Random Adventure #7 – Taking the Train to Tumoulin

Last Updated on June 20, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

1925 D17 Class Steam Locomotive ‘Capella’ in Tumoulin, Queensland

Over 100 years ago on 31 July 1911, regional Parliamentary representatives invited to the Herberton-Tumoulin railway line opening were too busyto attend according to a local historian.

Exactly 100 years later – and how things have changed!!

Crossing the trestle bridge, Tumoulin to Ravenshoe
So, on 31 July 2011, during a re-enactment of the historic opening ceremony as 1925 D17 class locomotive ‘Capella’ steamed into Tumoulin 100 years to the hour later. Where ex-Queensland Rail welder and state Member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth was waiting to cut the ribbon!

In a fortuitous blend of serendipity, coincidence and blind luck, Pilchard and I joined the historic ride into Tumoulin from Ravenshoe – Queensland’s highest town at 920 m (3118 ft) above sea-level on the Tablelands west of Cairns. Although Tumoulin is higher at 964.7 m (3165 ft) – and thereby Queensland’s highest railway station – its height doesn’t count in the ‘highest town’ honours because it’s only a ‘locality’!

Tumoulin Railway Station sign
Here on the Atherton Tablelands* there’s no real clue that we’re in the depths of northern Australia’s tropics – cool nights are common, and the heat and humidity sometimes found on the coast even in winter is often absent. BUT … this paradise comes at a price as we’re not that far from Queensland’s highest mountain – Bartle Frere – and Australia’s wettest locality – Topaz where aanual rainfall averages well above 4 metres, although it’s WAAAY more higher in the ranges!

The final extension of the railway line from Cairns initially constructed to service Atherton Tablelands mining town Herberton, Tumoulin-Ravenshoe is ironically one of only two sections** still operating. And although completed 5 years after Herberton-Tumoulin opened in 1911, it’s from Ravenshoe that we depart on this bright winter’s day to take part in Tumoulin’s centenary celebrations.
Creatures en route to Tumoulin
Spot Paris!
100 years later, it’s all changed – the line from Atherton closed over 20 years ago, as has the tourist train from Atherton to Herberton Pilchard and I caught many years ago.
Luckily for us, however, the Ravenshoe-Tumoulin line is now managed by volunteer organisation Ravrail. Their fact sheets and railway line mud map (from which much information for this post was taken) highlight the assortment of regional attractions and a strange selection of creatures we will be passing en route to Tumoulin!

No 268 – Capella
No, not a bushfire!  It’s a Steam train!
As the immaculate train climbed upwards over wooden trestle bridges, past homesteads, orchards, forests and a crayfish farm, who would have thought Paris Hilton would have been lurking amongst the native animals? Or that we’d be encouraged to photograph a scenic public toilet??

Almost the most fun I’ve had for $AUD20, the festive centenary market with railway volunteers in period costume, Aboriginal dancers in traditional dress and fettlers camp gave this trip extraordinary value! But even without the centenary extras the return trip scenery and steam train experience is well worth the modest fare.

Ravrail are to be congratulated for succeeding where governments have failed for a) their contribution to Atherton Tablelands tourism; b) keeping the railway line open; and c) immaculately preserving this marvellous piece of Australia’s heritage.
And I’m to be congratulated on my restraint – although my fingers were positively twitching to pull that antique emergency chain, I resisted – in absolute fear of the $10 fine being enforced!
Centenary re-enactment – cutting the ribbon
There’s no point expecting a photo of the magnificent scones, jam and cream served by the Tumoulin Railway cafe – they disappeared WAAAAY too quickly for that!! But there’s no need to wait another 100 years for them, or even for the next train trip to Tumoulin.

Take this magic railway journey every Sunday at 1:30 pm, or even hire the train for a memorable way to celebrate any special occasion.

The return trip to Ravenshoe – downhill all the way – ended this unexpectedly fabulous day where instead of just a train ride, we became part of this history-making journey!

Ravenshoe Station, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland
* The Atherton Tablelands is also known as the Cairns Highlands, or Tropical Tablelands. I’ve used its most common name although the highlands region also incorporates the Evelyn and Northern Tablelands

Harry’s Dunny … no, not a real person inside!!
** the other is the far better known and commercially run ‘Kuranda Scenic Railway’ from Cairns to Kuranda

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  1. @Friko – The decline and fall of the railway system is one of the great tragedies of modern life. Hats off to the volunteers who ensure we won’t forget the romance of rail …
    @Explore Aus – Thank you! But there aren’t that many left, are there?? What have I missed?!
    @Michelle – Yep, if you missed it the first time round, this is the next best thing!!!

  2. I love old trains, and when they pass through such magnificent scenery, I love them even more. Lucky you.

    It’s such a pity that trains aren’t what they used to be, a modern high speed train just doesn’t have the same romantic impact.

  3. @FruitCake – Hahaha! They’re ALL drop bears!! As is EVERY Aussie bear (just in case anyone from O/S is reading …)
    @Wren – Just can’t beat an old fashioned steam train ride, can you?! Hope I’ll be sharing many more!
    @Betty – You’re very welcome. I hope all is well, and you got some light relief from my story!!
    @Tracey – And will continue to do so!!
    @SFlaGuy – Hahaha … happily she’ll probably never know how she’s viewed in that part of the world!! And it IS the tropics – so I guess there must be similarities!!
    @Diane – Thank you!! The best and most perfect days are those where all the elements you mention come together!

