Exploring Australia By Train

Posted on: 22 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Go coast to coast, from Sydney to Perth, or Brisbane to Cairns and experience every inch of Australia.

With its vast open spaces and nearly 24,850 miles of railway, Australia is the perfect place to explore by train. Travelling by rail gives a sense of the enormity and diversity of the land.

Choose an epic adventure that spans Australia from one end to the other, or a shorter journey lasting only a few hours or less than a day, on historic trains, tilt trains, luxury trains, steam trains and more.

It may be hot, dry and dusty outside, but you can tour the continent in comfort from an air conditioned cabin. Dining cars serve hearty Aussie tucker and gourmet meals, while bars and lounges are perfect for a relaxed drink and chat with fellow travellers from around the world.

Venture into the Outback on transcontinental journeys that span the country from coast to coast, from north to south and from east to west. Leave the cities behind and explore Australia's heartland, the Red Centre. Cross from rugged coastline and urban sprawl to dry and dusty outback towns and treeless plains. Gaze in wonder at the mighty desert, tiny one horse outback towns, and eager country children waving as you pass by.

Journey through the rich agricultural farmlands of central New South Wales, to the famous green and gold Sun Belt of Australia, to historic Broken Hill, inland outposts and mining towns.

Hop on a train that passes through the wet and humid tropical heat of the Far North, past shipwrecked coasts and spectacular coastal vistas, along endless beaches and through sugar cane plantations and rainforests.

North To South

The legendary Ghan is the only transcontinental train in the world that dissects a continent from coast to coast, north to south, snaking 1,851 miles from Port Augusta to Darwin, through Central Australia's red desert. It takes several days and 1880 miles to travel by road from Adelaide in the South of Australia to Darwin in the north. The Ghan shaves about 31 miles off the road trip and can be done comfortably in two nights.

Marvel at the spectacular ever changing landscapes, from the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding Alice Springs, gateway to Uluru/Ayers Rock and the Red Centre, then north to Tennant Creek, Katherine and the tropical splendour of Darwin.

The Ghan is short for Afghan, named after the camel drivers who operated supply caravans to remote areas of the outback. When Australia's remote inland was first settled, it was a difficult journey by foot or on horseback, and there were no trains to carry passengers and freight, only camels. It wasn't until 1929 that a locomotive replaced the camel train to Alice Springs.

East To West

The Indian Pacific crosses Australia from coast to coast, starting in Sydney, then traversing 2704 miles of this Great Southern Land. It is one of the world's longest train rides, spanning the entire continent from east to west. It includes the world's longest length of straight railway track - 297 miles through the stark and desolate Nullarbor Plain, which is four times the size of Belgium.

See every inch of Australia, coast to coast on an amazing three day, three night journey across Australia from Sydney and the sparkling waters of the Pacific, to Perth and the Indian Ocean on the Indian Pacific. No other journey in the world crosses so many different terrains in one country, from the spectacular Blue Mountains, through the red outback to Kalgoorlie and Perth.

Queensland & The Outback

The innovative high-speed tilt train that travels between Brisbane and Cairns or Rockhampton, past lush sugar cane fields and sleepy coastal towns, is a comfortable and convenient way to reach Queensland's tourist destinations.

For a luxury gourmet experience on wheels, complete with an onboard chef and maitre d', Queenslander Class on board the Sunlander offers personalised service, home comforts and a great social atmosphere. These make for a memorable rail journey along Australia's incredible north-eastern coastline.

The characterful Gulflander train takes you on a journey with a difference from remote Normanton to far flung Croydon through the tough and inhospitable Gulf Country of the Cape Yorke Peninsula in far north Queensland, an area most people never get to see. Due to the small number of passengers there's always a friendly casual atmosphere on board the historic train, affectionately known as the old 'Tin Hare'.

The Kuranda Scenic rail train climbs upwards from Cairns in 90 minutes. Winding its way past deep gorges and spectacular waterfalls, to charming Kuranda Village, it takes you through dense, tropical rainforest and is a great way to see the Far North Queensland hinterland.

The Inlander takes a historic journey from tropical Townsville through Charters Towers, and across the Great Dividing Range, to the mining centre of Mount Isa, through North Queensland's rugged inland.

Leave the city behind and discover the rich heritage of historic country towns onboard the Spirit of the Outback. Wonder at the spectacular, ever-changing landscape as you travel between Brisbane and Longreach into the heart of the Outback, bound for the wide open plains. Enjoy interesting commentary, an authentic dining experience, and a drink with your fellow travellers.

Head Outback with the Savannahlander. Sip freshly-brewed billy tea aboard this historic rail motor as it trundles through World Heritage rainforests to the vast open spaces of the savannah and Outback.

