If you want to explore Australia from land as well as sea, then some fabulous railway journeys beckon. Words: Brian Johnston.
Railways have always fascinated travellers, luring adventurers to explore the interior of continents and tempting us with rails that head to the horizon. And when it comes to great train journeys, what better place to start than Australia? With so many cruises now departing from Australian ports, it’s easy to combine journeys by land and sea, making for a truly inspirational voyage.
The two-night journey on The Ghan – covering some 3000 kilometres and four million railway sleepers – is Australia’s most iconic train journey. It leaves from Adelaide in the south, where seals play in oceans that sweep up from the Antarctic. It chugs across the hottest, driest, most lonesome landscape on Earth, from one side of the continent to the other, pausing at Alice Springs and Katherine. Passengers finally disembark on the steamy tropical shores of Darwin in the north, where crocodiles cruise the waterholes, and the sun sets over the Arafura Sea.
The great Indian Pacific runs east-west right across Australia from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide over three nights, taking in the longest stretch of straight track in the world (478 kilometres) across the Nullarbor. It ought to be tedious, but is actually fascinating, with every small detail significant: a ragged fence, cattle grids surrounded by nothingness, curious red kangaroos twitching their ears at the train’s clickety-clack. Stops at legendary mining towns such as Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie to allow for leg-stretches and a stickybeak. The train also twists through the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in an extravaganza of cliffs, waterfalls and eucalypt forest where king parrots shriek.
For a shorter hop, The Overland takes you between Adelaide and Melbourne: you can be sipping a morning cappuccino as you pull out of Adelaide and arrive in central Melbourne in time for dinner. Trains have been running this route since 1887, but never in such comfort, with plenty of legroom and an onboard café. In just over 800 kilometres, The Overland hauls you from mallee scrub to great plains covered in wheat fields, and rolling hills where cattle stare and kangaroos shuffle. It’s another amazing and quintessentially Australian journey that will leave you with a distant look in your eyes, and dreams of more.
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