  4. Love, love, love trains! And history, and travelling. Wow! You covered everything with one post! You’re amazing! Loved this post!

  5. I wondered what had become of Paris Hilton. I don’t see her here at South Beach any more. Loved the Flickr photos as well. Your Downunder looks a lot like my Central Florida.

  6. what an adventure and a terrific experience!

    old trains always fascinate me.

    wonderful shots as usual.

    …and thanks so much for your kind words and get well wishes for my sister.
    just wanted you to know how much i really appreciate them.

    big hugs my dearest!

  7. @Greg – How dare you accuse me of actually knowing what I’m doing with my photos!!! I wondered why I felt a frisson of recognition when I saw the engine – now I know it’s all in the colour!!!
    @Emme – Ah yes, nostalgia … but this was even BETTER than childhood – everything was in tip top condition!!
    @NixBlog – Rattlers, huh?! How appropriate given the ‘Paris’ connection …
    @TMWH – Just something about steam, isn’t there?! But I suspect that loo was more scenic for the person sitting on it!!

  8. My father-in-law worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 53 years, so we are very much fans of steam trains. This sounded like quite an adventure for you, and I would have wanted to pull that emergency chain, too.

    Of course, there had to be a scenic toilet thrown in there!

  9. Well, of course the train looks good as it’s in Thomas the Tank Engine blue! That’s how a train should look!

    Nice colours in all of your photos. I detect a bit of a polarizer to bring out some lovely contrast?

  10. @PDP – It’s getting harder and harder to have the real experience here in OZ as well! So we take the chance when we can …
    @George – It was almost like crossing over into a parallel universe!!

  11. What a marvelous experience. I think any steam train excursion is fascinating, but one pulled by a century-old engine would be even more so. Thanks for sharing your adventure and your photos with us.

  12. Great post Red, makes me realize I haven’t been on a ‘real’ train ride for such a long time. In fact not since I was in Europe a couple of years ago. I need to look up some good Aussie trips, maybe across the Nullabor would be good!

  13. @Rubye – So much fun, and Paris to boot! Can’t think of a better day out!!
    @ruma – thank you too, my friend. I also hope your weekend is wonderful!
    @Saucy Kod – Was just reminiscing with Pilchard and agreed this was a highlight of our 2011 travels! Thank you so much for your kind words!! Hope it cools down for you soon – you’re outdoing us in the ‘warmth’ stakes at present!
    @Magsx2 – A lot were there for the re-enactment, but it was a FAAAAABULOUS day out!!
    @Andrew – I reckon I could almost live on the tablelands – it’s so beautiful, there’s so much to do and the climate is very agreeable!
    @Sallie – Gosh, I never thought of ‘fettler’ as a particularly Aussie term – I’ll have to put in a definition … and you’re right about the serendipity!
    @diane – Even non-train buffs would enjoy it! Especially if you score a day with weather as good as ours!!

  14. @MJWC – It was all the better for being unexpected (to us) – but a sobering thought how much has changed in 100 yrs.
    @Jane & Lance – A train journey through a cross-section of regional attractions has such broad appeal it’s surprising that so many are now defunct. Thank god for the volunteers, I say! I can’t match your ever-so-exotic farewell, so shall counter it with the very Aussie ‘seeyalatermate, and avagoodweekend …’ Let me know if you need a translation!
    @Kath – Hahaha! I HOPE that’s not true … it’s perhaps possible that he’s just an exhibitionist??!!
    @Courtney – Your very kind comment is SO gratifying to this amateur photographer … Thank you so much!

  15. Of course, the person who maintains the rails — makes sense! (The one who keeps the tracks up or the train so immaculate? Or both?)….anyway I’d love to take that trip.!! Beautiful scenery — lovely train, what could be more perfect. And things you stumble into serendipitously are always the most fun!

  16. What a fun day. My Bill would love that. I must keep it in mind (no that’s impossible( I must write it down and bookmark it) for when we are next in Cairns.

  17. What a wonderful day out. I am off to look at a map to see where the train travels. I do like the thought of the weather being cool in the highlands.

  18. There is just something mysterious and wonderful about riding in a train. Beautifully coloured photos and looks like a real person in the dunny?
    Your photos and your wonderful ability to continue to thrill us with your posts makes me smile whenever I see a new post from RED – thank you 🙂

  19. This seriously looks like a fun day, and now we know where Paris has taken off to. You can find her in the brush eh?

  20. Oh boy! That looks like so much fun!!!! As usual, you’ve captured the spirit of the place with your awesome photography!

  21. Hello Red:
    This is something we should absolutely have loved. A wonderful sense of history, a ride on a steam train, interesting sights to be seen(!!) and a good time to be had by all. It is such a pity that so many small branch lines have been closed everywhere, and so good that there are volunteer organizations committed to keeping them open and in use even if it is mainly as an attraction.

    Jó hétvégét!

  22. What a fun day!! I love re-enactments, they are a great, fun way of learning.

    We have quite a few civil war en-enactments here.

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