An inspiring train journey is just the ticket to keep clients on track,writes Katie McGonagle, with additional reporting by Jenny Morris
Long waits on windy platforms, unexplained delays and soggy sandwiches from an overpriced trolley – British trains give rail travel a bad name.
Head Down Under, though, and a train isn’t just a way to get from A to B. From epic journeys through the Outback to views of snow-topped mountains at every turn, Australia and New Zealand’s scenic rail journeys are an adventure in themselves.
And as a handy link between tourist hotspots, they also make an excellent alternative – or addition – to a fly-drive holiday.
So if you’re not already adding rail tours to Antipodean itineraries, hop on the gravy train with our guide to some of the best journeys.
Where: Darwin-Adelaide, two nights/three days, 1,845 miles.
When: Weekly from Adelaide on Sundays and Darwin on Wednesdays. Extra service May 20-August 22, departing Adelaide on Wednesdays and Darwin on Saturdays (extended).
What’s new: The extra seasonal service out of Darwin is an extended four-day journey adding time in Alice Springs, dinner under the stars at the MacDonnell Ranges, an optional fly-in visit to Uluru (extra cost) and full-day stop in Coober Pedy.
Why: This Great Southern Rail service takes its name from the Afghan camel-riders who helped open up Australia’s inhospitable interior, although the full Darwin Adelaide line was completed only in 2004.
It’s by far the coolest and most comfortable way to see Australia’s Red Centre, with off-train excursions such as the Alice Explorer and Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise included in Platinum and Gold Service fares, or payable on-site for those in Red Service; optional upgrades such as a helicopter flight over Alice Springs are also available at a supplement.
Red Service includes Day/Nighter reclining seats; Gold offers twin compartments with a compact en-suite bathroom; and Platinum boasts roomy cabins with a double bed and larger windows to watch as the scenery transforms from the lush coastal regions to the desert interior.
Book it: Bridge & Wickers can tailor-make a 15-night tour taking in Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, the Flinders Ranges and Barossa Valley and ending with a two-night Gold Service trip on The Ghan to Darwin followed by two nights in the Northern Territory city, from £4,595. The price includes Singapore Airlines flights to Adelaide and out of Darwin, car hire and Kangaroo Island touring.
020 3411 0711
Where: Auckland-Wellington, 10.5 hours, 423 miles.
When: From Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; from Wellington on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.What’s new: The Northern Explorer will depart from Auckland’s Britomart station, starting November 9, at the new time of 07.45.
Why: The word ‘Mordor’ might strike terror in the heart of any Hobbit or Lord of the Rings fan, but it should also inspire images of towering mountains and lush greenery. That’s because the fictional Mordor was created in Tongariro National Park, home to three active volcanoes and one of the highlights of this journey through the heart of North Island.
The train also stops at the Waitomo Caves, famed for their twinkling glowworms; travels along engineering feat the Raurimu Spiral, where the train climbs 139 metres in less than four miles; and glides past some of New Zealand’s most impressive scenery – the perfect time to test out photography skills from the open-air carriage. Add a stop to any standard ticket from just £5.
Book it: Adventures in New Zealand is a 22-day escorted tour operated by Great Rail Journeys, which starts at £4,795.
The price includes flights from Heathrow to Auckland and back from Christchurch, all domestic travel, 18 nights’ room-only accommodation, four dinners, sightseeing, and scenic rail journeys on the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine.
Where: Perth to Sydney, via Adelaide, three nights/four days, 2,704 miles
When: Departs Sydney on Wednesday, Perth on Sunday, with extra services from September to November on Saturday and Wednesday respectively.
What’s new: From 2015, westbound journeys include more time to explore the vineyards of the Barossa Valley, a new off-train dining experience in Adelaide (at extra cost for Red Service), and a stop to watch sunset over Nullarbor Plain at Rawlinna. Perth Sydney passengers also enjoy new off-train excursions at Adelaide and Broken Hill.
