Let’s explore the old Sandergrove to Milang railway line. It’s a journey through history and nature – from the classic country around Strathalbyn to a little lakeside town with a railway museum that punches above its weight.
The Sandergrove to Milang railway line was a 12 kilometre spur line built that operated from 1884 to 1970. It connected the once busy port of Milang on the lower lakes of the Murray River to the Main Victor Harbor line between Strathalbyn and Finniss.
The Murray River paddle steamer trade was booming in the late 1800s as goods came down river from the interior of the country and supplies were hauled up river. Before the time of modern roads and bridges, paddle steamers crossing Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina were an integral part of the mail route between Adelaide and Melbourne. Agricultural produce from the region was transported across the lakes to the railway at Milang to reduce the time and distance to market or shipment in Adelaide.
For a brief time, before other railways such as the Main South Line were completed and roads improved, the wharf at Milang was a busy place. A horse drawn tramway transferred goods from the paddle steamers to the station yard. By the time the line to Milang was completed, the recently completed North West Railway to Morgan had rendered the river trade below that port pretty much obsolete and river trade in general had begun to decline.
When the line was finally closed in 1970, local groups lobbied successfully for the land to be preserved as a nature reserve. The Nurragi Conservation Reserve is an important corridor for remnant native vegetation and wildlife. You can walk the length of it from Sandergrove to Milang as the Nurragi Conservation Reserve Walking Trail.
On the trail
It takes at least half a day to walk the entire trail. Click the links above to get maps and more information to prepare for your visit.
On my second visit with the family in tow we drove along the roads near Sandergrove until I spotted the old station sign – through the trees and across a field. Parking the car near the railway crossing on Tucker Road, we tried to follow the signage to the old station site. It’s tough going if you’re not prepared for a hike. The path is overgrown with all kinds of spiky bushes. I’m sure they’re native and important but they’re not much fun for kids to scrape through. Eventually we found a mound that marked the old line as it branched from the Victor Harbor line and things were easier.
There’s not much to see at Sandergrove. The sign is likely to have been placed there by the SteamRanger Heritage Railway and the old pillbox may or may not be original. As far as I know, these phone-box-looking-things contained telephones for train drivers to contact train control as required. There’s a few bits of old rail to the side of the single track that now runs through the area and the permanent way (the landscaped level corridor railways are built on) of the old railway is barely visible.
A crumbling sandstone culvert between Sandergrove and Dry Plains Road is one of the only things that remain aside from small embankments and cuttings. You can access it from either side in about twenty minutes. As the thin trail snakes it’s way along the embankments and cuttings you’ll see all the replanting and rewilding that’s gone on over the years. You can see plenty of wildlife too. We spotted kangaroos, foxes and rabbits, all heading at speed away from us.
Nurragi and Punkulde
The old station site of Nurragi is on Nurragi Road. It’s easy to get to by car. There’s another old station sign beyond an old gate by the road. On the other side of the road, you’ll find a little rest area with tables and chairs just a little way off the road towards Milang.
Time constraints meant we had to head back to Adelaide that day. Vowing to continue, I came back the next weekend and picked up the trail at Punkulde, once the site of a stopping place along the line. I searched the area but found no trace of the railway or the crossing aside from a small sign attached to the address marker of one of two houses at the site.
The trail follows the Finniss to Milang Road for some distance before veering off to the south-west. I found the trail again at Landseer Road, just out of Milang before it enters a sweeping curve overlooking the lake into Milang.
The station precinct at Milang is a superbly restored example of South Australian history. An informative history trail runs passes the old station on its way to the wharf through wide green spaces. You’ll get some excellent insight from the signage and get a real sense of the industrious nature of the port in days long gone.
Milang Railway Museum
The Milang Railway Museum deserves a special mention. When the railway closed, Milang was left with nothing but an ugly scar through its heart. The local volunteer group who created the museum literally dragged everything back there themselves. They even went and found the old station building on a farm and put it back on a rebuilt with platform and rebuilt the track. These days the museum is an outstanding example of a community banding together to preserve and represent history. It’s free, family-friendly, fun, and informative. Do yourself a favour and visit when they’re open on weekend afternoons. Better still, go on a Sunday afternoon for train rides and excellent value food and drinks in the restored cafeteria car.
Thanks for reading this short introduction the Sandergrove to Milang railway. Check out the video below to see it and if you like railway history then check out some of my other posts and videos related to old railway lines around South Australia.
How to get there
Sandergrove isn’t far from Strathalbyn and is just over an hour by car from Adelaide. It takes about 10 minutes longer to reach Milang.