During the early years of the twentieth century in Queenstown’s heyday when it boasted a population of many more thousands than today, the Mount Lyell Picnic at Strahan was the major annual social event. The 1911 picnic drew a crowd of 1,450, according to a report in The Mercury of February 3 that year. The same report indicates that ‘There were numerous toasts and interesting speeches,’ and that a boy aged about 10 years suffered ‘a large cut in the abdomen’, necessitating ‘his conveyance … for medical treatment. Nine stitches were inserted by Dr. Walpole.’
Picnickers travelled the 35km from Queenstown to Strahan aboard the Mount Lyell Railway, with up to three trains running at 45 minute intervals. The trains also collected residents from the stops along the route, at Lynchford, Rinadeena, Dubbil Barril, Lower Landing, and Teepookana.
Today, the West Coast Wilderness Railway works with the community to maintain this West Coast tradition. First reinstated in 2005, the annual event now coincides with Australia Day and involves community members boarding the train in Queenstown for the journey to Strahan where a large picnic is held. There are sporting activities, food and a range of amusements to keep the whole family entertained for the day – the organising committee has a Facebook page with details.
The 2017 Picnic Train will operate on Thursday 26 January, departing Queenstown at 7.30am for the trip to Regatta Point Station at Strahan. From there, passengers will be taken on board a coach to West Beach, where the Mount Lyell Strahan Picnic will be held. The coach will depart West Beach at 4.30pm for Regatta Point and the return train journey to Queenstown. Tickets are $35pp, including the coach transfers, and bookings are recommended – call 03 6471 0100.