Monday, April 26, 2010

West Coast Wilderness Railway: "We’ll find a way, or make it"

Looking over the edge of King River Gorge in Tasmania’s West you’d be forgiven for thinking man had never been there, the untouched rapids raging hundreds of metres below waging their war to carve a crevice in the landscape.

But it is here that one of the most powerful stories of man triumphing over nature’s adversity is told – a 35km railway built by hand through some of the most inhospitable bush imaginable.

Boarding Pure Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway, you expect to see the wilds of the West Coast, but what you take with you at the end of your journey is so much more. You leave with an understanding of the hardship the early settlers faced in their time and an appreciation for the local guides who bring their messages through time to you today.

The railway itself is a feat of endurance. It was built more than 100 years ago as a link between the mines of Queenstown and the port of Strahan. It was a lifeline for the people of the area, the only way in and the only way out of Strahan, with its busy little port a link to the rest of civilisation.

The pioneering railway workers battled everything Mother Nature could throw at them – wind, rain, freezing temperatures, flies, mud... the stories of hardship are endless. They cut through massive rocks by hand to make way for the railway, exemplifying their motto “We’ll find a way, or make it”.

Some parts of the line were amazing feats of engineering way ahead of their time. Huge bridges were constructed off-site, put together nearby then floated into place. Test tracks of Dr Roman Abt’s unique rack-and-pinion system used to haul the trains up the track’s steep incline were built to ensure all would run to plan.

The railway was closed in 1963 as running costs skyrocketed and more road links were built. Many parts of the line fell into ruin, the most memorable story of the Quarter Mile Bridge which was rumoured to sway violently as the train crossed and soon after its closure was claimed by the rising waters of the King River. The remains can still be seen today as you cross a replica, thankfully more stable than its original!

The West Coast Wilderness Railway was painstakingly restored with the assistance of a Centenary of Federation grant, including the original steam engines, and replica carriages were built. Two levels of travel are offered – tourist class and the Premier carriage, which includes a dedicated tour guide, padded seating, morning and afternoon tea, all-day beverages and a booklet to remember your journey. Both classes of seating include lunch featuring fresh Tasmanian produce.

The train simultaneously departs Queenstown and Strahan daily except for Christmas Day. In peak season there is also an afternoon journey.

For further details or to make a booking visit or phone 1800 084 620.

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