While the Tasman Peninsula is not an island, it is joined to the mainland by such a narrow isthmus –Eaglehawk Neck, across which wild dogs were once chained – and has such a remarkable history, both natural and man-made, that by rights, it should be regarded as one and hence I have included it in this section. Not least of all because so many visitors make the dire mistake of visiting it as a day trip, and in doing so miss out on one of Tasmania’s beautiful peninsulas that deserves to be explored in so much more detail and has so much to offer in terms of accommodation, history and experiences. It is like trying to see Rome in a day.
The Port Arthur Historic Site (and Coal Mines) was given World Heritage listing in 2011. While most European visitors have a vague idea of Tasmania’s convict history, few have any real understanding of how brutal it was, for young boys as well as men and women (the women were kept at the female Factory in Hobart) and how it shaped Tasmania’s history and its relationship with people from the UK and Ireland in particular. Furthermore here at Port Arthur was where corporal punishment – flogging by the feared cat’o’nine tails – was changed to psychological punishment and torture through the horror of isolation and the separate prison. The fully glory of Port Arthur is apparent during the day, as the setting is quite distressingly beautiful against such a horrific backdrop but also at night when the ghost tours run, and once a month when adults-only can participate in a paranormal tour.
Elsewhere on the Peninsula, extraordinary rock formations such as the Devil’s Kitchen and Tessellated Pavement add to the natural appeal of stunning bush walking – indeed, the Three Capes Walk, along the highest cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere - currently under construction, is feted to be Australia’s greatest overland walk when it is completed in the next couple of years. Surfers live in hope – or fear – of trying their skills at notorious Shipstern Bluff, the world’s most challenging surf spot. Migrating whales are becoming an increasingly common sight, and my first humpback whale sighting on the Tasman Island Cruise – just metres from my boat - will remain etched in my memory forever. The grin on my face took days to disappear!
Last but by no means least, the diving at Eaglehawk Neck is regarded by many as the best in Australia. Cold water diving, not for the fainthearted but neither only for the very experienced, reveals huge kelp forests which literally grow in front of your eyes, filled with pot bellied sea horses and weedy sea dragons, and superb cave systems. Under threat from climate change, it is questionable how long one will be able to enjoy the majesty of Tasmania’s underwater wilderness, but for now at least it is there for anyone who makes the sensible decision to stay on the Tasman Peninsula for longer than a day.