The town of Peterborough is located in South Australia’s mid-north and is not to be mixed up with Peterborough in Victoria. It was originally a railway town, but now is the hub of the surrounding farming community. It sits about half way between Adelaide and Broken Hill, so is a great location to stop for a night to break up the trip. Since you are there, make sure you check out these Peterborough SA attractions too.
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- 1 A Little About Peterborough
- 2 The Best Peterborough SA Attractions
- 2.1 Visit the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre
- 2.2 Learn from the Radium Hill Heritage Museum
- 2.3 Enjoy the Steamtown Sound and Light Show
- 2.4 See the Bob the Dog Sculpture
- 2.5 Take a walk at the Greg Duggan Lookout
- 2.6 Check out the Town Hall
- 2.7 Admire the Federation Quilt
- 2.8 Follow the Peterborough Heritage Walk
- 2.9 Social History Museum
- 2.10 Meldonfield Miniatures Collection
- 2.11 Peterborough Printing Office
- 2.12 Town Carriage Museum
- 2.13 Take a Selfie at the Peterborough Town Entry Signs
- 2.14 Paper-Mâché and Wireworks Gallery
- 2.15 Picnic in Victoria Park
- 2.16 See “The Burg” Panorama
- 2.17 Eat in the Town Cinema
- 3 Things to see Around Peterborough
- 4 Accommodation in Peterborough SA
A Little About Peterborough
I am always surprised to discover how important many of these sleepy country towns were to the settlement of Australia, and Peterborough is one such town. It was the cross roads of the railways in Australia, and pivotal to how people and goods moved. At one time it was the busiest rail hub in South Australia with over 100 trains passing through town every day. That’s almost impossible to imagine today.
Peterborough sat on the north-south Ghan line that eventually connected Adelaide and Darwin, and the town was built where that railway line intersected with the important Broken Hill to Port Pirie line that took all the silver from the mines to the port. It’s one of the few places where all three gauges of railway line existed over time, and transferring goods (and people) from trains on one gauge to another was a big part of the industry of Peterborough and nearby towns. There was also a large maintenance division here, and one of the few roundhouses in South Australia, which can still be seen today.
Peterborough started life as Petersburg, and was one of the many places that changed its name in 1917 when anti-German sentiment was strong. Today it has a population of around 1400 people – almost the same amount that were employed by the railways during its heyday. Now it is becoming a tourist town, celebrating that history.
Located 250km from Adelaide and 280km from Broken Hill, Peterborough is the perfect place to stop to break up the drive. I recommend staying overnight to see the Steamtown Light Show, but even a few hours exploring the town is worthwhile.
The Best Peterborough SA Attractions
When I was researching for my visit I came across a lot of things to do in Peterborough, but once we arrived in town we discovered Covid has unfortunately affected some businesses and they were no longer running. Here are all the attractions and activities I was either able to participate in or could see they were still possible to visit in the future.
Visit the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre
You cannot go through Peterborough without stopping at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre. This is the old railways yards, with the traditional round house and turntable, Come in to take a look around and do the guided tour. The tour has been designed so that visitors can join in at any point in the loop and continue until returning to that same point, so there is no waiting for the next tour to begin. Learn about the history of the railways while taking a look at dozens of restored engines and carriages. There are other pieces of memorabilia too. The train enthusiast will absolutely love this museum, but just the regular person (like me!) will still find it interesting.
Learn from the Radium Hill Heritage Museum
Before leaving after your tour of the Steamtown works, take a look at the Radium Hill Heritage Museum in one of the old railway buildings. Radium Hill, located between Peterborough and Broken Hill, was Australia’s first uranium mine – and I had never heard of it, so it was interesting to learn about it
Enjoy the Steamtown Sound and Light Show
As well as the tour during the day, it is worth staying overnight in Peterborough and seeing the sound and light show at Steamtown. This is mostly a fantastic documentary about the history of the railway in the area, but there are also some cool effects too. At the start one of the steam engines is lit up and steam fills the air. You will need to book the Sound and Light Show in advance. We just booked earlier in the day at the Visitor Information Centre (which is also at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre). There is a discount if you book both the tour and the sound and light show at the same time.
See the Bob the Dog Sculpture
The sculpture is located right on the main street in front of the Railway Carriage Museum. The sculpture is okay as far as sculptures go, but it’s the story behind it that is fun. While I won’t give away the whole story here, lets just say Bob the Dog liked to ride on the trains, and he became well known for doing just that.
Take a walk at the Greg Duggan Lookout
Located on one of the few small hills around the town is the Greg Duggan Lookout, located in a small nature reserve of the same name. It’s a short walk (about 200m) to the viewing platform that gives views back over the town. The walk continues on a look track around 800m back to the car park. The reserve is filled with flora and fauna local to the Peterborough area. We saw kangaroos grazing as we walked around.
Check out the Town Hall
Unfortunately I could only admire this building from the outside as it is currently closed because of Covid, but in normal times visitors can take a look though this impressive building. It is one of the largest town halls in South Australia (the main hall can seat 1000 people) and is heritage listed. The interior is filled with grand rooms and ornate staircases and is a great reminder of times gone by. It contains two foyers, one of which is dedicated to WWI Memorials, and the second contains the Federation Quilt.
Admire the Federation Quilt
I’m including this one because while we couldn’t actually go in to the Town Hall to see it, I was able to peek through the glass on the doors and get a quick glimpse (and photo) – and I hope this will be one of the attractions closed due to Covid that will open up again very soon.
