Australia's Great Train Journeys by Grantourismo

Since we last updated you from New Zealand we’ve been travelling in Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, by road, sea and rail. We’ve spent a lot of time on trains in particular, trying out everything from the luxurious Eastern and Oriental Orient Express in Thailand to the charmingly old fashioned Victoria train in Northern Vietnam.

Since we last updated you from New Zealand we’ve been travelling in Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, by road, sea and rail. We’ve spent a lot of time on trains in particular, trying out everything from the luxurious Eastern and Oriental Orient Express in Thailand to the charmingly old fashioned Victoria train in Northern Vietnam.

We think trains are a great way to see the world - to see why check out this infographic on the World's Best Train Journeys – and there are many other reasons we’re big fans of trains: no gridlock to contend with, no need to worry about bad roads and bad driving, leg-room is rarely an issue, nor is seasickness. You board, find your cabin or seats, settle in, and sit back to enjoy the scenery rolling by. When you tire of picturesque vistas, you can poke your head in a book or take snoozes. Meals, afternoon tea and drinks, and, on some trains, whistle-stop tours, also pleasantly punctuate the journey.

Three of our most favourite train trips are actually on home soil, and they’re Australia’s greatest journeys in our opinion, aboard some of the world’s finest trains: The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Southern Spirit. Travellers are always asking us advice on which trip they should take, and if they only have the time or budget for one, what should it be, so we thought we’d offer a comparison for you based on our experiences.

The Indian Pacific is probably Australia’s most famous train offering a transcontinental journey that takes passengers on 4,353 kms (2,704 miles) of tracks from the east to the west coast, from Sydney to Perth and vice versa. The Ghan in turn trundles some 2,979 kms (1,850 miles) from south to north between Adelaide and Darwin, and back again.

It’s next to impossible to choose between the two. The Indian Pacific starts in stunning Sydney, the country’s most gorgeous city, and finishes in Perth, which is perhaps Australia’s next most alluring city, with beaches that are almost as spectacular as Sydney’s and the beautiful Swan River and its breathtaking expanses of water. On the way the train stops at Adelaide, another delightful city with wide streets lined with splendid heritage buildings, more pretty white-sand beaches, a superb food scene, and a handful of excellent wine regions a short drive away.

The Ghan also departs from Adelaide for its journey north to Darwin via Alice Springs, a small city with a large Aboriginal population and plenty of opportunities to experience indigenous culture and browse vibrant Aboriginal art in galleries dotted around town. Surrounded by majestic copper landscapes, Alice Springs is worth a stay of a couple of days for hiking and swimming in natural waterholes. It’s also the place to begin tours to Uluru and Kings Canyon, for which you should schedule at least 3-4 days. At the end of line, Darwin is a sultry, tropical city with an Asian influence, lively night markets, and a laidback vibe, and is the base for tours of the ‘Top End’, including lush Litchfield National Park, World Heritage-listed Kakadu which is crammed with wildlife and birdlife, and Aboriginal-rich Arnhem Land.

The Indian Pacific and The Ghan each take three days without any excursions or tours, but could easily take up to a week if you break up your journey with three to four days in Adelaide or Alice Springs respectively. Both trips offer dramatic and diverse landscapes, everything from sub-tropical savannah and red desert on the south-north route, to vast yellow wheat fields and arid rocky plains on the east-west journey.

The Southern Spirit offers something completely different again. While The Ghan and Indian Pacific criss-cross the country every week, The Southern Spirit journey is offered at specific times throughout the year. Stretching across five nights and six days, of the three journeys this will be the longest amount of time you’ll spend on the train, but on the plus side it quite possibly offers the greatest diversity of scenery, from verdant banana plantations in northern New South Wales to green rolling hills in South Australia. Focusing mainly on the eastern seaboard, it slowly trundles between Adelaide and Brisbane via Melbourne with lots of fun whistle-stop tours along the way, from winery tours to river cruises.

While the trains don’t offer the flamboyance of India’s The Palace on Wheels or the opulence of the Orient Express trains, The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Southern Spirit are all extremely comfortable modern trains with the sort of understated elegance preferred by down-to-earth Aussies. The Ghan and Indian Pacific offer three classes of travel, Platinum, Gold and Red, while the Southern Spirit only offers Platinum and Gold.

The Platinum Service is the most luxurious level of all, with very spacious cabins with a double bed or two single beds, bathroom with shower and toilet, and big windows with blinds. When you open the blinds to the window onto the corridor, you can see out both sides of the carriage, which is pretty special. The Gold Service, which is also very comfortable, has seats that convert to bunks and a slightly smaller bathroom.

Platinum Service guests are welcomed on board with glasses of sparkling and return from dinner to find nightcaps beside their beds. After each whistle-stop tour they return to the train to find icy towels and cold drinks waiting for them, while Gold Service passengers are offered refreshments in the Art Deco-inspired Outback Explorer lounge cars. When it comes to eating, Platinum and Gold passengers dine on multi-course meals, included in their fares, in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, where there are white linen tablecloths and upholstered booths, and can sip cocktails or cold beers in the clubby lounges.

The most affordable option – and the best for budget travellers – is the Red Service, which offers a choice of reclining day-night seats in a public carriage or compacts private cabins with seats that convert to bunks. For Red Service travellers, there’s more casual eating in the Matilda Café – think: salad rolls, meat pies, and burgers – and you pay as you go.

If you’re on a tight budget, then go for Red. If money is no object, opt for Platinum and reserve a cabin with a double bed. Your finances fall somewhere in between? Well, you’ll find Gold will suit you just nicely.

All journeys include a choice of whistle-stop tours that cost extra on The Ghan and The Indian Pacific, but are included on The Southern Spirit, and might range from a run-of-the-mill town tour on a mini-bus in Alice Springs to an edge-of-your-seat helicopter ride over magnificent Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge). Tours offered change from time to time, so check the website when booking.

All three trips are terrific and which one you decide to do really depends upon your interests and preferences when it comes to scenery and how much you like being on a train, but all journeys provide a comparably fast and convenient way of seeing a lot of our monumental country in comfort and style.

Great Southern Rail operates all three trains, and you’ll find fares and timetables on their website.

This post was written by our Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of http://grantourismotravels.com. We would like to thank Lara and Terence very much for sharing their passion for travel. If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your travel experiences with us, please contact us at info@insureandgo.com.au.

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Places: Australia