Monday, 16 September 2013

Maydena: rail-track riding in Tasmania

There are some things that are simply worth taking the time and effort to go out of your way to experience. Maydena's unique Railtrack Riders deep in the heart of Tasmania's Florentine Valley is one of these. Situated 84 kilometres west of Hobart on the Gordon River Road near Mount Field National Park, this disused piece of 3'6" narrow gauge logging railroad is now enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the pedal-powered rail carts that are plying this section of the former Derwent Valley Line.

Preparing to hit the rails out of Maydena Railway Station in Tasmania, 2011.

Now the Derwent Valley Line itself was first opened back in 1886, running a total of 18 km from it's junction on the main North-South Line at Bridgewater to the town of New Norfolk. It was extended in sections until in 1917 it reached the town of Fitzgerald, some 66 km away, where four big timber mills were all built fairly close to the railway. Then in 1925, osmiridium (now more commonly refered to as iridium) was discovered in the Florentine Valley, and the line was extended to Maydena to service what would become the world's largest source of this rare metal at the nearby Adamsfield Mine. Although Adamsfield Mine became home to some 2,000 workers up until WWII, the bushfires of 1934 that destroyed the surrounding forest area led to the closure of the timber mills around Fitzgerald. Luckily for the line, Australian Newsprint Mills became interested in the forests for paper production, and in 1936 the line was extended one final time to Kallista, making the line a total of 74 km long. In 1940 the town of Boyer near New Norfolk became the site of Australia's largest paper mill, and a steady flow of log traffic travelled along the rails between Kallista and the banks of the Derwent River. Maydena also became an important supply point for materials during the building of the Gordon Dam, opened in 1978. Today trains no longer run west of Boyer. Logging has now turned to re-generated forests, and the lighter log loading means that the paper mill at Boyer now has its timber supplied by road transport.

Heading west out of Maydena you pass relics from the end of railroading in Tasmania's south-west before heading into the forest and Tasmanian Tiger country.

At Maydena however, it is another story. Upon arriving at the Maydena Adventure Hub and collecting our tickets, we are given directions on how to drive to Maydena Station. Although with a population of only 225, it isn't very hard to find your way around. Within minutes we were listening to our short safety briefing while getting ourselves comfortable on our rail bikes. Then came the time to put the pedal to the metal. The short run out of town takes you past some relics from the days of logging, mining, the construction of the Gordon Dam, and a water tower still standing beside a long-forgotten log loading area. Then there is a gentle incline as the railway track snakes its way into the forest. For those who get short of breath, our guide follows behind on a motorised rail rider to give a gentle push where needed.

Deep in the heart of rumoured Tasmanian Tiger Country, Maydena Railtrack riding in Tasmania, 2011.

Finally the 2.5 km section of line arrives at a place called Florentine Station, bringing us into the heart of the forests rumoured to still be home to the thought to be extinct Tasmanian Tiger. Now depending on what you believe, the last known Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in Hobart's Beaumaris Zoo in September 1936. But sightings of the Thylacine, especially in the forests around Maydena and the South Western Wilderness continue up to the present day. So keep your eyes open while taking a walk around the bush circuit while your guide turns your rail rider around for the return downhill run to Maydena.

High-tailing it back downhill towards Maydena. The local coppers clocked these things doing over 60 kph, although we weren't quite that fast.

The run back to Maydena is mostly downhill. Our guide tells us that the local Police Cop clocked one of these doing over 60 kph. But if you try to match that speed you'll miss out on the tranquil beauty that makes a ride through the forest such a pleasure. Railtrack Riders only commence operating in 2009. I visited Tasmania's Florentine Valley in September 2011. Although I didn't see a Tasmanian Tiger on the 75th Anniversary of its extinction, I did thoroughly enjoy my rail rider experience. It's something I will be sure to do again when I'm down that way. Only next time I'll have to travel all the way to the end of the Gordon River Road. I never did get to see Strathgordon or the Gordon Dam. I simply ran out of time. Maydena and its unique Rail-Track Riders are just one of the many interesting locations that feature in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, available exclusively through the links below.

Available now through my Books page

See also; National Park: The Tasmanian Wilderness Station

No comments: