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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Port Arthur Historic Site, Australia

Tasmania's most visited tourist site.

The Port Arthur Historic Site can be found about 90 minutes from Hobart, it's possible to drive there from Hobart or take an organised tour. I had been there once before, it was October and I naively thought that as it was spring it would be fairly warm. It wasn't! There was a freezing wind coming off the Southern Ocean and it was miserable, but the weather did provide a real life experience of the conditions the prisoners lived in. This time I visited on a beautiful sunny summer's day, not so atmospheric but the conditions were far nicer to look around.

I was reasonably organised for this trip and had bought my ticket and prebooked the walking and the boat tour while still in Hobart. My timing was quite good and I basically walked in, showed my ticket, got my lanyard (tourists all have to walk around with them on) and caught up with my 10.30am tour group.

The guide was informative and kept everyone's attention, what I found most interesting was that a much broader view of the whole Port Arthur site was part of the tour. My knowledge of the site had centred on the whole "unescapable prison for the worst of the worst prisoners" part of its history. I had assumed it was first set up as a prison camp, infact it was a timber camp, sourcing timber for Hobart and the main workforce were convicts. Three years after the timber camp was established that the prison was set up. (In 1833)

The original housing for the convicts were canvas tents and then wooden huts, none of these survive. One of the oldest buildings on the site is the church, it's nondenominational and it was compulsory for all prisoners to attend each Sunday. After a very anti-Catholic protestant minister was in charge of the church catholic prisoners lobbied for a catholic chaplain and one was appointed. They went to mass in a chapel by the penitentiary. The church was burnt down long after the convict settlement closed and the convict built walls are what's left.

The penitentiary, originally built as a flour mill, but that didn't last long and so it was then used to house prisoners. There were workshops as well so the prisoners had the opportunity to learn skills to earn a living once they were back in society. The ideas behind Port Arthur were quite modern for their time, prison wasn't just to lock people up but also to try and prepare them for a life outside. Behind the penitentiary on the hill are the ruins of the hospital. The penitentiary was destroyed in the two major bushfires of 1895 and 1897, parts have been stabilised and rebuilt for tourists to be able to wander around. The centre section was rebuilt to the first storey, it had all been destroyed to the ground.

An old photo on display showing the size of part of the Port Arthur complex, with the penitentiary and the guard tower up on the hill. (The guard tower dating back to 1836 is perhaps the oldest surviving stone building from the convict era)

The Silent Prison and the Asylum. By the mid 1800's punishments in prison had changed from physical (flogging) to the mental. In the Silent Prison the prisoners were locked up for 23 hours and when they were moved around they were hooded. They weren't allowed to speak and no-one spoke to them, apparently there's only one recorded case of a prisoner having a complete mental breakdown. I'm sure they were others!
The Asylum building next door were for those prisoners who were mentally ill.

The Government Gardens, it was lovely and my favourite part of the site. But the gardens (which have been recreated as the original one didn't survive) show the total disconnect between the civilian population and their genteel living with the incarceration of convicts in not so wonderful conditions.

The gardens were a small part of England in the middle of a prison.

Past the gardens up on a small hill was the area where the non military residents (and non convict!) lived in their little cottages.

The Parsonage, built for the protestant minister, in 1840.

Next to the parsonage is the Accountant's house. He was responsible for the finances and ordering of material for the prison. This cottage also dates back to 1842, now used as the education centre and there was traditional school type activities out on the lawn.

The Junior Medical Officer's cottage, dating back to 1848.

A recreated front parlour.

Catholic Chaplain's house, once a catholic priest was appointed he was given this cottage and lived there with two of his sisters.

A long walk away from these cottages on a slight outcrop, was the camp Commandant's house. The original cottage was a four room house and then extended by each new occupant. The house has a lovely view out into the bay.

Some of the interior rooms have been recreated. During the early 1900s when Port Arthur first became a tourist area, the Commandant's House was used as a hotel.

A bedroom with an animal skin rug, it gets cold in Tasmania!

The guide talked about the site's history since the transportation era. Transportation toTasmania  (Van Diemen's Land) ended in 1853 the convicts that were imprisoned there began to age. Some upon being released, reoffended just to be imprisoned again as that was the only life they knew. A Pauper's Depot was established to house these 'gentlemen' until the whole site was shut down in 1877.

The area was opened up and a village called Carnarvon was established and there are buildings from that era as well.

Wooden cottage belonging to the Trentham family, built in 1898 and was lived in until the 1920s.

St. David's Church, built in 1927 for the village and still used today.

Tourism started at Port Arthur right from when the prison was shut down. Day-trippers would come by boat from Hobart, they were curious to see a site previously closed off to them. Some of the first guides were old inmates! Hotels and guest houses were opened, by the 1920s the Port Arthur name was reclaimed.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is now a World Heritage Site and fabulous to visit (especially on a nice day!) The whole site is well maintained, the Carnarvon era wooden police house was being painted the day I was there so didn't go inside. There were gardeners working in different cottage gardens. A new Visitor's Centre has just opened and it's huge, with a large restaurant area to grab something to eat.

