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. (Most of the main ones were damaged during bushfires in 1877, shortly after the property ceased to be a penal institution.) 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$30 for adults, A$15 for children 4 to 17, and A$75 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$34 for families. Lantern-lit Historic Ghost Tours of Port Arthur leave nightly at 9pm (8:30pm during winter months) and cost A$22 for adults, A$12 for children or A$60 for a family. Reservations are essential; call tel. 1800/659 101 in Australia or 03/6251 2310. 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.
Tasmanian Devil Disaster -- Tasmania's unique carnivorous mammal, the handsomely sleek Tasmanian Devil, is in real trouble. Since 1996, the Devils have been afflicted by a cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). It has decimated the wild population -- in some areas by an estimated 90% -- and the disease is spreading rapidly. It's believed that around half the state's 150,000 Tasmanian devils have died, and some scientists fear it may wipe out the wild population entirely. Healthy specimens are being captured and relocated to try and preserve the species from extinction. There are several places where you can see captive Devils and learn more. About 80km (50 miles) from Hobart, on the Port Arthur Highway, Taranna, is the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (tel. 03/6250 3230; www.tasmaniandevilpark.com), which is breeding devils with genes that could make them resistant to the disease. The park is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Another great place to see Devils near Hobart is Bonorong Park Wildlife Centre. In the north, Trowunna Wildlife Park at Mole Creek, near Deloraine (tel. 03/6363 6162; www.trowunna.com.au), is a rehabilitation and conservation center with a population of 40 Devils, as well as other native wildlife. For more information on Devil conservation efforts, visit www.tassiedevil.com.au.
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.