travel

From Chernobyl to Port Arthur: The eerie appeal of visiting the world's darkest sites.

HBO’S hit miniseries, Chernobyl, which depicts the real-life events surrounding the 1986 catastrophic nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, has been become the highest-rated TV show ever on the International Movie Database (IMDB).

As well as scoring a 9.7 out of 10 average rating, and a perfect 10 for its final episode, the show also has a score of 95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Dogs of Chernobyl – Abandoned In The Zone. Post continues after video. 

But perhaps outside the world of the silver screen finds its most bizarre and intriguing success: Chernobyl site visits by morbidly fascinated tourists have risen by 50 per cent, according to Victor Korol, the head of SoloEast, a company that gives tours of the site, as reported by The New York Times.

Welcome to the world of dark tourism.

The concept of dark tourism was brought to notoriety by the Netflix series, The Dark Tourist in 2018. Host, David Farrier, travelled the world visiting sites historically linked to death and tragedy, including: Tomioka, a Japanese town evacuated during the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Milwaukee, USA, for a walking tour of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s murder locations.

Also known as black tourism or grief tourism, Farrier describes it as “holidays in war zones, disaster sites, and other offbeat destinations.” And although its awareness has increased since the documentary it has been an industry steadily developing over the past decade.

A senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania’s School of Humanities, Dr Robert Clark told ABC: “After the 2000s, dark travel started to become popular and you started seeing places being marketed based on their horror, trauma and even history of catastrophe.”

Described in a wide variety of ways from voyeuristic to an opportunity to grieve publicly, dark tourism can be a moral and ethical minefield, but regardless of this it seems to be more and more popular the world over.

In fact, it now seems the hottest ticket in tourism, or at least dark tourism is a visit to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Pripyat and the site of Chernobyl itself.

There are a range of tour companies operating day trips into the area for intrigued and curious tourists. Usually paying around $100, they board a bus in the Ukraine capital, Kiev, and travel 120 kilometres to the centre of the nuclear disaster, the town of Pripyat where they find the melancholy abandoned carousel, memorials to the victims and stray dogs wandering the deserted streets.

They also visit the infamous reactor number four at the now protected plant of Chernobyl itself. Many tourists have been criticised for taking selfies on the tour and posting them to Instagram.

Although these tours have been running for years, it wasn’t until the series first aired in May that it became so immensely popular. In fact, there has been a reported rise of 40 per cent in bookings to visit the site of world’s most nuclear accident.

ADVERTISEMENT

The NBC reported that “SoloEast tours…saw a 30 per cent increase in tourists going to the area in May 2019 compared with the same month last year. Bookings for June, July and August have risen by approximately 40 per cent since HBO aired the show.”

Although sites like Chernobyl and other international locations such as the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and the National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero New York lead the way in visitors, dark tourism isn’t just a phenomenon internationally. Australia is also the home of dark tourist spots that are also gaining in popularity.

Dark Tourism, a site that indexes dark tourism locations around the world lists Port Arthur, Tasmania, as one site that is often frequented. The site of our deadliest mass shooting offers tours based around its haunting history as the location where more than 1000 people died during its 47-year history as a penal settlement. The Old Melbourne Gaol, as well as Uluru, specifically the site where Azaria Chamberlain disappeared in 1980 are also mentioned.

One other notable Australian dark tourist location is the now abandoned Aradale Mental Asylum and J – Ward, which housed Victoria’s criminally insane for 104 years, also known as the most haunted place in Australia.

Ararat Rural City Council’s tourism manager Julie Kilpatrick said, “Ararat has one of the best examples of dark tourism.” And the numbers support this, with an increase in visitors, locally, interstate and internationally, to the site, totally over 15,000 in 2017.

Located in the Victorian, regional city of Ararat, the asylum was the home of some of the most controversial psychiatric treatments in Australia and saw 13,000 people pass away inside its walls. Aradale Asylum and external tour companies offers a variety of tour options including an ‘after dark’ experience making it one of the most intriguingly popular dark tourism sites in Australia.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: three goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.

Want to have your voice heard? Plus have the chance to win $100? Take our survey now.

MMSurvey
00:00 / ???