9 of The Best Train Trips in Australia

A starter’s list of nine of the best train journeys in Australia. The Ghan, probably the most famous given her incredible stretch from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south is an iconic journey of indulgence that passes through the heart of the country. However, some would argue first place has to be owed to The Indian Pacific given she’s one of the longest train journeys of the world.

Australia can easily lay claim to also having some of the world’s best train trips for any number of reasons. There’s the immense landscapes and views on any of these trips. Then some offer incredible onboard style and comfort and unique off-train experiences. Then journeys through remote parts of Australia’s vast outback like the overnight train trip Longreach to Brisbane or the day trips in Queensland’s Far North can’t me mirrored on any other continent of our world.

The Ghan

It could be Australia’s most famous – The Ghan. The iconic Australian rail journey from the north to the south; Darwin to Adelaide.

The Ghan has a long-standing history with origins dating back to 1878 when construction started. However it wouldn’t be until 2004 that the entire journey was made possible with the completion of the rail line to Darwin.

The Ghan attracts it’s passengers from all parts of the globe and this great Australian rail journey should be on anyone’s list that’s seeking out a unique train indulgence across Australia.

It’s almost a 3000 kilometre rail trip across Australia. In more recent years The Ghan Expedition was created so that passengers could experience more of the destinations it travelled through. Travelling on The Ghan there are two options; from Adelaide to Darwin it’s a three day rail trip, or from Darwin to Adelaide it’s The Ghan Expedition and is four days, and this is the one you want if you’d like some in-depth exploring of the stops along the way including Katherine, Alice Springs, Manguri and Coober Pedy.

There’s no roughing it on this trip as you travel in style and comfort. Choose between Gold Service or Platinum Service; both offering private sleeper cabins, fine dining and all-inclusive beverages while hosted by the wonderful crew on board.

Unlike cruise ships when options for solo travellers are limited and big surcharges apply, for solo travellers The Ghan options the comfort of your own sleeper cabin solo without the extra big surcharge.  Curious about their options there’s interactive images to view here.

Join our Solo Travel Group on The Ghan. View The Ghan Expedition.

The Ghan
The Ghan with Encounter Travel
Encounter Travel Group The Ghan
Dining Gold Service, The Ghan
GoldService The Ghan Encounter Travel
Gold Service Single Cabin

The Indian Pacific

Part of the Journey Beyond rail offer, the Indian Pacific connects Perth to Sydney. Like The Ghan but instead east-west (or west to east) this is an all-inclusive rail holiday that shows of an incredibly diverse landscape as it travels by mountain ranges, the arid deserts and goldfields, rocky valleys and subtropical savannahs.

It’s an incredible 4352 kilometre rail trip across Australia and is one of the longest train trips in the world. There’s the option to complete it in full or journey it in part; taking the entire journey is a 4 day rail trip but otherwise other options include the two day Sydney to Adelaide trip (or in reverse) or the three day Adelaide to Perth (or in reverse) rail trip.

The Indian Pacific is right up there with great Australian rail journeys. Along the way stops include Broken Hill and the Blue Mountains, on the Sydney to Adelaide leg. The rail trip between Adelaide to Perth includes off train experiences in Cook and Rawlina as you cross the Nullarbor.

Join our Solo Travel Group on The Indian Pacific Adelaide to Sydney. More Info Click Here.

Indian Pacific with Encounter Travel
Indian Pacific
Indian Pacific with Encounter Travel
Queen Adelaide onboard dining

The Overland

A lesser known Australian train trip – The Overland. This is a day journey that connects Adelaide and Melbourne. Sit back and relax while enjoying the onboard service and the changing landscapes along the way.

The Overland train was at risk of ceasing but a last minute turnaround sees it continue its service. The Overland passes through classic Australian country towns including Murray Bridge, Bordertown, Nhill, Dimboola, Horsham, Ararat and Geelong.

Choose to travel Red or Red Premium service,  each a comfortable journey.  Red Premium is comparable to your business class of flying; all inclusive in-seat dining that offers breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea with more spacious seating. The train departs three times per week in each direction so if planning it with city visits before or after, check the timetables in advance to plan out your itinerary to match the departure days.

Red Premium Service, The Overland

Spirit of the Outback

Maybe you know The Ghan, and The Indian Pacific but the Spirit of the Outback rail journey has not caught your attention.

This is the incredible overnight 1300 kilometre rail journey from Brisbane to Longreach (or in reverse). It’s a distinctively different way to see Queensland's outback and to reach or depart from Longreach, the home of Qantas.

It’s a twenty four hour journey and makes its way through some of Queensland's historic towns such Blackwater, Emerald and Barcaldine. If you need any motivation to take the journey then a little bit of reading and research will have you discovering the incredible list of visits and experiences to enjoy when you visit Longreach and her surrounds. Longreach is most famous for the Qantas Founders Museum, and Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and there’s a whole host of other experiences – you need more than just a few days and I think a stay of at least three nights should be the starting point for a visit to Longreach.

The timing of the train departures from either directions means you get the daylight hours to see the best of Queensland’s outback scenery from the comfort of your chair or the lounge if you’re travelling Gold Service.

