One of the many attractions people have on their list of things to do when visiting Hobart is The Port Arthur Historic Site. It is definitely a must see attraction but there are some other very interesting areas of the Tasman Peninsula that are full of history and include a few hours of easy walking in the fresh air. Today I am going to share with you a site and walk that is worth the 25 minute detour, as you will not only get some exercise and fresh air but you will see how the convicts lived in this remote coal mining region, you will learn some of the history of the mines and convicts and you will enjoy the beauty of the area.
The Coal Mines Historic Site was the first operational mine in Tasmania and was once home to some 600 convicts as well as officers and their families. This was the place to send the hard core convicts to produce the coal that was to be used in this area (Van Diemen’s Land). It was a harsh, cold place with unstable mine shafts and punishment served in the cold, wet underground cells they called solitary confinement.
So let’s begin with a stroll through the walled entrance where you will find interpretation and information panels that will help you get a feel for the history and an overall view of the walking tracks you are about to embark on. From here follow the path through to the Convict Precinct where you will find the remains of convict barracks, a bakery and solitary punishment cells. Spend some time reading the information panels scattered around telling stories of life, convicts and buildings which once stood on this site.
Continue following the path to the beach at Little Norfolk bay then on to Plunkett Point where a tramway once ran coal to a jetty which is no longer there. There are remnants of a lime kiln now long gone. You can almost hear the convicts talking, the waves lapping on the beach and noise of the tram rambling along the jetty.
From here take a detour to the quarry which is not unlike a little oasis, quiet and serene but where you get a glimpse of where the stone would have come from. Head back and then up the inclined plane which leads you to the main shaft of the coal mines. The inclined plane would have once been used for coal wagons going up and down from the main shaft.
All along your walk you will see native plants and some (if your there at the right time of year) will be blooming with beautiful, colourful flowers and you may even come across some form of fungi growing on fallen trees.
Wander around the main shaft before heading along the path back to the main entrance. But don’t worry this is not a boring walk either as you will come across the site of the signal station and the military precinct where you will find more ruins, the remains of cottages, officers’ quarters and barracks.
Wandering around and exploring places like this and Port Arthur I get a feeling of quiet, serenity and even dread. It is almost as if there is still a presence all around you of the past, the people that made this place, lived here and even died here. It is a wonderful slice of our history and is well worth a visit.
The Coal Mines Historic Site is located on Coal Mines Road (C341), via Premaydena, Saltwater River, Tasmania. You can get there from Port Arthur (approx. 25 minute drive) or from Hobart (approx. 1½ hour drive). For more information visit the Port Arthur Historic Site or go to www.portarthur.org.au.