transformed to house 480 convicts before it was gutted by fire. Criminally-minded convicts were sent to the nearby Separate Prison, which was built in the shape of a crucifix and used to treat criminals through solitary confinement. You are free to wander the silent sandstone halls of both buildings where you can get a real sense of how convicts were treated.
Then, hop across to the Isle of the Dead by boat where over 1000 burials took place. Allow about 1 hour for a visit and take a guided tour for inside information on some of the Isle’s more interesting inhabitants. If you find that ghost stories are your kind of attraction, then sign up for the infamous After Dark Ghost Tour which has been scaring tourists silly with stories of paranormal activity for more than 20 years.
And finally for some respite, stroll along the paths of the reconstructed Government Garden and picture what life was like for those on the other side of the prison walls. Planted in the early 1800’s, this sprawling garden has been lovingly restored and also includes working vegetable patches.