Convict Connection: Hobart to Port Arthur Travel Guide

Don’t be fooled into thinking the former penal settlement is all there is to see. The readily accessible Tasman Peninsula is home to world-class walks, incredible landmarks and fascinating history. Plus, you can see much of it in three days.


View from a high cliff of the sea cliffs at Cape Hauy plunging into the ocean, Tasman National Park, Port Arthur

The temptation is to join a day tour from Hobart to Port Arthur, but that means you can’t explore the rest of the incredible Tasman Peninsula. It’s only a short drive from Hobart, but there’s a lot jammed into its small package. For nature lovers, Tasman National Park offers walks through tall forests and along immense coastal cliffs. There’s even one to Shipstern Bluff, where you might see big-wave surfers being towed into the huge swell. But away from the wildlife, waves and World Heritage sites, this is a peaceful part of the world, with small joys to be found when you explore a little further.


Crumbling sandstone ruins of Coal Mines Historic Site, which housed convicts in the 19th century, Tasmania

You’ll want to give yourself a full day to explore Port Arthur Historic Site. In 1833, it became one of the most feared convict settlements anywhere in the world, was abandoned 44 years later and began attracting tourists from the 1920s. These days, you can explore the 30 buildings either on your own or on a guided walk and take a boat cruise past the site of the Point Puer Boys’ Prison and the Isle of the Dead. There are also other guided tours and experiences, including a lantern-lit ghost tour.


  1. Whether you’re finding out more about how they’re farmed or simply want to eat freshly shucked oysters, plan to stop at Barilla Bay Oyster Farm. The restaurant serves the finest seafood – the oysters come cold or hot, plain or with a choice of 17 different sauces and toppings – as well as the best produce from across Tasmania.

  2. It’s one of the cutest places you’ll ever visit. Doo Town, which overlooks Pirates Bay, seems like your typical seaside village. If you look closely, however, you’ll see all the shacks have Doo in their names. There’s Just Doo It, Doo Drop In and Doo F#@k All. Go for a wander and take some photos.

  3. What do you do with the worst prisoners? If it’s the 1840s you make them dig coal. Port Arthur’s repeat offenders were sent to what is now the World Heritage-listed Coal Mines Historic Site. In a shaft 90 metres deep with caves and tunnels running off it, more than 80 men worked bent over in eight-hour shifts. The site has been well preserved with walks running from the settlement – barracks, cells, a chapel, bakehouse and store – to the main shaft and along the coastline.

  4. The most recognisable features of Tasman National Park are the dolerite columns and sea stacks erupting from the ocean. Get a great view of them when you walk to Cape Hauy. You’ll pass through heath and woodlands before emerging on the clifftop. The views are stunning, and you might even see sea eagles gliding high above the ocean.

  5. If you think this landscape is incredible, wait till you see it from the water. On a three-hour tour with Tasman Island Cruises, you’ll travel beneath the highest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere. Along the way, spot seals, migrating whales and pods of dolphins, as well as albatross, peregrine falcons and nesting cormorants.


Fox & Hounds Inn

The Tudor-style Fox & Hounds Inn has 27 motel rooms, all with water views, as well as self-contained two-bedroom villas. A five-minute drive will get you to the Port Arthur Historic Site.

Abs by the Bay

The Tasman Peninsula is compact, so staying somewhere like Taranna’s Abs by the Bay – 13 kilometres from Port Arthur – is a good option. Just three comfortable, self-contained villas are set within a peaceful garden on the water’s edge.

Harpers on the Beach

Get away from it all at Harpers on the Beach, set on the west side of the peninsula. It has five ensuite rooms, a studio and a two-bedroom beach shack renovated with a Mexican influence.


Port Arthur Historic Site

Before you arrive in Tasmania, book a vehicle to collect from Apex Car Rentals at Hobart Airport. Port Arthur is only 90 minutes from Hobart if you drive straight through, which gives you the perfect opportunity to check out everything of interest. It can be done in a day, but adding an overnight stop offers the opportunity to spend time exploring Australia’s best-preserved convict site. Adding another night means cliff walks in the national park and visits to other parts of the Tasman Peninsula.


A roadside stall selling apples in Geeveston in the Huon Valley, Tasmania

When you get back to Hobart it’s worth taking the opportunity to head south and doing a loop through Kettering, Cygnet and Huonville. The first part follows the coastline along the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the return tracks through the Huon Valley, a fertile part of Tassie where you’ll find farm gates selling berries and apples, small dairies making cheese and artisan boat builders and other craftspeople. Be sure to stop at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed to taste the cider.