I liked the philosophy how the site is run, there are no actors wandering around dressed in convict or period costumes. The view being it belittles what happened at the site and it's not an amusement park. (My paraphrasing!) The church has not be reconstructed, they've left the ruins alone, it's obvious it's a church. The Government Gardens however have been reconstructed to show what was there as the original gardens didn't exist anymore.

Starting off with a guide is an excellent way to get a quick overview of the site, then the boat cruise around the bay gives another view and extra information about Port Puer and the Isle of the Dead. That then leaves the rest of the time for your own exploration as to what part of the site interests you. It's a terrific day out!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Somerset on the Pier

Hobart, Tasmania


The price is reflective of the location, mid-range, not in the luxury price bracket. The premier rooms have a balcony and they look out onto Constitution Dock, pictured here. These rooms are more expensive, the 'Executive' rooms face the Brooke Street Pier and have windows and no balcony, they are the cheaper option. Still a nice view and good for people watching!


Fabulous location on Elizabeth Pier. The building was an old warehouse built in 1934 and has been converted. There are restaurants on the ground floor, along the pier. One side of the pier faces Constitution Dock and the other the Brooke Street Pier. The MONA ferry is a 3 minute walk away, as is the Tourist Office in the Brooke Street Pier. Salamanca Place is a 5 minute walk away, central Hobart only a few minutes away as well.


Somerset on the Pier is self-contained apartment style accomodation. There's a kitchenette which comes with a dishwasher. The bedroom is a loft style mezzanine, it contains a large wardrobe with room safe, as well as another TV. The bathroom downstairs has a washing machine and a dryer.

Executive Room with windows looking out onto Brooke Street Pier.

Looking up to bedroom

Looking down.


There's a Guest Lounge with a computer and printer. Also some books that can be borrowed.

There is limited parking for hotel guests, the hotel also offers airport pickups for those not driving their own vehicle.

Room service can be arranged with one of the restaurants at the pier.

There is only one flight of stairs to go up to the rooms so it's nice just to go up and down the stairs rather than taking the elevator. If you use the stairs you're rewarded with this lovely view of Constitution Dock.


Really loved the location of this hotel, the apartment is well equipped, so I was very happy with my choice. Will definitely stay here again when visiting Hobart.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Tasman National Park, Australia

As the name suggests, to be found on the island of Tasmania!

The southern part of the island of Tasmania is well known for its convict transportation historical past. The 'jewel in the crown' of this era of Tasmanian history is the former Port Arthur penal settlement. The drive from Hobart to Port Arthur takes about 90 minutes, the settlement was established on a peninsula which is attached to the mainland by a narrow piece of land now called 'Eaglehawk Neck'. This made the location perfect for the prison as it was easy to guard, the water around Port Arthur was cold and treacherous, the only land escape was narrow and guarded by a 'dog line'. Dogs deliberately left hungry and kept in a line along Eaglehawk Neck.

Crossing through Eaglehawk Neck I noticed a sign for the 'Tasman Arch' is was only a few kilometres so thought it might be worth the detour. 

The Tasman Arch, you can drive right up to the lookout point, so very easy to get to it.

Looking back to Eaglehawk Neck.

Close by the Tasman Arch there was a different sign for Fossil Bay and the Blowhole. So off I went on another detour!

From the lookout at Fossil Bay.

Still at the Fossil Bay lookout, this time looking back to the mainland.

The Blowhole didn't have water going up into the hole in the roof of the cave. I was there at the wrong time as it needs to be high tide and rough for the water to be pushed through the blowhole. So I just got splashing water pictures!

The road from Eaglehawk Neck passes along Pirates Bay, which is quite sheltered as the day I went through it was windy but the water looks calm. This strip isn't part of the National Park as there are holiday homes built opposite the road.

The Tasman National Park takes up a portion of the peninsula where Port Arthur can be found. These sites were at the northern tip and all close together, so they made for a nice detour. I had been to Port Arthur before and just drove in from Hobart and didn't stop and then drove back, this time I was happy that I was curious enough as to what various signs had on them to go and explore a bit. Well worth it for some lovely Tasmanian scenery.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Hobart, Tasmania

MONA is Tasmania's newest attraction, it opened in January 2011. The museum is the largest privately funded institution in Australia and it houses the collection of its (very wealthy!) owner, David Walsh. Full disclosure here in that I'm not the biggest fan of modern art, so originally this museum wasn't on my list of places to see in Tasmania. But I had recently read a travel writer's report his visit and he had caught the ferry up the river from central Hobart. I loved the idea of a ferry ride on the river and then seeing some art. 

The ferry departs from the Brooke Street Pier which also houses a large tourist booking service so it's possible to buy a combined ticket for the ferry and entrance to the museum.

