6 great Australian train journeys
Hopping aboard a slow, sensory locomotive can bring a sense of romance and adventure back into any journey –- as well as a good dose of history.
Who needs snarky flight attendants and bland aircraft food when you can roll your suitcase along a platform and settle into a seat with a fat book or an iPod?
Here are six legendary train journeys around Australia to have you hollering “All Aboard” with gusto.
The exotically named Savannahlander smacks of old-fashioned rail travel, but only ride it if you’re not in a rush.
This classic 1960s train is in no hurry to get anywhere fast, rattling along at a sleepy 50 kph on its 850-kilometer round-trip between Cairns and Forsayth.
But most passengers are glued to their windows for the four days of the whistle-stop tour, such is the grandeur of the passing scenery. After winding its way through the Great Dividing Range, the trip passes pristine rainforests on its way to the red-earthed outback, where kangaroos and emus graze and tiny copper mining towns dot the landscape. The driver points out the highlights along the way.
While it's not a sleeper train, there’s more than enough opportunity to get off and stretch your legs. At night, passengers disembark and mosey into towns to stay in cabins.
Fares start at $362 for a return trip.
5. Spirit of the Outback
Nothing quite stirs the imagination like setting off to explore the Australian outback aboard the legendary Spirit of the Outback.
The 1,325-kilometer journey chugs along the Queensland coast from Brisbane before heading inland to the wide, open plains of Longreach. The 24-hour rail trek is a photographer’s dream of vast horizons, while the towns are quintessentially Aussie. They include Winton, the birthplace of the country’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda.
The train hauls 15 carriages with comfortable sleeping berths. There’s plenty of space to move about -- but if you get restless, there’s an onboard Stockman’s Bar to pass the time and natter with other passengers over a cold beer.
Best of all, you can arrange to take your car with you to continue on independently at the end of the trip, for $165.
Fares to Longreach start at $174.90 per person.
4. The Ghan
Few train journeys have a sense of romance to match The Ghan, a transcontinental adventure that trundles a staggering 2,979-kilometers north from Adelaide to the barren outback, to the continent's north.
Named after the Afghan cameleers who managed the "ships of the desert" in the outback’s cattle stations and settlements, this is a luxury train journey for the bucket list. And it’s an epic one at that: it takes a colossal 46 hours to travel between Darwin and Adelaide via Katherine and Alice Springs, with whistle-stop tours available in each town.
The journey gives a real sense of how huge Australia is, with seemingly endless hours of swaying past barren plains and desert landscape.
This train includes five-star cabins -- fitted with Tasmanian Oak paneling -- and plush club lounges -- to chinwag with other train travel devotees.
It’s not all swanky, though. If you can cope with a stiff neck, there are day-night seats on board and backpackers get a sizeable discount.
Fares start at $377 for day-night seats.
3. The Sunlander
The Sunlander sails through the Sunshine State on its 31-hour, 1,681-kilometer coastal ride, with views of tropical sugarcane fields, banana and pineapple plantations.
Luxuries make the journey all the smoother: complimentary toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and even a maître d' to attend to special requests.
There are fares to suit the budget travelers and first class cabins to sate the finicky five-star types too.
If you want to toast your journey by chinking a flute of fizz and tucking into a five-course degustation menu, the Sunlander recently introduced a special Master Class journey, which only runs two to three times each year.
At $1,995, it’s a pricey fare, but includes return airfares to Brisbane, accommodation on Hamilton Island and a Master Class cooking session with Sirromet Winery executive chef Andrew Mirosch -- sure to send the foodies into a tizzy.
For cheaper tastes, economy class fares start at $180 per person.
2. Kuranda Scenic Railway
Best for those who get fidgety on long trips, as travelling on the vintage wooden Kuranda train is over in just under two hours. It’s a quickie, but evocative as it rattles along the 34-kilometer track high above sea level.
The train passes the ancient Barron waterfalls, thick World Heritage-listed rainforest and rocky ravines as it heads northward from Cairns.
Constructed between 1882 and 1891, the track is still considered one of the country’s most impressive engineering feats. There are 15 hand-hewn tunnels (including one that runs a claustrophobic 500 meters) and 37 bridges.
Sit in regular class or -- for personal attention and access to an open bar and snacks -- splash out on Gold Class.
Adult fares cost $71 return.
1. Indian Pacific
The Indian Pacific is the only direct transcontinental train journey in the world and the 4,352-kilometer route between Sydney and Perth takes 65-hours -- three full days and three nights.
That's plenty of time to collect buddies in the train's lounge.
The train is a much-loved Australian icon, passing through some of the country’s most remote towns and regions such as the Blue Mountains, Broken Hill, the Nullarbor Plain, Kalgoorlie and Cook -- a town with a population of four.
Fares vary from the rock-bottom Red Class with aircraft-style day-night seats to the fancy-pants Platinum cabins, with full-size showers and a double bed.
Sydney to Perth fares start at $759.