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Sights & Sounds: Historic Site, Port Arthur

Bronze, Silver or Gold Pass?

Isle of the Dead

Lunch

Port Arthur Historic Site

Ghost Tour

 

Bronze, Silver or Gold Pass?

We were contemplating between which passes would make our experience at Port Arthur most fulfilling and memorable. At the crowded ticketing counter, as I recalled, in the Port Arthur Historic Site Visitor Centre, we were still indecisive. Finally we decided to settle on the Silver Pass (with Isle of the Dead Tour).

Reasons?

  1. The 2 differences between a Silver and Gold Pass are that there is Morning and Afternoon Tea, along with Point Puer Boys’ Prison Tour in the latter Pass.
  2. The difference in prices is AUS$30.
  3. With the limited days we had in Port Arthur, we felt that forgoing the visit to the Point Puer Boys’ Prison Tour, in exchange for more time to saunter through the Site and doing something else (like trekking) would be more worthwhile.

So what exactly is included in the Silver Pass (with Isle of the Dead Tour)?

Inclusions

 A 45- minute Introduction to Port Arthur guided walking tour The zealot guide on the site was just amazing. I could feel her ardent in her job, and it was really contagious. Very informative. 😀
The Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour, including a harbour cruise aboard the MV Marana There are a few timeslots for the harbour cruise (cum The Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour). Just bring your ticket to the jetty and join the queue. There are many approachable guides on Site to assist you if you do not know which to board or you are somehow just perplexed and inundated with the massive crowd surrounding the jetty.
Self Guided Audio Tour iPod + earpiece loaned to us as we self-toured the Site. Just return them back to the counter at the end of the day. The good thing about this is that, we could loan the iPod again the next day! ’cause the Site is just too huge to complete in a day!
Lunch on-site at the Museum Café or Port Café We had lunch at the Port Café (in the Visitor Centre).FYI, the Museum Cafe is located in the Asylum building adjacent to the Separate Prison.
Access to more than 30 historic buildings, ruins and gardens

 

Isle of the Dead

We spend 2 days soaking in the rich history of Port Arthur as a convict settlement. It was the time of my life. I love exploring old rustic ruins especially when they have so deep meaning. I was just venerated.

On the board the cruise en route to the Isle of the Dead was our first stop on that glorious morning. It was buzzing with loads of tour groups, school kids and individual visitors at the jetty as it was boarding time. Talk about perfect timing! We did not have to wait at all! We just got into the queue like everyone else (of course with the kind assistance from the guides on Site- as it was a major fluster then).

It is really heartening to see that Port Arthur has such a historic place for younger Tasmanians to embrace and have a school fieldtrip to greater understand their own history.

It was tranquil and hopeful onboard the mini cruise. The captain gave a little morning introduction while we enjoyed the breeze and fresh air on the upper deck. All that was lacking was a nice cup of hot mocha and maybe some marshmallows on top- sipping al fresco style. 😀

The captain explained about the seas surrounding Port Arthur, islands in the distance and what made it the ideal place to house convicts. What seemed like a real short while of embracing the morning with educational commentary, we alighted on a tiny island- Isle of the Dead.

Isle of the Dead is graveyard for anyone (I mean, anyone) who died in Port Arthur. Regardless of whether the person was an officer or a convict, they were all buried on that island. Our guide was really informative and I was imperatively enraptured by the place.

Was it weird that I felt more galvanised than lugubrious? After all, it is a graveyard. But I was absolutely intrigued by the details the guide was saying! And please tell me how not to start my wild imagination in my head when he was telling us stories about the people who were buried?!

According to the guide, a headstone can tell you lots about the person buried. Headstones with detailed embellishments were probably well respected people when they were alive. Officials, soldiers and their families have headstone situated on the high end of the island.

On the other side of the island (the lower end), convicts were buried. They were not allowed headstones. However, there were exceptions.

