West Coast Wilderness Railway Part Two – Queenstown

I had only 40 minutes in Queenstown, and although it was small, I quickly looked at what I wanted to see. In the end, just walking round the town for 30 minutes was enough time to “see” it all, if not experience an overnight stay in this quite remarkable little enclave.
I hear a lot of boring English people talking about Queenstown being a big party capital and talking about booze nights. Well that is Queenstown in New Zealand. I will go there one day and compare it, but for the meantime, I was much more enchanted by the remote town here on the west coast of Tasmania. I’d imagine I’ll still prefer the Australian Queenstown to the New Zealand one, but we shall see.
I first noticed how old fashioned everything looked. There were no big name consumer or commercial brands. There was a historic charm obvious in the air. An old fashioned car parked opposite the train station looked dated to me, but perhaps it was the entire point. Why grow old and change if you don’t need to? Queenstowners are probably just as happy now as they were 50 years ago.
The houses were all one level – bungalows. Coloured. Made of wood mainly. You don’t see many brick houses here in this part of Tasmania. 
On the same street a deserted petrol station has a sign that reads “Now Open”, it’s unlikely this petrol station has been open for years!
The town itself seems to be in a valley in the middle of the mountains. The royal rivers run nearby – The Queen River runs through it – The King River a bit further along the track.  To north, east, west and south we are surrounded by hilly foresty mountains. The roads are wide and the streets are quiet. It’s mid morning and there’s hardly anyone about.
It’s a Monday morning, a busy time in offices in New York, London, Tokyo. A lady buy her daily bread from the local bakery and presses the button at a traffic light to cross the road. She didn’t need to press the button. There were only two cars about. I crossed separately after the two cars. I walked up Cutten Street.
The road was wide again, and there were some nice, old buildings. A Masonic Hall and a Uniting Church shone in the sun. A kids playground was empty. A Fire Station sat in the background. Behind all this some amazing mountains.
I turned onto Sticht Street, where I was surprised to see on opposite sides, a Majistrates Court and also a Peeler Station. Of course, the town is a big enough size, so crime is around. Though on that particular day it felt pretty safe and quiet. 
I liked the Post Office, pink and yellow coloured on the corner of Orr and Sticht Street. And also the only sign of a big company presence, was the bank opposite, Australia’s biggest, the Commonwealth Bank. I needed money anyway and decided to pull out here in Queenstown. Apart from tiny Reykjavik in Iceland, this is the most sublime place I have used a cash point. I still had time to check out the war memorial, the shops, cafes and gaze at a closed theatre.
On the way back down Orr Street I saw the local pubs, the Mount Lyell Motor Inn and the Empire Hotel. On opposite corners. And looking traditional, and years behind anything you’d see in Sydney or Mebourne. These pubs probably have more charm and spirit.
A nice mural is on the corner of Orr and McNamara Street, and there is a small stand depicting memories of Queenstown. It has paintings, a map and some information on the town.
This “square” is known as Armel War Memorial Plaza. The main war memorial sits proud on a grassy area on the corner of where we had come in on the coach. It’s Driffield Street.
I gaze back at the train station having lost track of the time, without a watch. I have about 18 minutes until my train leaves. So I think I’ve seen enough of the town and want to check out the train station, and maybe take my seat 5 minutes before we leave. 
I get an elderly passenger to take a photo of me outside Queenstown Station. He takes a better photo than some young people could.
The station itself is also like going back in time. Old decor, typical platforms, train signals and conductors by the side of the track. No sign of TVs or pre-recorded announcements saying “the next train will be leaving in 10 minutes.” The station is busy, they are all booked on the same journey as me. The 11 am from Queenstown to Regatta Point in Strahan.
I browse the station museum quickly and photograph the map which shows the entire route we are heading on. There are a surprising number of stops on this WCWR, which I was chuffed about, and it makes the money seem much more worth it. Only three stations that have ever existed, are not included, and these three stations don’t have anything of significance to see there anymore (Camp Spur station, Lowanna and Teepookana station).
I get a photo next to the train with my Northern Ireland flag and still haven’t met any foreigners other than me. A few Australians notice my flag and comment on it. Although I signed the guestbook in the mini museum and noticed a South Korean had signed it before me yet I never saw him. The station was busy and soon an “Old Fashioned” ALL ABOARD is shouted by Amy, one of our staff members for the day.
I got a quick photo with Amy, and was checked in and ready to board. 
The train had three carriages. I’m in the middle one. The train is very clean and tidy. It has been painted and well maintained. It is red and green and bears a logo on each carriage “West Coast Wilderness Railway.”
It was lucky I booked when I did! The train is full. Traditional wooden rafter style bench seats are in my carriage. I didn;t feel rich or posh enough to go for the first class carriage one. Carriages two and three are for the normal people. It didn’t take me long to find my seat.
Despite not understanding what my ticket meant by “WCWR 3T 1P 3X car 20 TB.” I’d have assumed it was carriage 3 seat 20, but I didnt need to look far. Everything was well organised, as it was back in the day I’d have thought.
I saw a white sheet of paper on a red seat with the name “BLAIR” on it, well that was me! I hadn’t asked for a window seat, I just wanted a seat on the train, but they had given me a window seat! I was very happy with that. It meant I had a ledge for my tea and food, and to write notes on, as well as a great view. I would also be facing forward for the entire journey, so I had struck gold…
To confuse things further my seat number was actually H3. H4 was beside me.
An older man sat beside me, with the rest of his family to my right. And opposite actually a younger couple, maybe mid thirties. Some of the passengers had boarded in Queenstown and were not actually on the coach from Strahan. These days the train only runs one direction and one journey each day. This gives two day trippers the opportunity to do a return on the train, having stayed overnight in one of the places, but actually the return journey contains exactly the same things as the outward journey, just in reverse order. I wanted to do it once only, to enhance the experience.
The train was full. The steam rose. The whistle sounded and we were off. It goes pretty slow compared with modern trains, but that’s what you need. I could enjoy the views more and it was easier to take photos and make videos that way.
And we were off!! Soon we had left the traditional style bungalows of Queenstown behind and were on route to Strahan…on board one of the world’s most famous railway journeys.
Travelled From – Just around the town centre of Queenstown
Distance travelled – Maximum 2 kilometres walking round Queenstown
Highlights – Mountain views, old fashioned housing, the Post Office, War memorial, Queenstown Station
Nationalities Met – Australian (but there’s a South Korean somewhere)
Time period – 10.20 am – 11 am

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