Port Arthur is a quaint village steeped in convict history. I was pleasantly surprised by Port Arthur. A place that holds much sadness and history yet I was struck by the contrasting beauty of the spectacular coastline, natural scenery and serenity of this site. This is our Port Arthur Guide.
The World Heritage listed Port Arthur site dates back to 1830 as a penal settlement. A 90-minute drive from Hobart, the Port Arthur Site is regarded as one of the top places to visit in Tasmania.
Separated from Tasmania by a narrow neck of land, Port Arthur was known as the ‘inescapable prison’. It was the punishment centre for second-time offenders, housing over 12,500 convicts before it closed in 1877.
Now it hosts more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes set in 40 hectares of stunning landscaped grounds and gardens.
Some of what you can expect on your visit
Upon arrival, you are given site entry which is valid for two consecutive days and includes access to a 40-minute, introductory walking tour. Your guide shares extensive information on Port Arthur and its past. You also receive a set time to meet at the ferry dock to take a 20-minute leisurely cruise on the harbour passing the Dockyard, Point Puer Boys’ Prison and the Isle of the Dead. All of which are landmarks in Port Arthur. You can access these sites and hear about their distinctive stories by joining a guided tour (there is an additional cost for these two tours).
A fun way for the children to immerse themselves in the fascinating history was with the playing cards. Each person receives a card upon entry, and you had to find your matching card in the Visitor Centre, depicting one Port Arthur Convict. Open the door to find information on the life and identity of this person.
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A day can easily be spent exploring and reading about the ruins and buildings or learning information on the convict’s lives who were sent to Port Arthur. Another wonderful aspect of Port Arthur is their activities available. During our visit, the kids could partake in making a Port Arthur peg doll, and there were afternoon performances held around the grounds at various times for anyone who wanted to hear more about life in the settlement.
- Arrive as early as possible if you plan to spend one day at the site. I was surprised how large the area was and how much there is to explore, see and do.
- Ensure you pack hats, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes as you will be exposed to the elements for most of the time you are walking around the grounds.
- Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the shade of the grand trees in the gardens.
- The activities are not available all day. Check the guide for what’s on so you can plan your day.
- Due to the vastness of the Port Arthur site if you have young children pack a pram or hire one from the visitor centre.
The Port Café in the Visitor Centre is open daily for breakfast and closes after dinner offering hot and cold meals, snacks, sandwiches and sweet treats. We chose the takeaway option to allow us more time around the grounds.
Highlights of Port Arthur
If you have little time and want to experience as much of Port Arthur as possible, this is a suggested itinerary for your day.
- Take the 40-minute Introductory Walking Tour and the 20-minute Harbour Cruise with the tour guides. These gave you a great overview of the history at Port Arthur and starting point for what else you might like to explore.
- The Penitentiary is the main focal point on the grounds which you can walk through stopping to read the information boards which share the lives of some of the prisoners.
- The Separate Prison is where unruly prisoners went to serve a sentence of solitary confinement.
- Take a step back in time and walk through the Commandant’s House that sits on the hill overlooking the bay.
- Watching over the site of Port Arthur is the Convict Church. With only its outer stone walls intact you can still appreciate the workmanship and labour that went into creating this magnificent building- a building that held hope for prisoners to reform through religion.
- Admire the beautiful gardens and floral displays around the grounds.
Open from 9 am until dusk. House and Buildings open between 10.00am and 5.00pm.
Port Arthur Ghost Tour
With young children, we opted not to partake in the Port Arthur Ghost Tour. However, I have shared the information for those interested in this unique experience.
Port Arthurs 90-minute Ghost Tour is based around storytelling, and you will depart with your guide each evening with only a lantern and the moon to guide you around the grounds and buildings. The tour departs at various times during the year depending on the month.
Tips on the Port Arthur Ghost Tour
- 50% of the tour is outdoors and with around 2kms of walking, wear comfortable footwear and something warm. Umbrellas are not allowed on tour, so they suggest ponchos as the tour still goes ahead if it is raining.
- All children on the tours must be accompanied by an adult and even though there are no special effects used Port Arthur after dark is an eerie setting.
- Based on the popularity of the tours, it is recommended to purchase your tickets and book ahead on the Port Arthur Website.
Do you have a tip to share from your Port Arthur Visit?