Skip to navigation

Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Australia: Launceston to Port Arthur

A beach next door to the Nut, Stanley
A beach next door to the Nut in Stanley

A fuzzy Monday morning saw me return from George Town to Launceston to pick up a rental car for the week, easily the best way to see Tassie. It was great to be back behind the wheel, even if a yellow VW Beetle wasn't quite the Ford Falcon we'd rented in New South Wales; in a Beetle you really feel the corners and bumps in the road, especially if you're constantly breaking the speed limit1.

The West

The harbour at Strahan
Beautiful Strahan

The next day I drove for miles, down through the rugged forests of the northwest, and over stunning mountains to the west coast and Strahan. What a gorgeous place, with just 600 inhabitants and some great forest parks around, not to mention the 33km Ocean Beach to the north. I went for a walk in the People's Park, home of the Hogarth Falls, a picturesque waterfall surrounded by rainforest. It's amazing to walk into these forests: outside it's hot and sunny, but under the high ceiling of trees it's cool and quite dark, the perfect setting for a waterfall.

Port Arthur
Port Arthur, the most feared convict prison in the whole of colonial Australia

Port Arthur

The chapel in Port Arthur's Model Prison
Port Arthur's Model Prison had a chapel with slats between the seats to prevent any eye contact between prisoners

Port Arthur was the site of the worst-of-the-worst penal prisons, and it's still got that air about it. The port itself is rather beautiful, but sitting on the slopes behind the port are the ruins of some really nasty places, like the Model Prison (where convicts were isolated completely for months) and the Penitentiary (where inmates eked out an existence in tiny cells). It's an amazing place, but it's deeply spooky, especially if you visit the Isle of the Dead – Port Arthur's cemetery on a little island in the bay – or take the night-time ghost tour, which consists of an hour-and-a-half of lantern-lit tale-telling among the eerie ruins. Atmospheric isn't the word; it's brilliant.

1 I didn't break the speed limit on purpose – the speedometer was in miles per hour not kilometres per hour, but I only realised at the end of the trip. I thought those corners were a bit tight...