Our rail experts suggest the best train journeys in Australia and New Zealand for 2018.
1. The Indian Pacific
This 2,687-mile (4,325km), four-day/three-night Perth to Sydney journey offers passengers a choice of excursions from the train: a tour of Kalgoorlie and its deep gold mine; wandering around Cook in the heart of the Nullarbor Plain – for many, the most memorable experience – situated on the world’s longest stretch of straight track at 297 miles (478km); a walking tour of Adelaide; the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery; and wine tastings and a cooking demonstration in the Barossa. Landscapes range from the western desert of South Australia to sand dunes around Menidee Lakes and the hills of the Great Dividing Range. Accommodation ranges from single cabins with shared shower room to Platinum Service double or twin-bed suites with in-cabin breakfast. Discounts are available for pensioners and advanced purchase (also on the Ghan, below).
From £1,626 per person Perth-Sydney in a Gold Service twin cabin, including accommodation, meals, beverages including alcohol and excursions; 0061 8 8213 4401; greatsouthernrail.com.au
2. The Ghan, Darwin to Adelaide
The best way to experience the “Red Centre” of Australia, the Ghan links the lovely city of Adelaide with steamy Darwin. Additional off-train excursions and an extra night were added to the 1,851-mile (2,980km) journey in 2016 to create a four-day itinerary with visits to the underground opal mine at Coober Pedy, Alice Springs for the wonderfully atmospheric telegraph station, and a boat journey through the Katherine Gorge. Some passengers also break the journey in Alice to visit Uluru. Accommodation is the same as the Indian Pacific’s.
From £1,133 per person for advanced purchase ticket Adelaide-Darwin in a Gold Service en suite twin cabin, including accommodation, meals, beverages including alcohol, excursions and transfers in Darwin; 0061 8 8213 4401; greatsouthernrail.com.au
3. Ballarat Vintage Tramway
One of the best day trips from Melbourne is by the hourly V/Line 90-minute service to the historic gold-mining town of Ballarat, where the station is centrally situated. One of Australia’s principal outdoor museums, Sovereign Hill, recreates the decade after the discovery of gold in 1851 and can be reached by the Goldrush Special courtesy coach which meets certain trains at Ballarat to allow four-and-a-half hours at the award-winning attraction (sovereignhill.com.au). Besides many historic buildings, Ballarat has a weekend-only tram museum and a tramway through the Botanic Gardens. The Ballarat Wildlife Park covers 37 acres which are home to over 400 mostly indigenous species.
Off-peak day ticket from Melbourne Southern Cross station to Ballarat, £16; 0061 3 9662 2505; ptv.vic.gov.au
4. Puffing Billy Railway
Justly claiming to be Australia’s finest heritage railway, this 15-mile (25km) narrow gauge line is easily reached from Melbourne by the commuter train service to Belgrave and aims to capture the feel of the Twenties. Trains hauled by the collection of varied steam locomotives wind through the forests of eucalyptus and farmlands of the Dandenong Ranges. The intermediate station village of Emerald and the historic township at the terminus of Gembrook are worth exploring. Trains run daily and at least one train a day offers a lunch service (booking advisable) with a dinner train on many Fridays and Saturdays. The railway Packing Shed at Nobelius Siding, which once dispatched seedlings and plants, has been converted into a dinner venue.
Return ticket from Belgrave to Gembrook, £42; 0061 3 9757 0700; puffingbilly.com.au
5. Australind, Perth-Bunbury
Options are limited in Western Australia, but this 112-mile (181km), 2½-hour narrow-gauge railway service with buffet car is named Australind and runs south through a fruit-growing area renowned for its wild flowers. Pinjarra, about half way, is junction for the 15-mile (24km) Hotham Valley Tourist Railway, which runs through the Darling Range Escarpment and operates a 1919-built dining-car train serving five-course meals. Bunbury has many historic buildings and the beach has some interesting basalt rock formations as well as a community of bottlenose dolphins, which makes daily visits to the Dolphin Discovery Centre.
