The Penitentiary

Traversing The Penitentiary
Clock Tower
Clock Tower © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Penitentiary in Hobart is a time capsule. At one point during the tour, I found myself thinking, “Where am I?” The guide’s descriptions and the beautifully preserved location took me to another place, another time. If you haven’t visited The Penitentiary, put it on your list of things to do. It’s fantastic!

The Penitentiary
The Penitentiary © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Hobart’s landscape once looked very different. In the early 1800s, shiploads of convicts arrived in the town and required sorting. The Penitentiary, affectionately known as The Tench, was built for this purpose. Later, it was used as a gaol, with a public chapel and gallows. You won’t find much of it left but what does remain will amaze you.

Broad Arrow
Broad Arrow © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

On arriving at The Penitentiary, you’ll see the lovely clock tower. We even heard it chime – it was about a minute out but that’s pretty good for a clock that’s nearly 200 years old! You’ll also see the red brick of one of the original curved walls. It’s a lovely architectural feature but it’s even more fascinating when you run your hands over the broad arrows and thumbprints left by the convicts who made the bricks.

Solitary Confinement Cell
Solitary Confinement Cell © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Inside the gates, you’ll see the shadowy outlines of the doors into the solitary confinement cells. Inside the building, stand inside a cell with the door shut. Our guide was very kind and kept it shut only for a few moments. You’ll then see the remains of the original chapel, which was converted to courtrooms when The Penitentiary became a prison.

Courtroom 2
Courtroom 2 © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’ll journey to the courtrooms like a prisoner, through underground tunnels. What an experience! Popping up inside the historic dock really threw me! It felt like I could have been in England or perhaps back in the courtroom’s heyday. Your tour ends with a sobering visit to the gallows (and some grisly tales from your guide). The Penitentiary is not a pleasant place but it is strangely beautiful and exceedingly fascinating.

What to Bring

Courtroom 1
Courtroom 1 © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Bring your camera but leave everything else in the car or the museum office. Some of the tour is outside, so you’ll need to wear appropriate clothing for the season. I imagine that the guides whisk you inside the building quickly if the weather is  too extreme.

Getting There

The Tench
The Tench © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’ll find The Penitentiary on the corner of Campbell and Brisbane Streets in Hobart. It’s a short drive or walk from the CBD. Make use of the limited visitor parking in a small carpark behind the building on Brisbane Street. If you miss out on this, you’ll have to pay for street parking (there are two-hour spots in Brisbane Street).

Cost

Tunnels
Tunnels © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is no cost to view the two museum rooms, the tour waiting room and the gift shop. You’ll learn a lot about The Penitentiary but you can’t see the historic site properly unless you do a guided tour. Tours cost $20 per adult, $15 concession, $12 per child or $40 for families. Make sure that you arrive in time to book a tour. Tours depart at 1pm and 2:30pm everyday and also at 10am and 11:30am on weekdays (it is closed on public holidays). Your tour will last for approximately 90 minutes but can go longer (we had booked tickets at the State Cinema and missed the last few minutes of our tour). Thank you to the National Trust for making yet another historic site come alive!

If you’re in the area for a while, there are many other fantastic places to visit in Tasmania’s south.

Mount Nelson Signal Station

Traversing Mt Nelson Signal Station
Signalmans Cottage
Signalmans Cottage © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

What do Tasmanians like to do on the weekend? Find sunshine, good food, stunning views and a little bit of adventure. The great thing is that you don’t have to travel far to do this in Tasmania. Mount Nelson Signal Station is only a short drive (or a few hours’ walk!) from Hobart’s CBD. Last weekend, I visited the historic site.

Views
Views © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Mount Nelson Signal Station offers similar views to kunanyi/Mount Wellington but is much closer to the city. Yes, you’re not as high up but you do have a lovely view of the river and the temperature is warmer. In summer, sit out in the sun on a beanbag (perhaps with your dog). In winter, sit on the enclosed verandah of the Signal Station Brasserie. This was formerly the Signalmans Cottage and was built in 1897.

