The Southern Encounter Experience with SteamRanger Heritage Railway [Mt Barker – Victor Harbor – Mt Barker]

A full day travelogue of the amazing Heritage train experience with South Australian SteamRanger Heritage Railway’s return trip from Mt Barker to Victor Harbor, popular as – The Southern Encounter Experience.

Lakshman and I have always loved to travel. 2021 has been a fantastic year for our travel life. We went to the top of the valley – Barossa in June and decided to visit the plains of the sea in October. A place we had always kept on our wish list but never signed off – Victor Harbour.

Victor Harbour is a household name for all the tourists. Stated as one of the top tourist attractions in South Australia, we wished to travel there since ever.

Lakshman loves train rides. I love them too but he really likes them. So we researched about a train that goes from Mt. Barker to Victor Harbour and returns back in the same route. This train wasn’t a usual one. It was a steam ranger rail operated by SteamRanger Heritage Railway as The Southern Encounter Experience. I should also mention that SteamRanger Heritage Railway, a tourist train service in South Australia operates regular train services to Goolwa, Victor Harbor, Strathalbyn and more destinations.

This ride was a whole package of train Journey and would lead us to Victor harbour and transport us back to Mt. Barker. However, the rides take place only from July to November and on second Sundays (Ugh, very few dates and rapid bookings).

Nevertheless, we saved the date for October! The story behind this is – all the dates were booked till November and we had even decided to go there in 2022. One evening in September, Lakshman decided to see if there are any bookings dropped or left and tadaa!

Thankfully, we managed to save a date on October (That was destined 😉 ) while all the dates for November were booked.

On Oct 3rd, we drove off to Mt. Barker and then joined the long queue for the ticket. The place was so crowded that we were surprised as we thought not many people would board the train. So we grabbed tickets and one of the volunteers guided us to go to carriage 6.

Okay before that, let me describe to you our historic train. This train gave me a deja vu of the train I had never been to (I’m joking right?). The train indeed gave a very classic vibe and the steam blowing on the cloudy/ rainy day was a delight to see. The colour of the clouds and the train matched showing us the spectacular vision to see.

So fast forward to our carriage story, Lakshman and I got into the sixth carriage. Oh my my, people and people everywhere. We couldn’t see any seats empty. Passengers had already crowded in our seats (47 & 48). So we started looking for seats if there were any.

And the volunteer told us to wait for few minutes until he could find another seat for us. He asked us to wait near the cafe area (this train had a nice cafe in it!!) and we stood there talking. 10 minutes passed and now I (not lakshman) started getting doubts. What if we don’t find any seats? What if we have to stand throughout all the long journey? The cafe lady asked us if we wanted to drink anything but thanks to the chai latte I had in the city, my tummy was full.

The train started off. Lakshman and I were jingling like a feather at first. I kept on wondering if we had to stand but we were too excited for all of this.

After few minutes, a lovely gentleman told us that there were more passengers than initial bookings so they were still looking for a place for us. Meanwhile, he led us to a small carriage and asked us to sit there.

When the train set off, we could see the beautiful green plains that looked like a green carpet had been laid out from the top of the plain to the lower ones. The train coughed the white mist and the mist slowly disappeared into the trees as if it wished to blend itself into the woods.

After few minutes, the same lovely gentleman asked us to come with him as he had found a seat for us. As we all know that whatever happens, happens for good and yes, it happened. We found a nice four-seater carriage where a lovely couple sat ahead of us and we sat in another. At this time, we were heading towards Strathalbyn and we were witnessing lovely scenery. Every time the train ran through the tracks, we saw horses running excitedly through the fields, sheeps chasing each other, kangaroos kicking each other (this was such a sight).

From Strathalbyn, we headed to Goolwa. And on every places the train went, there were so many audiences on the roads nearby waving excitedly at us, smiling, clicking photos of the train.

Oh no, I forgot to share about the interior design of the train. I was so caught up about the scene we witnessed.

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Although the train was historic, it looked so well managed both from exterior and interior. The wooden interior seemed majestic and the seats were so comfortable. The lights up in the ceiling were unique and I imagined the thousands of passengers the train transported in its time. The train still stood still, ran like a beauty despite the sands of time.

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It was around 1:15 PM when we reached Victor Harbour. The weather was the most challenging that day. It started showering around at PM and the winds were getting cold but we weren’t going to stop here. We hopped off at Victor harbour station and grabbed quick snacks and started walking towards our destination – Granite Island.

We were quite confused about the way towards the island. A lovely lady guided us towards the jetty and the island. She quoted “You cannot miss the island once you have come here”.
So off we walked towards the jetty and the downpour we faced was insane! The wind pushed us from behind and the light drizzle was a topping on us

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The jetty was a long way to go and we observed the greenish-blue water beneath us and the giant rocky island ahead of us. Water and water everywhere our eyes stretched. It was a delight to see.

When we walked leaving the jetty behind us, we came to a small area with a big tree. We decided to pause our legs for a while and wait if the rain stops.

After some time, the sun started shining. This gave us hope to hike forward. So we started hiking towards the trail leading to the height of the island. The island literally is a spectacular place. The island had bushes and little plants scattered all over. As we headed upwards, we finally got to the head of the place where we saw the wooden staircase leading to the vast bluest of the blue ocean.

It was not our first time seeing an ocean but there was something different about this place. We stood at the crown of the granite island and were looking at the circular ocean beneath us and the long wooden jetty we had walked. This place was regal, one of the most beautiful places We had seen.

I have to agree – nature is the best refreshment of all and once in a while, we need to recharge ourselves in nature from our hectic and chaotic schedule. Nature allows us to reflect, retrieve and rejuvenate and that was what we felt hiking on this island.

The sun shone bright adding colours to the ocean making it dark blue and the sunny weather finally complimented the island. We were warming up now after the hike and excitement. Photos after photos, videos and videos, we then decided to walk back to the train station as it was closer to 3. So we walked downwards and the sunshine made us warm.

After some time, we went back to the train platform. We also went into a souvenir shop and looked if we could find something as a token of the day, a memoir of Victor Harbour.

The train took some time to return and it was getting windy. As the train came, we went to our carriage and sat down. When the train started, We got so tired and we decided to now shut off the recording and sightsee.

Other passengers were also getting tired, little kids were being cranky as they were hungry and we all were yawning.

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At around 7, we reached Mt Barker train station. The weather was so cold and windy (the place gets colder at night than Adelaide). So we got off the train, had a final look over it, promised that we would come back next year on a warm sunny day and completed our journey.

All in all, we absolutely loved this trip. We experienced the vintage train experience, met new people, hiked to the island and had an amazing day!

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Sonisha Khatri Basnet

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