Few day-trips could please young children more than visiting Thomas the Tank Engine (officially known as "a Day Out With Thomas") at the famous Blue Mountains Zig Zag Railway, located at Clarence, N.S.W. (10 minutes east of Lithgow).
This was my little family's second trip to visit Thomas - we first made the trek when my daughters were just 1 and 3 years old. Both girls (now 3 & 5 years of age) had adored their Day Out With Thomas so much that to go again was an easy decision. The allure of a life-sized steam train with a kid-friendly theme was just too strong to resist!
Upon arrival, the Zig Zag Railway car park was testament to just how popular this event had grown, with volumes of families emptying their vehicles of pre-schoolers, prams and all the other kid add-ons necessary for a day-trip.
The kiddie-excitement was palpable when Thomas the Tank engine puffed and steamed his way into the Clarence Station in all his blue-red-and-black glory - many of the toddlers looked as though they could hardly believe their eyes - Thomas had chuffed off of the pages of their story-books, and was right there in front of them!
Everybody piled aboard the antique steam train for the fun trip through the tunnel (block your ears from kids excited screaming when it turns pitch-black!) and down the cliffs - in a Zig-Zag fashion, of course! Chuff-chuff, toot toot!
Our "Thomas Tour Guide" conductor (a Zig Zag Railway volunteer) pointed out various features along the way, including the "Troublesome Trucks" parked on a siding. In around twenty minutes we found ourselves at Bottom Points Station for the short walk down to the fun fair - directed by the Fat Controller (another volunteer) himself!
The Thomas Carnival is little-kid-heaven. Spread out over the large workshop sheds, there are jumping castles, horse-carousels, mini-train rides, face-painting, balloon animals and , thankfully, refreshments (warm coffee for this single mum in the freezing cold sheds - aaah!).
For a good hour or so the kids ran-riot until it was time to walk back up to the Bottom Points station and the awaiting Thomas.
Parents sank into the vintage railway carriage seats with a sigh, whilst their children bounced around them, comparing face-paint designs, and eagerly anticipating another chuff-chuff train ride. Once everyone was aboard, Thomas set off on his return climb up the cliffs. He finally pulled into the top Clarence station to deposit his train-load of noisy, over-tired, excited youngsters and their happy, if slightly worn-out parents.
After a quick stop at the crowded gift shop for the obligatory blue plastic souvenirs, the girls and I went to bid Thomas farewell. To their delight he let out a final gush of steam (just in time to grab some more pics) before we headed back the car. Soon we were on the road again, and headed home.
Both girls were exhausted, and fell asleep in minutes, cheeks flushed and smiles still on their faces. As for me, I spent the trip home with a big grin on my face, reliving their squeals and shouts of laughter - it had been a great family day out, and just the kind that I hoped they would remember years from now - i know I will.
Where? - Clarence, between Bell and Lithgow on Bells Line of Road, NSW
When? - Check the website (see below), but usually over two or three days during NSW school holidays.
Single Mum Fun Rating - 9 out of 10
Kid Fun Rating - 9 out of 10
Kid Age Guide - Carnival suits around ages 1 to 7 years, but the train ride is fun for everyone
Expensive or cheap? - Moderate to expensive at Adults $39.50 (no single parent payment concessions), Children (aged 2 - 13) $27.50 and Infants (Under 2) free (Prices correct as of 26/09/2011 - check their website for increases)
Easy to get there? - By car, a picturesque drive from Sydney - allow around 3 hours
Easy to handle kids on your own? Yes - you will have some work cut out for you if you have more than one small child to assist, as there is a short (paved) down hill / up hill walk to and from the carnival, with plenty of supervision at the carnival also required. You can take your pram onboard Thomas, which may help you conserve some energy by carrying the littlies for you