One of the best things to do in Tasmania, and the most interesting, is to visit the Port Arthur Historic Site.
I first visited Port Arthur in March, but it was only for an hour on my Amazing race around Australia.
Despite this short time there, I fell in love with it and was determined to return.
Port Arthur has a violent and troubled history as a penal colony for some of Australia’s hardened convicts, yet it’s pastoral beauty brings this contrasting sense of peace and happiness.
I sensed that a lot of love once lived amongst the sandstone buildings and vibrant gardens as well. Many free settlers lived in the area too.
Upon return this time, I discovered I enjoyed the Port Arthur World Heritage Site just as much. It’s possibly the best historical site I’ve been to in Australia.
It offers plenty of opportunities to learn the history and the stories of the people who once lived in the settlement. I learned it’s also a fantastic place to bring children. Kalyra had a ball and learned so much about convicts and the history of her culture.
The Port Arthur entry ticket gives you a 2-day access, and she was bursting to return the next day to learn more.
We raced back to the first exhibit so she could learn more about her convict. When you arrive at Port Arthur, you are given a playing card. When you first enter the museum, the story of 52 convicts are told. You find the person that corresponds to your card and you follow their card through the ship to learn of their fate.
Coincidentally, Craig and I got the same named person. Kalyra spent the remainder of our time at Port Arthur asking about William, her little convict boy.
“Is this where my William slept Mummy?”
“But what about William, what did he do?”
I loved the connection this one simple interaction gave her to the experience and the story.
The next day, after she heard about the ghost tour Craig and I did the evening before, she was brave enough to venture into the parsonage house with me – known the be in the top 5 most haunted places in Australia.
I did not tell here that 60% of the 1,600 documented ghost sightings have occurred in the daylight. I’m not sure she would have been so keen to race through the house, the crumbling church walls, and the separate prison to hear more of the ghostly tales.
The separate prison was the eeriest place on the site and the one that made you realize just how cruel humans can be to one another.
I felt the anguish and the desperation seeping from the walls from those who once sat in the cells shut off from the sensory world to reflect upon their crimes to come out enlightened beings.
I guess you could call it that!
Things to do at the Port Arthur Historic Site
Guided walking tours of the Port Arthur site are conducted throughout the day and are part of the entry to the park. We highly suggest you jumping on one of these.
It is a fantastic way to hear the history and the stories and form a deeper connection with the significance of the historical site. The guides are super informative and passionate about Port Arthur.
A 20 minute boat cruise takes you out into the harbour and past the Isle of the Dead where around 1000 bodies were buried, and Point Puer, which is the where the young boys of the colony were kept.
You can pay extra to stop off with a guide to explore both places in a little more depth.
We have a separate post dedicated to the Port Arthur nightly ghost tour. I LOVED it. It was soooo much fun and well worth doing.
It’s the best ghost tour I have ever been on and I loved seeing Port Arthur lit up by the full moon and our guide’s lantern. Just knowing you are walking the grounds of the most haunted place in Australia is enough to get your “thrill o meter” shooting up.
It’s probably not for the young kids, but this summer from December 28 – January 26 at 7:30pm daily a PG kid’s version of the Ghost tour will run.
Summer activities for the kids
I was stoked to hear of the great programs they offer for the kids during the summer.
The children make their own peg doll or replica 1/4 size convict brick, learn about early animation by assembling a phantascope, or make convict love tokens.
Activities are offered in two sessions each day, 12–1.30pm and 2–3pm in the Education Centre.
Kalyra and Savannah were lucky enough to have the opportunity to make sandstone bricks. The clay was mixed with some of the convict sandstone buildings which made it a little bit more of a special souvenir.
You can read more about the summer activities here.
Port Arthur Historic Site is located a 90 minute drive from Hobart along the Tasman and Arthur Highways and forms part of the Convict Trail Touring Route – a journey through rolling farmland and coastal forests, seaside villages.
A public bus operates from Hobart to Port Arthur by Tassie Link.
For complete details on the Port Arthur experience visit the official website.
Disclaimer: We visited as guests of Port Arthur Historical site