Mount Nelson Signal Station
Mount Nelson Signal Station © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

After you’ve soaked in the sun, there’s more to explore. The Mount Nelson Signal Station lookout house (built in 1910 to replace the 1811 original) hosts a very small but lovely display of historic items. You’ll find signal flags, an Ericsson wall telephone and a semaphore mechanism, as well as other historic artefacts. You’ll also learn more about the story of the signal station. Although its 24+ metre mast has been dismantled and its last message was “forgotten”, the site is not. The lookout house is very picturesque. Take time to admire its round roof, pressed metal ceiling and 180-degree view of the River Derwent.

Mount Nelson Signal Station
Mount Nelson Signal Station © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There are two lookout platforms at the Mount Nelson Signal Station site. Due to the growth of surrounding trees, you’ll get better views from the carpark! Look up at kunanyi/Mount Wellington or down at the Tasman Bridge and Hobart. If you’ve got a spare few hours, you can even walk down to Sandy Bay or Taroona.

Getting There

View from inside
View from inside © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Mount Nelson Signal Station is at the upper end of Nelson Road. You can reach it by driving up Mount Nelson from Sandy Bay. This road has several hairpin bends but allows you to see a bit of the history of the area via the houses that line the road. Alternatively, drive out of Hobart towards Kingston on the Southern Outlet or Proctor’s Road, turning left for Mount Nelson at the top of the hill. Whichever road you take, the station is approximately ten minutes’ drive from Hobart’s CBD. There is ample parking on site.

Cost

Signal Station Brasserie
Signal Station Brasserie © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is no cost to visit Mount Nelson Signal Station. Completing the walks is also free. There are public toilets and barbeques available for use or you can visit the Signal Station Brasserie. The lookout house is open from 9am – 4pm on weekends (or 10am – 4pm on weekdays).

If you’re staying in the area for a while, I’ve got more ideas for adventures in Tasmania’s south.

Government House Tasmania

Traversing Government House Tasmania
Government House Tasmania
Government House Tasmania © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

I’ve always wanted to have a peek at Government House Tasmania. Driving past, looking up at the house from below, I was intrigued. What lay behind those fields dotted with trees and those elegant stone walls? In the past, I have read about the open days in the newspaper a day too late, which was always a bit of a letdown! Yesterday, my husband told me that Government House was open. Would I like to go? YES!

Lion's Court
Lion’s Court © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

We arrived 15 minutes early and there was already quite a queue to get in. I was amazed by the preparation some people had gone to, carrying camp chairs, picnic rugs and baskets of food. Weren’t we were just touring the house? When I heard bagpipes playing, I realised that this wasn’t the case!

Rose Garden and Vineyard
Rose Garden and Vineyard © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There were Tasmanian societies everywhere: RSPCA Tasmania, Country Women’s Association of Tasmania, Girl Guides Tasmania, Scouts Tasmania, Surf Life Saving Tasmania (guarding the two ponds), and so on. I appreciated the free water and sunscreen available, thanks to TasWater and the Cancer Council Tasmania. Music played and the Rotary Club of Howrah had a large BBQ going. Children played in the gardens or on the tennis courts. It was a festival!

Ceiling
Ceiling © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The first thing to do, of course, is to join another queue – the queue to tour the house. You’ll view a small, roped off portion of the house. Most importantly, you’ll be greeted by the Governor, which was a lovely experience. The house is absolutely gorgeous. Who knew that we had such an historic gem on our own doorstep?

Dining Table
Dining Table © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Building of Government House Tasmania was finished in 1857 and it is a beautiful building. It also contains many remarkable artefacts. A table set for eighteen guests, a giant portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and stunning carpets and ceilings are but a portion of the sights you’ll see. A nearby reporter commented on how homely it looked, compared to previous setups. I have nothing to compare it to but I can say that I would not mind being a resident!

