Cockle Train a classic ride

Fleurieu journey recalls bustling time

Domestic travel
WAY TO GO: The Cockle Train generally comprises a fleet of heritage railcars hauled by diesel locomotives. Steam trains run during school holidays. For more, steamrangerheritagerailway.org. Photo: Graham Scheer

WAY TO GO: The Cockle Train generally comprises a fleet of heritage railcars hauled by diesel locomotives. Steam trains run during school holidays. For more, steamrangerheritagerailway.org. Photo: Graham Scheer

Aa

Ride the Cockle Train from Victor Harbor to Goolwa.

Aa

IF they ever hold a competition for the ideal coastal holiday town, South Australia's Victor Harbor would be a strong contender.

On the Sunday I arrive there's a mist hanging over the Southern Ocean, making the water an appealing silvery tone which merges with the sky. The sands and the town's historic docks are framed by the Norfolk pines I remember from beach town holidays of my youth.

However, there's a bonus to this Fleurieu Peninsula town: a heritage train - and that's what I'm here to ride.

Walking to the station, I can sense how important the railway once was to Victor Harbor. In the streets near the port are restored edifices such as former goods sheds and workers' cottages.

The station itself is a classic of the era, with a certain amount of set dressing such as luggage carts piled with old suitcases.

It makes a suitable stage for the vehicle I'm awaiting: the historic Cockle Train, named for the cockles once collected for bait near Goolwa, the train's other terminus.

My train is made up of 1960s Redhen railcars that once served on Adelaide's suburban lines, along with a timber-framed carriage more than a century old. We pull out with a few bumps, following the curve of the harbour before slipping tightly between houses.

Then, as we head toward Port Elliot (a stop with a famous bakery), we receive the scenic payoff - the line runs along the top of coastal cliffs, with the beach below and the ocean stretching to the horizon.

I'm told you can spot southern right whales here in winter, and a passenger on the previous train told me she'd seen a pod of dolphins. I'm not as lucky, but the views are marvellous.

Beyond Middleton - where you could break the journey for a coastal stroll - the railway enters farming country, passing wheat fields, and paddocks containing sheep and the odd alpaca.

There's a thump and rattle to the motion of our train, as it makes its way past a historic church and a scattering of heritage buildings to pull up in the centre of Goolwa.

On one side of the station building is the town, on the other a picturesque stretch of the Lower Murray that would once have been all noise and bustle as paddlesteamers met the train.

You can still take a pleasure cruise from here, though today I'm more drawn by the historic pubs. There's 45 minutes until the return trip, and I reckon that's enough time for a beer.

The Cockle Train runs Wednesdays and Sundays year-round, Saturdays in the warmer months and daily during school holidays.

Details HERE

Tim Richards was hosted by SteamRanger Heritage Railway and the SA Tourism Commission.

Aa