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It showed up some time between slow food and slow fashion. Slow travel is the new backpacking, a modern response to mass, "no-frills" fast travel and "must-see" tours.
So trekking, cycling and leisurely road trips are in, as are extended stays in one destination and embracing the local way of life.
Then there's enjoying the journey, which places rail travel as the perfect antidote to those bouncy budget airlines that cheapen a trip in more ways than one. Rail's appeal is both old-world and purely practical. It's comfortably communal, without the confinement of a bus or plane. With someone else doing the driving, time is yours. And stately stations, uniformed staff and all those bells and whistles conjure a piece of theatre out of the humblest trip. Whether jaunting on a restored steam train or traversing the continent on a three-nighter, a train trip manages to be both journey and destination.
Connex's peak-hour services aside, Victoria is more boutique than epic in the rail department but with regional services and tourist railways there's plenty here to charm the romantic and engineering enthusiast alike: Steam through forested gullies over tea and scones; take a romantic, car-free country break; learn to drive the train yourself; and keep the kiddies amused on something their own size.
Fancy rollicking through the night, drink in hand, on a train humming with live blues? Plenty of folk do, booking out Queenscliff's Blues Train (see bluestrain.com.au) weeks in advance. Running on Saturday nights from August to May, it kicks off with a buffet meal at Queenscliff Station, then passengers climb aboard to hear four blues acts – one in each carriage – as the train winds its way beside Swan Bay to Drysdale. An interim stop on the way there and back gives passengers a chance to top up their drinks from platform bars and swap to another act on another carriage. There is a strictly over-18s policy with bucks and hens nights discouraged, so you can expect a grown-up evening with proven blues performers. This season's line-up includes Chris Wilson, Lloyd Spiegel, Andrea Marr and Jim Hocking.
On your bike
The rail aspect of the Blues Train is run by Bellarine Peninsula Railway (phone 5258 2069, see bpr.org.au), which operates tourist services on the Queenscliff to Drysdale run several times a week. It also has a "cycle and ride" option, hiring out bikes from Drysdale Station that can be deposited in the guard's van, retrieved at Queenscliff and used to explore the compact historic town with its fort, lighthouses and grand hotels. Return on the train, or cycle 16 kilometres back to Drysdale on the Bellarine Rail Trail.
The grand old man of Victorian tourist trains, Puffing Billy (phone 9757 0700, see puffingbilly.com.au), has been chugging through the beautiful Dandenong Ranges for more than a century. The railway, running 24.5 kilometres from Belgrave to Gembrook, is the last of four experimental lines built to serve rural areas in the early 1900s and does a roaring tourist trade that now extends to dining. A luncheon train serves up three courses, coffee and tea in a restored heritage carriage during the three-hour trip running to Lakeside and back. The dinner special includes drinks and nibbles on the train to Emerald and a three-course carvery dinner in a restored packing shed and cheese, hot drinks, port and chocolates on the return trip.
The smoke, steam and whooping whistle of steam locomotives chugging alongside Castlemaine's stately streets only serve to reinforce the time-warp effect of the gold-rush town that Victorian Goldfields Railway (phone 5475 2966, see vgr.com.au) calls home. The railway runs from Castlemaine to equally charming Maldon, through what was some of Australia's richest gold-mining country. It offers a first-class option on Sundays, with travel in a refurbished art-nouveau "parlour" car, complete with carpet and wicker chairs.
Through the gorge
The Walhalla Goldfields Railway (phone 5126 4201, see walhallarail.com) carves its way through spectacular Stringers Creek Gorge nestled deep in the Victorian Alps. Based in the former gold-mining town of Walhalla, the first section of the railway is carried almost entirely across six big trestle bridges that criss-cross Stringers Creek below. Spring and summer wildflowers dot the gorge and deciduous trees turn on a show in autumn.
These are just a handful of Victoria's tourist railways. Each has its own rolling stock, line, scenery and way of doing things, which all add up to a unique experience. Others worth a look include the Mornington Railway (phone 5978 8792, see morningtonrailway.org.au); Red Cliffs Historical Steam Railway (phone 5024 1345) near Mildura; and Daylesford Spa Country Railway (phone 5348 1759, see dscr.com.au).
Train not going your way? Then charter one. Steamrail Victoria (phone 9397 1953, see steamrail.com.au) restores and operates an impressive collection of vintage steam, diesel and electric locomotives and carriages, including wood-panelled examples from the early 1900s. It runs regular suburban shuttles and day and weekend tours to the likes of Geelong, Bendigo, Maldon and Mildura, plus rail and sail, mystery dinner and snow trains. It also offers charters across the Victorian broad-gauge network and has a club car available for private charter on most of its tours.
Drive your own
If taking it all in as a passenger isn't enough, several tourist railways offer "driver experience" packages that put visitors behind the controls of a railmotor, steam or diesel locomotive. Conditions vary, but generally include meals and allow friends and family along for the ride. South Gippsland Tourist Railway's Dreams Come True package costs from $440; Puffing Billy's 861 Footplate Experience Course costs $1500 (phone 5658 1111, see sgr.org.au) . The Bellarine Peninsula Railway and Victorian Goldfields Railway also run driver experience courses.
Good things, small packages
Miniature railways bring train business down to a child's perspective but you'd be hard pushed to find a grown-up riding one of these without a grin. Miniature set-ups operating scaled-down steam, diesel and electric trains are scattered across the state and vary in sophistication. You can find yourself chugging through forests, over bridges and streams and through tunnels (where screaming is somehow both spontaneous and obligatory). And if railway volunteers's enthusiasm can be measured, these folk show signs of being among the most passionate of the lot.
Many of the railways have barbecues and play equipment nearby and accept party bookings, making them ideal for celebrating a child's birthday.
Try these miniature railways for size: Diamond Valley Railway (phone 9439 1493, see dvr.com.au); the Steam Locomotive Society of Victoria (phone 9553 4037, see slsv.com.au) in Moorabbin, Mooroolbark Miniature Railway (phone 9723 1025, see mmr.org.au), Gippsland Model Engineering Society (phone 5127 6983, see gmes.org.au) in Traralgon and Cobden Miniature Railway (phone 5595 1275, see cobdenminiaturerail.org.au).
Short breaks by rail
Rail reaches a host of regional towns that are perfect for a short break. Woodend, Kyneton and Malmsbury are a little bit country but within just over an hour of the CBD. Ninety minutes or so will get you to goldfields heartland in Bendigo, Ballarat or Castlemaine, and three hours plus will see you in Echuca, Swan Hill or Warrnambool.
Most B&B operators will gladly collect guests from the station, and with everything from art galleries to antiques shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants within town centres, there's easily a weekend's worth of things to do in each place. Or enjoy doing nothing at all.
If you have kids in tow, V/Line's Family Traveller fares are a bargain, allowing up to two children per adult to travel free at off-peak times. Family Traveller return fares for two adults and up to four children are $41.60 to Ballarat, $63.20 to Bendigo and $81.60 to Echuca. See vline.com.au for spring offers including discounts and upgrades from regional tourism operators.
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