GREAT TRAIN JOURNEYS OF AUSTRALIA
There are a surprising number of opportunities to hop on a train and take in the scenery of the outback and the bush, travelling the old-fashioned way.
SPIRIT OF QUEENSLAND
Formerly the Sunlander Brisbane–Cairns
1681km This train travels the coast of Queensland from
Brisbane to Cairns, a distance of 1681km, taking 31 hours. It passes through cane fields and rainforest and stops at some of the Queensland coast’s biggest regional cities, including Mackay, Rockhampton, Proserpine (the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands) and Townsville. There are two levels of luxury, but if your budget can stretch to the premium Queenslander class, it’s worth it just for the seafood platter.
SPIRIT OF THE OUTBACK
Brisbane–Longreach 1325km Launched in 1993 by combining the Capricornian and Midlander train journeys, the Spirit of the Outback travels 1325km between Brisbane and Longreach in about 24 hours. As well as being the perfect introduction to outback Queensland, the Spirit takes its passengers deep into the engine rooms of the Queensland economy. It follows the coast to Rockhampton, then turns inland and passes through the heritage mining towns of Blackwater and Emerald, and birthplace of the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine, before arriving in Longreach, a town that has been saved from the clutches of a never-ending drought by a burgeoning tourist trade.
Cairns–Forsayth 425km The Savannahlander’s unique experience departs Cairns weekly, winding through the wet tropics area of the Kuranda range and out through the savannah country to Forsayth and back during four days. The highly personalised tours, in a
1960s classic Silver Bullet rail-motor, offer passengers the opportunity to see remote Queensland at a sleepy 50km/h. Drivers provide running commentaries and there are options for short tours and visits to Cobbold Gorge and Undara Volcanic National Park, and overnight stops in country hotels. This is train travel at a relaxed pace.
Townsville–Mount Isa 97km This is a historic journey from the major northern Queensland port city of Townsville to the mining centre of Mount Isa. Over a leisurely 21-hour journey, covering 977km, the Inlander offers the opportunity to experience the heritage and natural treasures of northern Queensland’s ruggedly beautiful inland. From Townsville, the train travels through picturesque Charters Towers, across the Great Dividing Range and through the mining towns of Hughenden and Julia Creek, before delivering passengers into Queensland’s dry western reaches. Introduced in 1953, the Inlander was Queensland’s first air-conditioned train.
Adelaide–Alice Springs– Darwin There’s more than one way to cross the continent by rail. Little more than half the length of the Indian Pacific’s trip, its sister service, the Ghan, is a north– south trip through the Red Centre, from Adelaide to Darwin, covering three days and 2979km. Originally known as the Afghan Express after the cameleers of the outback, the Ghan (see AG 98) travels through the rugged Flinders Ranges to the MacDonnell Ranges and
Alice Springs, before arriving in the Top End town of Katherine, where travellers can see the spectacular Katherine Gorge, and then Darwin.
Melbourne–Adelaide 828km Now part of the Great
Southern Rail network, the
Overland began life as the
Intercolonial Express in 1887, when opulent Mann Boudoir sleeping cars offered comfort to businessmen as they sped between the southern cities. Renamed the Overland in 1926, it has evolved from an overnighter to the luxury daylight service of today, taking in the green belts and mallee scrubs of Victoria and South Australia, and passing through such towns and cities as Geelong, Ararat, Horsham, Dimboola, Nhill, Bordertown and Murray Bridge. But the shorter journey – 828km in 10.5 hours – doesn’t have the same appeal as the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, and in recent years the Overland has run only on government subsidies.
THE OUTBACK XPLORER
Sydney–Broken Hill 1150km NSW Trainlink operates this fast, comfortable daytime service, with air conditioning and panoramic windows, covering the 1150km in around 13 hours. Heading west, the buffet car serves breakfast as the train pushes into the lower Blue Mountains, and dinner as it passes the Menindee Lakes in the far west.
The Xplorer has been servicing far west NSW since 1993, filling the void created when the state government of the day cut back on country rail services and withdrew the iconic Silver City Comet.
Perth–Kalgoorlie 653km The Prospector, a high speed, state-ofthe-art train, part of the Transwa fleet, departs once a day from both destinations and can complete the 653km journey in less than seven hours, despite making 17 stops. The stops give travellers the opportunity to get a good look at WA’s so-called Golden
Outback, including the Eastern Goldfields. Passengers don’t seem to be able to fault the fully airconditioned carriages with large, comfortable seats, but they are not so enthusiastic about the basic food and beverage service.
THE NORTHERN TABLELANDS XPLORER
Sydney–Moree 666km Another Xplorer service born of the NSW government’s backflip on withdrawing country rail services in the early 1990s, this train services Tamworth, Armidale, Werris Creek and Moree daily. Like the Outback Xplorer, this service offers speed, comfort and great views from panoramic windows.
Spirit of the Outback.
Map graphic The Overland.
The Northern Tablelands Xplorer.