Victor Harbor and Goolwa lie approximately two hours south of Adelaide and one of the great attractions of the towns is the Cockle Train which runs between them, one of the very first railways to be constructed in Australia.
The Cockle Train operates every Sunday and daily during school holidays. It is usually steam hauled, although a diesel locomotive or a railcar is used during slack periods. The journey covers a distance of eighteen kilometres each way and takes half an hour, with the train running beside the sea for much of the trip. The Cockle Train has been so known since 1887, because the beaches beside which it operates are famous for their cockles which are gathered at low tide.
Captain Sturt discovered the mouth of the Murray, where Goolwa is now situated, in 1830 and realised the difficulties of navigating the river because of the sand bar at its mouth. However, the first successful navigation was made in 1838 and Goolwa was established in 1840. The name came from the local aboriginal language and seems to mean ‘elbow'.
In 1869, a line was built from Goolwa to Strathalbyn. This line was operated by steam power, but horses remained in service between Goolwa and Victor Harbor until 1884. Although the river trade increased and Goolwa thrived and became a ship-building town, the railway never achieved the success which had been envisaged for it. Both it and the town of Goolwa started to decline in the 1880s when the Victorian railways extended to the Murray and goods could be shipped more easily by that colony's own rail system.
However, Goolwa has survived and has become a tourist destination in recent years. The railway, though, would have died but for its adoption in 1984 by Steamranger.
Sights to see in Goolwa include the recently constructed and somewhat controversial bridge across to Hindmarsh Island (controversial because it destroyed aboriginal sacred sites), as well as the Signal Point Interpretive Centre, where the Information Centre is also located.
The Centre tells the story of the Murray-Darling River System, the longest in Australia, and is open daily from 10:00 until 17:00. There are cruises available up the Murray on board the River Murray Queen, a modern-day paddle steamer built in 1974. The old Blacksmith's Forge has been converted into a Museum and the Police Station and Courthouse, built in the 1860s, have been preserved, as has the Railway Superintendent's House, the oldest building in the town, dating from 1852. There are several art and craft galleries and the Wharf Markets, held on the first and third Sundays of every month sell local art and craft products.
At the other end of the railway line, Victor Harbor has an old double-decker horse-drawn tram across to Granite Island, where there is a good lookout and the Penguin Centre providing information on the Fairy Penguins which live on the island. In the sea just off the island is the Below Decks Aquarium and in the town of Victor Harbor is the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre.
Since Victor Harbor is a former whaling town, it is appropriate that the South Australian Whale Centre should be here, offering relics of whaling times. In the bay outside, Southern Right Whales can often be seen in winter resting on their long migratory journey.
Both Goolwa and Victor Harbor are served by Premier Stateliner buses. Most services travel from Adelaide to Goolwa via Victor Harbor, but one bus on weekdays travels to Victor Harbor via Goolwa. Fastest services to each town take approximately two hours, there being five buses on weekdays, two on Saturdays and one on Sundays. There is also an evening bus from Cape Jervis connecting with the ferry from Kangaroo Island.