An hour’s drive south east of Hobart airport, the wild and windswept Tasman Peninsula, best known for the World Heritage-listed historic site at Port Arthur, is undergoing a quiet revolution. You could spend several days enjoying the historic, fun and quirky things to do in Port Arthur.
That’s one of the reasons we love discovering new things to do in Tasmania. Here are some top Port Arthur things to do and the best photography spots on the drive along the Tasman Peninsula.
- 8 Things to do in Port Arthur
- Tasman Peninsula Photography Spots
- Discover Tasmania
- About Port Arthur
8 Things to do in Port Arthur
By Louise Southerden
From the moment you arrive at Hobart’s tiny (for a capital city) international airport and see the customs-beagle jump up onto the baggage carousel and start sniffing newly arrived suitcases and backpacks for banned substances (which includes fruit in this pristine island state), you know things are done a little differently in Tasmania. Here are
1- Visit the Dog Line
Before Port Arthur was a tourist attraction, it was a penal settlement for convicts (1833-77) and the only way to escape was via a narrow piece of land joining the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of mainland Tasmania: Eaglehawk Neck.
So it was a natural place for a line of defence. But instead of building a wall or a fence, guards installed a line of savage dogs known for their “ugliness and ferocity” (according to one sergeant).
Chained close together, some even on pontoons, they’d sound the alarm if a convict appeared.
Now there’s a bronze statue of one of the animals and you can visit (for free) the former Officer’s Quarters, the only remaining structure, to see what life was like guarding the infamous “dog line”.
2- Explore Doo Town
This one has nothing to do with dogs, sadly.
Doo Town was once just another fishing hamlet on Pirate Bay.
Then, in 1935, Hobart architect Eric Round put a plaque on his weekender that said, “Doo I”.
Now, almost every house and shack has a Doo-name. There’s Make Doo, Doo Nix, Doo-Drop-Inn, Doo Mee and, my favourite, Dr Doolittle, outside a dark, Norwegian-style cabin.
Drive through on your way to the Blowhole, and the Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen landforms.
3- Eat Fish cones at Doo-lishus
At the Blowhole carpark, a jetty and a few fishing boats give you a clue about this next attraction.
Doo-lishus fish and chip caravan is a local icon, serving freshly deep-fried fish in cardboard cones.
There are cone-sized holes in the picnic tables outside for you to rest them in while you eat – as well as oysters, rock lobster (in season) and home-baked goods such as curried scallop pies.
Their speciality is the Fisherman’s Cone, which overflows with fish of the day (gummy shark when I was there), squid, scallops and chips for just $15. Doo-lishus is open 8.30am-6pm daily.
4- Hunt for ghosts on a Port Arthur Ghost Tour
Ninety-minute ghost tours run every night at Port Arthur Historic Site, but you can crank up the creepy by taking a Paranormal Investigation Experience.
When looking for Port Arthur things to do, this one is quite unique.
These adults-only tours happen after the last ghost tour of the night, from about 10pm until about 2am (a light supper is provided halfway through).
You’ll be equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry before you prowl, with a guide, some of Australia’s most haunted buildings, documenting what you experience. Tours cost $130 and run on the last Saturday of every month.
5- Dine at Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed
From the outside, this place is nothing fancy, just a gravel car park and a barn-like timber restaurant on a windswept hill.
Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed, which opened in December 2014, wears its warmth on the inside, where you’ll find a high-ceilinged, minimalist space with tables of local bluegum, armchairs by a fireplace and large windows overlooking pinot and chardonnay vines to Blackmans Bay.
Owners Matt and Vanessa Dunbabin never intended to run a restaurant, just a cellar door serving their boutique cold-climate wines and their neighbours’ award-winning oysters (plus locally farmed abalone and mussels) so the menu is refreshingly simple.
Try the natural oysters with three types of dressings – Thai lime, soy & ginger and minyonette – or the Mussels Cataplana with sourdough, and a glass of the Jimmy’s Hill hand-harvested pinot gris 2014.
There’s also beef and lamb from the property and locally made pies and biscuits, and takeaway oysters, live or freshly shucked.
More information: Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed is open 10am-5pm daily and until 9pm Fridays, and for events.
6- See Marine Life on a Tasmania Cruise
Wild Ocean Tasmania has developed a “sea-view platform” for a fresh, underwater perspective on Tasmania’s incredible marine life.
The 3-hour experience, which has been going since January 2015, involves a boat trip along the Tasman Peninsula where your guides look for suitable spots to launch the platform.
Then you get into the water – wearing a drysuit over your clothes and a mask and snorkel – and lie on this floating trampoline with your face in the water, looking down at wild Australian and New Zealand fur seals, the world’s last giant kelp forests, maybe even dolphins, orcas and migrating whales in their element.
If you’d rather stay high and dry, try a three-hour Wilderness Cruise with Tasman Island Cruises in one of its purpose-built 12.5m inflatables (no drysuits, but you do get to wear red waterproof overalls).
