Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Port Arthur Ghost Tour

One of the more popular activities around Hobart is to do a tour of the nearby penal settlement, Port Arthur.

The tour operator I went with for the trip was called "Port Arthur MEGA day tour", with the mega in capital letters making it sound suitably exciting. The hostel receptionist had said that most people who come to Hobart do things which aren't very active and sure enough this particular tour, most of which involved being chauffeured around, was full with people all of whom were about my age. Joining me in discovering some history about the area was a bloke from Staten Island, NY, two Taiwanese girls, two Malaysian girls and a French speaking couple from Montreal, Canada.

The first stop on the tour was a quick drive by the Hobart Zoo. Seeing as it closed down in the 1930s, there wasn't much to see except an open field. However, its claim to fame is that the last known Tasmanian Tiger died here and now that species is extinct. The pictures which the guide showed displayed a very unusual animal: picture a kangaroo with four legs and a dogs head. It was able to go back on its back legs like a Kangaroo and even had the same pouch for carrying its young, but its head looked like a dog: very odd.

Next up we drove through Richmond Village, which is famous for having the oldest of just about every type of building in Oz (e.g. the oldest Post Office, the oldest bridge, etc.) The bridge resembled a million other bridges I've seen around Ireland, except for one minor detail: when it was built in the 1850s, it wasn't trolls under the bridge that you had to worry about, just sharks! Changes to the harbour closer to the sea since it was built has prevented sharks from coming in and today the only creatures in the water are the ducks.

The route to Port Arthur took us next through "Dootown", where every house uses the word "Doo" eccentrically enough(!) Some were normal ("Little to Doo"), while for others you'd wonder how the home owner keeps a straight face whenever he is required to write down his address somewhere ("Doo Me"). The village was located in the exciting sounding area called "Pirates Bay" which makes those Doo addresses look even more unlikely ("I swear officer, I do live at Doo Me, Pirates Bay"!)

After Dootown we made our way into Port Arthur. The tour guide took the unusual step of warning us NOT to ask a particular question. It seems within the last ten years, a local kid lost the plot and ended up murdering 33 people in the space of a few hours. Many of the locals were there when it happened, so the guide told us not to say anything about it.

Port Arthur itself was a penal colony where the British sent the worst of the worst to live out their days doing hard labour. Today, many of the old buildings remain and our tour group was booked into doing a Ghost Tour of the ruins, late at night...

We arrived at dusk, so Roger (from NY) and I did a quick walk around the ruins taking pictures before it got too dark. About two hours later though, when it was pitch black and freezing cold, a group of about 20 set off on the candlelit tour. When the tour guide asked for volunteers to hold one of the three lanterns, I didn't hold back: the candle inside did a great job of keeping my hands warm.

As we went around from building to building, the ghost tour guide gave us lots of details on the ghoulish deaths which prisoners suffered during the (final) stay there. The tour operators wanted to "keep it real", so if you are after scary music, funny lights and people jumping out at you, you may want to try elsewhere.

At one point in the tour, one of the group became agitated because she saw something dark moving in the shadows outside. Sadly it was just another tour group, but everybody's laughter had a slightly nervous aspect to it. Otherwise, nothing else weird happened during the tour. However, when I was looking at my photos afterwards, I did spot some weird white spheres near peoples heads. I hadn’t seem them when taking the picture, but they did appear in the photograph. Make what you will of it in a particular photo in my photo gallery.

The ride back to Hobart along the dark roads proved to be just as unsettling however. Nighttime is when most of the wildlife in Oz becomes active and there was quite a bit of road kill on the side of the roads. It happens quite regularly that a kangaroo will start jumping across a road just as you come around a corner... despite it being late at night I had no trouble staying wide awake while keeping my eyes glued to the road.