If you are in Mt Surprise on a Thursday or Friday between March and December – make sure you look out for the Savannahlander Train at the Mt Surprise Railway Station. This historic 4 day train journey takes passengers on the 850Km return trip between Cairns and Forsayth behind the Atherton Tablelands.
There is no sleeping on the train, and passengers eat and stay overnight at various stops including Almaden/Chillagoe, Mount Surprise/Undara, Einasleigh and Forsayth/Cobbold Gorge. Must-do side tours on this fantastic journey include Chillagoe Caves & historic smelters site, magnificent Undara Lava Tubes, and the hidden Cobbold Gorge.
The journey takes passengers back in time to when things were slower and simpler delivering a unique slice of Australian Country life and heritage that many people will never get to experience.
We had just returned from visiting Undara ourselves when we noticed the train had arrived at the cute little Mount Surprise station. ‘All Aboard’ to check it out! While the passengers hopped off to have some lunch – we hopped on to inspect this beautiful train.
From the shiny polished exterior to the plush seating teamed with mini-orb and timber, the train has been beautifully restored whilst still retaining the historic feel. Antique-style baggage racks above the seats provide passengers with photographic glimpses of the rich history of the towns and areas along the track. Passengers are afforded an excellent view of the passing countryside through large side windows and ahead of the train through the front windows over the driver’s shoulder.
Today, the Mount Surprise train station itself is a surprising oasis of green in comparison most of the area west of the Atherton Tablelands at this time of year (October/November) and part of it contains fascinating photographic memorabilia from bygone eras. Being mainly started as a service town for the telegraph and beef cattle industry of the gulf area, the photos depict an era and a personal toughness that is hard to reconcile with the comforts of modern-day city ‘living’.
The town itself continues on as a service town to the local farming community and for the many tourists visiting the natural wonders of this area annually. Several caravan parks, the obligatory pub, service station with mini-mart and post office are located here.
The following day, we ourselves decided to take a drive to the towns of Einasleigh, Forsayth and Georgetown. The dryness of the area in the grip of the 2 year drought was again heartbreaking. They do it tough out here!
The Einasleigh Hotel in the tiny town of the same name is a surprising find. We stopped in for a cool drink on a hot day. Visually an iconic Australian Outback pub, it does not disappoint with a myriad of bygone memories
adorning the variously coloured walls which indicate its stature as the focal point for local social life for the past 100 years. Do not expect some flash city pub here! This is a taste of real Aussie country life right down to the worn flooring and red-dust at the doorsteps. The Publican Alan Start engaged us in conversation and as many are, turned out to be a fascinating wealth of local history and information.
In another room which may previously have been a lounge or restaurant, local geological & historical information is displayed. A true treasure to be found were glass display cases housing figurines depicting a range of historic clothing and every-day life.
A closer inspection reveals this not to be just another doll collection but a life-like depiction of historical Australian life. Alan revealed these were the hand crafted works of his father (former publican – it’s a family affair) and invites us to see if we can spy the one thing that has been deliberately put in a case that is out of place. We did – but no spoiling it for you!
The township of Einasleigh sits on the banks of the Copperfield river and a short way up the road from the pub is a parking & picnic area affording access to the lovely oasis of Copperfield Gorge. The gorge and river would be dry also at this time of the year but for the bi-weekly releases of water from the reservoir up river. Created by the laid-down basalt lava flow from an ancient volcano carved out by water over the past 10 million years or so, the delightful gorge is a photographers and swimmers delight
There is something magical and even spiritual about running water – the experience magnified innumerably by such a parched landscape. On a hot day the lure of the water was too much to resist and a delightful hour or so was spent relishing in the cool, clean water.
In perfect timing, the Savannahlander train crossed the raised rail bridge just upstream of us on its return journey from Forsayth
We completed our circuit travelling on to the township of Forsayth – originally started in the 1870’s to service the local gold rush but today a dusty, thirsty dot in a harsh dry landscape – and homewards via Georgetown to our motorhome parked in Mount Surprise.
We would have loved to visit Cobbold Gorge – another hidden gem of the area, however they had closed for the ‘Green Season’. Something to put on the list for our next visit!
Getting There: Mount Surprise is a three and a half hour road journey from Cairns or just under 3 hours from Innisfail on the coast. The Mt Surprise-Einasleigh-Forsayth-Georgetown-Mt Surprise is a full day road journey if just briefly stopping at each place. Suggest you take an extra day or two and stay at the beautiful Cobbold Gorge when doing this trip. There is of course a myriad of fossicking activities in the area for treasure seeking enthusiasts.
Savannahlander Train journey can be booked via their website which has full details and pricing including all overnight and tour options.
Check out the Undarra Experience and Cobbold Gorge Websites for info on these magic places. Chillagoe is also well worth the drive to experience the beautiful limestone caves and marvel at the marble they just dig out the ground in massive blocks!