A Day Trip to Port Arthur
Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula, is an incredibly picturesque yet haunting place. Set on one of Australia’s prettiest harbors, it shelters the remains of Tasmania’s largest penal colony. It’s the state’s number-one tourist destination, and you really should plan to spend at least a day here.
From 1830 to 1877, Port Arthur was one of the harshest institutions of its type anywhere in the world. It was built to house the most notorious prisoners, many of whom had escaped from lesser institutions. Nearly 13,000 convicts found their way here, and nearly 2,000 died while incarcerated. A strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck connects Port Arthur to the rest of Tasmania. Guards and dogs kept watch over this narrow path, while the authorities circulated rumors that the waters around the peninsula were shark-infested. Only a few convicts ever managed to escape, and most of them either perished in the bush or were tracked down and hanged. Look out for the blowhole and other coastal formations, including Tasman’s Arch, Devil’s Kitchen, and the Tessellated Pavement, as you pass through Eaglehawk Neck.
The Port Arthur Historic Site (tel. 1800/659 101 in Australia or 03/6251 2310; www.portarthur.org.au) is large and scattered, with around 30 19th-century buildings. You can tour the remains of the church, the guard tower, a prison, and several other buildings. Don’t miss the fascinating museum in the old lunatic asylum, which has a scale model of the prison complex, as well as leg irons and chains.
Port Arthur’s tragic history did not finish at the end of the convict era. In 1996, the Port Arthur Historic Site became the scene of one of Australia’s worst mass murders, when a lone gunman killed 35 people and injured dozens more, including tourists and staff. The devastating events of that day led to new gun-control laws for Australia that are among the strictest in the world. The gunman was sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole. Many of the staff at Port Arthur lost friends, colleagues, and family members, and still find it difficult and painful to talk about. Visitors are requested not to question their guide about these events, but to instead read the plaque at the Memorial Garden.
The site is open daily from 8:30am to dusk; admission is A$35 for adults, A$16 for children 4 to 17, and A$80 for families of two adults and up to six children. The admission price includes a guided walking tour and a boat cruise around the harbor, which leaves eight times daily in summer. Passes that combine different experiences and tours are also available. You can get off the harbor cruise for a 45-minute guided walk on the Isle of the Dead, where 1,769 convicts and 180 free settlers were buried, mostly in mass graves with no headstones. The tour costs an extra A$12 for adults, A$8 for kids, and A$35 for families. Lantern-lit Historic Ghost Tours of Port Arthur leave nightly at 9pm (8:30pm during winter months) and cost A$25 for adults, A$15 for children, or A$65 for a family. Reservations are essential. Tours run for about 90 minutes.
The main feature of the visitor center is an interesting Interpretive Gallery, which takes visitors through the process of sentencing in England to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. The gallery contains a courtroom, a section of a transport ship’s hull, a blacksmith’s shop, a lunatic asylum, and more.
A Day Trip to Mount Field National Park
Mount Field National Park, about 80km (50 miles) northwest of Hobart, is one of the prettiest in Tasmania. It was proclaimed a national park in 1916 to protect a plateau dominated by dolerite-capped mountains (Mount Field West is the highest point at 1,417m/4,647 ft.) and dramatic glaciated valleys (some of the lakes and tarns were formed 30,000 years ago). The most mountainous regions support alpine moorlands of cushion plants, pineapple and sword grass, waratahs, and giant pandani. You can get a look at these changing environments on a 16km (10-mile) drive from the park entrance to Lake Dobson along an unpaved and often badly rutted road, which is not suitable for conventional vehicles in winter or after heavy rains. Wallabies, wombats, bandicoots, Tasmanian Devils, and quolls are prolific, as is the birdlife. You may see black cockatoos, green rosellas, honeyeaters, currawongs, wedge-tailed eagles, and lyrebirds. There are many walking trails, including one to the spectacular 45m (148-ft.) Russell Falls, near the park’s entrance. The walk to the falls along a paved, wheelchair-accessible track takes 15 minutes and passes ferns and forests, with some of Tasmania’s tallest trees, swamp gums up to 85m (279 ft.) high.
Mount Field National Park is just over an hour’s drive from Hobart via New Norfolk. From Hobart, take the Brooker Highway (A10) northwest to New Norfolk. After New Norfolk you can follow the road on either side of the Derwent River (the A10 or B62) until you reach Westerway. From there, it is a short drive to the clearly marked entrance to Mount Field National Park. There is an entrance fee of A$12 per person or A$24 per car (up to eight people). Grayline (tel. 1300/858 687 in Australia; www.grayline.com.au) offers a day tour from Hobart on Tuesdays and Sundays, costing A$120 for adults and A$60 for kids ages 4 to 14, including entrance fees to the national park.
The park’s visitor center (tel. 03/6288 1149; www.parks.tas.gov.au) on Lake Dobson Road has a cafe and information on walks. It’s open daily from 8:30am to 5pm between November and April and 9am to 4pm in winter.
A day trip to Bothwell
Bothwell is a charming little town an hour’s drive north of Hobart, with several claims to fame. Set on the picturesque Clyde River at the foothills of the central Tasmanian highlands, the town was settled by Scottish colonists in 1822, with convict labor building many of the sandstone establishments still lining the streets today. Bothwell’s major claim to fame is as the home of Ratho, Australia’s oldest golf course, established the same year (tel. 03/6259 5553; www.rathofarm.com). Ratho is a public course, and green fees are only A$35.
After a round, drop into the Australasian Golf Museum (tel. 03/6259 4033; www.ausgolfmuseum.com), which doubles as the local information center, on Market Place. While you’re there, pick up a brochure that gives you a self-guided tour of Bothwell’s many historic buildings.
And then there’s the lure of a whisky distillery at nearby Nant Estate (tel. 03/6259 5790; www.nantdistillery.com.au), built in 1821. Today, it offers whisky tours, tastings, dinners, and the option to buy a 100-liter barrel of whisky with bespoke bottling and labeling. The distillery is open daily 10am–5pm, and tours (from A$55) run daily at 11am and 3pm (bookings essential).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.