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Are you looking for something to do outside of Hobart? A day trip to Port Arthur is the perfect way to see more of Tasmania. Port Arthur is one of Tasmania’s most popular tourist destinations. The site is a former penal colony and is now a World Heritage Site. This is day trip is essential for your Tasmania bucket list!
Tasmania is one of our favourite destinations in Australia and the place we spent our first babymoon, on an 8 day Tasmanian road trip travelling from Hobart to Launceston and seeing some of the main attractions.
One of the places we knew we wanted to see during our first time in Tasmania was the Port Arthur Historic Site.
Port Arthur Historic Site is situated approximately 90 minutes from Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, at the southern end of the Tasman Peninsula. It happens to be home to some of Australia‘s most interesting (and tragic) history.
The most famous of the sites is the Port Arthur Penitentiary, where many of Australia’s early convicts and criminals did their time.
It is also sadly the site of one of Australia’s worst crimes, the 1996 massacre that took place on the grounds, claiming many innocent lives.
As well as a prison, the Historic Site is home to a dockyard, convict church, museum houses, a hospital, coal mines, and expansive gardens, all formed as part of the greater prison community.
The site is heritage listed, with the opportunity to learn so much about this piece of Australian history.
For me, prison tours are always a little more interesting than they may be for some, as my background is in the prison system as a psychologist. This is a career I left in mid-2014 after close to a decade of working in the field so I love hearing the comparison between historic prisons and their modern counterparts.
You will actually be surprised in some cases how many similarities still exist, and Port Arthur is certainly no exception.
The Port Arthur Penitentiary was originally constructed in 1843 as a flour mill and granary before converting in 1857. It was originally capable of housing close to 500 convicts overall.
It had a Watchmen’s Quarters, a meals mess, library, chapel, workshops and ablutions complex on the grounds, however, the building was destroyed by fire back in 1987. The remains of the original penitentiary stand today, with the conservation project commencing in the 1960s to maintain what was left of the historic site.
More recently, a project has been in place to ensure the conservation of the prison remains for future generations.
During a visit to Port Arthur, you are able to walk through the remains of the penitentiary safely, which gives you an idea of how impressive the structure once was.
There are lots of historic notes around the site, to give you an idea of how each of the areas was utilised, and other significant events that took place.
How To Get To Port Arthur From Hobart
To get to Port Arthur from Hobart, you can either drive yourself or take a guided day tour, departing from Hobart.
If you’re driving to Port Arthur, it takes about 1.5 hours to get there.
It is an easy drive although take care of wildlife on the roads, especially if you are travelling back from Port Arthur to Hobart after dark.
If you’re taking a Port Arthur day tour from Hobart, the drive is usually about 2 hours to account for hotel pick-up stops.
The Best Port Arthur Tours From Hobart
There are plenty of Port Arthur tours departing from Hobart. Here are some of the best tours:
Port Arthur Historic Site and Boat Tour with Tasman Island Cruise: This is the tour we did minus the coach pick up and it was amazing! Everything we wanted to fit in during our visit to Port Arthur. This tour includes a guided exploration of the Port Arthur Historic Site, a boat tour, and a wilderness cruise around Tasman Island.
Port Arthur Ghost Tour: For something different, try a Port Arthur ghost tour. These tours take place after dark and are led by a guide who will share stories of the ghosts that are said to haunt the site.
Port Arthur & Tasmanian Devil Unzoo Experience: This is a great option for animal lovers. The Tasmanian Devil Unzoo is located just outside of Port Arthur and is home to Tasmanian Devils, quolls, pademelons, and more. The experience includes a guided tour, animal encounters, and the opportunity to feed the animals. You will also visit historic Richmond Village, Isle of the Dead cruise and see Tasman National Park highlights.
Port Arthur & Lavender Farm: For something truly unique, visit the Port Arthur Lavender Farm. This is the only lavender farm in Tasmania and it’s a beautiful spot. The farm is located just outside of Port Arthur. The tour includes a guided walk through the lavender fields, a visit to the distillery, and a lavender-infused lunch.
Tour with Isle of the Dead Cruise: This tour includes a visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site as well as a guided Isle of the Dead Cruise. The Isle of the Dead is a small island in the harbour where many of the convicts were buried.
Port Arthur Highlights Tour: This is a great option if you’re short on time. The tour includes a visit to the Port Arthur Historical Site, Tasman National Park, and a chance to see Pirates Bay, Eaglehawk Neck and Norfolk Bay.
Got your own transport? You can also purchase a site entry pass if you have your own transport, which gives you entry to the attraction upon arrival. Your pass includes a guided walking tour, harbour cruise and access to all the historic ruins.
When To Visit Port Arthur
The best time to visit Port Arthur is from October to April. This is when the weather is at its best. The temperatures are mild and there is less rain. However, Port Arthur is open all year round. If you are visiting in the cooler months (May-September), you can expect cooler temperatures.
