Port Arthur is perhaps one of Tasmania's most famous attractions. It is a fantastically preserved example and reminder of Australia's convict settlement history, and acts as a window into the past for visitors.
The grounds of the Port Arthur site span over 40 hectares, meaning that there is plenty to explore – including over 30 historic buildings and ruins. It's an extremely old site, having begun as a timber station in 1830. Not just a jail, Port Arthur was a whole convict community, and it quickly became a site of industrial importance where those who were imprisoned worked for the nation.
Ship building in particular was an important pursuit at Port Arthur, where particularly well-behaved prisoners were chosen to work at the dockyard to develop their skills for when they had completed their jail term and could go back into the world as free people.
Along the line even a flour mill and granary were added to the settlement, and construction began on a hospital. In 1848, a separate prison area was established. Following this, in the 1860s an asylum was also built on site for patients with issues such as depression. Treatment was very basic and residents of this asylum lived in dormitories and spent much of their time in the area's garden.
By the 1870s activity at the settlement was winding down, and the final convict left in 1877. After this people began to buy up parts of the area and live there, though major fires in 1895 and 1897 destroyed some of the area. However, locals were resilient and tried to rebuild as best they could.
Even in the late 1800’s Port Arthur began to be a hot-spot for visitors, and this has continued until today. Now a World Heritage spot, the area is preserved so that visitors can come to learn about and experience Port Arthur's significant history. It also forms an important part of Australia's wider convict history, and there are other World Heritage convict sites dotted throughout Tasmania and other parts of Australia.
There are a huge number of options for your visit to Port Arthur. You can choose whether you'd like to simply wander the grounds yourself, or head out on a guided tour. Guided tours run daily, and there are a number of interactive display and museum houses where you can learn for yourself some of the fascinating information and stories that exist about Port Arthur.
Those brave of heart may also want to head to Port Arthur at night for a ghost tour, where you are taken on a 90 minute spine-tingling tour that explores the spookier stories and locations of the settlement – allegedly the most haunted site in Australia.
There is even a paranormal investigation experience on offer, where you can come along and learn how to conduct your own paranormal investigation, taking various measurements and readings with ghost hunting equipment – and this spooky tour is for adults only!
There's no need to go hungry while you explore the area either, as there are two cafes on site, as well as dinner available at Felons Bistro for those who hang around in the evenings for a ghost tour.
There is also a variety of nearby accommodation available so for the ultimate ease in travel you can stay close to the Port Arthur site and really make the most of your visit.
A few kilometres away you can also head to the settlement's coal mines, where the worst offenders were sent to work as the harshest form of punishment – and this area is full of ruins of offices, cells, houses and barracks of those who lived there, but that is another whole day … there is much to do in the area.