Once at MONA there are 99 steps up from the jetty to the main external area. There was some huffing and puffing from the ferry passengers going up the stairs!

Having successfully negotiated the stairs, you are then rewarded with some large art installations, my favourite was the ironwork trucks.

The intricacies of the metalwork was amazing.

Inside you have to descend into the museum, either by going down a spiral staircase or a circular elevator, which gives the impression of going down a tube. This going down into the museum is deliberate as the idea is to spiral up and out.

The elevator and spiral staircase which then takes you into a hallway of enormous sandstone.

None of the works in the museum are labelled and this is deliberate, but you are offered an audio guide which will explain what you're seeing. I was just happy to look so didn't get a guide, with large groups of people stopping to listen to explanations, it does get quite congested at times!

Until April, there is a touring exhibition called 'The Museum of Everything' which had some fun pieces in it. I loved this dinosaur made from old cassette tapes and cases.

Decorated instruments

A room of planes made from heavy paper, a child's delight!

After exiting this exhibition I stumbled across the restaurant part of the complex. It was a shock to come out of a totally dark world which you'd gone down a lift thinking the exhibition space was deep in the ground, to find yourself in daylight!

Back to the darkness and a tunnel to another exhibition area.

Kitten tea party, thought this was cute!

You start spiralling up, there are still works you can look down into.

And then you're outside and if you time it correctly, just in time to get the ferry back to central Hobart. (The 99 stairs are easier on the way down!)

Pulling away from the jetty, the museum buildings are well hidden in the cliff.

MONA doesn't seem to be for everyone, going by some of the reviews I've read! Some people loved it, some hated it! Taking the ferry there is the best way to go as the trip up the river is great. I'm sure everyone can find some piece of art that's a talking point, positive or negative, so it's an interactive experience for all!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Ten places I really liked and want to go back to

(Not necessarily this year!)


I love London and I've returned a multitude of times, I love the fact that there's always something new to discover. This past trip I went up The Shard, explored Borough Markets and spent an afternoon riding a bike along the river at Richmond.

St. Petersburg

I only spent 2 days in St. Petersburg a few years ago as part of an organised tour I did of Russia with my mother. (So she could finally practise that high school Russian from all those years ago!) St. Petersburg was just amazing, especially as much of it has been restored, I barely scratched the surface and so would love to go back and spend more time there. 
I did get to experience the 'White Nights' we flew in at 11.30pm and it was bright daylight! 


Singapore has been at the top of my favourite places to return to since my first visit when I was 12 years old. Love Singapore and like London, there's always something new to explore. Gardens by the Bay and the Supertree Grove (with the nightly lightshow) are fabulous.

New Zealand

For most people living in Australia, New Zealand is their first overseas travel destination as it's quite close. Not for me I was spending over 24 hours getting to Europe. Finally made the trip across the Tasman and wondered what had taken me so long! Need to go back to visit the South Island and explore the northern part of the North Island. This was Napier my favourite city in New Zealand. (so far!)


Having made my 'reconnaissance trip' to Berlin I now need to go back and spend longer than 3 days there. 'Reconnaissance trips' are great, short stay to find out if you like the place, if not, well at least you've seen it. If you do like it plan a longer stay to really get to know the location. Berlin pretty much won me over on the first day so it's on the list for a longer stay at some stage.

Lake Como

I'm fortune enough to have relatives with a vacation apartment on Lake Como (not the actual lake but on the shores of Lake Como!) so have been to the lake numerous times. I've also holidayed with various friends in different towns along the lake, but there's still quite a few to see! The scenery with the lake and the mountains is just stunning, love Lake Como!

Porec, Croatia

I've been going to Porec since babyhood since it's the main town to where my family is from. It does have a large tourist industry but I don't think that the town ever feels overrun by tourists. (Perhaps as most of the hotels are further along the coast, north and south of the old town) 


Macedonia was the real surprise of my travels this year. I had the opportunity to visit, took it and ended up thinking Macedonia was the hidden gem of Europe. It's not really on any tourist trail and yet it's easy enough to explore, the city of Skopje has signs in the Latin alphabet (the Macedonia language uses Cyrillic). It's very cheap and quite safe, the mix of cultures make it really interesting. Skopje itself has had a lot of money spent on the city centre and so there's plenty there to see. I want to go back and spend longer than 3 days before everyone else discovers Macedonia!


I had spent time in Slovenia's coastal towns so was familiar with them, this year I went inland. Ljubljana was lovely and I would like to explore the Lake Bled area which is on everyone's wishlist for visiting Slovenia!


Japan is always fascinating and even though I explored quite a lot of it when I lived there, I'm now at the nostalgic stage and want to revisit many of those places. (I'm quite proud of this photo as I took it from a moving train, a very fast moving train! Other than the 2 industrial chimneys it's a terrific picture showing the scale of how enormous Mt. Fuji is compared to the landscape around it.)