Join our Solo Travel Group on the Spirit of The Outback. View Outback Longreach Explorer (full details coming soon for travel 2021).

Gold Class Spirit of the Outback
Gold Class Single Sleeper, Spirit of the Outback
Dining Gold Class, Spirit of the Outback

Spirit of Queensland, Brisbane to Cairns

We think of driving up our Queensland coast or flying to reach the many spots along this far stretching coast but who thinks about a train trip along it?  This is what the Spirit of Queensland can offer.  In all a twenty-four our rail trip Brisbane to Cairns (or in reverse) and is 1681 kilometres long. Or, take the option to travel the journey in part with stops including Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine (Whitsundays access), Townsville and more.

Travel by rail on the Spirit of Queensland between Brisbane and Cairns is five times a week with the choice of including their RailBed service.  RailBed is a spacious seat by day that converts to a lie-flat bed at night.  There’s also a Galley Car with refreshments and a lounge area.

BedRail on Spirit of Queensland

The Gulflander

This is the train journey of the incredible Gulf country. The Gulflander is one of our unique Australian train trips and it’s from Normanton to Croydon in Australia’s remote Gulf of Carpentaria and it travels along the original rail that was first built back in 1888. The experience is on the old 1950 railmotor and includes morning tea while you are hosted by the accredited Savannah guides.

This is a standalone rail line and is affectionately known as a train journey ‘nowhere to nowhere’ and is the Heritage Listed.  The trips shows off the remarkable wetlands, the grasslands and the Savannah territory.

Anyone visiting the remote Gulf country should look to include this five hour journey (152 kilometres). It is a one of a kind rail journey and a part of Australia that many will never visit but should. Find out more.

Gulflander Station
Gulflander at the Station
The Gulflander
The Gulflander
The Gulflander Map
The Gulflander Map
Gulflander en route

The Savannahlander

Visiting Cairns you have the unique option to join the rail journey on The Savannahlander through the tropical far north, through Savannah country and ending in Forsayth.  

Loaded with character The Savannahlander is a 1960’s classic railmotor. If you’re not up for the entire 850 kilometre journey you can opt to journey just part of the trip. The trip is just once a week so plan ahead if your including this in your Far North Queensland travels, and it’s only between March to December.

If you’re opting for the full journey you’ll need accommodation overnight at one of towns nearby to where the train pulls and for all passengers it’s self catering, meaning you bring the food you want onboard or pick up something from the local towns you stop at.

Like the idea of this experience? Join our group that visits the Savannah country and includes the trip between Forsayth and Mount Surprise. View the Journey of the Gulf Savannah tour.

Savannahlander en route
Savannahlander at Mount Surprise

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Are you first timer when it comes to rail journeys and not sure if one of the longer journeys is for you?
A trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, all up just a 2 hour rail journey, may be a start.

Although it can’t possibly compare to the iconic journeys like The Ghan or The Indian Pacific given these are distinctively different with their overnight sleeper arrangements you can get the feel for scenic travel by rail.

This trip Cairns to Kuranda passes through some of the highlights of the tropical territory of Far North Queensland with sweeping views of rugged mountains and ravines as you pass from sea level to 328 metres. There’s commentary along the way and once you arrive to Kuranda you can potter about and take time for something to eat at one of the local restaurants or cafes.  If it is a one off trip, then consider treating yourself to Gold Class on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Making your way back to Cairns, you may want to take the option of The Skyrail; the cablecar the spans 7.5 kilometres.

Kuranda Scenic Railway
View from the train, Kuranda Scenic Railway

Great Southern, Adelaide to Brisbane

journey in Australia but only on offer December to January. It is the latest addition to Journey Beyond Rail’s line up and offers two itineraries. There’s a 3 day/2 night Adelaide to Brisbane Eastern Explorer and the 4 day/3 nights Brisbane to Adelaide Summer Gold itinerary.

Although both include Adelaide and Brisbane each follows a different route. The three day Adelaide to Brisbane travels via The Grampians, Canberra and Coffs Harbour.  The four day Brisbane to Adelaide is via Coffs Harbour, The Hunter Valley/Port Stephens and Newcastle region and then the last stop in Victoria.

These rail journeys are unique with their off-train experiences.  Depending which one you pick to give you an idea, they includes experiences like incredible beachside in Coffs Harbour, a road trip to the Great Ocean Road or delve into the art, history and culinary culture of Canberra.

Choose between Gold Service or Platinum Service for a refined rail journey across three states of Australia.

Great Southern

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Rail Journeys for Solo Travellers

The Ghan Expedition for Solo Travellers

An icon of Australian rail travel and one of the world’s great train journeys

The Indian Pacific for Solo Travellers

Experience an overnight train journey through the Australian outback.

About the author

Justine Waddington

Justine Waddington is the founder and director of Encounter Travel, a company that creates holiday groups exclusively for solo travellers. As a solo traveller with 60 countries under her belt and 15 years of arranging travel groups, Justine is in the unique position of being able to offer tips and advice from the perspective of an experienced solo traveller and also that of a travel agent.

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