Sunday, 26 October 2014

Mooloolah: hiking the old tunnel

Mooloolah is a small town of 3,263 which is located just a 20 km drive from Caloundra at the base of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Being 77 km from Brisbane on the North Coast line, there are plenty of trains that pass through the single track tunnel located between Landsborough and Mooloolah. Back in 1932 however, this section of railway line was realigned, and a new tunnel built to replace the old one. So just what become of the old 1891 railway tunnel? They placed it on the heritage listing, and today it is part of a hiking trail through Dularcha National Park.

There really is light at the end of the tunnel. Walking through the 100 metre long old Mooloolah railway tunnel is not a stumble in the dark experience while ducking from swooping bats. Anyone can do this. 2014.

To hike the Dularcha National Park Rail Trail, you have to start from either Landsborough end on the corner of Beech Road and Cunningham Avenue, or the Mooloolah end at Paget Street with car parking off Dorson Drive. Or, you can be a bit lazy like me and drive to the end of Roses Road (a dirt road off Tunnel Ridge Road with very little parking), and hike the very steep 350 metre descent to the tunnel entrance. I downloaded the Queensland Government Dularcha National Park map to use as my reference, and there are some signs along the way, if like me, you choose to hike from the end of Roses Road. The Dularcha National Park Rail Trail would also make a perfect day out by train from Brisbane City. Just download the map, catch a Sunshine Coast Line train to either Landsborough or Mooloolah Railway Station to walk the 3.2 km trail, have lunch in one of these charming country towns, and then catch the train back to the city. The tunnel is 100 metres long on a gentle curve, is not pitch black inside and there are no bats to worry about for the scared-at-heart. It is relatively flat, (being a former railway line), and is located closer to the Mooloolah end of the trail if you are looking for a shorter there and back option to walk.

Emerging from the south portal (Landsborough side) of the old Mooloolah railway tunnel. Isn't she gorgeous? Umm... my wife that is, not the tunnel. 2014.

The advantage of driving to the end of Roses Road however, is that for train enthusiasts like myself, the road passes over the current alignment of the North Coast Line. At the top of the new Mooloolah Tunnel (well, the 1932 version makes it new-er), is a clearing that gives great camera angles to the north and south approaches to the tunnel. I parked by car on the side of the road, and in a one hour period on a Saturday afternoon photographed three trains, (including the steam train special I had come to photograph), while running back and forth across the road to take photos as each train emerged from the tunnel.

A southbound Aurizon freight train exiting the Mooloolah tunnel, 2014.

Two mountain bikers who I had passed on the old tunnel hiking track earlier stopped and asked our group of a dozen grown men who were positioned in the bushes with cameras what we were doing. After explaining that a steam train special was about to pass through any minute, they waited eagerly on their mountain bikes with us for the next hour, trying not to laugh as we ran left and right across the road to photograph passing freight trains and suburban electrics. When the BB 18 1/4 class steam locomotive came, went, and finally whistled out of sight, one of the lads said something along the lines of, "well, thanks a lot boys. I can't believe we just waited an hour to see that."

The Glasshouse Country Festival steam excursion to Mooloolah exiting Mooloolah tunnel, Saturday 25th October, 2014.

I guess it's true. To even the most casual observer, we train nuts can come across a little strange. And while my wife and son were busy laughing their heads off in the car as the two mountain bikers pedaled off saying that at least watching the train photographers was amusing, they were waiting in the cool of the car that was parked beneath a shady tree, catching the breeze from our vantage point high on the hill. I, on the other hand, had just stood in the hot sun for a little over an hour after our hike, waiting, waiting, waiting for that perfect photo. As I write this now, my head is as sun-burnt as a beetroot. In making sure I had my national park map printed out, camera packed, batteries fully charged, a blank SD card to shoot nothing short of 148 photos, and some drinks packed in a small cooler bag, I had left my hat at home on a scorching hot Queensland spring day. But there was no time to complain, I had a train to chase into the small town of Mooloolah.

Engine 1079, a 1956 built Pacific-type Queensland Railways locomotive at Mooloolah Railway Station, 2014.

Billed as the Glasshouse Country Fair Express, a return day outing from Brisbane's Roma Street Station was run by the Australian Railway Historical Society's Sunshine Express Rail Tours. The train stopped long enough at Mooloolah long enough for all passengers to get off and spend a leisurely hour wandering through the festivities opposite the railway station in Martin Rungert Park. While everyone was enjoying the live bands, food stalls and classic car display before boarding the return trip to Brisbane, I had my car backed up against the security mesh fence to shoot some photos from the boot of my car of loco 1079, a Queensland Rail BB18 1/4 class Pacific type steam locomotive built in 1956.

Old meets new at Mooloolah Railway Station on Saturday 25th October, 2014.

While the engine was uncoupled and run around the train for the return trip south, a meet with a southbound electric set occurred at the station platform, and as luck would have it, I had parked the car in the perfect spot to get a unique photo of old meets new.

The nose of the latest suburban electric set as seen through the ends of two cars from QR's timber heritage fleet, 2014.

Once the mainline was clear, the train was moved back to the platform, and the passengers rejoined for the return trip south to Brisbane. However, I was already gone by the time the train whistled out of the station. Later when it passed south through the town of Landsborough, I'd be waiting somewhere track side with my camera, ready to take another round of photographs on what turned out to be a fantastic day of train chasing on the Sunshine Coast. Mooloolah was just one of the many locations featured in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains.

Available now through my Books page

See also: Landsborough: Caloundra's historic railway town

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