About 20 miles from Strahan lies Queenstown. During the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century it was the home of a very lucrative copper mine. However its location deep in mountainous and thickly forested terrain meant that the biggest challenge was not to get the copper ore out of the ground but rather to get it out of Queenstown. The answer they came up with was to build a railway to the coast at Strahan, an astounding feat of engineering. The work was all done by hand in period of less than three years, which was way ahead of schedule (we learned later in our trip that this outstanding result was probably due to the sassafras tea the workers were served – it’s made from the leaves of a local tree and contains amphetamine, which acted as a performance enhancing drug.)
The copper mine is no more, though locals hope for its revival if prices pick up sufficiently. However the railway has been preserved, and is doing a great job ferrying tourists past wild landscapes and though magnificent forests. So we join them and take a relaxing return day-trip from Strahan to Queenstown, getting great views of the train and the land through which it runs:
We are generously fed and watered throughout the trip, and even get to spend an hour in Queenstown, which to me feels a bit like a careworn frontier town in the American Wild West, although without the tumbleweed:
It’s interesting to note that the steam trains were originally coal-fired, but have been converted to run on recycled sump oil. The reason, we are told, is that locomotives running on oil won’t release sparks and embers into the atmosphere, and are therefore less likely than their coal-fired cousins to set on fire and burn down the UNESCO accredited rainforest through which they run.
Heritage steam trains are always good fun, and the West Coast Wilderness Railway is no exception. Travelling the line allows an appreciation of just how much effort and ingenuity went into its construction, while the locomotives and rolling stock are full of character:
A grand day out was had by all.