Every headstone has a story to tell. Alas, if only time permits, I really wished I could have the luxury of having some time to explore. To really read the headstones in detail rather than having to skim through them real quickly.

 

Lunch

After the harbour cruise, we went for the 45- minute Introduction walking tour. Again, we didn’t wait long at all. It was such perfect timing- one tour after another! I guess the management may have thought the timing schedule for tours through. Haha… 😀

We had, I would say, quite a scrumptious lunch. We weren’t expecting very much from the lunch that was included in the Silver Pass, ’cause well… … lunches that were inclusive don’t usually hit our expectations. But this time, Port Arthur amazed me.

The meal portion was big, and there were a range of beverages to choose from (regular coffee, latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate, and mocha). Usually such lunches would not allow one to choose a choice of beverage, so I was stunned for a spilt moment when the counter asked me to choose from the list!

We both were happy customers then. Our belly were filled and we were all ready for our next round of exploration!

 

Port Arthur Historic Site

The Site is really enormous. If you really want to ramble through the ruins, immerse yourself into the past, and read the descriptions bolted to the walls or on signages, then starting the exploration after lunch would need you to go back there again the next day.

The Convict Church was built by the convict builders. Officers and convicts all attended mass on Sunday in the same church. However, they would seat separate. The objective of this church was to use religion as a platform to reform convicts- making them better people spiritually.

Fun fact: In modern era, people actually come here to get married!

During the ghost tour, the guide warned us that creepy incidents happened here. On the left corner of the church near the church bells, a convict builder fell to his death, and from then on, his spirit haunted the church with his hefty footsteps. And on some nights during the ghost tour, you may actually hear those footsteps if you are LUCKY. Hhhmmmmm… …

Convicts with notorious behavior would be sent to the Separate Prison, where they would be stripped off their identity. Nameless; they would be labelled using numbers. Here, officers communicated with them using hand signs. Talking was strictly prohibited. Faceless; they were to wear cap-peaks when they left their individual cells from an hour exercise everyday.

The dingy ruins of the hospital can be easily differentiated from the others by its unique 3 arch “doors”.

According to the guide, no convict would want to be send to the hospital as medical treatments during that time was pretty bad. Convicts who went there never made it out alive. Hence, people prefer dying to be send to the hospital.

I reckon The Penitentiary should be the icon of Port Arthur Historic Site. It just beckoned me when I first entered the site. It was so marveling, as it was the largest/longest building that sprawled on the open field. To think that the main bulk of convicts actually lived and ate in there, is just reverent.

I just adore how the entire structure of the building is so lopsided, due to the many fires that happened ages ago, yet minimal construction is done to preserve most of the remnants.  Though it is not a complete structure, The Penitentiary is really put together through my eyes. 😀

We stayed on until sunset. The lonesome moments sauntering through the site is definitely a good way to embrace the past. No distractions, and noise. Just you and your iPod playing a short prelude of each attraction on the Site.

 

Ghost Tour

The ghost tour was definitely the highlight of the 2 days on Site. We never participated in such a tour before, and we were in it to see how it works and all that jazz. Like… were we going to be scared by people in costumes? Or were we going to be locked in a haunted house or something or that sort? Or were real ghost going to haunt us? We had no idea.

Of course the counter told us there would not be any people dressed in costumes to scare the living daylights out of us. But well… you never know until you are there…

Again, I have to rave about the guide on this tour. He was spectacular. Funny, and full of stories to tell. Just splendid.

Going on this tour really brings out the dark side to Port Arthur, literally and not. And as I recall now, it was pretty hilarious that people were scaring themselves more than the guide’s stories had intended. Haha… It’s all in the mind… It’s all in the mind…

In all, this was a pretty momentous tour. Good to experience if you have never participated in one. 😀

Hope this inspires you to go on a road trip to explore the history of an unknown! You never know what intriguing ideas the unknown may leech on you! 😀

So travel whenever!

Dee

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