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Place of woe and sadness, convicts of Australia’s early days and a modern massacre, Port Arthur resides in a deep, conflicted spot in the hearts of Australians.The lament of history stands in contrast on a bright day to the sun-washed buildings.
The drive down the Tasman Peninsula to Port Arthur along A9 takes 1.5-2 hours from Hobart, shave half an hour if starting from Hobart Airport. There are numerous, well-signposted lookouts, coastal parks and beaches. Tour operators based in the towns at the end of the peninsula offer varied activities including cruises to nearby islands.
Port Arthur itself is part of the 11-site collective UNESCO World Heritage Australian Convict Sites, 5 of which are in Tasmania. It is Tasmania’s biggest tourist draw and ticket prices reflect that with three levels, bronze, silver, gold indicating the amount of lucre of which visitors are relieved. Higher levels include boat tours to island sites and other activities. I had a short time allotment and went with bronze, but the off-season boat schedule was infrequent and I could not stick around for the only afternoon sailing, so plan carefully. There is also a nighttime Ghost Tour.
The Tasman Peninsula is relatively cosmopolitan yet there are glimpses of rural life, such as the community center with the bedsheet banner “SAT NIGHT MOVIE HERE 6 PM.”
Though I had a scare, I got a laugh out of the dummy police speed trap at the Copping Colonial & Convict Living Museum (tourist trap).
The highlight was the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. Those tenacious fellas deserve a post of their own, and shall have it.
It is worth noting that the Lonely Planet guide dedicated to Tasmania has much more detail than the chapter in the overall Australia book. Make sure to get the 5th edition, not the recently released 6th edition with terrible redesign.