Cruises to Port Arthur

47 Reviews
Port Arthur (Photo:Mo Wu/Shutterstock)

About Cruising to Port Arthur

Port Arthur is located on the southern tip of Tasmania's isolated Tasman peninsula about 60 kilometres from Hobart, is home to about 500 residents. The allure for cruise ships is not to visit the tiny town, but instead to see one of the world's largest and best preserved 19th-century penal colonies in an incongruously beautiful bayside setting.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is an impressive open-air museum that comprises 30 buildings, ruins and restored period houses and is encircled by brooding hills on a cove that leads out to a large harbour and the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean. The settlement is spread over 40 hectares (100 acres) and has undergone a major restoration and facelift. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's also one of Australia's most significant historic places and one of Tasmania's top attractions.

Port Arthur is undoubtedly a spooky place with a long history of horror, not only as a penal colony, but also for an infamous modern-day massacre. On April 28, 1996, a lone gunman arrived at the site and started shooting, killing 35 innocent victims and injuring 23. There's a memorial at the site where the shooting took place.

Originally named after George Arthur, the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen's Land (later Tasmania), the town's colonial history dates back to 1830 when it was designed as a small timber station. It quickly became important within the penal system of the colonies, a settlement hacked out of the bush and built on convict hard labour. Men, women and even children, many hailing from rural areas or the big city slums of Great Britain who had been convicted more than once for crimes including stealing were punished by being unceremoniously transported to the Australian colonies. Ironically, these unfortunates were probably better fed and clothed in Port Arthur than they were at home. But it was a hard, isolated life and they were prisoners set to work as loggers or housemaids.

In the first decade of its existence, Port Arthur was a hive of industry, including timber, ship building, shoe making, blacksmithing and brick making. Then, in the 1840s, when the convict population exceeded 1,100, there was a consolidation of these industries within the penal structure of the settlement. In 1842, a huge flour mill and granary and a hospital were added to the line-up of buildings. In 1848, the first stone was laid for the Separate Prison, where repeat offenders were housed. Over time, the settlement expanded geographically, too, as its boundaries and convicts pushed out into the encircling hills to extract more valuable timber.

The relocation of convicts ended in 1853, which eventually led to fewer criminals being transported to Port Arthur. But the settlement remained one of the few secondary punishment stations in Tasmania and continued to receive men sentenced to prison. In 1857, the old flour mill and granary was converted into a large penitentiary and 1864 saw the beginning of construction on the last great project at the site -- the Asylum. The settlement's turbulent and colourful life began to wind down in the 1870s as the number of convicts dwindled, and those left behind were too old, sick or insane to work. Port Arthur finally closed in 1877.

The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority has overseen the settlement since 1987, along with the Coal Mines Historic Site, near Saltwater River about a half hour's drive from Port Arthur, and the Cascades Female Factory Site in South Hobart. Today, the Port Arthur site has beautifully restored buildings, English trees and manicured gardens, giving it a picturesque quality.

  • More about Port Arthur

  • Why Cruise to Port Arthur?

  • Port Arthur Cruise Port Facilities?

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Royal Princess
Royal Princess

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1,780 Reviews
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Queen Elizabeth
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Virgin Voyages

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New Zealand & South Australia Discovery Collector

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Australia Circumnavigation

1,115 Reviews
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12 Night
Australia Cruise

2,241 Reviews
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Australia Circumnavigation

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10 Night
Australia Cruise

1,605 Reviews
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7 Night
Australia Cruise

635 Reviews
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More about Port Arthur

Why Cruise to Port Arthur?

Pros:

Remarkable history, beautiful, natural attractions

Cons:

If you take outside excursions you may be rushing to fully appreciate Port Arthur

Bottom Line:

For most visitors it's really just the historic site but that's enough

Port Arthur Cruise Port Facilities?

Ships anchor in Carnarvon Bay, within sight of the main Port Arthur Historic Site, and use tenders to transport passengers to a landing pier.

General entry to the Port Arthur Historic Site is usually included if your ship stops there; it's the main attraction and takes around half a day to see everything comfortably. The actual town of Port Arthur is little more than a cluster of private homes with a few minor services.

A new, modern multi-million dollar visitor centre opened in Dec 2017 with an expanded caf?, a larger gift shop and a more engaging gallery with loads of information

Good to Know?

Bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat because the sun can be very strong in Tasmania in the summer, even at moderate temperatures. Also, wear sturdy walking shoes and carry a light jacket and umbrella, even in summer, because the weather can change suddenly and rain is always a possibility. There's free government-provided wi-fi in the historic site.

Getting Around?

There are boat tours out to the tiny Isle of the Dead where walkways take you to the separate graveyards for convicts and others. There's an extra cost and the tour takes about an hour.

The only way to easily get out and see other parts of this region of Tasmania is by taking an organised tour from the ship or by planning for a driver to pick you up from Port Arthur Historic Site for private touring. Options for shore excursions include taking an eco-cruise, visiting the Norfolk Bay Coal Mines Historic Site or getting up close and personal with Tasmanian devils at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, now the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

The currency is the Australian dollar. There is an ATM in the visitor centre, and the facility accepts foreign currency, travellers' cheques and all major credit cards.

Language?

Australians speak English with an 'Aussie' accent, and in Port Arthur, the language is much the same as you'll find anywhere else in the country. The majority of tourists will be from other parts of Australia though about 10 per cent may be from Tasmania or 'Tassie' as it is known colloquially.


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