The town of Victor Harbor is located on the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, about 80 km south of Adelaide, in South Australia. Victor Harbor was originally home to the Australian aboriginal people, who hunted and gathered in the fertile lands, before the Europeans discovered it 1802. Today it is a popular tourist destination, and one of the favorite activities for visitors here is to hitch a ride on the horse-drawn tram over a 630-meter long wooden causeway connecting the nearby Granite Island. This little island is home to a large colony of Little Penguins which are a popular attraction on the island. These penguins shelter on the island during the night, departing in the morning to hunt for fish before returning at sunset.
A team of Clydesdale horses pull the carriages, doing a couple of shifts a week each, and the trams run on roller bearings to make it nice and easy for them. Established in 1894, the horse drawn trams carry approximately 180,000 passengers per year taking 50 passengers at a time. The tram service is provided by the Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram, one of the very few horse-drawn tram routes remaining in public transit service.
After South Australia was colonized in 1826, the peninsula started exporting whale oil, where the produce was exported by sea. But as navigating the Murray Mouth became difficult and dangerous for steamers, a decision was made to build a railway. Work on the railway commenced in 1851 and the line reached Victor Harbor in 1864. In 1867 this pier was extended to reach Granite Island, and the resulting link become known as "The Causeway".
For many years goods were conveyed between the mainland and the island on railway trucks drawn by horses. At that time, horses were used instead of steam engines to contain costs. As the Causeway became popular, the South Australian Railways decided to utilize one of the their unused horse-drawn passenger trams to offer a service to the island, and in 1894 the passenger horse tramway was established.
The horse tramway operated until 1954, when a dispute between the operators and the local council resulted in the Causeway being reconstructed but without rails. The service continued to operate on Granite Island itself until 1956, when the cars were disposed of. Between 1956 and 1986, a rubber tyred train provided service across the causeway.
1986 marked the 150th Jubilee of South Australia, and plans for special projects, events and celebrations were laid out. One of the projects was to reinstate the horse tramway and the bid was successful. Replica tram cars were built, tracks were relaid and service recommenced on 14 June 1986.
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