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Oliver Hill Train & Tour, Rottnest Island

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by Michelle MacFarlane (subscribe)
Brisbane writer and busy mum of two boys. See my parenting articles at www.brisbaneschild.com.au and www.kidsonthecoast.com.au.
Published January 29th 2013
My family recently took the Oliver Hill train ride and gun battery tour at Rottnest Island, and we found it a great way to see the island's inland environment and learn about its military heritage.

We spent five days holidaying on Rottnest from Queensland over the Christmas holidays, and saw plenty of the coast from the seats of our trusty bicycles.

But we tended to avoid cycling through the inland, where it was hotter and steeper.

So, when we saw a heritage train that ran through the inland to the old Oliver Hill military installation, we jumped at the chance to book tickets for the train and Oliver Hill tour ($28/adult, $16/child).

The train uses an old narrow-gauge railway track installed by the army during its time on the island from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Small trains were used to transport ammunition, building materials, food and other supplies to various military facilities around the island. While the original train was retired a couple of years ago, a replica heritage rail-car now makes a charming way to get around.

During the summer holiday season, tour trains leave from The Settlement railway station each day at 1.30pm. We cycled the 10 minutes to the station from our accommodation at Kingstown Barracks hostel, then hopped on board with a large group of other Australian and overseas visitors. A quick introduction from our driver and a 'ding ding' on the rail-car bell, and off we rumbled.

The train goes past a series of interesting Rottnest landmarks and environments, including the airport and salt lakes, and offers great views of the coast from various high vantage points. Big picture windows make it easy to take photographs.

About half an hour later, we pulled up at the old Oliver Hill gun battery, installed in World War II to protect the mainland from possible Japanese naval attack. While the battery never actually fired a shot in combat, it's a fascinating historical site and one of the best-preserved of its type in Australia.

A volunteer tour guide took us through the installation in detail, from the gun tower (which still has the massive gun intact) to the magazine where ammunition was stored and the underground tunnels that connect the various parts of the facility.

The tour was interesting, with plenty to look at and lots of facts and anecdotes to keep it lively. I had been concerned that my sons (aged 9 and 11) might find it dry and boring, but they and all the other kids stayed interested and particularly liked the big gun and spooky tunnels.

At the end of our one-hour tour, the rail-car pulled up again and rang its bell for us all to climb on board. Thirty minutes later we were disembarking back at The Settlement.

The Oliver Hill train and tour is one of the best guided tours our family has done.

Unlike some of the heritage train trips we've endured (!), the rail-car is comfortable, offers good views, and travels through pretty and interesting scenery.

The battery tour is varied, informative and colourful enough to keep even kids interested. I imagine military buffs would be in heaven.

I recommend taking both the train and tour if you can afford it, or at least the battery tour if you can ($16 for a family for the tour only).
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Why? To learn more about Rotto's history and landscape
When: Train/tour combo 1.30pm daily during summer season, other times available for separate tours and train trips (check with visitor centre)
Phone: Rottnest Visitor Centre 9372 9730
Where: Rottnest Island (leaves from Settlement Station)
Cost: Adults $28, concession $22, child $16 (as at 2013), cheaper if you just do either tour or train
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