There is something special about rail travel….and the longer the better in my opinion. It could be a throwback to decades ago when I was a backpacker with Eurail Pass in hand, zipping from country to country with ease. And no time constraints. I have fond recollections of long, long trips from Denmark to Italy, Spain to Austria, and everywhere in between. All sitting upright, with a revolving door of fellow passengers entertaining in an array of accents. It was exciting. Raw. And a great way for a young person to enjoy the heady joys of travel.
In Australia, Journey Beyond has three long multi-day train journeys, that are much more than just a way of getting somewhere. They are real travel experiences, and these days can be more like a cruise ship, where you get off the train and do some touring. There’s the Indian Pacific, The Ghan and The Great Southern – which was launched in 2019.
The Indian Pacific
This iconic transcontinental rail journey turned 50 in 2020. A lengthy 4,352 kilometre trip between Sydney and Perth, it is a 4-day, 3-night trip in both directions. The Indian Pacific departs Sundays from Perth to Sydney, with off-train experiences in Kalgoorlie (you could visit a mine), Rawlinna, Cook, Adelaide, Broken Hill and the Blue Mountains.
Sydney to Perth departs Wednesdays, with off-train tours in Broken Hill, Adelaide and surrounds, Rawlinna and Perth. Arriving in the city of Adelaide in the afternoon, you have the choice of a tour of the city, a visit to the world famous Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale wine regions (seasonal), or a trip to the beautiful Adelaide Hills featuring the culinary delights of Hahndorf.
In Broken Hill, visit The Palace Hotel Drag Queens for a taste of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or visit the Regional Art Gallery which has an amazing collection of art by people the calibre of Pro Hart, Tim Streeton and Arthur Boyd.
Whichever way you go, The Nullabor is a highlight.
Name after the Afghan cameleers who came in numbers in the 1930s to help open up the Red Centre, turned 90 in 2019. The train covers 2,979 kilometres between Adelaide and Darwin. The original Ghan line followed the route of the explorer John MacDouall Stuart. The train went as far as Alice Springs, with the Alice to Darwin connection completed in 2004.
The train is long – normally 774 metres – snaking across the countryside with its red loco matching the colour of the red centre. The Ghan Expedition is a 4-day, 3-night experience that operates only on the Darwin to Adelaide leg. It departs each Wednesday between April and October. There are off-train experiences in Katherine, Coober Pedy and Alice Springs.
In Katherine, cruise the Nitmiluk Gorge, learn more about the ancient Indigenous rock paintings, or discover authentic outback life on a cattle station. In Alice Springs explore Simpsons Gap, tour the town attractions, or get up close to some of the Red Centre’s native wildlife. A highlight for me was a spectacular dinner under the stars at the historic Telegraph Station in Alice Springs. Such an unforgettable night. You can also choose an optional upgrade of a scenic flight to Uluru.
You might not have heard of Manguri, but it is here at this siding that you will stop to explore the exotic town of Coober Pedy. Buses will transport you this weird and wonderful opal mining town. More than half of the residents live underground. Here, you’ll enjoy a day of discovery, and a gourmet lunch in an underground mine. You’ll also see the amazing Breakaways, a natural feature out of town.
There are shorter journeys too – there is a 3-day, 2-night trip from Adelaide to Darwin – with off-train trips in Marla, Katherine and Alice Springs. This trip departs on Sundays between February and November.
The Ghan stops operating over the hottest months which gave the company the idea of using the carriages for another journey – that led to the creation of the Great Southern, with the inaugural journey in December 2019.
The baby of the trilogy, the Great Southern train runs between Adelaide and Brisbane with 16 departures in December and January. The journey covers 2885 kilometres, and the average length of the train is 711 metres.
The Brisbane to Adelaide journey is 4-days, 3-nights, with off-train experience in Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens or Hunter Valley and Melbourne. The 3-day,2-night northbound includes off-train tours in The Grampians, Canberra and Coffs Harbour. In Canberra, enjoy a tour of Parliament House followed by lunch, then choose a tour to National War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia or a longer tour of Parliament House.
On the train
Firstly sleeping – take your pick of Gold Service or Platinum. I have experienced Gold Service and just love it. The cabins have a bench seat that you can enjoy during the day and while you are at dinner it miraculously turns into a small single bed. Really comfy bedding. There is a shower and toilet in the cabin too – certainly enough space to get the job done .
There’s a small table and you can pull the blind up or down – I had mine up most of the time as I am mesmerised looking out the window at the changing scenery.
It is great fun to spend tie in the outback explorer lounge – meet other passengers, play cards with your friends or have a drink in the afternoon.
As for Platinum Service, during the day your cabin is configured as a private lounge with deluxe seating, a table and two ottomans. By night the lounges convert into a comfortable bedroom with either a double or twin beds. Think a five star hotel and that is what they look like.
Then there is the Platinum Club for relaxing and socialising as well as five-star dining.
The food on board the trains is sensational. Honestly, I have enjoyed numerous trips and every time the quality of the food blows me away.
The Queen Adelaide Restaurants is elegant and classy. Reminiscent of the golden era of train travel. Sit back and enjoy two course lunch and three course dinner – with accompanying fine wines.
Qantas has partnered with Journey Beyond. You can earn points when you take a rail journey and you can use points to book some rail journeys.