Our Port Arthur Prison Tour Experience
We joined a Port Arthur prison tour, which is a guided tour that occurs at regular intervals throughout the day.
We had a fantastic and engaging tour guide who had such incredible knowledge of the site. He spoke of the importance of work or education for the convicts, how these were mandatory to ensure released convicts had skills to help them if they returned to society. This especially has such a parallel with modern corrections.
A separate prison was constructed back in 1950, which formed what we know these days as the solitary confinement area. Single cells, isolated from other convicts and only given an hour a day of exercise in the adjoining exercise yard.
Not unlike many of Australia’s maximum-security facilities now.
This area of the site is still in good condition since it was unaffected by the fire that destroyed the main prison area.
Another impressive structure on the Port Arthur Historic Site is the convict church. While also destroyed by fire, the church has undergone several rebuilds over time and is worth a visit on its own, with its impressive high walls and large space to accommodate convicts and staff all at once.
There are several houses located nearby the prison and church grounds that were home to many of the important individuals involved in the prison management over the years. Many are now restored and able to be viewed during your visit and some are said to be haunted. Eeeek!
Between the houses and the prison sites are some lovely expansive gardens, filled with colourful flowers and greenery. There is also the ever-so-important Commandant’s garden, planted back in 1950 and maintained since, along with the Commandant’s well-preserved residence.
Overall, Port Arthur Historic Site is an interesting attraction, well worth the visit. It will particularly appeal if you are a fan of history… or prisons.
There is enough to fill a couple of hours easily during the visit, with extra seasonal activities such as a cruise. There is also a restaurant on site that serves great food and plenty of variety to suit all tastes.
Planning Your Visit To Port Arthur Tasmania
Ready to plan your visit? We’ve put together a guide of the essentials to help you prepare for an interesting day out on your day trip to Port Arthur:
Port Arthur Entrance Fees
The Port Arthur Historic site entry fees vary depending on whether you are taking a day tour from Hobart to Port Arthur or making your own way there and only require admission.
Our entry was inclusive of a Tasman Island Cruise which we did prior to entering Port Arthur. However, you can purchase both attractions separately too.
The price at the time of writing (June 2022) is $45 AU for adults, $36 for concessions and $20 for adults.
Entry into the Port Arthur Gallery, including interactive exhibits and displays that tell the story of Port Arthur Historic Site.
A guided Introductory Walking Tour – These run regularly throughout the day
A 20-minute Harbour Cruise
Access to 30+ historic buildings, ruins, heritage gardens, restored homes and walking trails throughout the historic site.
Extra tours and experiences, including the Port Arthur night tours, ghost tours and Escape From Port Arthur experience are at an extra cost, as is a day tour incorporating transport from Hobart or elsewhere.
Getting To Port Arthur
There are plenty of bus services and tours available to transport you to Port Arthur from Hobart and other parts of Tasmania.
You can also hire a car in Tasmania which is perfect if you plan to do a Tasmanian road trip or simply have the flexibility to do your own day trips when visiting the beautiful Australian state.
We had a hire car and took the self-drive option. If you choose to travel to Port Arthur via private transport, be mindful of the windy roads and wildlife. It is the one downfall to the beautiful natural scenery along the way.
Accommodation Near Port Arthur
If you are looking to spend more time in the area, there are plenty of great places to stay near Port Arthur. Check out these highly-rated options that are suited to families visiting the area:
Port Arthur Historic Site has plenty to see and is suitable for children, however, younger children may become restless during guided tours, depending on their interest level. They may also be too young for certain tour options, like ghost tours.
Overall, a visit to Port Arthur Historic Site is family-friendly.
Other Things To Do Near Port Arthur & The Tasman Peninsula
There is plenty to see and do near Port Arthur, so be sure to leave some time in your itinerary to explore the area. Here are a few of our favourite things to do:
Tasman Island Wilderness Cruise:This cruise is a great way to see the island’s coastline and wildlife up close. It was one of our favourite experiences in Tasmania!
Pirate’s Bay Lookout: This scenic spot is the perfect place to snap a photo or just take in the incredible views over Eaglehawk Neck and Pirate’s Bay below.
Fossil Bay Lookout: Another great spot for taking in the views of the ocean cliffs and the Blowhole.
Port Arthur Lavender Farm: This lovely farm is a great place to relax and enjoy the fresh lavender scent in the air and of course, try the lavender ice cream.
Tasmanian Devil Unzoo: This unique zoo is home to a number of Tasmanian devils, and provides a great opportunity to learn more about these amazing animals.
Hike Cape Hauy: This moderate grade 3 hike is 4 hours return and offers stunning views of the coastline. This hike is also on Tasmania’s Great Short Walks list.
Tasman National Park: This park is a nature lover’s paradise, with hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife galore.
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