The Westlander takes a scenic journey from Brisbane across the Great Dividing Range through the rich farmlands of the Darling Downs and grazing country to Charleville, gateway to the outback.

Train Tours Of Oz

Titan HiTours' 25-day Great Australian Rail Odyssey showcases this vast continent entirely from the comfort of scenic railways. Starting in Perth and ending in Sydney, this epic journey costs from £4845 per person and includes door-to-door transfers with Titan's VIP Home Departure Service, return flights, accommodation, all ground transportation and internal flights, some meals and a variety of excursions. More information can be found at http://www.titantravel.co.uk.

Great Rail Journeys' trip of a lifetime, Australia & The Ghan 2008, begins with a visit to the stunning Barrier Reef and a journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway before travelling the entire route of The Ghan, from north to south. From steamy Darwin through the Red Centre to the vibrant cities of Melbourne and Sydney. Departures in October from £4495. Further details can be found at www.greatrail.com.

Discover the cosmopolitan cities of Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef, the rugged Outback, and everything in between with Rail Highlights of Australia 2009. This epic cross-continental journey in Australia is enhanced by the fabulous class of rail travel Great Rail Journeys use. Departures in March from £4495. More information can be found at www.greatrail.com.

The South, Victoria & New South Wales

Step back in time and ride a steam train through the magnificent Outback landscape of the Flinders Ranges. The Pichi richi railway is an operating museum, running regular heritage train journeys on the oldest remaining section of the famous narrow-gauge old Ghan railway. Trains depart from Quorn in South Australia's Flinders Ranges and Port Augusta.

The Steamranger 'Cockle' train takes a scenic stream train journey from Goolwa to Victor Harbor in South Australia.

The Overland pioneered inter-capital rail travel between two of Australia's most cosmopolitan cities, Melbourne and Adelaide, in 1887. The century-old name was derived from the term 'Overlander', an adventurer who had travelled across the country.

Dine onboard Melbourne's fabulous iconic Colonial tramcar restaurant and journey into Melbourne's history.

The Bellarine Peninsula railway is a historic steam train journey between Drysdale and Queenscliff in Victoria.

Ride the Puffing Billy steam train through the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria.

Ride the world's steepest incline railway, the Katoomba Scenic railway, a funicular in the NSW Blue Mountains, a World Heritage Site.

Catch the Great Zig Zag railway steam train through the Blue Mountains, 80 miles west of Sydney. A 19th century engineering masterpiece, the track passes over three magnificent sandstone viaducts and through two tunnels. There are striking views over the surrounding national park, with its 92 species of eucalyptus.


Hitch a ride through the rugged rainforests and gorges of Tasmania's West Coast on the historic West Coast Wilderness railway.

The 22 mile track traverses tight curves and spectacular bridges, a legacy of the engineering skills of the early 19th century pioneers who built it in 1896. Used to haul copper from the mines to the port, it was reopened in 2000.

A lunch stop in the heart of the dense forest at Dubbil Barril allows passengers to wander along forest paths, discover remote creeks and see first hand the beauty of the majestic wilderness.

The West

Experience dining by rail as it was in the early 1920s on board one of Australia's oldest vintage railway carriages. Spirit of the West travels from Perth up through the glorious Avon Valley for an afternoon or evening of luxurious fine dining.

The Hotham valley tourist railway in Western Australia, 60 miles south of Perth, runs from Pinjarra and Dwellingup into the Darling range and through the valley. Once a busy centre for the timber industry, now the historic remnant of the pioneers offers a steep, curving ride through the forest.

Web Links

Rail Routes

Rail Australia: www.railaustralia.com.au - different rail companies have all come together to form the Rail Australia Alliance to make it simple for you to find out everything you need to know in one easy place. Routes include the Ghan and Indian Pacific.

Pichi Richi Railway: www.prr.org.au

Steamranger: www.steamranger.org.au

Bellarine Peninsula Railway: www.bpr.org.au

Puffing Billy: www.puffingbilly.com.au

Katoomba Scenic Railway: www.scenicworld.com.au

Zig Zag Railway: www.zigzagrailway.com.au

West Coast Wilderness Railway: www.westcoastwildernessrailway.com.au

Hotham Valley Railway: www.hothamvalleyrailway.com.au

Australia Area By Area

Australian travel & tourism: www.australia.com

Northern Territory: www.travelnt.com

Queensland: www.experiencequeensland.com

South Australia: www.southaustralia.com

Victoria: www.visitmelbourne.com

New South Wales: www.visitnsw.com

Australian Capital Territory: www.visitcanberra.com.au

Tasmania: www.discovertasmania.com

Western Australia: www.westernaustralia.com

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