Travel back in time on a classic steam train
Have you ever wanted to travel back in time? If so, and you’re in the Sunshine Coast or Gympie areas, then you’re in luck… well, almost.
Riding the iconic Spirit of the Mary Valley Steam Train is the closest I’ve come in recent years to experiencing an authentic railway journey in the Gold Rush era. It was the next best thing to actually being onsite in the 1800s.
And, I didn’t need a DeLorean time machine as seen in the 1985 American science fiction film Back to the Future to get there!
I travelled from Hervey Bay to the Gympie Historic Railway Station in my 10-year-old black Nissan X-Trail, picking up my daughter and three of her children along the way.
Nestled in the heart of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, the Mary Valley Rattler runs between Gympie and Amamoor stations.
This vintage C17/967 locomotive and wooden carriages take passengers on a journey through picturesque rural landscapes and quaint country towns, providing a uniquely charming experience that is not to be missed.
So, jump on board with us and enjoy the ride!
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A Brief History of the Mary Valley Rattler
The Mary River line, launched in 1881, was an important transport link in the region’s Gold Rush era for transporting materials and equipment in and exporting the gold out from the area.
As the golden era ended, local calls for the railway line to be expanded through the Mary Valley to cater to the fast-developing agriculture, dairy, and timber industries.
In 1915 the rail line was extended to Brooloo, which led to the establishment of small townships at Kandanga, Imbil, Amamoor, and Dagun.
The line operated for nearly 100 years before being closed in 2012 for safety reasons.
However, thanks to the Gympie Regional Council providing funds and a passionate group of volunteers putting in the hard yards, the Mary Valley Heritage Railway was restored as a major tourist attraction.
They were successful in getting the heritage-listed railway up and running again in 2018 and now tourists can enjoy all the Mary Valley Rattler offers while supporting a vital piece of Australian history.
Whether you’re a railway enthusiast or just looking for a unique way to see the stunning Mary Valley region, the Mary Valley Rattler is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
You’ll love the Rattler’s friendly, casual atmosphere
There’s no need to worry if you’ve never been on a heritage railway before—the friendly Mary Valley Rattler staff are more than happy to help you with anything you need.
When we arrived at Mary Valley Rattler’s historic railway station in Gympie, a friendly volunteer was there to greet us. She even offered to take our photos with our cameras in front of the entrance.
Inside, a welcoming attendant checked our bookings and gave us an overview of what was available at the station while we waited for our three-hour Classic Rattler Run to start.
The Rusty Rails Café had delicious food options for breakfast or lunch. We could also choose a Rattler Railway Company Coffee or other beverage.
The gift shop was stocked with railway souvenirs and the museum with memorabilia from bygone eras. There was even a porter in a period costume who was happy to be photographed.
As a not-for-profit organization, any Mary Valley Rattler purchases we made supported its ongoing restoration and preservation, so the future of this historic rail experience is ensured.
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Visiting the bygone era of coal-fired locomotives
Once we were settled in our seats, we sat back as we waited for your journey through the scenic Sunshine Coast hinterland to begin.
Soon, the smell of burning coal filled the air, steam hissed and the engine tooted as the train pulled out of the station.
We were on board one of several vintage carriages filled with visitors from Mackay, Maryborough, Hervey Bay, Gold Coast, and New Zealand.
Pulling us was the C17/967 locomotive that was built in 1950 at Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland.
As Jeff, the volunteer carriage attendant, punched holes into our vintage-style train tickets, he fueled the kids’ anticipation by telling them about the Harry Potter-like tunnels they’d see on this trip through the Mary Valley.
Another volunteer asked around for any birthdays, anniversaries, or other celebratory milestones that anyone onboard was having on or near that day.
Our Mr 13, who was about to turn 14, ducked for cover, anticipating that everyone onboard singing Happy Birthday to him would be embarrassing!
However, a number of other passengers volunteered to tell of their special days.
Looking around the carriage interior, our trio – Mr 6, Miss 9, and Mr 13 nearly 14 – were fascinated with the polished brass railway luggage racks overhead, the leather 1950’s bench-style seats, and other historical fittings.