Quarry Pond
Quarry Pond © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The best thing about Government House Tasmania is the secret gardens. You’ll find access to the tennis courts through an archway in a hedge. Sidle past the tennis courts and you’ll find yourself in the rose garden, overlooking the vineyards. Glimpses of two ponds, both with their own waterfalls and one with its own sail boat, can be seen from the driveway. Visiting these is a must! On our way out, we found a garden with plaques beside three of the trees, indicating that these had been planted, some decades ago, by members of the royal family, including none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Tasman Bridge
Tasman Bridge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’ll enjoy the views. From the windows of Government House Tasmania, you can see the wharf at the Regatta Grounds. Ships pass, framed by ornate brickwork. Outside, the views from East Parklands of the Tasman Bridge are magnificent. It’s a special view for me – the reverse of what I’m used to seeing. Instead of whizzing past in a car, staring up at the house, I’m gazing at the bridge and the river from beneath shady trees. What a day!

Getting There

Garden
Garden © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Government House Tasmania is next door to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. You can access this area via the Tasman Highway or via the Domain Highway. Parking is available at the Botanical Gardens or along the Lower Domain Road. If you’re late, there is a overflow car park for the Botanical Gardens or more roadside parking.

Cost

Government House Tasmania
Government House Tasmania © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Government House Tasmania open day is a free event. Tours of the state rooms, gardens and even the inner workings of the house are available once a month for a small price. Bring some money for the BBQ and for a jar of marmalade from the CWA and don’t forget to bring your camp chairs, picnic rug and basket of food!

Staying in southern Tasmania? Read more about my adventures in Tasmania’s south.

Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement

Traversing the Tessellated Pavement
Eaglehawk Neck
Eaglehawk Neck © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Prior to my Three Capes Track experience, I visited the tiny isthmus joining the Forestier Peninsula and the Tasman Peninsula. This is the piece of land that protected the rest of Tasmania from Port Arthur’s escapee convicts in the 1800s. Eaglehawk Neck also boasts incredible natural beauty, such as the famous Tessellated Pavement.

Eaglehawk Neck

Dog Line
Dog Line © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

A strip of land that’s about 30m wide (at its narrowest) by 400m long, blink and you’ll miss Eaglehawk Neck! There’s a lovely loop walk that will take you past the 1832 Officers’ Quarters Museum. This is perhaps Australia’s oldest wooden military building. It was closed when we visited. Next, you’ll see a series of outbuildings and a statue of one of the eighteen guard dogs that were posted along the Neck to alert watchmen of escaped convicts trying to cross. Finally, you’ll reach the beach. Parks and Wildlife Tasmania have created an intriguing map of the historical landmarks in the area. The guard dogs were even posted on platforms to prevent convicts escaping by sea!

Tessellated Pavement

Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement
Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Continue walking north along the beach and you’ll reach a flat, patterned rock shelf. The siltstone forms a beautiful, tile-like pattern. It is known as the Tessellated Pavement. You can view it from a platform above. Alternatively, walk along the rock shelf if the tide isn’t too high. The natural patterns make for stunning photographs.

Getting There

Tessellated Pavement
Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Eaglehawk Neck and the Tessellated Pavement are just over an hour’s drive east of Hobart. Allow extra time for stops on the way and for exploring the Tasman Peninsula. There is ample car-parking at both sites, including additional parking at the Eaglehawk Neck Community Hall.

Cost

Tessellated Pavement
Tessellated Pavement © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’d think that you’d have to pay to visit a place that is so historically significant and such a natural wonder, but you don’t! You can even access the Officers’ Quarters Museum for free when it’s open. Enjoy your visit!

 

Staying for a while? Visit Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and the Blowhole. About half an hour’s drive away is the fantastic Port Arthur Historic Site. You’ll need to book and prepare beforehand, but I highly recommend the Three Capes Track walk.

Port Arthur Historic Site

Traversing Port Arthur Historic Site
The Penitentiary
The Penitentiary © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Nestled in a bay, between wild capes and raging seas, is a very significant part of Tasmania: Port Arthur Historic Site. The area is home to cultural sites of the Pydairrerme people and is surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Tasman Peninsula. Originally, it was a penal station that played a vital role in the colony. More recently, it was the site of a heart-breaking event that lead to nationwide gun law reforms. Now World Heritage Listed, Port Arthur Historic Site is remarkable.

