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15 great historic getaways

Port Arthur, Tasmania
What needs to be said about Port Arthur, one of Australia’s best-loved, World Heritage Listed sites? Located 60km southeast of Hobart, Port Arthur began as a timber station before becoming the infamous penal colony where 12,500 of the hardest recidivist convicts were sent between 1833 and 1853. Now essentially an open-air museum, its multiple historic buildings and ruins stand as a physical record of the strict prison life and harsh punitive philosophy there. The Point Puer Boys’ Prison, which held juvenile offenders, some as young as nine, is particularly harrowing. The famous Ghost Tour helps visitors appreciate the inmates’ daily hardships. Even without this eerie night walk around the complex, the personal stories of punishment, suffering and past prisoners may well haunt you for some time after your visit.
Best time to visit = November

Port Arthur, Tasmania | Courtesy of Tourism Australia
Port Arthur, Tasmania | Courtesy of Tourism Australia

Port Macquarie, New South Wales
With its friendly atmosphere, coastal rainforests and beautiful beaches, Port Macquarie ticks many boxes for a great summer getaway. Originating as a convict penal settlement in 1821, the area’s history is an attraction in its own right, as the ‘hell on earth’ where convict reoffenders were sent in the 1820s-30s. In 1828, one of Australia’s oldest churches, St Thomas’ Anglican Church, was built here by convict labour. Fingerprints are visible on some of its 365,000 handmade bricks. The award-winning historical museum houses an impressive array of artefacts including a collection of 1840s-era journals, paintings and letters by local woman Annabella Boswell. And kids will love the nearby Timbertown, a heritage theme park, with bullock team demonstrations, steam train and Clydsdale-drawn carriage.
Best time to visit = Summer

Napier, New Zealand
Known as the Art Deco capital of the world, Napier — situated at Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s eastern coast — certainly boasts architecture worth marvelling at. Turn back in time with the Art Deco Weekend Summer Festival each February, as vintage clothing, vehicles and aircraft bring the streets alive. Picnics, parades and jazz concerts all help celebrate Napier’s reconstruction after a devastating 1931 earthquake. Buildings that survived include New Zealand’s oldest gaol, built in 1862, plus a series of brightly coloured colonial houses known as the “six sisters”. Steeped in Maori history, the Ngāti Kahungunu tribe dominated the Hawke’s Bay region, and became among the first to encounter European settlers in 1769. From the 1830s, whalers, traders and missionaries moved in. Today Napier’s surrounds feature established wineries, great hiking opportunities, and stunning views from Te Mata Peak.
Best time to visit = February

Burra, South Australia
Situated 160km north of Adelaide, Burra is a perfect place for a getaway. From 1845, when local shepherds discovered copper, through to the late 1870s, Burra was a booming mining town. Today it’s one of Australia’s best-preserved towns from the Victorian era, with 21 sites and relics showcased on the Burra Heritage Trail.
Best time to visit = May

Read more of Sarah’s travel tips, tricks and stories at World Unlost, a travel blog for history lovers.


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