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Why Port Arthur in Tasmania is so Fascinating

Port Arthur in Tasmania

Is Port Arthur in Australia worth visiting? The answer is definitely YES! Port Arthur is one of the most important historical sites in Australia and the UNESCO World Heritage site has a grim history that fascinates visitors with horror stories of early convict settlements. People love visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania because of its historical significance and also for its dramatic setting. The stunning location on the wild and beautiful Tasman Peninsula adds to Port Arthur’s appeal.

What to do in Port Arthur Australia

If you’re wondering what to do in Port Arthur, visiting the Port Arthur historical site should be at the top of your list but there are plenty of other attractions and activities to keep you busy on the Tasman Peninsula. Visiting Port Arthur is an easy day trip from Hobart. it takes around 90 minutes to drive so you can see the Historical site in a day but I recommend planning to stay longer. Spend a few days soaking up the history, the stunning scenery and the unique Australian wildlife in the area. Inside the Tasman National Park, there are hiking trails, incredible lookout points, caves, blowholes and rock formations that are worth seeing.

Port Arthur  in Tasmania
Port Arthur Tasmania

If you enjoy wine tasting you’ll find lots of opportunities on the drive from Hobart. Just look out for vineyards with open cellar doors. Other popular stops are the Port Arthur Lavender Farm and the Unzoo where you can see endangered Tasmanian Devils at feeding time and hand-feed wild kangaroos and wallabies.

Many of the attractions in Port Arthur are accessible by car and if you’re not driving you can book a tour from Hobart. But to really appreciate the amazing scenery, it’s a good idea to take a wilderness cruise from Port Arthur or to go bushwalking in the National Park. The Three Capes Track is a popular multi-day hike that begins at the Port Arthur Historic site and continues along this extraordinary and stunning coastline.

I spent 2 days visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania and wished I could stay longer. Below I’ve listed what to do in Port Arthur and included the best things to do on the Tasman Peninsula.

**Covid-19 restrictions have eased but may still apply to travel in Australia. Check with your local government for up-to-date information.

Endangered Tasmanian Devil
An endangered Tasmanian Devil at the Unzoo in Port Arthur Tasmania

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Visit the Port Arthur Historic Site

The Historic Site at Port Arthur in Australia is World Heritage-listed and has many stories to tell of the people who lived and died there. The grounds are huge with beautiful gardens and ruins to explore.

Visiting Port Arthur is popular and pre-bookings are essential so buy your entry tickets in advance. Tickets are valid for 2 consecutive days and include a short introductory tour and a 20-minute harbour cruise. You can wander around the ruins on your own or book a guided day tour for a more in-depth experience. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the lovely grounds or grab a bite to eat at the cafe in the Visitors Centre.

Established in 1830 as a timber station, Port Arthur in Tasmania was a secondary penal colony. The worst of the prisoners were sent here and the site was chosen for its remote and inhospitable location. Making escape impossible for the unlucky convicts who were imprisoned here was a priority at the time.

Ruins of a church at Port Arthur
Port Arthur Tasmania

When you are visiting Port Arthur you’ll wander amongst the ruins. There’s a huge penitentiary, solitary confinement cells, and the shell of a church up on the hill. Nearby are some restored cottages used by the priest and the doctor with pretty English gardens.

There’s also a memorial garden for the unlucky visitors who died in the Port Arthur gun massacre. In 1996, Australia was horrified by a mass shooting at the Port Arthur Historic site. In this brutal attack, a gunman opened fire, killing 35 people and wounding 23. Sweeping political changes resulted and tight gun laws were introduced that restrict the use of firearms in Australia. There has not been another massacre since.

Visit the Eagle Hawk Neck

The Eagle Hawk Neck separates the Port Arthur prison from the rest of the Tasman Peninsula and is a narrow sandbar 30 metres wide. You can visit the infamous dog line where ferocious dogs were chained to deter escapees. To instil even more fear in the convicts, rumours of dangerous, shark-infested waters were circulated. Nearby, there’s a lookout point with expansive views across the Neck, Pirates Bay and the rugged coastline.

Things to do in the Tasman National Park

One of the main attractions of Port Arthur in Australia is The Tasman National Park. The wildness of the natural landscape is breathtaking and you can explore the stunning coastline of the Tasman Peninsula by car or on foot. Watch huge waves crashing against soaring sea cliffs and enjoy the many bushwalks in the National Park. You’ll need to drive or take a tour to see the rock formations at the Tasman Arch and Blowhole, Waterfall Bay Remarkable Cave and the Tessellated Pavement.

** A Tasmanian National Parks Pass is needed to visit the Tasman National Park. It costs $24 per car for a day visit or $82 for a holiday pass. Passes are available from National Parks Centres and online.

Remarkable Cave Port Arthur
Remarkable Cave, Port Arthur Tasmania

The Remarkable Caveon on the Tasman Peninsula is awe-inspiring. There’s an amazing view of the wild seas and the coastline from the lookout near the car park and from there it’s a steep walk down the stairs to the Remarkable Cave. Huge waves crash through the small cave and onto a rocky beach creating lots of noise and spray.

The Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen are impressive geological formations in the Tasman National Park. There are several lookout points close to each other joined by easy walking trails. Near the Tasman Arch is the Devil’s Kitchen where a vertical cliff face with striking patterns looms over the churning white water below. Local aboriginal people thought this place was inhabited by cannibal spirits whose cooking fires were represented by the dark markings on the cliffside.

The Tessellated Pavement is an interesting natural rock platform on the Tasman Peninsula, formed from compacted sediments around 3 million years ago. Get there early in the morning for sunrise if you can. On a low tide, the wet rock platform reflects the beautiful sky colours.

There’s a Blowhole on Eagle Hawk Neck next to the car park and a beach and lookout point nearby.

Tasman Peninsula Walks

There are many great walks to choose from on the Tasman Peninsula so set aside some time to explore the National Park on foot. Here are some of the best:

The 3 Capes Walk – 4 days / 3 nights

The Three Capes walk is one of the most popular trails in Tasmania. The spectacular coastal scenery on the Tasman Peninsula draws walkers from all over Australia and around the world. The track is well maintained and you can sleep in eco-cabins along the way (for a fee) or carry your own gear and camp at the campsites. Click here for more information.

Fortescue Bay to Cape Hauy – 4 hours return

This is a beautiful walk on the Tasman Peninsula that passes through heathland to spectacular sea cliffs and some of the most magnificent and untamed scenery in Tasmania. This walk joins the Three Capes Track and begins at the Fortescue Bay car park. There’s a campsite with basic facilities inside the National Park at Fortescue Bay.

Maingon Lookout, Port Arthur, Tasmania
Maingon Lookout, Port Arthur Tasmania

Crescent Bay & Mount Brown – 4 hours return

This walk follows the stunning, lonely cliff tops and offers sweeping views of Maingon Bay. You’ll reach the Maingon lookout and then the Maingon Blowhole a couple of kilometres into this walk. As you approach the blowhole along the clifftop, you’ll hear the eerie sound of crashing water echoing below. The blowhole wasn’t blowing when I was there but it still had an impressive aura of danger with sheer cliffs and a steep drop to the sea thrashing around below. This walk begins near the Remarkable Cave car park and follows an undulating track on the Tasman Peninsula.

Cape Raoul – 5 hours return

The walk to Cape Raoul has spectacular coastal views but can be very windy. The walk commences off Stormlea Road (off Nubeena Road).

Devil’s Kitchen to Waterfall Bay – 1.5 hours return

Follow the trail from the Devil’s Kitchen to Waterfall Bay on a popular, flat walk through the coastal forest with impressive cliff views.

Fortescue Bay to Bivouac Bay – 3 hours return

This popular coastal track passes through a penguin rookery at Canoe Bay

**Don’t Miss** Tasmanian Devils at the “The Unzoo”

If you’re visiting Port Arthur in Australia make sure you call in at the Unzoo. It’s a zoo that encourages wild animals to visit and it’s also an opportunity to see some unique Australian wildlife up close. There are daily feeding sessions that are lots of fun. I was absolutely delighted to see endangered Tasmanian Devils for the first time. But the Devils were a bit scary at feeding time when they chased each other around the enclosure. You can also hand-feed wild kangaroos and wallabies at the Unzoo.

This day trip from Hobart to Port Arthur includes the Tasmanian Devil Conservation park at the Unzoo and other highlights in the Tasman National Park.

Check out my Devil video: It took this Devil about 10 minutes to climb up onto a cement mixer and to find its way inside and out of the rain….

What to do between Hobart and Port Arthur

Visit the Devil’s Corner Winery

At the Devil’s Corner Winery there’s a restaurant and cafe with a beautiful view, an open cellar door for wine tasting and a lookout tower with toilet facilities. You’ll be spoilt for choice with wineries on the drive from Hobart. You’ll pass lots of other vineyards such as Craigie Knowe, Gala Estate and Spring Vale. You could easily spend an enjoyable afternoon wine tasting.

Visit the Port Arthur Lavender Farm

The Port Arthur Lavender Farm is located on the Arthur Highway. It’s a lovely place to visit and a great place to stock up on gifts. There’s a cafe where you can enjoy a lavender-themed meal in a lovely setting and a gentle stroll through the sweet-smelling lavender fields. Souvenirs are available at the shop. This day tour from Hobart to Port Arthur includes the Lavender Farm and other highlights on the Tasman Peninsula.

Stop at Dunalley Beach Lookout

The stunning coastal scenery near Dunalley drew me out of the car and onto the beach. The lookout is by the roadside just outside Dunalley on the road to Port Arthur in Australia.

Port Arthur lavander
Port Arthur Lavander

How to get to Port Arthur in Australia

To get to Port Arthur in Australia you can fly to Hobart on the island of Tasmania or catch the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Geelong in Victoria on the mainland. Take your car with you on the ferry or hire a car at the airport when you arrive.