Port Arthur Historic Site
Port Arthur Historic Site © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The site is extremely picturesque. Ruins stand in sparse, grassed areas: a penitentiary, a hospital and a church. There are also more than thirty restored buildings, giving a glimpse of past elegance and ways of life. Each building and ruin contains information about the lives of individual convicts and workers.

Commandant's House
Commandant’s House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

My favourite building is the Commandant’s House. The wallpaper, the multi-levelled hallway, the wood panelling… It is a very grand place! The restored buildings are opened from 9:30am, with a staff member on hand to answer your questions. Our host gave us an informative and fun insight into the house. Look for the time-travelling Commandant, the trapezium-shaped door and a letter written by a very accomplished five-year-old!

Gardens
Gardens © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

I’ve never visited Port Arthur Historic Site during Spring before. I’m very glad that I did this year! The gardens are beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the Commandant’s House garden – a secluded area that gave a hint at what the original garden may have looked like. The site is vastly different from my childhood visits – significant and tasteful landscaping has taken place, adding to the beauty of the site.

The Separate Prison
The Separate Prison © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The beauty of exploring Port Arthur Historic Site is that you can walk through the buildings and see what life was like for the convicts, soldiers, Commandants and other staff for yourself. It’s like being a child again, exploring imagined forts and dungeons… except that these buildings are real. There is a poignancy to walking through each building, to pulling closed the door to your church stall and to standing in the darkness of the solitary cell.

Getting There

View of the Penitentiary
View of the Penitentiary © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Port Arthur is about 1 hour and 45 minutes’ drive east from Hobart. Take your time travelling as there are many beautiful spots to stop at on the way, including Eaglehawk Neck and Tasmans Arch. There is ample parking at the site. Be aware that renovations are taking place; the visitor’s centre will look spectacular when these are completed though. You could easily spend an entire day at Port Arthur. The site is dotted with places to eat, shop and research, including small museums and cafes. The gift shop even sells last-minute supplies for those beginning their Three Capes Track experience. There are short walks to do in the area too.

Cost

Port Arthur Historic Site
Port Arthur Historic Site © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Tickets to the Port Arthur Historic Site cost $39 per adult, $32 per concession and $17 per child. There are optional extras to purchase too, such as a tour of the nearby Point Puer Boy’s Prison. Family tickets are available. Included in your ticket are a complementary 40-minute guided tour and a 20-minute harbour cruise. If you’re running short of time, or If you’ve visited Port Arthur Historic Site before, skip the tour but do the cruise! If you’re heading off to the Three Capes Track, entry to the site is complimentary for two years.

Staying on the Tasman Peninsula for a while? Read about my recent experience on the Three Capes Track or visiting the sea caves at Eaglehawk Neck. Alternatively, read about my adventures in Tasmania’s south.

Three Capes Track

Three Capes Track
Tasman Island
Tasman Island © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Walking the Three Capes Track is a remarkable experience. All at once, you have stunning views, aching muscles, artfully crafted accommodation to look forward to and, in the middle of nowhere, a beautifully designed resting place that tells part of the story of the area. You journey from Port Arthur to Denman’s Cove. From here, you walk 46km over four days from Denman’s Cove to Fortescue Bay, via Cape Pillar, Mount Fortescue and Cape Hauy. It’s incredible. The third cape, Cape Raoul, isn’t yet part of the walk – I am told that, in the future, it will be part of the walk too.

View of Cape Hauy from Cape Pillar
View of Cape Hauy from Cape Pillar © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

When you book your Three Capes Track experience, you have choices. You can choose to take the 11:30am boat or the 2pm (1:30pm from May – August) boat. Your ticket to the Three Capes Track includes a two-year pass to Port Arthur Historic Site. You could spend an entire day wandering through the site if you want to. Being locals, we’ve seen it before and were happy with a few hours then the earlier start to our journey. Rather than doing a very, very long post about the entire walk, I’ve written a full post about each day. Here are the links to the full posts, with highlights:

Day 1

Surveyors
Surveyors © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Enjoy complimentary access to Port Arthur Historic Site. Cruise around the bay to the start of the walk. Have a snack on the beach before walking for 1.5 – 2 hours to Surveyors. Incredible views of Cape Raoul and beautiful accommodation await you. Enjoy!

