The Pichi Richi Railway is a wonderful family experience in South Australia’s beautiful Southern Flinders Ranges.
by Katrina Gogel
If you have a train fan in the family and are looking for a South Aussie adventure, we highly recommend experiencing a ride on the Pichi Richi Railway.
The Pichi Richi railway is located in the small outback town of Quorn in the Southern Flinders Ranges. It is approximately 3.5 hours’ drive north of Adelaide, and only thirty minutes from the regional city of Port Augusta. If travelling from Adelaide (or anywhere far) it is well worth booking some accommodation and spending a few days in the area.
The railway operates every year from March through to November and offers a number of different train journeys. We’ve enjoyed a few holidays to Quorn over the years and have experienced two rides on the Pichi Richi Explorer, and most recently the Afghan Express. Both are fantastic for families.
Pichi Richi Explorer
The Pichi Richi Explorer is a half-day steam train ride from Quorn and perfect for families with little ones. The ride takes only 2.5 hours return from Quorn, and incorporates a stopover at Woolshed Flat where you can stretch the legs, use the amenities and have a bite to eat. Light refreshments are available to purchase here (cash only), or alternatively you can bring your own.
On this journey you will get to experience train travel as it was a century ago. As the track winds its way into the picturesque Pichi Richi Pass, you’ll get a close-up view of the ancient Flinders Ranges geology in the deep rock cuttings built in the 1870s. The carriages, some dating back to the 19th century, were used on trains such as the Great Northern Express, the Ghan, the East-West Express and services in the south-east of SA.
We recently wanted to experience the full train journey and changing landscape from Port Augusta to Quorn, so booked a ride aboard the Afghan Express. This service is a full-day, six-hour journey from Port Augusta to Quorn (return) with a 2-hour stopover in Quorn, where you can wander around town and have lunch at one of the many cafes or pubs. Alternatively, you can shorten the length of your trip by purchasing a one-way ticket only.
With this info and two youngsters in mind, we opted for the one-way journey from Port Augusta to Quorn, as we thought the full-day might be a little too tiring for our four-year-old and seven-year-old boys. I’d already experienced the Pichi Richi twice before, and this time we were travelling with my mother-in-law who hadn’t, so I chose to be the taxi driver for the morning instead. This ended up working out perfectly as the two-hour trip was just the right length, and our boys disembarked in Quorn before boredom (and hunger!) kicked in.
The Afghan Express is the name that railwaymen gave the passenger train that ran from Terowie to Oodnadatta, through Quorn, in 1923. In time, this was abbreviated to the Ghan. With the Ghan railway eventually extended to Alice Springs, and a new standard-guage line bypassing the steep Pichi Richi Pass in 1956, trains ceased operating along this section of track. Since 1973, volunteers of the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society have proudly restored and run the railway.
The one-way train ride was enjoyed by all family members, and my husband said it was interesting to see the dramatic change in landscape from sea level at Port Augusta, through the cuttings in the hills all the way to Quorn. Our boys, like most kids, loved opening the old carriage windows and poking their heads out to take in the views, and wave to people who had stopped alongside the road to watch the train go past.
We have loved every one of our Pichi Richi Railway rides and highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for a fun family weekend away.
The full list of train services, timetables and pricing can be found on the Pichi Richi Railway website.
Things to note:
- With everyone currently holidaying at home it is advised you book well in advance for your Pichi Richi/Southern Flinders adventure. Accommodation and train tickets are booking out fast so we’d recommend to start organising for 2021 now!
- Due to Covid19, the Pichi Richi is operating slightly different to normal, with allocated seating to allow for social distancing. For up-to-date information please visit their website.
- The Pichi Richi Railway is seasonal, and runs from March to end of November each year.
- There are no toilets on board the trains, so make sure to incorporate a toilet stop in at either Port Augusta or Quorn railway station before you depart. The Afghan express train takes 2 hours to travel from Port Augusta to Quorn, with no stops along the way.
- You are allowed to take your own drinks and snacks on the trains. Light refreshments are available for purchase (cash only) at Woolshed Flat when aboard the Pichi Richi Express.
Things to see and do in Quorn:
- Visit the Quandong Café and try the native quandong flavoured milkshake or the quandong cheesecake (a tangy, peach-like flavour that’s sweet). Both were delicious and given a big thumbs up from our kids!
- If staying in Quorn be sure to check out the brilliant silo light show at night. It’s free and spectacular!
- Our boys took their scooters along on our holiday and thought the skatepark in the centre of town was great. There’s also a playground.
- Visit one of the historic pubs for a meal. We had a great dinner at the Transcontinental hotel.
- Drive to nearby Warren Gorge and take a stroll. Not only is it beautiful, but you may get the chance to see some yellow footed rock wallabies.
- Spend some time looking around the historic Quorn railway station.
Things to see and do in Port Augusta:
- Grab a coffee and snack at Mama Lou’s café, which is located in the railway station precinct.
- Explore the wharf area, where there is a great playground and excellent skate park.
- Visit Wadlata Outback Centre and learn the history of South Australia’s outback through numerous interactive displays. We have visited here twice now and can’t recommend it enough!
- Take a stroll around the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. If you time your visit right you might even see some beautiful Sturt Desert Peas in flower.
Railway Terrace, Quorn, South Australia
For more information and all enquiries please visit the Pichi Richi Railway website.
What: Pichi Richi Railway
When: March to November
Where: Quorn, Southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia
Who: Train buffs big and small
At Play & Go Adelaide we make every effort to provide accurate information to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. We recommend confirming times, dates and details directly before making any plans as details may be subject to change.
Image Source: All photos by Katrina Gogel
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