Who would have thought that there would be no travel for a year thanks to a global pandemic? Not something I ever expected to see in my lifetime. We have had 3 international trips canceled and are only just being allowed to travel domestically. There has been a big push to "travel local" encouraging people to see their own slice of the world as well as boosting the local economy which has taken a nosedive.
And so we set off for a visit to the Tasman Peninsula located in the south of Tasmania - our island state - in Australia. You would think being so close to home that we would be familiar with this area but both have to confess we have not visited for years. Isn't it amazing how we set off on adventures far and wide but do not explore the picturesque destinations on our doorstep?
The Tasman Peninsula is located about 75 kilometres from Hobart, the state's capital city. The area is famously known as the home of the penal or convict settlement of Port Arthur but there is so much more history to learn about. Tasmanian Aborigines occupied this area long before European settlers arrived. From bones found at Eaglehawk Neck around the turn of the nineteenth century and later carbon-dated, we know that the Pydairrerme had been on the Peninsula for at least 5,000 years.
The scenery is simply superb. From towering sea cliffs, unique rock formations, stunning national parks to the rugged coastline. So what did we see and do........
The thin strip of land known as the Neck connects the Tasman Peninsula to the Forestier Peninsula. It's about 400 metres long and less than 30 metres wide at one point. This small area contains multiple natural geological wonders. The first stop was the amazing Tessellated Pavement. These are extremely rare and only found in a few places around the world. They look man-made, but they are actually the result of a rare type of natural erosion that happens on flat rock near sea coasts. The pavement has 2 types of formations: pan formations which are depressions that occur when saltwater wears away the centre portion of stones into pools; and loaf formations when the edges of stones are worn away, leaving a rounded crown that resembles rising bread. This natural wonder is well signposted and easily reached with a 5-minute walk from the car park.
We then headed to the Pirates Bay lookout to admire the stunning coastal scenery before heading to the next geological wonder - Tasman Arch - which is a tall natural bridge in the sea cliffs. Tasman Arch is what is left of the roof of a large sea cave, or tunnel, that was created by wave action over many thousands of years. The pressure of water and compressed air, sand, and stones acted on vertical cracks (joints) in the cliff, dislodging slabs and boulders. Close by is Devils Kitchen a rugged, 60m-deep cleft where swells of the Great Southern Ocean crash and swirl around the base of its cliffs. Next stop was Tasman Blowhole. The Blowhole began as a small cave. Millions of years of water and wind erosion have led to the unique geological formations seen today. When the seas are fierce, the force of the sea causes periodic ruptures of the water which can spurt to 10 metres high. Hard to believe when it was so calm for our visit.
Tasman Island Cruise
A 3-hour Tasman Island Wilderness Cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys is a must-do when visiting this area. The cruise departs from Port Arthur and takes you around Tasman Island and up the coastline. The cruise takes you by towering vertical sea cliffs which are the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere at 300 metres (328 yards) high. There are also intriguing sea caves, massive rock formations and arches, and waterfalls that flow down the cliff face along this spectacular coastline. On the way, if you are as fortunate as us, you will be able to spot some ocean gulls, cliff-nesting cormorants, pods of bottlenose dolphins, migrating humpback whales, as well as Australian and New Zealand fur seals. Entertaining commentary from Damo and Hamish adds to the fun of this adventure.
Port Arthur Ghost Tour
As the sun set, we joined a lantern-lit walking tour of the Port Arthur Historic Site. Our guide led us through some of Port Arthur's more infamous buildings and ruins and told mysterious stories of unexplained events that have baffled and alarmed convicts, free settlers, soldiers, and visitors.
More than 1000 people died at Port Arthur during its 47-year history as a penal settlement, and some people say that the souls of the departed have never left. Documented ghost stories have been associated with Port Arthur since 1870. Are there ghosts? Truth or myth? Whilst we did not see any ghosts it was an intriguing look at this historic site. The soft glow of the lanterns certainly added to the allure!!
Maingon Bay Lookout
For expansive views of this stunning coastline, you cannot go past the recently restored viewing platform at Maingon Bay Lookout. In the far distance, you'll spot Cape Pillar — one of the grandest capes in Tasmania. - that we saw up close yesterday on our cruise. Accessing the lookout is straightforward (and disability-friendly) from the car park, making this a must-see for all travelers.
Remarkable Cave is remarkable not only for its unique form but also because it's opening when viewed from the viewing platform, is the shape of Tasmania. Once a deep and covered cave, the site is today a deep rock bridge carved out of the sandstone rock face. The debris has long since disappeared into the Southern Ocean, apart from the large boulders that sit in the hollow. Unlike most sea caves, Remarkable Cave features two ocean-facing entrances caused by erosion along fractures created by ancient earthquakes. At low tide, the Remarkable Cave is safe to explore. Otherwise, you can walk down about 100+ steps to a viewing platform to get a close-up view.
Coal Mines Historic Site
The Coal Mines Historic Site Walk in Port Arthur is a must-do for anyone interested in discovering history dating back to the 1800s and is free to visit. The Plunkett Point mine was the first operational mine in Tasmania. The coal mine site initially provided a local supply of coal to the Port Arthur colony and accommodated up to 600 convicts in its busiest time. Nowadays it is a site of ruins - chances are this is what the Port Arthur Historic Site would look like if it had not been restored. Taking approximately two hours to complete, the walk travels through bushland in a circuit motion, starting and ending at the grounds of the main settlement area. There are interpretive signs and displays to guide you around and inform you about the history of the site. Along the walk you'll come across underground cells, building ruins, the main shaft, and the air shaft. Once home to a chapel, bakehouse, store, military precinct, and much more, the history you'll encounter along the walk is something unlike you'll have ever experienced. The layout and location of the prisoner accommodation, the officers' accommodation, and the commanding officer's home all convey the hierarchy and operation of the station. Ensure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy shoes for safety reasons.
A trip to the Tasman Peninsula would not be complete without sampling some local food and drinks. At 43° south, William McHenry & Sons Distillery is the world's southernmost family-owned and operated boutique distillery specializing in hand-made single malt whisky. Port Arthur Lavender's visitor centre and café showcase millennia-old uses of this fragrant flower alongside modern cuisine and a fully functioning essential oil distillery. Stop at the Impression Bay distillery and have a chat with Michael who uses a hand-beaten German copper still to capture the essences of fresh botanicals including juniper, coriander, cardamom, star anise, and cassia bark as well as locally grown botanicals including Tasmanian Kunzea and Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Berry to create a refined and sophisticated spirit. Sit in the indoor tasting area resting on century-old chairs originally crafted for the Tasmanian Museum board room in Hobart.
On the way back to Hobart we stopped at the award-winning Bangor Vineyard Shed at Dunalley. Stunning views over Bangor vineyard, Bangor farm, and Norfolk Bay can be enjoyed as you taste their wines and delight your palate with fresh local produce.
What a fabulous weekend exploring what is effectively our own backyard in the world of travel. Jam-packed with adventure, experiences, sampling local produce and bringing home some delightful liqueur to prolong the experience..........