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Port Review: Port Arthur, Tasmania

By:
Joanna Hall
 

A village and historic site nestled in southern Tasmania, Port Arthur has become a popular destination on southern cruise itineraries in Australia for a lineup of reasons, including spooky ones.

Overview

Port Arthur nestles on the southern tip of the Tasman peninsula around 60 kilometres from Hobart. Its claim to fame is being home to one of the world’s largest and best preserved nineteenth-century penal colonies, an open air museum which is also one of Australia’s most significant heritage sites. Although there is a small town of the same name, the focus is the historic site which forms part of the Australian Convict Sites, a World Heritage property consisting of eleven remnant penal sites originally built within the British Empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on fertile Australian coastal strips. Port Arthur was named for George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, and dates back to 1820 when it started out as a timber station.

The Facts

Location: On the south east coast of Tasmania.

Language: English.

Currency: Australian dollar. 

Docking/anchoring: Ships anchor in Carnarvon Bay, just off the Port Arthur Historic Site, and tender passengers to a pier. 

Transport: The Historic Site can be visited on foot from the pier, however, if you’re taking any other tours you will be picked up from there by bus. There isn’t really anywhere of interest to explore independently from the site. 

Don’t Miss

The Separate Prison is a place where flogging gave way to solitary confinement. Built in 1850, the building consists of solitary cells separated by thick sandstone wall, and narrow exercise yard.

The lovely grounds and gardens of Port Arthur make the site less bleak as you’d imagine. One of the best spaces is the stunning formal Government Garden, which used to be enjoyed by the women and officers who lived there, and is packed with ornamental trees and flowering plants.

There are several Museum Houses but the best preserved is arguably the Junior Medical Officer’s House where most of the building and its fittings remain intact.

The Penitentiary is an imposing ruin which needed some much needed conservation work in recent years following a major storm, and reopened in 2015. It was constructed in 1843 as a flour mill and granary, and in 1857 was converted into a penitentiary and home to over 480 convicts. 

Best Photo Op

Although the historic site has many lovely settings, including preserved buildings and gardens, the best views are from the water, either from your ship, or on the tender boat ride into the jetty.

Shopping

The only shopping at Port Arthur Historic Site is a gift shop where you can buy books about Port Arthur and Tasmania, also arts, crafts and jewellery.

Food and Drink

There are two cafés for light foods and drinks, including the Port Café in the Visitor Centre at the entrance to the site, and the Museum Coffee Shop which is in the Asylum building. Both offer coffee, cakes, snacks, and lights meals with wine. The Felon’s Bistro is the place to enjoy dinner.

Pick of the Excursions  

If you’re ship is making a call at Hobart on your cruise, there may be an option to take a day-long tour there for sightseeing and shopping if Port Arthur isn’t on your itinerary.

If you have seen Port Arthur before, consider taking a eco-cruise adventure where you can spot abundant wildlife including seals, dolphins and birds of prey, and fascinating sea caves. 

 

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