Day 2

View of Mount Brown and Cape Raoul
View of Mount Brown and Cape Raoul © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Up we go… up Arthurs Peak and Crescent Mountain. You’ll be rewarded with views of Cape Pillar and Cape Raoul. It won’t be long until you’ve made it to your destination: Munro – accommodation on the cliffs! What a fantastic view of Cape Hauy and Hippolyte Rocks! Have a hot shower and read about the wreck of the Nord.

Day 3

Cape Pillar
Cape Pillar © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Cape Pillar and The Blade. What a highlight! Stunning views of Cape Raoul and Cape Hauy. Directly in front of you stands Tasman Island. The lighthouse, the old tramway, the houses… a bygone era on display in such wild surroundings. Walk back to Munro, pick up your pack and head to Retakunna.

Day 4

Cape Hauy
Cape Hauy © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The finish line is near. All that remains between you and it is a mountain, Cape Hauy and an aching body. The views, both up close in the rainforest and further afield of the capes, are worth it. Should you walk out to Cape Hauy and back? Yes, you should! Beautiful 360’ views plus the Totem Pole and Candlestick (famous to rock climbers) beneath you make standing at the end of this this cape particularly spectacular. A short walk later, you’re standing by the clear waters of Fortescue Bay, waiting for a bus back to Port Arthur. What an incredible journey!

What to Bring

Cape Raoul from Surveyors
Cape Raoul from Surveyors © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Pack (one of) each item on the packing list provided by Parks and Wildlife. Remember that, although it is very luxurious, this is a hike and you need to self-cater. Make sure that your rainwear is good quality and covers you from head to ankle and that your boots are worn in. Blisters, bruises and getting wet are annoyances that you just don’t need on a journey like this. For the first night (or two), pack fresh food to enjoy. After this, dehydrated will do. You’ll need some trail mix to keep you going during the day. As a Tasmanian, I’m always devastated when tourists who go bushwalking end up hurt (or worse). Always, always, always carry water, sun protection, a jacket/jumper, rainwear, sturdy footwear, food, a first aid kit and a phone with you, even on short day walks.

What Not to Bring

Pillars
Pillars © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

My aching back reminds me that this section is of particular importance! I would NOT bring any luxury items with me. My mistake was packing a spare change of clothes (you need one outfit plus one contingency for wet/cold weather), a spare towel and small containers of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser. Despite having a lovely hot shower on Day 2, I didn’t use these items at all. Things I didn’t bring and would strongly advise others not to bring are luxuries like make-up, extra food (you can only eat so much!) and gadgets. Enjoy going bush, in every sense of the word!

Getting There

Pennicott Wilderness Journeys
Pennicott Wilderness Journeys © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Your cruise leaves from Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. This is 1 hour and 45 minutes’ drive east of Hobart. There are many fantastic spots to explore (or detour to) on the way, including Eaglehawk Neck, Dunalley and Richmond so take your time. Alternatively, arrive early and explore Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula like I did. It’s a fantastic area.

Cost

Crescent Bay
Crescent Bay © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

At $495 per adult ($396 per concession/child), the Three Capes Track experience may seem expensive, but you’ll soon see where your money goes. Firstly, you’ll have a (short) Pennicott Wilderness Journeys Cruise and two-year access to Port Arthur Historic Site. The limit on walkers (48 per hut) means that you can have “alone in the wilderness” experiences. You are treated very gently, from the track underfoot to the thick mattress awaiting you of an evening. Once you’ve seen the rangers (and even the helicopters!) in action, as well as the story starters and some of the trickier sections of the track, you’ll appreciate that it’s a bargain!

For more information about my Three Capes Track experience, read my summaries of Day 1Day 2Day 3 or Day 4. Alternatively, read about places to visit on the Tasman Peninsula or in Tasmania’s south.