Travel Story Steamy romance of vintage trains a Dwellingup drawcard

Take a journey back in time with Hotham Valley rail.

The forest surrounding Dwellingup draws campers, canoeists, Munda Biddi cyclists, leisurely bush walkers and Bibbulmun trekkers. And train lovers.

A short drive — around 110km or 90 minutes — from Perth, the Hotham Valley Tourist Railway runs regular services recreating train travel of the past. The tourist railway was established in 1974 as a train preservation project.

Between July and October this year, we sampled both the evening restaurant train and the day-time Steam Ranger. In the spring school holidays, we set up camp at the Dwellingup Caravan Park for a few days of canoeing and hiking. We saved our rest day for a lazy train ride.

The Steam Ranger is a two-hour trip suited to families, small children and day-trippers. It runs on Sundays and select days during the school holidays between May and October. It’s replaced by the Diesel Ranger in the warmer months and on bushfire-risk days.

Travelling through the Darling Range escarpment was pleasant, but there was more interest in the nuts and bolts. Passengers gathered to watch the 60-year-old steam loco move from one end of the train to the other and cheer volunteers coupling the rolling stock.

Months earlier, in wintry July, we had celebrated a big family occasion on the restaurant train. 

The Etmilyn Diner restaurant train features a five-course meal in the 1919 Vintage Dining Car or, for a little extra, the 1884 Club Car. It runs out of Dwellingup every Saturday night, except some public holidays, and on select Friday evenings.

We went during the winter school holidays, when Dwellingup was jumping with campers and visitors embracing the cold and wet. 

Hotham Valley Railway made the chilly heart of winter an excuse to party, drawing passengers with a Christmas in July dinner.

The meal was prepared on the wood stove on board and served by volunteer staff whose knowledge satisfied the most inquisitive train lover. This was not fine dining, but it was fun — a top outing suited to groups.

The volunteers on both trains are enthusiastic and have a flair for the dramatic. Whether serving meals or driving the steam engine, they play the part with gusto, recognising the value of a good photo and social media exposure.

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