Port Arthur Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula is Australia’s most famous convict site.
This past summer, Australia’s convict heritage was officially recognized when 11 of its convict sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Five of these sites are found in the southernmost island state of Tasmania.
Thousands of penal sites were established in Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries, housing tens of thousands of people condemned by British justice, often for such crimes as stealing a loaf of bread. The properties that now form part of the World Heritage List present the best-surviving examples of large-scale shipping of convicts, whose presence and labor contributed to the colonial expansion of European powers.
Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula, is perhaps Australia’s most famous convict site. Its 60-plus buildings and beautiful landscape have become one of Tasmania’s most popular tourist attractions.
Melinda Percival, head of national markets for Tourism Tasmania, made the UNESCO entry. “Australia is celebrating the foundation of European Australia built on convict heritage,” she told Travel Agent. “Over 167,000 convicts were sent [here], most of [whom] stayed and founded European Australia.”
In the last 20 years, Percival adds, Australia has become increasingly proud of its convict heritage, and this listing will help bring this part of Australia’s—and Tasmania’s—heritage to prominence. “The landscape in which the convicts worked and lived in particular is still there to be seen.”
Andrew Ross, marketing manager of the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, says the World Heritage listing of the Australian Convict Sites will provide “a fantastic profile and opportunity to highlight that story to the world.
“‘World Heritage’ as a brand has significant cachet in a number of markets,” Ross explains, “and we are already receiving increased interest and inquiries through international trade distribution channels.” To that end, Port Arthur has stepped up product development to create new visitor experiences and options.
Tours are available daily at the site, and agents can arrange for private tours for a more intimate and personal experience. Good to know: Only Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority guides are permitted to give tours (guaranteeing accuracy and a quality experience), and they can be booked in advance at [email protected].
Where to Stay
There is far more to see and do at the Port Arthur Historic Site than a visitor can fit into a couple of hours, Ross says. “Staying a night or two in the area will give you time to experience our Ghost Tour, dine at Felons Bistro and explore the Tasman Peninsula, including the Coal Mines Historic Site,” says Ross, who also recommends taking an eco-cruise to Tasman Island, and visiting a nearby wildlife park to encounter the unique (and highly endangered) Tasmanian Devil.
If your clients want to spend more than a day at Port Arthur, there is a range of accommodations in and around the area.
Stewarts Bay Lodge is on the waterfront adjacent to the Historic Site and has coastal views in a natural bushland setting.
Port Arthur Villas offers family accommodation just across the road from the Historic Site.
The Lufra Hotel is at Eaglehawk Neck, a 15- minute drive from Port Arthur, and comes with great coastal views.
There is also a wide range of self-contained cottages and bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations nearby. Visit www.tasmanregion.com.au for more information.
Hobart Airport is between Port Arthur and Hobart. Port Arthur is approximately an hour’s drive from the airport, and around 90 minutes from Hobart. Cars can be hired at the airport. Most international visitors will land in Australia in either Sydney or Melbourne—Qantas and V Australia offer daily service to and from both cities, where direct flights to Hobart are available.