Inspired By Tasmania's Most Loved Railway
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a must visit attraction for all families. Located within the wildest region of Tasmania, the famous ABT railway offers 120+ year old steam engines, station stops, tales and gold panning along the way. We caught up with Bec, who shared with us all the important must know info about the West Coast Wilderness Railway, and how a humble steam engine will inspire you to share the story.
The wild West Coast makes you feel alive. The long beaches, mountain ranges, vast rain forest and amazing feats of engineering and perseverance always leave you feeling inspired, and humbled at the same time. Being as passionate as we are about the region it was wonderful to catch up recently with Rebecca from the West Coast Wilderness Railway, for the low down on what makes this Railway so fantastic for families,what you'll need to know for the journey ahead, and how you too, can be inspired.
Image: King River Gorge, Abt section.
TASSIE4KIDS: Thanks for taking time out of your busy day, Bec! We love trains so its great to sit down and talk about what your'e doing here at West Coast Wilderness Railway. What is your role?
BEC: Thanks! Its a wonderful place to work. I am the social media officer for the railway, which means I take care of guest interactions and enquiries that come to us online. I also inform our visitors of upcoming and current information via Facebook and Instagram posts. If you spoken with us on Facebook, you've more than likely spoken with me!
This railway journey is really unique. Can you tell us about what makes it so special?
There are many parts of our railway experience that are memorable including the scenic views, traveling through the rough terrain and alongside the King River, overlooking the gorge and being able to see and feel the Rack and Pinion system in action. Not to mention the 120+ year old steam locos that transport you deep into the wilderness.
Image: Train Driver, James. James followed in the footsteps of his father, Bob, who is also a train driver on the railway.
Wow! 12o+ years old!! Those steam engines sound impressive!
They sure are, the three that we run at present are from when the Mt Lyell Mine first opened the railway in 1893. Loco numbers 1,3 and 5 are in use today on our railway, number 2 currently resides at the Tasmanian Transport Museum in Glenorchy and number 4 was scraped and used for parts before being buried in Queenstown.
Do you only run steam engines?
We also run 2 diesel engines although the steam is certainly more popular, the diesels are really only used for shunting or on the rare occasions that a steam engine requires a day off.
The train journey is a must do on almost every family holiday to Tassie. We are always asked whats there to see and do along the way?
We have 4 station stops in between Queenstown and Strahan, depending on the particular journey that is chosen families may stop at Lynchford, Rinadeena, Dubbil Barril or Lower Landing. There are things to see and do at each stop including rainforest walks, lookouts, gold panning and honey tasting. Our half day journeys also get to watch the loco being turned by hand at Dubbil Barril, whereas our full day journey guests will get to see this at Queenstown.
Image: King River Gorge, Abt section.
Does the train only depart from Queenstown?
No, a family can also catch a train from Strahan. We have 3 journeys on offer however our full day journey only runs during the warmer months. Our Rack and Gorge half day journey runs from Queenstown to Dubbil Barril and return, stopping at Lynchford and Rinadeena stations along the way. Our other half day journey runs from Regatta Point to Dubbil Barril and return, stopping at the Lower Landing station along the way. These half day journeys are 4hrs return and run at different times depending on the time of year you wish to travel. Our full day Queenstown Explorer runs the full length of our line from Regatta Point to Queenstown and return, taking all the above mentioned station stops along the way. This journey runs for approximately 9hrs with a lunch stopover in Queenstown for around 1.5-2hrs.
What would it have been like for families living in Queenstown or Strahan during those early pioneering days?
Life was pretty hard, it was an isolated area, with poor road access from the rest of Tasmania until well into the 20th century. The railway was a lifeline for those moving between Queenstown and Strahan, and those families who live along the route. We tell plenty of stories on our tours about children who lived along the line and used it as a means of getting to and from school, as well as their families for whom it was essential for their livelihoods.
Image: Train kids
For those travelling with younger kids, what would be a highlight?
The loco! When trains are involved the kid in all of us is brought to the surface. Different areas of the railway appeal to different kids but some of the most popular areas are gold panning, exploring the wilderness, the train ride itself and the interactive model train board at the Queenstown station.
Image: Exploring rainforest at Dubbil Barril Station.
For those travelling with older kids, what would be a highlight?
