Cycling Tasmania Day 8 & 9
Taranna to Coal Mines National Heritage Site – 21km, 410m elevation

I took a day off of cycling yesterday to visit the World Heritage Site, Port Arthur. A day of learning about Australia’s convict history is just what I needed. Port Arthur is especially significant because it was the first in the world to create a separate prison for boys. Before that, boys as young as nine years old were locked up with hardened adult criminals. You can just imagine the results. Now it seems crazy to lock up kids at all but at the time just the idea of separating them from adults was revolutionary.

This is part of a month-long cycle tour around Tasmania. If you missed the start of this journey, here’s how it all got started.

Port Arthur Penitentiary
Port Arthur Penitentiary

I spent the whole day at Port Arthur, absorbing as much as I could. After a week of fantastic scenery, it was nice to change gears and learn more about the history of the country I’m visiting. To be honest, Port Arthur is a conundrum, a paradox. The natural setting is just beautiful. Yet, there is an air of sadness. So many people were shipped off from the streets of London and Manchester for no more than stealing bread. They spent years of their lives here, forced to perform hard labour. They were flogged for any infraction or, worse, put into solitary confinement for months. Many never returned home. But there are stories of hope too. Many learned to read and write and learned a trade and went on to lead honest, successful lives. Like anything in history, there are two sides to the story.

Ruins of the church at Port Arthur
Ruins of the church at Port Arthur

Well, yesterday was a day off cycling and I’ll have to admit that today was a pretty relaxed day too. In the morning we went on a fun boat tour with Tasman Island Cruises. They take a big inflatable boat out into the exposed ocean along the sea cliffs and even drive right inside some caves. I really enjoyed seeing many of the same spots I’d visited on the bike, just this time from the water.

Inside Tasmans Arch
Inside Tasmans Arch – the same one I visited on the bike


That might look like snow but it's nowhere near that cold
That might look like snow but it’s nowhere near that cold
Pinnacles in the distance
Pinnacles in the distance
Towering sea cliffs
Towering sea cliffs
Seals at play
Seals at play

I did do some cycling today. A quick ride on a fairly quiet road took me to another Heritage Site called the Coal Mines. This is where convicts were sent to toil underground – a very dangerous and very difficult job. Unlike Port Arthur, which is packed with tourists, I didn’t see a single other person when I visited Coal Mines. Much of it is just a ruin but with some creativity you can imagine how hard life must have been for those unfortunate convicts who ended up here. I highly recommend it!

Ruins of the Coal Mines where convicts performed the hardest of hard labour
Ruins of the Coal Mines where convicts performed the hardest of hard labour

I’ve had two great days of discovering Tasmania’s rich history. I’m excited to get back on the bike and put in some good miles again tomorrow!

If you’re planning your own cycling trip in Tasmania, you can see today’s track and download the gpx from strava.

Cycling Tasmania – Day 1-9
Cycling Tasmania – Day 1-9

Up next, I finally track down the Tasmanian Devil!


5 thoughts on “The life of a convict – World Heritage Site Port Arthur

  1. Hey Justin, looks like you had a great day at Port Arthur. It’s a fascinating place, so full of history and beauty but also of sadness and hardship. Loved the photos from the cruise you took too, such a different perspective.

    1. You couldn’t be more right, Miriam. The contrast between the natural beauty and the sad history is difficult to comprehend. I’m really glad I had the chance to visit.

  2. Thank you for sharing. A lot of sadness (thankfully that is in the past) but beautiful scenery to enjoy.
    Question: What is the difference between the red and blue on the map?
    Travel safe xo

    1. Good question, Sandra. Each day I change the colour between red and blue so that you can see what cycled each individual day. Today was blue, for example, and tomorrow will be red.

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