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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.