Long-distance train travel in Australia may be a novelty and tourist attraction today, but those same train lines were a huge innovation in the history of transport across this massive country. Imagine the arduous journey that once connected the east and west coasts of Australia, through the vast open space and barren land of the Nullarbor Plain, without train. Being both a large chunk of land – much like going from the US state of Georgia to California with far less in between – and an area of harsh weather conditions, the route through central Australia provided numerous perils for travelers in standard vehicles.
Today, that route from Sydney to Perth is just one of the best train rides in Australia that visitors can take to enjoy the natural beauty of the country in comfortable surrounds.
Traveling from Sydney to Adelaide to Perth, and vice versa, the Indian Pacific travels over the period of 3 nights and across 2,698 miles (4,352 km) twice a week in high season. Along the ride are brief stops in the outback towns of Broken Hill, Cook, and Kalgoorlie for some whistle stop tours.
Traveling from Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin, and vice versa, The Ghan travels over the period of 2 nights and across 1,851 miles (2,979 km) two times each week. This journey has an additional stop with time for a whistle stop tour in Katherine.
The Southern Spirit
The luxury train route traveling across four Australian states from Brisbane to Melbourne to Adelaide over a period of 5 days is known as the Southern Spirit. It features stops at top destinations along the way, such as the Hunter Valley wine region, the Dubbo and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Port Macquarie and Byron Bay.
Traveling from Cairns to Brisbane and vice versa, the Sunlander overnight train runs the line for 32 hours across 1,044 miles (1,681 km). The Sunlander operates 3 times per week and allows travelers to sit back and relax while traveling in tropical Queensland. Choose from first-class or standard berth and seat options.
In addition to these longer train journeys, several train lines exist that travel shorter routes covered by the long-distance trains. For example, you can travel from Sydney to Broken Hill (as covered by the Indian Pacific) by riding on the CountyLink XPLORER line. A quicker, and less luxury focused, journey can be taken from Cairns to Brisbane on The Tilt train, which runs the line 7 hours faster than The Sunlander.
But not all great train rides need to be called so because they cover a large track of land. By far, one of my favorite shorter train journeys in Australia would have to be the Kuranda Scenic Railway traveling from the tropical beach town of Cairns to the rainforest clad village of Kuranda. Lasting just 90 minutes one way, the ride takes visitors up to scenic overpasses with waterfalls that simply take your breath away.