The world's steepest railway and Australia's other weirdest forms of transport

Sure, you can take a scenic drive, or perhaps hop on a bus tour. But why go for the boring option when you can revel in a gimmick? Across Australia, there are tours and experiences that bring delightfully quirky modes of transport into play. Don't try to play it cool – embrace the novelty…

Amphibious vehicles

Where: Gold Coast, Queensland

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Gold Coast aquaduck

Photo: Aquaduck

Why choose between a bus tour and cruise when you can do both? Amphibious vehicles can switch from land to water mode by hydraulically pulling their wheels up. And why not paint them as a duck for good measure? That's what happens with the Gold Coast's Aquaduck tours, which tackle the GC hotspots by land then take to the waterways. See aquaduck.com.au

Cable cars

Where: Cairns, Queensland

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Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Credit TEQ

Photo: Reuben Nutt/TEQ

Dangling from a wire as you sway high above thick green rainforest is certainly a change from driving up the highway. From Smithfield, just north of Cairns, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway travels 7.5 kilometres over far north Queensland to Kuranda in the Atherton Tableland. There are stops along the way at Red Peak – the highest point on the journey – and the thundering Barron Falls. Oh, and 11 of the cable car gondolas have glass floors. See skyrail.com.au

Paddle steamers

Where: Echuca, Victoria

Echuca - Concrete Playground Shoot March 2018
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Credit Visit Victoria

Photo: Emily Godfrey/Visit Victoria

To the casual cruiser, travelling down the river on a paddle steamer has an old-fashioned romance. They hark back to the glory days of the river trade. Tell that to the poor soul shovelling fuel into the boiler while you glide along the Murray River, admiring the river red gum forests. There's a very good reason why paddle steamers died out – but sometimes it's nice to enter the time machine. See murrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au

Horse-drawn trams

Where: Victor Harbor, South Australia

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horse drawn tram victor harbour
credit SATC

Photo: Graham Scheer/SATC

Once upon a time, before trams got all whizzy and electrified, they were pulled by horses. And at Victor Harbor, there is a stubborn refusal to modernise. The Victor Harbor Tramway connects Victor Harbor with Granite Island. A stalwart horse pulls the olde worlde, open-topped tram along the causeway for 630 metres. Of course, you could easily walk, but where's the romance in that? See horsedrawntram.com.au

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Microlights

Where: Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

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Broome microlight

Photo: Birdseyeview.net.au

Imagine a bike with a small engine at the back and a wing over the top, and you're not far off what a microlight is. If you think a helicopter seems a little too flimsy, then flying over the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef is definitely not for you. There's room for two – one pilot, one passenger – and the wind through the hair effect is electrifying. See birdseyeview.net.au

Steam trains

Where: Dandenong Ranges, Victoria

Dandenong Ranges | Feb 2021 David Whitley piece on Novelty Transport
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Puffing Billy, Dandenong Ranges. Credit Visit Victoria

Photo: Emily Godfrey/Visit Victoria

Equally out of date are the steam trains of the Puffing Billy Railway, which steams through the Dandenong Ranges west of Melbourne. The route chugs through fern gullies and temperate rainforest. The narrow gauge train line was opened in 1900, then closed as a financial drain in 1954. Volunteers managed to resurrect the railway, and now the fleet of historic locomotives acts as photogenic tourist bait. See puffingbilly.com.au

Funiculars

Where: Katoomba, New South Wales

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scenic world furnicular. Credit Scenic World

Photo: Scenic World

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains bills the Scenic Railway as the steepest passenger railway in the world. Originally built to service a coal mine, the Scenic Railway now ferries tourists down into the Jamison Valley. Tilted at angles of up to 52°, this daredevil funicular only travels 310 metres, but it ploughs through a tunnel in the cliffs on the way. If you really want to feel the steepness, you can tilt your seat back so it's at 64°. See scenicworld.com.au

Hovercrafts

Where: Broome, Western Australia

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Broome hovercraft
Photo: Broome Hovercraft Tours

Boats float in water, but hovercrafts float above water on beds of air. This is handy when the water is shallow, and on Broome's extensive tidal flats, the water is indeed shallow. Broome Hovercraft Tours takes advantage of this, taking guests out on sunset spins and trips to ancient dinosaur footprints. But the main thing you take away is how difficult hovercrafts are to steer. See broomehovercraft.com.au

Segways

Where: Canberra

A fun way to get around the lake is on a guided segway tour with Seg Glide Ride located near the International Flag Display on the southside of the lake.

Photo: Visit Canberra

Love them or hate them, Segways have become somewhat ubiquitous. The self-balancing transporters are used for tours all over the country – you can even go round Uluru on one. Perhaps the most interesting place to try one out is Canberra, where Seg Glide Ride runs tours around Lake Burley Griffin, taking in the Big Important Buildings on the way. See segglideride.com.au

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism boards.

See also: Australia's ten most spectacular dead ends

See also: Ten titanic hiking treks that should be on your hitlist

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