Car

The easiest and most flexible way to get there is to drive. Port Arthur in Tasmania is only 90 minutes by road from Hobart and you can stop whenever you want and visit the historic site on your own schedule.

Bus

There are a few options for buses from Hobart to Port Arthur.

You can book a Port Arthur shuttle bus tour from Hobart.

There’s also a daily bus service from Hobart to the Port Arthur historic site. This is a good option if you’re planning to hike the Three Capes Track but **book ahead**

Port Arthur Day Trip Tours

Booking a tour is the best way to get to Port Arthur in Tasmania if you don’t have your own transport. You’ll see more along the way than going it alone. Many tours stop off at the main sites on the Tasman Peninsula as well as the Port Arthur Historic site.

Where to stay in Port Arthur Australia

Budget: The NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park has cabins and great facilities for campers including a lounge with an open fireplace & TV for when the weather turns foul. (Firewood is available to purchase) The camp kitchen and lounge were opposite my unpowered tent site and I loved this on a dark, rainy evening! I also loved the wild wallabies hopping around my tent & the fire pit on my site. It’s a 5-minute drive or a 50-minute walk to the Port Arthur Historic Site from the holiday park.

For a small fee, you can camp inside the Tasman National Park at the Fortescue Bay campsite Access is via an unsealed road and there are basic facilities. Bookings are recommended.

Mid Range: Port Arthur Villas are just a short walk from the Port Arthur Historic Site. The villas offer comfortable accommodation with kitchen facilities for self-catering and a beautiful garden setting.

Stuarts Bay Lodge provides self-contained chalets and cabins with fully equipped kitchens in a peaceful bush setting. There are gorgeous water views between the trees and the lodge is just a 5-minute drive, or a short walk, to the Port Arthur Historic Site.

Port Arthur in Tasmania
Port Arthur in Tasmania

What to Bring

Port Arthur in Tasmania is a very small town next to the Historic Site in a remote location on the Tasman Peninsula. You can buy basic supplies but it’s best to buy food and petrol before you come. Bring a refillable water bottle. At the Port Arthur campsite, we had to boil the drinking water.

There are limited options for eating out in Port Arthur but the RLS club in Nubeena has a restaurant and I had a decent meal there. It was a 12km drive to Nubeena on a very windy road & pitch black at night on the way back. There are a couple of other restaurants in town but self-catering is a good idea because the Tasman Peninsula is quite remote.

Travel Essentials

#1. A Travel Guide for Tasmania or Australia. I rarely travel without my trusted Lonely Planet Guide.

#2. Travel Insurance – I always use World Nomads so I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.

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26 thoughts on “Why Port Arthur in Tasmania is so Fascinating”

  1. Really interesting to learn more about Port Arthur. I actually only heard a bit more about it recently so it was good to see more about the historic site and find out some other things to do there. I never made it to Tasmania on my trip to Australia so now I have another thing to check out when I return, and I definitely need to find some Tasmanian Devils

    1. Thanks Emma! I think you’d love Tasmania! I’m planning to go back to Port Arthur and hike to the 3 Capes as the scenery is so amazing…..

  2. I would love to visit Port Arthur. It, along with the rest of Tasmania is on my bucket list. I love all of you photos – makes me want to go there even more.

  3. Port Arthur looks worthy of a visit, not only for its history. Would love to explore there one day. A very interesting article, thank you for sharing this information.

  4. Such a good read about Port Arthur. Although the site had a tragic history, I think it’s important to learn and remember them. I’d love to visit the Tasman National Park and do some hiking as well.

  5. Thanks for introducing Port Arthur to me! It looks so amazing and so unique. I would love to visit Tasmania one day, and I will definitely add Port Arther to my itinerary when I can finally visit.

  6. Wow, gorgeous scenery! Also, I love lavender and will definitely not miss out on visiting the lavender farm if I ever make it over to that corner of the world. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Really cool city to read about! Never heard anything about it. Looks like it has a little bit of everything! Whenever I get the chance to go to AUS, I want to make sure to hit Tazmania

  8. I’m sad I was never able to get to Tassie last year when I lived in Aus. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the history

  9. I’d love to visit Tassy. It’s such a beautiful place. Love what you’ve recommended. I’d definitely like to see the lavender farm.

  10. I loved visiting Tassie but couldn’t make it to Port Arthur due to lack of time. This makes me wanna visit soon again and explore.

  11. This is such a fabulous guide! I would love to see all these places, and most especially the Remarkable Cave. I haven’t been to Tasmania, so definitely will be referencing this article on a future trip.

  12. Thanks for introducing Port Arthur to me! It looks like such an interesting place to visit. I will definitely add it to my list… for whenever I can actually make it to the land down under! 🙂

  13. Wow so much history here and I didn’t realise the massacre was there on Tasmania. I remember discussing it in a class once. I’d love to visit here history fascinates me as do the national parks. I think the first thing i’d do would be explore the coastline and those coves.

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