Friday 25 April 2008

Vintage train boosts Illawarra Fly tourism potential

Robert Pritchard, managing director of ResourcesLaw International (left), with NSW Tourism Minister Matt Brown (right) and his son Isaac Brown (centre).
Chairman of 3801 Limited, John Glastonbury, aboard the Cockatoo Run train.

Tourists heading for New South Wales’ latest attraction, the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, can do so in style aboard a splendidly restored, 1930s-vintage train.

New South Wales Tourism Minister Matt Brown, and other official guests, took the train trip last week for the official opening of the Illawarra Fly, a 500-metre elevated steel canopy at treetop level offering stupendous views of countryside, lake and sea.

Tourism chiefs see the train, operated by not-for-profit enterprise 3801 Limited, becoming an essential part of the Wollongong/Illawarra tourism mix, transferring visitors from Sydney to the new Fly attraction.

A lounge compartment aboard the restored Cockatoo Run train.
At the official opening of the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk (from left): Nicole Braden, Tourism New South Wales; Rina Hore, Bradman Foundation (Bradman Museum of Cricket); Elisabeth Allen, Tourism New South Wales.

The train makes the trip between Sydney Central Station and Robertson Heritage Railway Station in the NSW Southern Highlands on Thursdays and Sundays. Known as the Cockatoo Run, the journey uses the Illawarra Mountain Railway, built between 1927 and 1932. This stretch of track provides one of Australia’s most spectacular rail trips. Aboard the Cockatoo Run, passengers enjoy light refreshments and grand coastal scenery as the train climbs 600 metres, past waterfalls and through dense rainforest, up the Illawarra Escarpment. The train makes a stop at Summit Tank to admire sweeping views over Lake Illawarra out to the Tasman Sea.

A new train package, “Illawarra Treetop Flyer”, incorporates roundtrip travel from Sydney Central with entry to the Fly, located not far from Robertson. This costs $95 for adults and $75 for children, all-inclusive. Discounts apply for families and larger groups.

The Cockatoo Run train uses vintage 1930s carriages, beautifully restored and hauled by a heritage Diesel locomotive. Carriage attendants and buffet staff are all volunteers and boarding the train is like re-entering the gracious Golden Age of railway travel. 3801 Limited is negotiating to lease a steam locomotive, which would lift the operation’s profile, add cachet and boost patronage. It used to have a steam engine, until the NSW Government, through RailCorp, failed to renew the lease. This decision could have finished 3801 Limited, but it fought on, leasing a heritage Diesel locomotive replacement. 3801 Limited remains determined to secure a steam engine.

At the official opening of Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk (from left) Helen Moran, Australian Alpine Enterprises; Sean Haylan, general manager, Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk; Debbie Howie, Australian Alpine Enterprises.
The Cockatoo Run Train heads through Illawarra rainforest.

Opening the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk after travelling there on the Cockatoo Run, NSW Tourism Minister Matt Brown said visitors who travelled to the Fly on the train could “really appreciate how special this area is.” He said the Illawarra Fly had attracted over 1000 visitors for its opening and was set to attract 200,000 a year, building to 300,000 a year in five years. The Fly employed 16 staff, with visitor spend in the area estimated at $4 million a year.

“We are very supportive of this and know it will be a success,” Brown said.

Speaking later, 3801 Limited chairman, John Glastonbury, said the Cockatoo Run was an integral asset in the Illawarra tourism mix. It provided a novel and enjoyable way for tourists from Sydney without cars to reach the Fly.

The day-trip potential for international and domestic tourists, particularly families, is obvious. A steam engine would make the attraction even more special.

Book Your Travel with Wego