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Australia's most terrifying tourist trails
Haunted morgues, paranormal prisons and roaming reverends are the stuff of nightmares on these ghostly gallivants
Everyone loves a good ghost story -- particularly when it’s true.
From ancient times, humanity has enjoyed few activities more than the sheer inhumanity of scaring the living daylights out of each other, so it’s no shocker to find entire tourist industries built on doing just that.
Come with us as we glide through the walls and down the spooky passageways of five of Australia’s most-terrifying visitor hotspots. Boo!
1. Quarantine Station
“Nobody is crazy tonight,” our guide whispers, as we stand huddled on the wharf of Q Station by lantern light.
From the 1830s to 1984, in this exact spot on the north shore of Sydney Harbour, migrant travelers disembarked from ships that had been tainted by some kind of outbreak.
Here they would stay, until considered “safe” for release into Australia. But some never left ...
The spirits of those who died here are said to linger in what many describe as one of the most-haunted spots in Australia.
In the shower block, between the long rows of long disused cubicles, I feel a draft sweep by me in the pitch black and hear the distant sound of water trickling.
But it’s when we arrive in the morgue that I really lose my cool. We hear that a ghost with an eye for the ladies lurks within, and warned to watch out for a licking feeling around the ankles.
I’m outta there.
“The accommodation isn’t haunted,” promises the guide when the tour draws to a close. That’s a relief.
We’re staying in the first-class quarters, built for passengers considered too high class for the regular digs.
But, with our bathroom a short walk along the open verandah, I’m fairly sure I won’t be making a visit to the smallest room tonight.
Not one for scares?
North Head’s use by the Quarantine Station and the School of Artillery ensured the area’s isolation, meaning a diversity of flora and fauna has thrived here.
It’s rewarding to take a hike through the undergrowth, finishing at a small, but perfectly formed, beach where you can watch the Manly ferry zip by as you dip your toes in the shallows.
Quarantine Station, North Head Scenic Drive, Manly, New South Wales 2095; +61 (0) 2 9466 1500; tours $49 (US$53) for adults, $44 for concessions; www.qstation.com.au
2. Fremantle Prison
Fremantle Prison closed as a functioning penitentiary as recently as 1991 -- a fact that’s pretty hard to fathom as you walk around the building’s cobbled yards and eye the iron grids over all the windows.
Built by convicts between 1852 and 1859, it is now Western Australia’s sole UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can explore the prison by eerie torchlight but, while there’s no shortage of ghostly tales set in its grounds, the focus of the evening tours here is the history.
“The idea is to give people a sense of what it would have been like for the prisoners,” interpretation manager Luke Donegan says.
“We tell them the stories of real people that are so tragic, sad and horrifying that visitors often walk away overwhelmed.”
There’s no promise of ghostly sightings or paranormal oddities as you wander the main cellblock and solitary confinement but visits to the whipping post, gallows and morgue, combined with the stories of those who died there will chill even the hardest of souls.
“Our tours can scare the bejesus out of people without having to tell them ghost stories,” Donegan promises.
Fremantle Prison, 1 The Terrace, Fremantle, Western Australia 6160; tours $25, $21; +61 (0) 8 9336 9200; www.fremantleprison.com.au
Not one for scares?
Go deep beneath the prison for an underground adventure instead. Don a helmet, set of overalls and a headlamp to explore a labyrinth of tunnels created by the hard labor of prisoners.
Tunnels Tour cost from $59 per adult, $49 concessions.
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3. Port Arthur
“Reverend George” has been seen more than a dozen times over 150 years around the grounds of Port Arthur, the historic penal outpost in Tasmania.
“He’s regularly seen in the parsonage, where he died in the 1870s,” tour coordinator Jake Bradshaw tells me. “We have photos of him.”
Then there are the convicts.
“One that’s regularly seen is John Gould -- a particularly nasty character who’s been spotted leering at people over the years,” Bradshaw says.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here, there are more than 2,000 reports of unexplained activity, all bundled into 20 bulging files full of “sightings of ghosts and strange emotional reactions to the buildings.”
“It’s by far the most-haunted spot in Australia,” our guide claims, which is why the nightly ghost tours here are so popular.
“Nothing is fabricated, there are no tricks -- it is about real people’s stories.”
While some attribute the high levels of paranormal activity to the suffering that occurred here during its years as a prison, others consider the place itself as special with an energy of its own, Bradshaw explains.
“People arrive here expecting to find a horrific prison, but instead they find a stunning corner of Tasmania.”
Not one for scares?
Ghostly spirits aside, this is a World Heritage Site -– a well preserved excerpt of Australia’s convict past -– with a number of day tours to delight history buffs.
“It’s a place where you can really get a feel for how modern Australia began,” Bradshaw says.
Port Arthur,Port Arthur Historic Site, Arthur Highway, Port Arthur, Tasmania 7182; tours $25, $15; +61 (0)659 101; www.portarthur.org.au
Once a bubbling hub of boozy sailors and raucous ladies, Melbourne’s first port still oozes maritime spirit -- now of a more ghostly variety.
Williamstown was established in 1837 and it remains one of the Victorian capital’s most appealing waterfront areas, with the city’s residents and tourists flocking to it to soak up the historic charm.
Its former inhabitants are seemingly rather fond of it too, and apparitions are said to still stalk its dark brickwork laneways, gathering around the disused morgues and graveyards.
Lantern Ghost Tours offers spooky tours of the atmospheric area every Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m.; tours $25, $15; +61 (0)390 119; www.lanternghosttours.com
Not one for scares?
Williamstown is now a thriving hub of restaurants and bars thanks to its premium setting on the waterfront. There’s no shortage of excellent places to have a meal or a drink.
Alternatively, you could take to the water like a sailor of old aboard one of the ferries.
5. Adelaide Gaol
Just a few weeks back, we’re told, a skeptical young lady came face to face with the ghost of Governor William Baker Ashton in the grounds of Adelaide Gaol, his former domain.
A rather large man, he died in his quarters and, stiff with rigor mortis, had to be hoisted down through the window by rope and pulley.
“The embarrassing exit is probably why he’s sticking around,” president of the preservation society, Penny Wilkinson, tells me.
Before that, it had been years since he was last seen -- common behavior for the resident ghosts, who apparently dart in and out of the grounds rather erratically.
Wilkinson herself was a skeptic when she started working at the gaol, but her experiences there, along with those of countless others she’s met, have left her more open to the supernatural.
Not one for scares?
Other options include listening to volunteer guides -- including some former inmates -- share fascinating insights into the building’s past, or taking a free, self-guided tour. Surely, you won't be able to scare yourself?
Adelaide Gaol, Adelaide Gaol, 18 Gaol Road, Thebarton, South Australia 5031; tours $20; +61 (0)8 8231 4062; www.adelaidegaol.sa.gov.au
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