Return fare Perth to Bunbury from £18; 0061 8 9326 2600; transwa.wa.gov.au
6. Coasts and cliffs
This 95-mile (153km) journey is unusual in Australia for affording wonderful views of the coast, running alongside the water and along cliff tops. There is a fine beach near the platform at Bombo station, and there is a blowhole capable of reaching 200ft and impressive rocks near Kiama station. Berry, the last station before Bomaderry, has developed a reputation as a foodie paradise with award-winning restaurants and wineries and is probably a better destination than the end of the line at Bomaderry. Near Nowra, across the river from Bomaderry, is the Fleet Air Arm Museum with more than 30 aircraft.
Sydney to Bomaderry costs from £7 with obligatory Opal Card; 0061 2 4907 7500; sydneytrains.info
7. Spirit of the Outback
The most luxurious of Queensland’s tourist trains, this 24-hour journey covers 823 miles (1,325km) from Brisbane to Rockhampton, paralleling the coast and passing through the sugar capital of Bundaberg, before turning west to serve a string of small outback towns to terminate in Longreach. A bus continues on to the sheep and cattle centre of Winton, famous as the birthplace of the song Waltzing Matilda – it was first sung publicly in Winton’s North Gregory Hotel. First-class passengers have use of a lounge car with entertainment tablets, and the restaurant car serves meals using Queensland ingredients. There is an Economy chair car and Economy lounge for takeaway meals from the servery.
From £480 return, B-Quick fare on day subject to availability, £596 return full fare; 0061 7 3606 6630; queenslandrailtravel.com.au
8. Marlborough Flyer
One of New Zealand’s most scenic lines on South Island heads south from the ferry and cruise ship terminal at Picton, and a new steam-hauled service began in December 2017 over the 19 miles (30km) to Blenheim. Set up to serve the cruise ship market, the train uses historic carriages and a 1915-built locomotive to reach Blenheim for wine tours and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This contains the collection of First World War aircraft set up by Lord of the Rings trilogy director Sir Peter Jackson as well as a Second World War collection with the only flyable Avro Anson and a Griffon-powered Spitfire.
Return ticket costs from £60; 0064 3 974 1812; marlboroughflyer.co.nz
9. Taieri Gorge Railway, Dunedin
The Otago Central Rail Trail has become the most popular long-distance cycle route on New Zealand’s South Island, but the eastern end of the 146-mile (235km) line from Dunedin is still a railway – and what a railway! For most of its length it twists and turns through a spectacularly deep gorge, leaping across vertiginous defiles on lattice viaducts and clinging to ledges in the hillsides. The Twenties carriages have open balconies so photographers can take unobstructed pictures of the landscape, and there is a buffet car and shop on board. Most trains run as far as Pukerangi, but on certain days they reach Middlemarch, the eastern end of the Rail Trail.
Return ticket Dunedin to Pukerangi, from £46; 0064 3 477 4449; dunedinrailways.co.nz
10. TranzAlpine, New Zealand
The South Island’s TranzAlpine links east-coast Christchurch with the west coast at Greymouth by a crossing of the Southern Alps – the “northern” Alps being those in Europe. Densely forested mountains flank the climb to Arthur’s Pass to join the broad Waimakariri river. Tussock-grassed valleys support sheep but little else, and the sense of remoteness can be appreciated from the open-sided observation car. The section through the Waimakariri Gorge is the highlight of the journey, as the train burrows through 16 tunnels and crosses five viaducts with snow-covered mountains in the distance. A buffet car provides sustenance on the 10-hour return journey, with an hour in Greymouth for a quick lunch in a restaurant and micro-brewery beside the station.
From £ZZZZ per person; 0064 4 495 0775; kiwirailscenic.co.nz
Contributors: Adrian Bridge, Anthony Lambert, Tristan Rutherford, Michael Kerr, Steve McClarence