After breakfast at Retro Cafe on Salamanca Place (good food, truly abysmal service – don’t reward it with your patronage) the happy family headed southeast down the Tasman Peninsula bound for the biggest drawcard in the area. Famous for over 150 years as a brutal penal station for those convicts who reoffended once in Van Diemen’s Land, and for the last fifteen as the site of an equally brutal massacre by a deranged gunman, the Port Arthur historic site always draws the crowds. Even more so on this particular Tuesday, as the Diamond Princess (a massive cruise ship that had been berthed in Hobart the night before) had anchored in the harbour and disgorged it’s human contents into the site. Luckily it’s a pretty huge area so despite the incessant chatter around the visitor centre and docks, it wasn’t too hard to get away for a bit of solitude to reflect on the sad history of the place.
After spending much of the afternoon walking around in the sun, I have to say that I’m very impressed – and I don’t think that’s due entirely to heatstroke. The whole place has been preserved and restored in a way that is both informative and sympathetic to the history of the site without overdoing things or trying to gloss over the less pleasant elements of crime and punishment in the nineteenth century – and there were many. I learned a lot, enjoyed the half hour cruise around the harbour and Isle of the Dead (convict cemetery), and took far too many photos. At $28 for the basic pass (which gives you access for two consecutive days, a walking tour that I avoided and the harbour cruise) it’s good value for money.
Priced the same and around 10km down the road is the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, where you can check out a variety of Australia wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, possums, quoll and several birds. Oh, and a Tasmanian devil or two. The main purpose of the park is to provide a safe, disease-free environment for breeding these indigenous animals which have been decimated by DFTD, a form of cancer that is spread from one animal to another by fighting (which they do with monotonous regularity). Despite being ugly, stupid, terrible hunters and generally absolutely nothing like the cartoon character, there’s still something kinda endearing about the little critters. We managed to be there at the right time to see a couple of them being fed (at which time they are even more obnoxious than usual), as well as hanging out with the kangaroos. Obviously very used to humans, they showed pretty much zero interest in us at all. I think Jake wanted to climb into one of their pouches and be carried around, but we convinced him otherwise. Still, it was pretty funny watching him trying to hold down a conversation face to face with a female kangaroo from a distance of about a foot.
As far as value for money goes, it’s a bit more of a toss-up with this one. If you haven’t seen much Aussie wildlife beyond the side of the road (I hadn’t) or have a kid with you (I did), it’s well worth a visit. If not, you might find yourself wanting a little more for your money. Overall though, it’s worth the stop for a couple of hours.
Dinner in Hobart that night was at the Ball and Chain (again on Salamanca Place) and it was truly excellent. I’ve been very impressed with the food in general since I’ve been in Tasmania, and the steaks, free salad bar and cold beers were everything I could ask for. The building itself was great as well – all timber panelling and exposed sandstone bricks, the service was fast and attentive without being annoying and it was generally just a very enjoyable experience. So much better than breakfast!