Train travel offers something a little more relaxed than a plane ride – it’s slow travel at its best, and nowhere more so than Australia where the great distances mean you’ll experience so much variety in landscapes, climate and tourist attractions. What’s more, handpicked stops along the way give you a chance to stretch your legs and take in everything from underground opal mines to swimming in a gorge and seeing Australian art. Here are three long-distance routes, plus a day trip for the curious.
Named after Afghan cameleers that once traversed this route, the Ghan, which started back in 1929, is recognised as one of the world’s great train journeys. It takes you from the north to the south coast of Australia – Darwin to Adelaide or the reverse, a journey of some 2,979 kilometres. On the way, you can visit Alice Springs, Katherine and Coober Pedy, moving across incredible landscapes that include Australia’s Red Centre and then up to the tropics.
Onboard, you can expect comfortable lounge areas and regionally sourced food, including barramundi, Barossa valley smallgoods and fine wines. The cosy, timber-lined cabins add to the experience, offering a quiet place to retreat, rocked to sleep by the train’s motion. A truly once-in-a-life time adventure, and also an excellent choice for solo travellers with comfortable single cabins on offer.
The full journey takes four days and three nights, where you’ll pass through lush green landscapes before heading into the desert. Shorter legs are available, including Darwin to Alice Springs, or you can enjoy the Ghan Expedition, which includes an afternoon of exploring the Katherine Gorge and full day excursions to Coober Pedy, a unique underground opal mining town, and Alice Springs, where you’ll have dinner under the stars. This journey is available from May to October inclusive.
The full range of options, dates, prices and timetables is available on the Great Trains website.
The Indian Pacific
Forget the red-eye horror from the east to the west coast – take the leisurely Indian Pacific cruise train instead and start your holiday feeling rested. Frequent flyers can use their Qantas points towards their fully inclusive three-night journey.
Starting in either central Sydney or Perth, or you can set off from Adelaide, the Indian Pacific is named for the two oceans it begins and ends with, and at 4,352 kilometres it is the longest stretch of straight railway track in the world, travelling across the Nullabor Plain.
Launched in 1970, the train showcases the incredible variety of Australia’s landscape, from the desert interior to goldfields, ghost towns and the Blue Mountains, all enjoyed from the comfort of the train’s lounge car or en suite cabins, which are designed to sleep two people in comfort.
The Great Southern
The Great Southern runs weekly from December to January between Adelaide and Brisbane, via the ACT, Victoria and New South Wales over three nights. A relaxed way to travel over the festive season if you’re visiting friends or family, this luxury journey also gives travellers the opportunity to jump off at points along the way to see some of Australia’s most iconic sights, all included in the fare. In the evening you’ll enjoy a three-course meal in the dining car, with all dishes showcasing fine regional ingredients, while staff turn down your beds in the cabin.
Departing with a sense of ceremony from Adelaide, you can look through the tour brochure on board to see what you’d like to do along the way. Excursions range from a coach tour of Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park to winery visits, a tour and dining experience at Parliament House and visits to the Australian War Memorial and the National Portrait Gallery. A walking tour of Melbourne is another option, as is wine tasting in the Hunter Valley and a seafood dinner in Coffs Harbour. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Journeying between Melbourne and Adelaide, The Overland has been in operation for more than 135 years and was Australia’s first inter-capital passenger train. Running twice weekly, this daylight trip is a far more leisurely alternative to a flight, with a smaller carbon footprint, too. Taking this great way to sample train travel and see if a longer journey might suit you, you’ll pass mallee scrub and lush green fields, and there is plenty of food on board to choose from ‒ or you can book the Red Premium option, which includes breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
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