In 1832 ferocious dogs guarded the Eaglehawk Neck isthmus that joins the Tasman and Forestier peninsulas in an attempt by colonial authorities to keep Port Arthur convicts from escaping.
This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s November 2011 issue.
The infamous dog line proved quite effective, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the escape of Martin Cash who went on to become one of Tasmania’s best-known bushrangers.
Other escapees hatched quite bizarre plans to breach the vicious canine barrier – such as convict Billy Hunt’s attempt to hop across the neck in a kangaroo hide. His plan was brought to a sudden halt when one of the soldiers decided to shoot the unusually large (and probably rather ungainly) roo.
The Tasman Peninsula is no longer a place to flee; instead it offers a perfect mix of fascinating Tassie history, set alongside dramatic coastal scenery, including the highest vertical cliffs in Australia. There is a beautiful campground right on the beach at Fortescue Bay, with fantastic swimming and a boat ramp, where you could easily spend the entire weekend – but you wouldn’t want to miss out on everything else there is to see.
The Tasman’s Arch, Devil’s Kitchen, the Blowhole and the Tessellated Pavement are awe-inspiring sites of natural grandeur. To lose the crowds, follow Waterfall Bay Road (turn off Blowhole Road) and absorb the views at Morley’s Lookout without having to wait your turn. The last couple of kilometres are dirt, but it is a perfectly good road.
On a clear day there are beautiful views over Waterfall Bay, with the cliff walls rising straight out of the water. Rainfall gives the bay its namesake. Time permitting, visit the Port Arthur Historic Site – but allow at least a full day to do the place justice.
Different ‘experience’ passes are available, including a Port Arthur After Dark Pass, which includes the popular historic ghost tour. The Coal Mines Historic Site provides an interesting insight into Tasmania’s first operational mine, and the site also served as a place for punishment of the worst class of convict.
Tasman NP is a bushwalking mecca. The famous Tasman Coastal Track follows the sea cliffs from Waterfall Bay through to Fortescue Beach, out to Cape Hauy and on to Cape Pillar. Walks range from a couple of hours to extended four-day hikes.
More 4x4 destinations on Explore
For a more leisurely stroll, or something more suited to young families, follow the track at the northern end of Fortescue Beach to the rocky shore at Canoe Bay. Fairy Penguin burrows can be found along the way and, with a bit of luck, you may even spy the occupants.
Of course, there are plenty of 4X4 tracks to explore, just be sure to have a detailed map handy and be careful on forestry roads. In a nutshell, Tasman NP has something for everyone and, happily, nowadays you don’t have to concern yourself with snarling dogs or trigger-happy policemen if you do decide to hop across Eaglehawk Neck.
Tasman National Park is 80km south-east of Hobart, on the Tasman Peninsula.
Access from Hobart is via the A9.
There are bush-camping facilities at Fortescue Bay, 22km south-east of Port Arthur (12km dirt road). For enquiries, ring the Parks and Wildlife office on 03 6250 2433 or email Fortescue.Bay@parks.tas.gov.au. Cost is $13 per couple, per night (creek water, drop toilets and $2 hot showers). Bookings are advisable. There is no power, but generators are allowed in one part of the campground. There are limited sites suitable for caravans.
WHAT TO BRING
Bring your own drinking water as well as supplies. There is a small supermarket in Port Arthur. Note restrictions on what foods can be brought from mainland Australia.
Tasman National Park: Map and Notes, TASMAP, 1:75,000, $9.95. Available from the Fortescue Bay Parks and Wildlife Office, or tasmap.tas.gov.au.
You need a National Parks Pass, available at Fortescue Bay (day pass, $24).