Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Back on the rails: One of Tasmania's most dramatic travel experiences

After months of uncertainty, followed by grindingly slow bureaucratic meanderings, Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway is moving full steam ahead in time for the peak summer tourism season. 

The steam train, which travels between the coastal fishing port of Strahan and the mining town of Queenstown of Tasmania's west coast, has launched two new itineraries for passengers keen to explore the rugged and largely untamed countryside - and the steepest rail line in the Southern Hemisphere. 

A restoration of the Mount Lyell Mining line built in 1896 to export copper from Queenstown, the 34.5 kilometre line was a feat of remarkable engineering but was closed in 1969. 

Reopened as tourist attraction in 2002, it features new carriages fitted out with Tasmanian native timbers and modelled on the original carriages.
It closed again last year after the operators handed in their license following damage to part of the track. 
Now backed by the state government, the Wilderness Railway boasts four steam locomotives, including ABT 1, which dates back to 1896. 
They are used to pull the train, which crosses the King River and several dramatic rainforest gorges, using a rack-and-pinion system to conquer the steep gradients.
The journey has been described as one of the world’s few remaining authentic railway experiences and passengers are able to disembark at fascinating old mining settlements.

From December 15, the Queenstown Explorer will depart on Mondays and Tuesday mornings from Strahan’s original harbourside Regatta Point station returning to Strahan around 6pm.

During the trip, guests will have the chance to explore the historic mining town of Queenstown and to try their luck panning for gold. 

The Queenstown Explorer experience is available for $149 per adult and $65 per child or $335 for a family of up to two adults and two children in a heritage carriage.

More upmarket are the wilderness carriages, which cost $195 per adult and $110 per child with sparkling wine on arrival, morning tea, buffet lunch and afternoon tea. 

For visitors looking for a shorter journey, the new half day River and Rainforest experience starts operation on December 17. 

This afternoon journey, available Wednesday to Friday, offers a relaxing ride from Strahan (pictured below), taking in harbour views as the locomotive follows the foreshore and then the river as it journeys deep into the wilderness. 

Heritage carriage tickets are available for $95 per adult and $40 per child or $220 for a family of up to two adults and two children. 

Or guests can enjoy the luxury of a first-class experience for $135 per adult and $70 per child which includes seats in a balcony carriage, sparkling wine or juice on arrival and a delicious high tea served during the journey.

West Coast Wilderness Railway general manager Michael Saville said the new experiences follow an extensive upgrade of the track.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer passengers the chance to experience the complete railway experience which makes up an important historical part of Tasmania’s West Coast," he said, pinpointing an injection of around $12 million from the former Federal Government and the Tasmanian State Government. 

Around 12,000 sleepers, many kilometres of track and one of the 40 bridges have been replaced. Having enjoyed the journey in the railway's previous incarnation I can strongly recommend it. 

For information and bookings on the West Coast Wilderness Railway phone (03) 6471 0100, visit www.wcwr.com.au, or email enquiries@wcwr.com.au.

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