A roadtrip to Port Arthur is not one you’ll soon forget. Port Arthur Historic Site is one of 11 historic sites in Australia that together form the Australian Convicts Sites World Heritage. However, while the history of Port Arthur is engaging for the entire family, the drive from Hobart is just as exciting.
Traveling to Port Arthur from Hobart is easy. We rented a GPS unit from our rental car agency, but signage was frequent and helpful. The roads were another story. Roads in Tasmania are NARROW. While Google maps says you can make it to Port Arthur in 1 hour and 23 minutes from central Hobart, I’d add another 20 minutes WITHOUT stops. You’ll want to travel in safety. 🙂
That said, making the stops on the way to Port Arthur was definitely a highlight. We don’t have these vistas in mid-America! It’s said that the air in Tasmania is some of the cleanest in the world- And just from our road side view, the water appears to be just as clean.
After a quick stop at the beautiful Dunalley Bay, we noticed a turn-off for a lookout (and almost lost the rental on some washed-out road), but the danger was worth the cost:
Tasman National Park- what a view.
The kids were getting hungry and tired so we knew we could only probably make one more stop before continuing on to Port Arthur. We chose going to the Tasman Peninsula Blowhole. The kids were impressed, there was lots of room to run around, there were toilets, and there was a food truck with ice cream. #winning
This area is also known as Doo-Town. Where every house, boat, etc has a “Doo” name. This added some quirky fun to our Tasmanian roadtrip.
We made a doo-parture from Dootown (see what I did there?) and headed straight to Port Arthur.
Port Arthur Historic Site
Upon entering the Visitor Centre we were unsure as to what all the kids would be up to. Remember, our group ranged in age from 70 (sorry, dad!) to 2, so we needed to accommodate a lot of attention spans. The lady at the desk was very helpful and we decided to go with the standard entry ticket which includes access to all of the buildings, a 25-minute boat tour, and a 40-minute walking tour. As a plus to traveling with small children, kids under 6 are free, so Brian and I just had to pay for ourselves- the cost for adults was $37 AUD each. This is comparable to other Australian attractions and it is actually a two-day ticket, making it VERY affordable.
My only disappointment was that the walking tour wasn’t actually much of a walking tour. We walked maybe 100 feet. I was hoping we’d cover more of the grounds but the guide stood in a central location and just pointed to various sites. I think she was being considerate of some of the older crowd in our group (not my dad, ha!). I was thankful I’d packed little activities for the kids to hold. It was HOT and the information presented was probably more than these two cared to hear. Lol.
After the walking tour we roamed the buildings as we waited for the next timed boat tour. In retrospect, I wish we would have foregone the boat tour and just toured the buildings. The boat was packed and it was difficult to hear the guide. I’ve heard mixed reviews though, so if you go, do what feels best. If you are doing a tour of the Isle of the Dead of Point Puer Boys’ Prison, you’ll have to take the boat.
Places like this have a soft spot in my heart because being among the ruins allows you to picture how it would have been living there. This was a time when women were solely child-rearing homemakers and very few women existed on the island- except the Captain’s wives. Boys as young as 6 were doing hard manual labor! The guide pointed out to Jackson that at his age he’d be working 12 hours a day. In our day and age, it’s hard to understand how any child could become a convict.
Pictured above, The Penitentiary, one of the most photographed sites at Port Arthur. This building originally served as a flour mill, but as the convict numbers increased and the mill failed to supply enough flour, this was turned into a four story prison. The two lower floors were for the prisoners of the worst behavior.
I love old churches, so the ruins of “The Church,” built in 1837 with convict labor, was a highlight for me. Up to 1100 people attended the compulsory services each Sunday, as religion played a big role in convict reform. Walking through this reverent site, I thought of the young boys from the Point Puer prison that constructed much of the decorative stonework.
The government gardens were another memorable spot. This quiet space was off-limits to convicts.
If you go:
- Take plenty of water. We went the first week of February and it was HOT. There isn’t a ton of shade, so pack your sunscreen as well.
- Give your family plenty of time to really take in the history. In hindsight, we may have stayed the night near Port Arthur and went back the next morning. There’s much to see and one afternoon isn’t enough time.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife! We were lucky enough to spot an echidna.
Oh, Tasmania. You took a little piece of my heart. Seeing how my beloved country began (albeit a little depressing) was worth the roadtrip. Don’t miss this.
For your continued reading: A Walking Tour of Hobart + tips for if you go