Why: As one of the few transcontinental services in the world, the scale of the Indian Pacific route is hard to comprehend. Check out the quirky art scene at the Pro Hart Gallery in Broken Hill, enjoy city sightseeing or a tour of the gourmet Central Market in Adelaide (with a tasting for Gold or Platinum passengers), and learn more about Australia’s gold rush history in Kalgoorlie.
Book it: Anzcro suggests including the Indian Pacific in a Perth/Sydney twin-centre, touring Margaret River or Ningaloo Reef then catching the train to Sydney for city sightseeing and excursions to the Blue Mountains.
Gold Class starts at £1,270 for a twin cabin with access to the Outback Explorer Lounge, while Platinum Service adds a more luxurious private cabin, full-sized shower and toilet, panoramic windows, room service menu and morning or afternoon tea as well as meals in the restaurant car, from £2,540, both based on two sharing in June.
Where: Christchurch-Picton, just over five hours, 216 miles.
When: Daily October-April, departing Christchurch at 7am and Picton at 1pm.
What’s new: The service has been rebranded from its former name, TranzCoastal, with a new menu, scenic carriages and excursions.
Why: While the more famous sister service the TranzAlpine grabs the headlines, the Coastal Pacific offers a different, but equally special, experience. Its coastline-hugging route affords unbeatable views over the Kaikoura Ranges and the Pacific Ocean, and it’s even close enough to spot seals and other wildlife in the surf through the train’s new panoramic windows, or capture great shots of the 175 bridges crossed en route.
It’s easy to connect to the Interislander ferry from its Picton terminus, making this a handy link in a tour of both islands, although those with more time can incorporate a stop at Kaikoura for unbeatable whale watching.
Book it: Austravel’s Grand Pacific Touring holiday starts in Auckland, visiting Waitangi, Rotorua and Wellington, then heading to South Island for Christchurch, Fox Glacier, Queenstown and Fjordland.
The journey features a Milford Sound overnight cruise, four rail journeys including the Coastal Pacific, most evening meals and Qantas flights from London. Prices start at £3,949 for departures in March.
0808 159 6877
Image copyright Kiwi Rail Ltd
Spirit of Queensland
Where: Brisbane-Cairns, 25 hours, 1,045 miles.
When: From December, the service runs five times a week year-round, ex-Brisbane Monday-Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and ex-Cairns Monday, Wednesday-Friday and Sunday.What’s new: With the closure of The Sunlander in December, The Spirit of Queensland is adding extra departures along the route.
Why: This may not be as glamorous as other trains, but it’s the perfect solution for clients who don’t have time to drive up the east coast but still want an overland experience. Its route snakes along the east coast stopping in Hervey Bay, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville.
There are two classes of travel, both including airline-style personal entertainment systems and shared shower facilities. RailBed seats convert into a lie-flat bed, with meals served to the seat, while Premium Economy has a 30-degree recline and meals in the Club Car.
Book it: 1st Class Holidays offers The Ultimate East Coast Adventure, pairing the 13-day Pacific Coastal self-drive from Sydney to Brisbane with the Spirit of Queensland to Cairns for a five-day Cairns Highland and Mission Beach self-drive.
The 18-day trip includes 16 nights’ hotel accommodation, a night in RailBed class, car hire and sightseeing, from £2,549 excluding flights.
0845 644 3939
Tony Byrne, national sales manager at Great Rail Journeys, says rail travel is better than flying because it…
Takes away the stress and aggravation of the check-in queue at airports
Has check-in times of normally no more than 45 minutes
Takes you direct to the heart of the destination, with no lengthy transfers
Can allow you to stop en route, especially if pre-planned
Is a relaxing way to travel, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the landscapes
Is more sociable – meet and talk to fellow travellers (if you wish, that is!)
Gives you the freedom to stretch your legs and have a wander on the train
Lets you eat when you like from a buffet car or restaurant
Makes the journey a key part of the holiday
Is better for the environment, using up to 17 times less energy than air travel
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