Monday, 1 June 2015

Ida Bay: Australia's most Southern Railway

105 km south of Hobart in the far south of Tasmania lies the tiny village of Ida Bay. Actually, the village is nothing more than a small cluster of buildings belonging to the Ida Bay Heritage Railway, a former Tasmanian bush tramway that can lay claim to being the southern-most railway in Australia.

Engines No 1 & 2 stand in the train shed at Ida Bay in Tasmania, on what is Australia's most southern railway. Photo 2011.

Operations on the Ida Bay Railway began back in 1919, when the small 2 foot gauge bush tramway was constructed to transport limestone from the quarry just west of Lune River, to a pier on the banks of Ida Bay where the limestone was then loaded onto waiting ships. The 7.3 km long little bush railway carried freight right up until the railway's closure in 1975. In 1977 the railway line was purchased by the Tasmanian Government, and since then has been leased to private operators to maintain and operate the line as a tourist railway.

That's me standing beside engine No 1, a 2 ft gauge Malcolm Moore locomotive. Photo taken 2011.

After driving south of Hobart to the southern-most point where the black top ends in Australia, I was fortunate enough to be given a behind the scenes tour of the locomotive workshops. Here, the tiny 4 wheeler locomotives that haul open-air passenger cars on a 2 hour round-trip to the shores of Ida Bay and back, are stored and maintained, along with the odd variety of rollingstock that ride on bogie flat-wagons that date back to the 1890's.

A close up of the compact two-seater drivers cab and basic controls that operate this WWII era locomotive. Photo 2011

Set against a tranquil backdrop of bushland, the Ida Bay Railway is situated on the very edge of some of the most remote wilderness on the planet. After the sealed road ends at the Ida Bay level crossing, a dirt road continues south to the locales of Catamaran and the camping ground at Cockle Creek, both on the shores of Recherche Bay. To the west, walking tracks head off into the World Heritage listed Southwest National Park. While south of Tasmania's South East Cape, nothing but ocean stands between this remote area and the ice-fields of Antartica.

That's me in the drivers seat of an 0-2-0 locomotive attached to a 4 wheel side-seated passenger carriage. It kind of reminds me of a coffee pot on rails. Photo 2011.

Yet somehow our early pioneers managed to establish a railway company here to haul limestone to the coast, despite Ida Bay's obvious isolation from the rest of Australia. Fortunately, Ida Bay's eclectic fleet of locomotives, vintage railmotors and rollingstock still survives today, treating visitors to a unique train ride to the beach in a very special part of Tasmania.

The original Ida Bay Transit railmotor No 8 once ferried passengers between the wharf at Deep Hole and the original township of Ida Bay. Photo 2011. 

The railway line passes by the original town site of Ida Bay and a graveyard, which is all that remains of a once thriving village, and ends at a secluded mile long beach. While the Ida Bay Heritage Railway is a unique railway adventure in its own right, Ida Bay also marked the end of a much larger journey for myself. One that has seen me explore the railway lines of Australia's east coast from Mossman in far north Queensland, to this remote location in the far south of Tasmania.

I completed my visit to Ida Bay by giving my daughter a driving lesson where the black top ends in Australia. 2011.

With the sun threatening to disappear in the sky, and more than 100 km of slow, winding road ahead of us on our way back to our accommodation near Hobart, there was only one thing left for me to do. That was to put my daughter behind the wheel of our car and give her a driving lesson she would never forget. At least now, she too can say that she has driven to where the black top ends. At a tiny place called Ida Bay, home to Australia's most southern railway. A place that will forever belong in my book, 30 Years Chasing Trains.

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