The Federation Quilt was completed by local quilters in 2001 to make 100 years since the federation of Australia. It consists of three panels which scenes from the local area. It took 1700 hours of quilting to complete the intricate handiwork. There is an audio commentary to listen to as you admire the quilt that explains it.
Follow the Peterborough Heritage Walk
As you walk around the centre of town look out for the signs in front of significant buildings that explain their history. The signs often contain photos of the streetscape from the same position which is an interesting comparison to today. If you prefer to do the entire walk, you can pick up a map from the Visitor Information Centre that you can follow.
Social History Museum
Located in the YMCA building right next door to the Town Hall, take a wander through the rooms upstairs to see all sorts of memorabilia relating to the history of Peterborough. There are displays on the first residents, schooling, households, sports, medical care and many more aspects of life in the town. Downstairs there is a replica of the Peterborough train station made by Eldon Zimmerman
Meldonfield Miniatures Collection
Also in the YMCA building is a display of miniature models made by Eldon and Mary Zimmerman. There is a $5 entry fee to go into this part of the building, and you will need to pay at the Visitor Information Centre where they will give you a code for the door. We only discovered this AFTER we had been to the VIC, so unfortunately did not get to see all the miniatures – but the train station and another model in the doorway were enough to convince me I need to plan better next time I am in town.
Peterborough Printing Office
The Peterborough Printing Works was first set up in the 1880s and working printing all sorts of things for the local community until 2001. It took a few years, but the Peterborough History Society has turned the print works into a museum. Inside the building now are thousands of pieces of memorabilia right from those first days of printing until when it closed down, and this is a great way to see how the technology changed over the years. Everything in the museum came from right here in Peterborough too. Tours are run from Wednesday to Friday, 10am – 1pm, or other days by appointment. Contact the Visitor Information Centre for more information.
Town Carriage Museum
Right on the main street is another railway carriage – one from the first train to cross the Nullarbor. This used to be the visitor information centre but it has now been turned into a small but interesting museum. It contains just 18 artefacts related to Peterborough. Spend a few minutes walking through it and reading the stories of life here past and present.
Take a Selfie at the Peterborough Town Entry Signs
Each of the four main roads coming into Peterborough has a unique entry sign. Created by local blacksmith Colin Campbell, each one is a miniature version of a locomotive. The signs make a great place to stop for a photograph – or four!
Paper-Mâché and Wireworks Gallery
We completely missed this one as we looked around town, only noticing the huge redback spider on the outside after it had closed for the day. This gallery is filled with huge sculptures of all sorts of things, made from chicken wire and paper-mâché. Workshops are occasionally held to teach others how to make these sculptures too.
Picnic in Victoria Park
From grand gates to the duck pond, this park is a great place to enjoy a picnic or BBQ lunch. There is a playground for the kids to let off some steam and free BBQs for cooking.
See “The Burg” Panorama
Call into the Peterborough Newsagency to see the 19 metre mural by a local artist depicting the history of Peterborough. There’s also a really cool working scale model of the Peterborough Rail Yards as they were in 1968. Spend a few minutes watching “Peterborough: An Interesting Story” on the tv screen about the town history too.
Eat in the Town Cinema
Yes, you read that right! The lovely old town movie theatre has been turned into a cafe. Step back in time and relax over coffee or lunch, then take a look at the eclectic collection of antiques and memorabilia too. I can confirm they make delicious pasties, and will bend over backwards to help those with specific dietary requirements. Look for the 229 on Main Cafe.
Things to see Around Peterborough
There are a few attractions worth taking a look at just outside of the centre of Peterborough. Consider including this on your visit.
Test out Magnetic Hill
Drive out to Magnetic Hill and follow the directions on the sign. By parking in the right place, putting your car into neutral and taking your foot off the brake it will feel like you are rolling up hill! This is a cool optical illusion that just has to be tried a couple of times to be sure that you are rolling the wrong way.
This is another little town about 10km from Peterborough. They have their own self-guided heritage trail through the town if you would like to take a walk. Yongala originally thought it would be the hub for the railways, but instead Peterborough was formed just far enough away for this town to soon fall into decline. Now it has a population of only around 50 people. Strangely, it holds many records for the coldest minimum temperature ever recorded in South Australia, when on 20th July 1976 it got down to -8.2°C. The Globe Hotel is open for meals (lunch & dinner) Friday, Saturday & Sunday. If you are in town then, that is a great way to support a small rural community.
Find the Old Rail Bridge and Tunnel
As we watched the documentary during the Sound and Light show I noticed the narrator was walking on an old rail bridge and through an old tunnel. I didn’t get to go and search for them myself, but I have done some research and I *thiink* the rail bridge is near the town of Black Rock. The tunnel is perhaps on the section of line between the town and the Barrier Highway in an area called Dowd’s Hill. Next time I am in Peterborough I will be looking for them.
Heritage Rail Trail – Broken Hill to Port Pirie
Peterborough is just one stop on the Heritage Rail Trail from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. Turn your visit into a whole road trip by following the train and re-living the golden years of the railways. You can find more information on the website here or pick up a brochure at the Peterborough Visitor Information Centre
Accommodation in Peterborough SA
Don’t be expecting five star luxury here in Peterborough, instead expect comfortable, clean accommodation combined with that famed country hospitality.
If it’s motel-style accommodation you are looking for, the Roundhouse Motel has comfortable rooms, a pool, and a restaurant on site. If you are travelling with family, perhaps stay at Andy’s Accommodation, a self-contained three bedroom house right in the centre of town. The Railway Hotel has some budget rooms – but be careful, it is apparently haunted! For camping and caravans, the Peterborough Caravan Park is a good option.
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.