While most travellers want to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, it is a joy to take a step backwards to the era when railways were the principal mode of transportation. Spend some time taking in the scenery and even partaking of a gourmet meal before settling down to being gently rocked to sleep in a luxurious train cabin.

1. Great Australian Trains: The Indian Pacific

Its 28 train carriages extend the length of seven football fields and it travels some 4,350 kilometres on its four-day journey from Perth in Western Australia to Sydney in New South Wales.

Traversing this vast and barren continent, The Indian Pacific is not just one of Australia’s great train journeys, but one of the world’s epic trips. After the Trans-Siberian Railway, this is the world’s second longest rail journey that crosses three time zones.

The Indian Pacific is luxuriously appointed to accommodate 202 passengers and travel packages include all-inclusive dining, beverages, and off-train excursions. Restaurant cars have adjoining lounges and bars serving complimentary beverages. Each evening, cabin seats are converted to beds for a relaxing sleep.

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2. The Ghan

Named after Afghanistan cameleers who supplied workers along the railway, The Ghan travels north to south (and vice versa) on its three-day, 2,979 kilometre-long southward journey from Darwin to Adelaide.

It passes through the Australian Outback and through its Red Centre with dramatic but parched landscapes and skies laden with stars to provide scenery like nowhere else.

Access to Australia’s dry interior has never been easy but in the 19th century, the Overland Telegraph brought Australia closer to the outside world. Camels and cameleers from Afghanistan were brought to Australia to transport provisions to railway workers and after 1878, even helped with railway construction. However, it was not until 1929 that Adelaide was connected by railway to Stuart (now Alice Springs) in the Northern Territory.

A rail line south from Darwin was only completed in 2004 when it reached Alice Springs. Most journeys last three days on a 30-carriage train hauled by two diesel locomotives. Passengers enjoy a similar on-train experience to The Indian Pacific with sleeper compartments and all-inclusive meals and beverages. 

3. The Spirit of Queensland

Australia’s tropical state of Queensland has several iconic trains including the Spirit of Queensland, which offers one of the most relaxing ways to admire the coastal scenery on its 1,680 kilometres journey from Brisbane to Cairns.

Queensland is Australia’s holiday state and adventurous travellers can hop on and off the train discovering fascinating destinations along the way both onshore and offshore at Maryborough (Fraser Island), Rockhampton, Proserpine (Airlie Beach), and Townsville.

Passengers can travel in style on railbeds (seat/bed) with in-seat dining included or in sit-up seats while enjoying food and beverages from the club car. 

Once in Cairns, an essential rail journey is to take the Kuranda Scenic Railway up the escarpment to Kuranda 330 metres above Cairns to admire its cool air plus alternate and quirky markets.

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4. West Coast Wilderness Railway

Many railways began as a means to extract valuable resources like timbers and minerals from remote areas and there are few places as remote as Tasmania’s rugged West Coast rainforests.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway now transports tourists through pristine rainforests and beside wilderness rivers but began as a railway to ship minerals from Queenstown to the port of Strahan.

This heritage steam train also uses a rack and pinion system to traverse steep gradients. Passengers can travel in a Wilderness Carriage to enjoy delicious Tasmanian produce including craft beers and ciders plus premium wines on this full-day journey.

5. Great New Zealand Trains: The TranzAlpine

The TranzAlpine is New Zealand’s most picturesque rail journey and considered one of the world’s best. It was gold that spurred an interest in identifying a route over the Southern Alps of the South Island and now the TranzAlpine tourist train is its principal attraction. The train travels west from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, Otira, and Moana before terminating in Greymouth beside the Tasman Sea, a journey of 224 kilometres that takes five hours.

Wide glacier-fed rivers cross the plains with the finest views from the train’s open-sided observation car as it skirts the floodplain of the Waimakariri River. The train then climbs up the slopes of the Southern Alps to Arthur’s Pass at an altitude of 740 metres. West Coast topography and vegetation on the descent on the other side of the Southern Alps is markedly different with lush rainforest in the deep valleys.

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6. Taieri Gorge Railway

This railway is known as one of the world’s great railway journeys and few passengers disagree as they take in the scenery from the tourist train that travels from Dunedin Railway Station on New Zealand’s South Island through the Taieri Gorge to either Pukerangi (four hours) or Middlemarch (six hours).

This trip appeals because of the variety of landscapes it traverses in a short period. In four hours, the Dunedin to Pukerangi train travels through suburban Dunedin, across farmlands, and then through the rugged gorge of the Taieri River.

7. The Northern Explorer

Unlike Australia, New Zealand is a small country and while sleeper beds once existed on some trains, all of today’s journeys are day trains. Most of these trips make maximum advantage of stunning scenery with The Northern Explorer from the capital Wellington to Auckland (and vice versa) being New Zealand’s longest rail journey.

The train departs from Wellington’s impressive railway station located adjacent to the picturesque harbour and heads up the rugged West Coast of the North Island before passing through rolling agricultural land and past the volcanic peaks of Mount Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park. Some passengers alight here to enjoy year-round adventures like skiing, rafting, mountain biking, and hiking. Others are content to relax in the comfort of the train with its panoramic windows while admiring the ever-changing landscape.


This story first appeared in my.asiatatler.com.

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