Through the open-air windows that had wooden shutters, which could be pulled down or up to open or shut, we watched the world go by.
As we crossed old wooden bridges and went through tunnels, pulled along by a full-scale, genuine steam locomotive we felt like we were travelling back in time.
The rolling hills blanketed with farmland and quaint townships offered us a visual escape from our fast-paced lives, adding to how brilliant this adventure felt.
For the next hour, the train rattled along, taking us on an enjoyable journey through the township of Dagun and on to Amamoor, a quaint little town filled with old-fashioned shops and market stalls.
There we watched as the rail staff turn the C17/967 locomotive around on a huge turntable before heading back to Gympie.
Dagun, the next stop on the Rattler’s journey
The ‘All Aboard’ call came sooner than expected and we were soon back in our seats, anticipating our next stop at Dagun where the locals welcomed us with live music and market stalls, as well as delicious tastings of local wine and cheese.
There were also old-time games available to play, making this a perfect opportunity to enjoy the company of friends and/or family while exploring what makes these places special.
All too soon, again, we were back on the Rattler returning to Gympie.
As we rolled into Gympie, the town that is reputed to have saved Queensland, it was time for one of nature’s greatest shows: the annual display of jacaranda flowers.
We were treated to an amazing Spring show of purple blossoms. Miss 9 was especially pleased to see the display… every year in early October, in the lead-up to her birthday, jacaranda trees bloom just for her!
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You’re spoilt for choice of things to do on the Rattler
There’s no shortage of options from which to choose when it comes to a Mary Valley outing:
- The Classic Rattler Run takes passengers on an exciting adventure on the C17 steam train from the Gympie Historic Station through the scenic Mary Valley and the small town of Dagun, before arriving at the Amamoor Heritage Station.
- The All Stations Train allows passengers to explore more of the region, stopping at both the Heritage Dagun Station and the Amamoor Station.
- The Rattler Tasting Train is a fun experience for the whole family. Hop on board the Heritage Railmotor RM76 – which traditionally ran the Brooloo line to Gympie providing a daily link to the town for shopping, transportation of goods, and children getting to school.
- Ride with Driver Experience lets you ride as a guest in a cab with train drivers (18+ years old).
Choice of packages
- The Mary Valley Rattler’s Ride and Dine package includes priority pre-boarding, assigned seating, morning tea onboard, lunch at the Rusty Rails Café, and a bottle of water.
- The VIP Club Car package allows you to enjoy priority preboarding, cheese plate and beverage onboard the Club Car, access to the verandah for stunning photos, plus water and a souvenir cooler.
- Pets are welcome aboard on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays (terms and conditions apply).
- Get your day underway at sunrise with the Rattler’s drivers on a Light Up & Workshop Tour, which includes a hearty breakfast of your choice in Rusty Rails Café.
Education trips and special occasions
- The Mary Valley Rattler offers an educational and fascinating journey back to a bygone era for students of all ages.
- The Rusty Rails Café at the historic Gympie Station can cater to up to 120 people, with a menu that has been designed to be light and contemporary.
- Special Occasions can be tailored aboard any of their fleets, with dedicated staff on hand to help plan the perfect event.
- Ample parking is available for coaches, and they recommend pre-booking for groups of over 10 people.
- The Rattler regularly hosts themed outings such as Halloween and the Agatha Christie-styled Murder on the Mary Valley Rattler.
Visit the Rattler website for more information.
Experience the beauty of rural Queensland, Rattler style!
If you’re looking for a fun day out, with beautiful scenery and a friendly, casual atmosphere, the Mary Valley Rattler is definitely worth checking out.
It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the gorgeous Sunshine Coast hinterland—all while supporting a vital piece of Australian history.
We’re sure you’ll love the experience!
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If you go:
Gympie Historic Station
Tozer Street, Gympie, Queensland 4570, Australia
P: (07) 5482 2750
Mary Valley Rattler is open 7 days a week except for Christmas Day.
Please note its hours may vary on public holidays.
With thanks to the Mary Valley Rattler for hosting us for this very special experience.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy Murder on a Runaway Train, a short, action-packed fiction story set on a steam train in the rugged wilderness of Tasmania’s West Coast.