Port Arthur is a fascinating place to visit, full of history and surrounded by beautiful, almost brutal, landscapes. Its popularity is deserved, but there are a few tips below that will help families get the best of their experience.
Make the most of your tickets.
By the time we landed in Hobart, picked up our rental car and drove down to Port Arthur, it was already mid-afternoon and we were a little undecided as what to do. Although an admission ticket allows visitors two consecutive days of access to the site, we also wanted to go on a ghost tour that evening. Should we venture out into the rain (the predominant weather of our whole trip) to get a head start or hang around the admission building for hours?
Honestly, the latter option wasn’t very appealing. There’s not much for kids to do, except downstairs, where there are some activities like this game and trying on heavy shackles in an exhibition space. So instead we went and checked in to our accommodation.
2. Is the ghost tour for kids? The choice is up to you.
We returned to Port Arthur for a bite of dinner before the ghost tour began. The food was fine and we felt fortified to go out into the cold. While I was uncertain about the weather, I’m glad we made the effort – the rain that began in the afternoon held off for the tour and we walked around in the dark listening to the very knowledgeable and witty tour guide. I recommend it. Was it scary? Well. It depends on how jumpy you are. I’ll admit it – I am! And there were a couple of places, particularly The Accountant’s House and Parsonage, as well as the Separate Prison, where I felt a little uneasy. The kids were fine, however. Went to bed afterwards without a worry. But if they were any younger I would definitely exercise caution when considering bringing them along, and that’s basically what the website says too.
3. Be mindful of prams and little legs.
Also, when travelling the site, there are places, particularly up at the Commandant’s House (my favourite area) and the hill behind it, that aren’t very pram-friendly. That said, if you have very little ones, a pram would almost be essential for when they tire out. It is a large site and lots of walking and step-climbing is involved. If I was taking small ones, I would leave the flatter areas for last, so then you could easily push them around while they have a rest/nap.
Ticket admission also includes a 25-minute cruise around the harbour to see the Isle of the Dead and the Point Puer Boy’s Prison and I recommend you take it. There was a bit of a crowd waiting to get prime position on the ferry the day we went (trying to get out of the cold and the wet, I think), so if that sort of thing is important to you, maybe also get there early to get in line. I admit it was nice to get the chance to sit down and not everyone got a seat.
4. A note on Memorial Garden.
Finally, I’ll mention the Memorial Garden. Created as a place for remembrance for the events which happened on the site on 28 April 1996 at the site of the former Broad Arrow Café, it is a moving, dignified and beautiful space. As I remember what happened on that day very well, I already knew about its significance and wanted to pay my respects. I remember having to choose my words very well when the kids asked what it was all about because they didn’t know about the tragedy. Port Arthur handles the subject very respectfully, for example, making this brochure available for those wanting to learn more about it.
Kids rugged up against the cold
5. Stopping by Dunalley Bay for a rest stop is a good idea.
On our way down to Port Arthur, we noticed a lot of cars parked alongside the Arthur Highway, just south of the Bangor Vineyard Shed. There is a wide, sweeping aspect of the bay that is absolutely lovely. The roads are a little windy, so stopping to get a breath of fresh air on our way back to Hobart was just what we needed. Not a bad photo opportunity either.
There’s more about Port Arthur on this brief video I made for YouTube. If you’ve been I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Above all – it’s wise to take an umbrella.