History sits heavy at Port Arthur. Founded as a timber station in 1830, it quickly gained its continuing notoriety when it was chosen as the site of what would become Australia's most famous convict settlement. It was a ‘natural penitentiary’ – the peninsula is connected to the mainland by Eaglehawk Neck, a strip of land less than 100m wide, where ferocious guard dogs and tales of shark-infested waters deterred escape.
Despite its redemption as a major tourist site (the structures and ruins here are undeniably amazing), Port Arthur remains a sombre place. Don’t expect to remain unaffected by what you see: there’s a sadness here that’s palpable, compounded by the continuing memory of the day in April 1996 when a young gunman fired bullets indiscriminately around the site, murdering 35 people and injuring 37 more. After burning down a guesthouse, he was finally captured and remains imprisoned in Hobart.