The Hotham Valley Railway at Dwellingup is a place that you can go to experience what rail travel was like in the golden age of steam. The team of volunteers work hard to give you an enjoyable day out. The town of Dwellingup is a 40 minute drive from Mandurah, Western Australia.
History of Dwellingup
Dwellingup was originally a timber cutters town, where harvesting the abundant Jarrah, Marri and Blackbutt trees in the surrounding forests provided a livelihood. Being the home of timber cutters, the majority of the houses were made from wood. In 1961, the town was almost completely destroyed when a devastating bushfire raged through the forest, razing everything except the Dwellingup Hotel, which still stands today. Dwellingup was rebuilt soon after the fire and today stands as a monument to the pioneering spirit of its original timber workers.
Hotham Valley Steam Ranger
Our reason for being in Dwellingup was to visit the historic Hotham Valley Railway. The railway operates on Western Australia’s steepest section of railway through the Darling Range escarpment between Dwellingup and Pinjarra. We took the Steam Ranger journey (which only went as far as Isandra siding) and experienced a ride with the mountain type “W” class steam locomotive.
Experiencing the living history on this journey was a lot of fun. I love steam trains, and take a trip back into history whenever I can. There’s nothing like the sound and the smell of the engine hard at work, and the whistle blowing at every crossing.
We started our journey at 10:30am, but the fireman and engineer were up at dawn to start the fire and warm the boiler slowly. Our train for the day was W 945 “Banksiadale” taking us on the Steam Ranger service from Dwellingup down to the Isandra siding and back up the hill again.
Rolling down to Isandra siding
With the train facing “backwards” we set off for the Isandra siding. Rolling at a leisurely pace along the tracks, gently swaying our way through the bush and countryside, we enjoyed the novelty of the experience.
We were warned, that if you put your head out the window, you might get a face full of soot for your troubles. Not to let that put you off, you could purchase steam train goggles for the children, and adults, to protect their eyes while they were busy getting a face full of soot. I had to laugh. We opened the window a little to get a clear shot for some photos. It was only a little bit, but it was enough to be able to see the evidence of the sooty air swirling around the train. Little sooty bits collected on the top of our coffee cup!
Once we reached the Isandra siding we had a 30 minute stop while the staff unhooked the locomotive and switched it to the front of the train.
Passengers had the option to stand outside while this was happening and also to observe the recoupling of the engine to the front of the train from a purpose-built platform. There is no facility to turn the locomotive at the Isandra siding, so that was why it has to go down the hill backward on the first leg of the journey.
Huff and Puff up the hill
Now that we were hooked up the right way, we set off back up the hill, through the winding curves. Many of us had our heads out the windows as we rounded the bends on our side of the train to watch the billowing smoke coming from the engine. (Sooty faces be damned) I mean, how else do you get great photos up the side of the train?
A seat on the Steam Ranger service will cost $40 for an adult, cash only. Heritage railways are expensive to run, so there are fundraising activities during the trip, such as raffle ticket purchases, and souvenirs from the dining car. There are also opportunities to purchase items from the shop at Dwellingup Station.
The steam engines only run between May and October each year. This is due to fire restrictions in the warmer seasons, as there is a fire hazard taking the train through the bush during this time.
After the journey
Once back at Dwellingup station, we took a walk into the town to find a place to have lunch. There is an old log cabin looking café that caught our attention.
We were surprised that it was actually an Indian restaurant. I had the nicest Rogan Josh meal, gluten-free. There were also home-made pies and other tasty treats to be had.
A couple of the other interesting things we saw during our walk was these emu garden ornaments and mural on one of the buildings.
It was an enjoyable day!