Not many people think of train travel when they opt to explore the great continent of Australia. However, somewhat hidden along the lengths of this amazing country are three major train routes that span various landscapes, cultures, history and time. A trip on any one of these three epic and magical routes is guaranteed to change the way that you experience Australia as you watch the diverse landscape unfold before your eyes.
Traversing the heart of Australia for more than eighty years, this route spans north to south from Adelaide in South Australia, all the way across the continent to Darwin, in the Northern Territory. A somewhat mid-way stop is in Alice Springs, the small Outback town that is a common destination for tourists looking to visit the eponymous aboriginal site of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). Some train riders stop and spend a few days or a week exploring the Red Center of Australia. In addition to Uluru, there are other Aboriginal sites such as Kata Tjuta, as well as landscape wonders like Kings Canyon.
A one-way journey on the Ghan is 2,979 km, and can be undertaken from either city going in either direction. The trip takes three days and two nights – this is not a high-speed train. Instead, it offers its riders a laid-back ride with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. There are various stops in minor towns and cities along the route that offer the chance to get off the train and explore for a bit, or make for a longer stay. Opting for these Australia rail tours includes a five-hour stop in Katherine, which is popular with intrepid travellers.
The Indian Pacific route takes four days and three nights, offering travellers one of the most impressive ways to visit a large swath of the country. The Indian Pacific route spans east to west, transiting Adelaide (Western Australia) to Perth (Southern Australia) and ending in Sydney (New South Wales) in the east. There are a number of changing landscapes that are visited upon this train ride, from the picturesque agricultural Avon Valley, to the dusty Outback fields around Kalgoorie, through the magnificent and once-impenetrable Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. One way is 1,693 km, and many tourists opt for a week-long or so stay in Adelaide, from which they can explore the South Pacific Ocean and its many varied attractions, such as the Marray River, Baroosa Valley, and Kangaroo Island.
This route is somewhat shorter than the aforementioned, coming in at 1,691 km. It runs from Brisbane in southern Queensland, to Cairns further north. It boasts spectacular views and was recently voted in as one of the World’s Top 25 Rail Journeys by the Society of International Railway Travelers.
The Sunlander/Queenslander journey is a real old-school event, as the carriages are entirely powered by a steam locomotive, which is an attraction in itself! The train travels along quite a scenic coastal route, passing through sugarcane fields, the Glasshouse Mountains, the Great Dividing Range, and tropical rainforests. Transit time is about 31 hours, and plans are in the works for a Tilt Train to replace to locomotive, which will further reduce the trip time to 26 hours.