The best train trips and train journeys in Australia

The Ghan train in the outback

Michael Gebicki

Posted July 10, 2019

These epic train adventures take you from UNESCO rainforests to arid outback plains.

There are two types of trains. The no-nonsense variety that get you from A to B, and then there are the trains you take for the sheer pleasure of the journey, and Australia has some world-class performers, long-distance classics as well as small gems. These train rides are the landlocked equivalent of a river cruise. All you have to do is sit back, relax and watch the scenery unfold. Here are five to set you dreaming.

Five of Australia's best train journeys  

The Ghan

The passenger rail service between Adelaide and Darwin, the ride aboard The Ghan is a sensational journey steeped in history and romance. Named for the Afghans who once delivered supplies across the outback by camel, the Ghan is ideal for anyone who wants to experience some of Australia’s most sensational landscapes in comfort. Themed itineraries make it easy to sample the wonders along the way. Explore ghost towns in the Flinders Ranges along the line of the Old Ghan, take a wine-tasting tour of the Clare Valley, cruise the Katherine River through the gorges of Nitmiluk National Park, watch the sunset over Uluru and visit Kakadu to see some of the world’s oldest rock art, admire the crocs or take a helicopter flight over the national park’s incredible gorges and waterfalls.

Gold Twin Service Cabins feature a comfortable sleeper cabin with private en suite and upper and lower berths that convert to a three-seater lounge by day. Platinum Service goes one better with spacious suites with double ottomans, panoramic views on both sides of the train, double or twin beds, a full-size en suite and exclusive access to the Platinum Club carriage, with dining and all-day lounge and all-inclusive dining and beverages.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Scenic Railway from Cairns to Kuranda is an absolute dawdler. The train takes almost two hours to make the journey of about 30 kilometres, but this is poetry in slow motion. In its journey up to Kuranda Station at 328 metres, the Scenic Railway travels through luscious World Heritage-listed rainforest, traverses deep gorges and winds along the edge of sheer-sided cliffs, with incredible views across the Coral Sea to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Constructed in the 1880s to link mining camps and farmlands on the Atherton Tablelands with the coast, the railway was a heroic feat of engineering and dogged perseverance. Over five years, up to 1500 men, mostly Irish and Italian, tore at the hillside, carving 15 tunnels and erecting 37 bridges that stand as monuments to their epic work. Heritage Class passengers travel aboard the original timber carriages, bringing extra charm and character to the journey. Gold Class passengers get club-style seating in a Victorian inspired lounge car plus a choice of snacks, still and sparkling wines and non-alcoholic beverages. Final stop, Kuranda Station, is a scenic splendor in its own right, a classic country station festooned with rioting tropical greenery, and a fitting end to a sensational journey.

Members save 10 per cent when combining their experience with a ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

West Coast Wilderness Railway
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific

The trans-continental journey aboard the Indian Pacific is one to stir the imagination. Over four days the train travels west from Sydney to Broken Hill, turns south to Adelaide then resumes the westward journey to Perth. Spanning two oceans in its 4352km journey, from the forested heights of the Blue Mountains to the treeless plains of The Nullarbor where the train travels the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track, the Indian Pacific is a great way to watch the unfolding drama of Australia’s landscapes from the comfort of the lounge or a private cabin.

Enthralling as it is, there’s more to this journey than just the train ride. The itinerary allows passengers to enjoy off-train experiences at several points along the way. It might be tasting wines in the Barossa Valley, a trip through the Adelaide Hills with a visit to the storybook village of Hahndorf, dinner under a canopy of stars at Rawlinna in Western Australia or exploring the mining history and artistic culture of Broken Hill. Passengers on the Indian Pacific have the same choice of service levels as travellers on The Ghan, the all-inclusive and superbly comfortable Gold Class or the sumptuous service and accommodation of Platinum Class.

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Nothing much beats the huff and puff of a vintage steam engine, and this ride through along Tasmania’s west coast is a beauty, with never a dull moment along the 35-kilometre track. Built in the 1890s to carry minerals from Queenstown to the port at Strahan, the track was dismantled in the 1960s and reopened in 2002 to give visitors a taste of a trip aboard a steam train, and a slow ride through a glorious temperate rainforest. At stops along the way passengers can take a forest stroll, pan for gold at Lynchford Station and watch the train turning on its manual turntable at Dubbil Barril. A unique feature of this train is the Abt rack and pinion system, which gave the railway its original name, the Abt. The Rinadeena Sasdle and King River Gorge sections of the track are too steep for a conventional locomotive pulling a heavy load of ore so cog wheels mounted below the steam engine engage with a toothed track located between the rails.

Half and full-day experiences are available, and passengers can choose from a Heritage Carriage, with drinks and snacks available for purchase along the way, or fully inclusive catering plus a glass of Tasmanian sparkling wine in the Wilderness Carriage.

RACV members save 10 per cent on the West Coast Wilderness Railway.

Spirit of the Outback

Spanning the 1325 kms between Brisbane and Longreach, Spirit of the Outback is a great way to see a classic slice of Queensland coast and outback in style and comfort. From Brisbane the train runs parallel to the coast through Bundaberg and Gladstone as far as Rockhampton then turns inland to Emerald, Barcaldine and finally Longreach. The 25-hour journey is saturated with the atmosphere of the journey as the scenery out the panoramic windows slowly changes from lush tropical greenery to the sun-baked, rust-coloured plains of the outback. Have a yarn with the staff on board, they’ve got some wonderful stories to tell. In the handsome Tuckerbox dining car, exclusive to First Class passengers, the dividers between the booth-style seats are named after some of the big cattle stations between Rockhampton and Longreach, with wrought-iron versions of the cattle brands overhead.

There’s a choice of economy class seating in aircraft-style recliner seats in open saloon cars or plush first-class single or twin cabins, each with wardrobes, a full-length mirror, a 240-volt power point and a washbasin with a vanity mirror. Sumptuous meals are all-inclusive for first-class passengers while those in economy seats can purchase light refreshments and meals from the Shearers Rest servery.