Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A visit to Zig Zag

Weeks of lying low but today it’s glorious sunshine and we (hubby, daughter 2 and I) are off to take nephew1 (6 yrs) and nephew 2 (3yrs) for an outing to Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow NSW. We make a departure from Stanmore at about 9 am. The driving is easy, just a hop and a skip and we are on the Great Western Highway which runs from Broadway in Sydney right across the Great Dividing Range, through a lovely series of mountain villages.
When the time comes we take the option to divert to the M4 motorway which blends seamlessly back into the Great Western Hwy at the foot of the mountains. We have a fast and smooth trip until near the Leura turnoff the traffic suddenly grinds to a halt, perfectly positioned to allow us to give the traffic snarl a miss and divert through Leura. A little scenic driving admiring the views and we rejoin the highway at Katoomba where there is no sign of a problem.
We pass Blackheath, and the Hydro Majestic. At Mount Victoria we follow the signs to Zig Zag across the Darling Causeway very pleased to note that we should arrive at the right time for the first trip of the day at 11am.
$82.50 later and we board the train and find ourselves a cluster of seats together. It’s quite busy and the carriage we are in is full of the hubbub of excited patrons. An interesting mix of elderly people and young families.
The Zig Zag Railway was an engineering marvel in it’s day. Innovation was required to enable trains to travel from the ports of the coast to the great inland agricultural area so productive of wool and wheat. Land of the golden fleece. The railway is cut like the mark of zorro into the side of the mountain. Top road – which ends with “top points” then middle road leads to “bottom points” and the end of Zig Zag’s heritage service. Bottom road is below and is still used by the main line services today which run into an apparently impenetrably dark tunnel through the mountain.
Today the train is hauled by a sweet blue locomotive very reminiscent of Thomas the tank engine. Indeed this engine with face attached is used for special “Thomas and friends” days during school holidays. After travelling through a tunnel and over the first of the viaducts we alight at top points to watch “Thomas” uncouple. Just the ticket! On first sight of the locomotive nephew 1 – a serious Thomas aficionado in his younger years – announces that the real Thomas only has one space for coal rather than two and he also has a “tender” – but his eyes are wide at his first real life steam engine none-the-less. He and I – with many others - go up to the viewing platform above the tracks to watch “Thomas” steam along the tracks, then we move down to the new head of the train to watch him couple to the train all with much chuffing and steam. The whistle blows all aboard and we climb in for the next stage of the journey to bottom points.
We’re in a new carriage this time and when we go through the second tunnel this carriage is excitingly dark. Across a couple more stone viaducts with better views of the all three and down to some buildings in the valley below which I think I heard them say are a school and brewery. Finally we arrive at Bottom points where there is a more substantial station with a small number of toilet facilities. Here “Thomas” changes ends again and also refills with water and some sort of additive, all of which is very interesting and draws the kids and their parents, and a few others all of whom watch intently.
All aboard and we’re off on the return journey to top points for a repeat of the earlier spectacle. We give others a go on the viewing platform. Nephew 1 runs and hides behind the shrubs in the park by the platform. We watch the recoupling and climb back on board for this longest section of the trip. We’re pleased to be in this carriage which is right behind the engine for maximum appreciation of the chuffing as the engine works hard to haul us back up the mountain.
Nephew 2 without leaving his seat silently extracts a lolly snake from the couple adjacent who have an attack of the munchies. I laughingly tell them that they have just given him his favourite lolly in the whole world! They laugh and say yes, his eyes said it all! In the end this nice young couple give each of the boys two “nakes”. Nephew 2 wastes no time in shocking his cousin and cruelly eating his tail first…”oh poor snake!”
We have once again skilfully left our camera in the car, so a quick dash and we make up the deficit before the train loads up with the next round of passengers. Some browsing and souvenir buying in the shop - replica locos, a steam train pencil sharpener and finally a souvenir coin.
By now it’s well and truly lunch time. It’s nephew 1’s birthday treat and he announces he’d like macca’s for lunch. Blue Mountains local council won’t allow fast food chains in (very sensible) so we travel down to the macca’s just out of Lithgow on the highway. It is insanely busy. We find a parking space but baulk when we open the door and clap eyes on the queue. Nephew 1 graciously consents to go to Uncle’s favourite – KFC out of sight along the highway towards the mountains. The food is good – as usual from this KFC. Well above average.
We were going to take a stop at Blackheath and go for a walk, but nephew announces he’s feeling pretty tired now and would like to go home. Both the boys are fast asleep in no time and a hassle free trip has us back at Stanmore at 4:30pm, with two little boys full of excitement and stories for Daddy when he gets home. Hubby, daughter and I have all enjoyed the trip very much also and all agree the Zig Zag Railway is well worth a visit. Surely quite unique among heritage rail experiences with so much shunting to watch during the 1 ½ of the journey.

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