Australia is home to some of the world’s most beautiful train journeys – namely The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and the Great Southern – but which one is best for experiencing the country’s breathtaking landscapes by rail? It all depends on where you’re travelling to and what you would like to see along the way.
Where: The Ghan (see above), which marked its 93rd anniversary in 2022, travels from Adelaide to Darwin, with the option to stop at Alice Springs. Train journey options span everything from two days and one night to four days and three nights. The longest jaunt includes stops at Coober Pedy and Nitmiluk Gorge. Itineraries in each direction are identical.
Why: The Ghan is becoming increasingly popular with younger travellers for its impressive array of active excursions over the course of the trip, many of which are included in the cost of the fare. The three-day, four-night itinerary known as The Ghan Expedition includes the option to explore Uluru. A choice of different arrival and departure cities and journey lengths offers flexibility for those with a limited time or budget.
Total distance: 2,797 kilometres
Priced from: A$2,165 Gold Single/A$2,475 p.p. Gold Twin
Scenery: Creeks lined with silvery gum trees snake under bridges as the train winds its way through the heart of Australia. Wedge-tailed eagles soar overhead and galahs zip past in a flash of colour. Bright red termite mounds, some of which are taller than humans, reach towards the skies.
Dining: Dine on regional flavours such as Northern Territory barramundi, Margaret River cheeses and Barossa Valley artisanal products. Native produce such as kangaroo, saltbush and wild rosella also feature, offering a delicious taste of Australia.
Excursions: Hike remote Simpsons Gap in the West MacDonnell Ranges, explore the cultural wonders of Uluru, ride a camel in Alice Springs, cruise up Nitmiluk Gorge or visit the Coober Pedy opal mining town.
The Indian Pacific
Where: The Indian Pacific travels between Perth in the east and Sydney on the west, with the option to stop at Adelaide. Journeys of one, two or three nights are available. Itineraries in each direction are identical.
Why: Widely regarded as Australia’s most iconic train voyage, this trip is a comfortable and effective way to get from one side of the country to the other. There’s plenty to see, as it passes through landscapes as varied as the spectacular Blue Mountains and the flat, otherworldly stretches of the Nullarbor Plain. Rail aficionados especially will enjoy the Indian Pacific as there is plenty of time spent on the train. If your love of train travel is larger than your budget, the single-night journey between Sydney and Adelaide offers an affordable “taster trip” of the full experience.
Total distance: 4,352 kilometres
Priced from: A$2,065 Gold Single/A$2,345 p.p. Gold Twin
Scenery: If you’re traveling from Sydney to Perth, the forested valleys and sandstone cliffs of the stunning Blue Mountains will slowly give way to the arid regions of New South Wales. Blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see, punctuated by a couple of emus sprinting alongside the train. Bright green tufts of native grasses dot the red desert soil of the treeless Nullarbor Plain like exclamation marks. This is truly the middle of nowhere, yet with so much to see.
Dining: Meals are served in the train’s Queen Adelaide Restaurant and feature the likes of South Australian beef, Yarra Valley chicken and wines from Margaret River. For dessert, indulge in a Barossa Valley cheese plate or Kangaroo Island honey ice cream.
Excursions: Indulge in drinks and canapes under the stars on the Nullarbor Plain, explore scenic walkways at the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains or enjoy a progressive breakfast at the historic Adelaide Central Market.
The Great Southern
Where: The Great Southern travels from Brisbane to Adelaide in four days and three nights or from Adelaide to Brisbane in three days and two nights. There are different itineraries running in each direction.
Why: The Great Southern is currently only available for two months of the year (December and January), which makes it highly sought after. This trip also comes with bragging rights as Australia’s newest luxury train journey. Foodies will revel in the exclusive food and wine experiences available en route. Since both itineraries are different, they can be combined to create a week-long return trip, with a hotel stay between each journey.
Total distance: 2,617 kilometres
Priced from: A$2,795 Gold Single/A$2,965 p.p. Gold Twin
Scenery: Suburbia quickly gives way to rural life, with farmhouses dotting rolling hills and shimmering creeks snaking lazily through the countryside. The landscape is varied, with scenic coastal towns, sun-kissed beaches and rugged mountains. Other highlights include riding the rails alongside the Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney, and rolling through the picturesque Adelaide Hills.
Dining: Most meals are enjoyed off the train at wineries and other venues, where you can feast on the likes of Coffs Coast king prawns, local rock oysters and black Angus eye fillet with accompanying Hunter Valley or Adelaide Hills wines. Brunch on the train is also a culinary highlight.
Excursions: Drink fine wine at historic Hunter Valley vineyards, dine atop Eureka Tower in Melbourne or take a trip along the Great Ocean Road. There is also the chance to visit Canberra, Australia’s national capital.
Hero image: The Ghan at Manguri train station. Photo credit: Scott A Woodward