7- Visit Port Arthur Lavender Farm
The main attraction at this new boutique, organic lavender farm, which is right on the main road to Port Arthur and opened in October 2014, is its industrial-chic restaurant/café.
It has all the ingredients you need for a cosy Tasmanian lunch: an open fire, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bay and some of the farm’s 16,000 lavender plant.
The menu includes lavender-inspired offerings such as lavender panna cotta, lavender hot chocolate (made with their own chocolate ganache) and lavender grey tea, as well as heartier options like gourmet rabbit pie and salt and pepper squid.
Wander over to the gift shop, in the same building, which sells everything from locally made lavender soaps, eye masks, organic beauty products and lavender-scented eco-certified soy candles, lavender honey and hand-made, lavender-scented paper.
Then take a self-guided walk around the farm and lavender oil distillery; the best months to visit are December and January when the lavender blooms.
More information: Port Arthur Lavender is open 10am-4pm (until 8pm in January and February).
8- See Wildlife at Tasmanian Devil Unzoo
The Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, which has been operating since 1978, was transformed into the world’s first intentional “unzoo” in 2015.
The aim of the transformation was to redefine how we relate to wild animals and nature in general.
The Tasmanian Devil Unzoo removed animal enclosures and boundary fences, for instance, and instead has walking paths and free-range experiences with kangaroos and native birds as well as devils.
There’s also a “devil tracking” tour where you get to retrieve nightly infrared video footage of wild Tasmanian devils to look for signs of the dreaded facial tumour disease, which hasn’t affected Tasman Peninsula devils so far.
It’s tourism-for-conservation at its most elemental.
More information: Tasmanian Devil Unzoo is open 9am-5.30pm daily. Entry $33 ($18 for children), Devil Tracking Tours $49 ($25 for children).
Check out these cool Tasmanian devil facts.
Tasman Peninsula Photography Spots
By Jewels Lynch
As this was my very first time in Tasmania, I really had no idea what to expect of the weather. So I took lots of layers, everything from gloves and beanies to a bikini.
A bag of clothes plus my camera gear meant I wasn’t travelling light.
At the time I was still using my first DSLR, a Nikon D7000 with the basic kit lens, a Manfrotto tripod and my iPhone 5.
It was my first day and I’d had to make a mad dash from Hobart to Port Arthur to make it on time for my cruise with Pennicott’s Journey along the Tasman Peninsula.
We returned much later than expected and I’d had no time to research where I wanted to chase the sun. I decided to look at the maps and just find the closest coastal spot that I thought would have a great perspective.
I got completely lost and after u-turning a few times, reaching a dead end road, and turning around one last time in another direction, the reflection on this small swamp caught my eye.
I stopped the car quite precariously on the side of the road, waded through some soggy waist high grass and decided I just needed to take the shots from there. They turned out alright didn’t they?
Port Arthur, Tasmania
Port Arthur is in Southern Tasmania and within driving distance from Hobart. If you’re looking for a diversion from the multitude of Hobart attractions, you can visit the Tasman Peninsula as a day trip but for a more leisurely holiday, it’s better to stay a night or two.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit the Tasman Peninsula. If you’re planning a trip to the area, you’ll be interested in reading this post, which is more good reasons to visit the region.
The Tasman Peninsula is a natural and beautiful destination that is especially attractive to photographers. It has several undiscovered beaches, including beaches at Adventure Bay Bruny Island, where you can enjoy a long sandy strip of nature all to yourself.
One of the best places to enjoy nature in the Able Tasman National Park, where long white stretches of beach are really impressive. There are also some good spots away from the city to gaze at the Southern Lights.
About Port Arthur
The World-Heritage-listed Port Arthur Historic Site on the beautiful and once painfully remote Tasman Peninsula is Australia’s most famous convict site and its fabulous array of interactive exhibits offer profound insights into Australia’s harsh convict beginnings.
There are more than 30 buildings built before 1877. You can explore the open-air museum on your own or with real-life or audio-visual guides.
See Port Arthur’s iconic penitentiary ruin, explore the cruciform-shaped solitary confinement Separate Prison (where interactive exhibits help you get to know a real convict). The busiest dockyard in the colonies is brought to life with evocative sound installations.
There’s also the ruins of one of Australia’s first non-denominational Gothic-style churches, the hospital and a row of historic houses.
There’s the Commandant’s House, the period-furnished Junior Medical Officer’s House and Parsonage, and Smith O’Brien’s Cottage, which housed Port Arthur’s most famous political prisoner, Irish Protestant William Smith O’Brien.
At the Convict Study Centre you can learn about how Port Arthur’s convicts and free settlers lived and even trace your own convict ancestry.
The brave can join the lantern-lit ghost tour to learn about, and perhaps see for yourself, documented reports of paranormal activity such as ghostly screams and empty moving rocking chairs.
Port Arthur accommodation
Stewarts Bay Lodge
Stewarts Bay Lodge is a haven for nature lovers with a lovely restaurant. The scenery from both the restaurant and accommodation, with a balcony overlooking the water and trees, is lush and serene.
For more activities in the region see: