6 August 2013 by Tim Tan
Australia offers an incredible breadth of rail experiences, perfectly suited for in-depth exploration of this vast, sunburnt country. From epic luxury voyages across desert expanses to shorter trips through World Heritage rainforests sections and along preserved sections of track aboard heritage rolling stock, the variety of options on offer may surprise even the most well-travelled antipodean adventurer. Here's our pick of the best.
The Ghan passenger is one of the world's great train journeys. Running from Adelaide to Darwin (or vice versa) the Ghan takes you from one edge of the continent to other, passing through fertile wine regions in the south to the arid Red Centre and tropical Top End near Darwin in the north. Named after the Afghan Cameleers who opened this route, the full 2,979km journey takes three days with long stops in key places such as Alice Springs and the waterfalls of Katherine. Experience it with our The Ghan & Flinders Ranges itinerary through arid desert and wonderful wine regions.
The Indian Pacific is named after the two oceans it connects on its three night cross-country journey between Perth and Sydney. Covering 4,353km, it is one of the world's longest and most memorable train journeys. Travelling east from Perth, the train passes through Kalgoorlie on its crossing across the mighty Nullabor desert before arriving in Adelaide, ahead of a journey through some of Australia's most productive farmlands and arrival in Sydney via the spectacular Blue Mountains. Experience it with our wonderful Australia by Rail itinerary.
The Southern Spirit
The Southern Spirit covers four states on its journey from between Adelaide and Brisbane via Melbourne. Named to capture the spirit of adventure of those that first opened up this continent, The Southern Spirit takes you through the hidden beauty of the Great Dividing Range and the Eastern Seaboard. You'll tour the majestic Grampians National Park, Albury-Wodonga on the Murray River, the open range Taronga Western Plains Zoo, flavours of the Hunter Valley, the historic settlement town of Port Macquarie and beautiful Byron Bay.
The award-winning ‘Sunlander' is a stylish and social rail journey that is a favourite among travellers wishing to experience the highlights of Australia's east coast – a 1,681-kilometre journey taking passengers from state capital Brisbane to Cairns and the tropical North. On board the Sunlander you'll experience more than just a train journey, travelling in Queenslander class for ultimate comfort. You'll gain first hand experience into Queensland's local heritage, culture and landscapes, set to a backdrop of fine dining, first-class accommodation and service.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The Kuranda Scenic railway runs from Cairns to Kuranda along a spectacular stretch of track that passes World Heritage rainforests, steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls within the Barron Gorge National Park. The 90-minute journey is a must for visitors to north Queensland. At the rainforest village of Kuranda you'll find bustling village markets, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and the Rainforestation Nature Park, complete with crocs and many other attractions.
Affectionately known as "the silver bullet", this grand old lady makes the journey from Cairns to Forsayth (via Kuranda) through World Heritage rainforest, savannah and outback landscapes. Travelling at a sedate 50kph, the journey takes between two and four days, with optional excursions and stops at suitable locations for the driver to make billy tea and point out interesting landmarks. The Savannahlander is still a vital communications link for outback locals, while for visitors it offers a unique rail experience, and an insight into one of the most diverse and fascinating regions of Australia.
The Gulflander operates on one of the most isolated stretches of track in Australia. To even board the train you'll need to make your way to the remote cattle town of Normanton, 2,000 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. From there you'll make your way across miles of rugged Gulf country to the far-flung former gold rush town of Croydon.
The Pichi Richi Railway
The Pichi Richi Railway retraces a section of the original Ghan line through South Australia's Flinders ranges. Travelling on a section of preserved narrow-gauge line from Port Augusta to the small township of Quorn, the journey is a trip down memory lane.
Spirit of the Outback
The Spirit of the Outback ventures west from Brisbane through the heritage towns of Blackwater, Emerald and Barcaldine, before arriving in Longreach. This town is home to the famous Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame, Qantas Founders Museum and the Outback Heritage Centre and provides a wonderfully authentic visit.
The Inlander offers an historic journey from the tropical city of Townsville to the mining centre of Mount Isa. Travelling across the Great Dividing Range and into the heart of Australia, you'll experience the natural treasures of Queensland's rugged and beautiful inland.