Saturday, November 08, 2014

Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania is one of the Australian Convict Sites, a World Heritage property. This former convict settlement is Tasmania's top tourist attraction.

The Australian Convict Sites are eleven convict colonies that represent the thousands of penal settlements established in Australia between 1787 to 1868. This eighty year period saw the transportation of over 166,000 men, women and children, condemned by the British justice system to Australia. Five of the sites are in Tasmania, namely Brickendon and Woolmers EstatesDarlington Probation StationCascades Female FactoryCoal Mines Historic Site, and the Port Arthur Historic Site which I got to visit.

Port Arthur was said to be the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, secondary offenders (meaning those who committed crimes after their arrival in Australia), and rebellious personalities from other convict stations. It is about 60 kilometers from Hobart. To visit it, you either have to join a tour group or rent a car, which is what I did.

The approximately 1 hour and 30 minute drive from Hobart to the Tasman Peninsula was very scenic. Views of the Tasmanian coastline will get you stopping by the roadside to absorb the scenery. In the morning, I dropped by the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, which is also in the Tasman Peninsula, before driving to Port Arthur, just 10 kilometers away.

The first stop at Port Arthur is the Visitor Centre where you purchase your passes. The Bronze Pass (AUD35) gives you basic access to the property for two consecutive days. This includes a 40 minute guided walking tour, a 30 minute harbor cruise, and access to more than 30 historic buildings, ruins, gardens and restored houses on the site. It also gives you access to the Coal Mines Historic Site at Saltwater River, also in the Tasman Peninsula. A Silver Pass (AUD70) includes a tour to either the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and Point Puer Boy’s Prison, plus lunch. While the Gold Pass (AUD100) gives you access to both. They also have an After Dark Pass and a popular Ghost Tour. But you will have to stay over night in the area since driving back to Hobart late at night is not advisable due to the winding roads.

As soon as I got my pass, I walked to the iconic Penitentiary, constructed in 1843 as a flour mill and granary, and converted in 1857 to a penitentiary. Unfortunately, it was fenced off and surrounded by hoardings due to conservation work they are undertaking this year to stabilize the ruins. So I only got to take photos of the Guard Tower, the Officers' Quarters behind it, and the Commandant's Office.

I then walked over to the Ferry Terminal for my scheduled tour around the harbor. The harbor tour allows you to come close to the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and Point Puer Boy’s Prison. But you won't see any of the structures from the ferry.

After the cruise, I walked over to another iconic building of Port Arthur – the Church. To get there, you pass through the Government Gardens and the ruins of the Government Cottage.

I also visited some of the houses that were reconstructed or restored, and refurbished to give visitors an idea of how they might have looked inside during the time Port Arthur was at its peak.

It was brief visit and there was much more to see. It's suggested that you allot five to six hours for your visit. I actually missed the guided tour since I wanted to be back in Hobart before it got dark. So I made my way back, but this time, making sure to stop at scenic lookouts along the way.

Despite having to drive on the opposite side of the road, driving around Tasmania was a pleasant experience, because of the fantastic views and the fact that there aren't that many vehicles when you leave the Hobart area.

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