Port Arthur was established when the Tasman Peninsula was selected by Governor Arthur, in 1830, as the best place to confine the worst and most-hardened prisoners. It was connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land - Eaglehawk Neck - which could be cordoned off by ferocious dogs. The land was otherwise surrounded by waters that were said to be infested with sharks - and many prisoners couldn't swim.
During its 47 year life span, the prison settlement became the byword for cruelty and hardship and thousands of prisoners died there. Prisoners endured hard physical labour, beatings and harsh conditions.
When the last prisoner finally left the penal settlement, the township continued on in its own right as a thriving centre for industry, timber-milling and fine buildings.
Today the Port Arthur Historic Site supports the township as a premier tourist attraction. The tragic shootings of 1996 have left a scar on the township and a Huon pine cross and plaque on the waterfront commemorate the victims.
Port Arthur can be reached by car and takes about 90 minutes from Hobart. It's worth spending some time in area, as there are also some pleasant bushwalks, great scenery and fascinating geological formations to see nearby: the Tessellated Pavement, Tasman's Arch, Devil's Kitchen and the Blowhole.
Things to do:
Port Arthur Historic Site - with restored ruins of the convict settlement, period houses, museum, old church and gardens on 40 hectares of landscape grounds. Play the 'Lottery of Life" game in the museum - to help you understand life as a convict. Great for kids and adults. Take a self-guided or expert guide tour to see the historic site and be chilled by the lunatic asylum! There is also a cruise on the harbour that takes you passed the Isle of the Dead. If you're really game, you can book a 'ghost tour'. Open from 9 am to 5 pm.
Bush Mill Steam Railway and Settlement - learn about a miller's life at turn of 20th century. See a bush-saw with a working steam engine and a steam railway that was once used to transport timber.
Tasmanian Devil Park - is a wildlife refuge for injured animals.
World Tiger Snake Centre - to see how venomous snakes for used in scientific research.
In the area:
Remarkable Caves - watch the caves turn small waves into big waves.
EagleHawk Neck - follow the signs to see the amazing rock platform formations that make natural tile patterns called the Tessellated Pavement.
Tasman's Arch, Devil's Kitchen and the Blowhole - wonderful coastal rock formations, where sea erosion has created a natural rock tunnel (Tasman's Arch) and a collapsed arch (Devil's Kitchen).
On the way to the above, you'll go through a town called Doo Town, where residents have given their houses funny "doo" names - Doodle Doo, Doo Nix and Doo Little.