The scenery and the history. Our guides relate the story of the settlement and development of the West Coast, peppered with insights into life on the railway, both during its construction, and in later years when it connected people and communities along its route to the outside world.
Image: Train Guides bring the journey to life
Can the kids meet the train driver and fireman? What about getting a photo?
Absolutely! Our loco team are very friendly and approachable and love nothing more than welcoming the kids to check out their work space. They would certainly smile for a camera if required and the kids are encouraged to get a picture in front of the train.
Image: Preparing to turn the ABT loco on the turntable at Dubbil Barril Station, a daily occurance.
Do you have any stories about railways kids you can share with us?
As mentioned previously, passengers on our tours will hear about the children and families who lived along the line, for whom the railway was a vital connection between the towns and to the outside world. Some of the stories are pretty entertaining, but you’ll have to come along on a tour to hear them :-)
We have been studying your route map here at Queenstown Station and noticed there are over 40 bridges; are there a lot of river crossings?
The line travels along the shores of Macquarie Harbour from Strahan before heading up the King River, which it crosses a number of times. Closer to Queenstown, it follows the Queen River. Many of the bridges are needed to run alongside the river, extending the embankments, rather than to actually cross the river. Because they are constructed in the same manner, they are all referred to as ‘bridges’.
These bridges, are they made out of the famous Huon pine? Can you see one up close on the journey?
The Huon pines are scatted throughout the wilderness that we pass through, if you keep your eye out along the journey, you may be lucky enough to spot one! The bridges are made out of hardwood, not Huon pine. The timber was too soft to use. If you visit one of the local Huon pine sawmills you can see the cut timber and feel how easily it can be damaged.
Image: ABT Engine NO. 1. The oldest of all three locos at the West Coast Wilderness Railway.
Is the journey suitable for all ages of kids? Can a family bring along a pram or stroller? Do you have change rooms?
With station stops regularly throughout the journey our railway is certainly suitable for kids of all ages. However unfortunately we cannot take prams along on board due to safety and blocking the walkways and exits. We may allow strollers, depending on how flat they fold for easy storage and we do also carry push chairs along with us that families are most welcome to borrow. We have change rooms available at both Queenstown and Regatta Point stations.
Image: Crossing a trestle bridge on the Abt section.
What about kids with special needs?
Of course! We do, however, need to discuss this individually with families to be sure we offer the best available care. In regards to mobility we also need to keep safety in mind for those families. In an emergency situation, on the very rare occasion passengers may be asked to evacuate the train and walk along the track to the nearest road access point. Therefore we do ask that all passengers have some mobility to be able to do so if needed.
Image: King River Gorge, Abt section.
Will everyone need a jacket or jumper? Are there footwear restrictions?
During the cooler months we advise that families bring along a jacket or coat for use outside the carriage or to explore the wilderness walks on offer at the station stops. We also ask that guests wear closed footwear, just as a safety precaution whilst stepping on and off the platform onto the train and exploring in the rainforest.
Image: Travel in comfort.
A family holiday can be expensive, especially if there are a lot of kids! Can families bring their own drinks and snacks on board? Is there an onsite café or should families pack some food and drink to bring along for the ride?
We have a café at the Queenstown station, and there is also a small selection of food and drinks available for purchase at the Rinadeena and Lower Landing stations along the way. However passengers on our Heritage carriage are most welcome to bring along any food and/or hot beverages they wish to for their family on the journey.
Image: Just before the beginning of the ABT section (Rack and Pinion) on the 1/12 grade to Rinadeena Station
For those in need a great coffee prior to departure, where is the best West Coast coffee at?
Tracks Café at the Queenstown station… of course!
Image: Hear the whistle blow!
Wow, Bec! You've been great! Thanks so much for all of that fantastic information! To finish up, what are your top 5 tips for families travelling throughout the West Coast?
When traveling to and around the West Coast take care, not only when driving around winding mountain roads with plenty of bends but also for ice and of course wildlife - allow a bit more time than you think you will need. Whilst you’re here don’t be afraid to try something new. Be sure to allow yourself the time to explore the whole area, each town here on the West Coast has something exciting to offer and you don’t want to miss out. Always carry your camera, there are some breathtaking images in our beautiful area to be captured. Be prepared for adventure!