In Praise Of... Train Travel
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I've always loved travelling in trains, from the earliest days of business college and working in the city, but since I've retired, trains mean so much more than a simple way of getting to where you want to be – they're an adventure in themselves!
The last few years have been quite a feast of trains. Firstly, on my own I travelled down to Melbourne overnight on the XPT, tasting the joys of falling to sleep to the very soothing clack clack clack of the wheels, and waking up to find myself in another state. The single cabin was quite tiny but manageable as long as you travelled light – which I confess I can do easily these days. And meeting new people in the process is always exciting.
Take in the stunning Aussie outback from a different perspective
My second solo journey was coming home from Perth on the Indian Pacific after a wildflower tour of Western Australia, and this was just heaven! Again, the cabin was small, but there was a lovely lounge car where all the travellers could sit and socialise, and I made so many new friends this way. The food on the Great Southern Rail trains is as good as any you would find in top class restaurants, the service is wonderful, and the staff are so friendly and helpful.
The ever-changing scenery, and even the monotony of the Nullarbor Plain, is intriguing and fascinating, where you hope to catch a glimpse of emus, dingoes or kangaroos, or even a camel.
No other way of travelling gives you the opportunity to really grasp the immensity of this wonderful land of ours. You are too busy watching the road when you drive, and if you're in a coach, you're pretty well tied to the seat all the way instead of being able to cross to the other side of the car to catch a glimpse of something interesting. And of course you can get a bit of exercise by walking from one end of the train to the other, exchanging greetings with fellow travellers on the way.
My next experience of the Indian Pacific was with my partner and travelling companion John when we went to Perth to drive his son's 4WD and caravan back to Sydney for him when he was relocating.
Elaine and her partner, John, travel together throughout Australia
Once again, the food was superb and the scenery was breathtaking. We booked two single cabins (which were located opposite to each other across the corridor) rather than decide who was going to climb up to the upper bunk in the twin cabin. We had stops at Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie with sightseeing coach tours to check out the towns, and a walk through the almost ghost town of Cook, which boasts four inhabitants.
John and I next took a trip on the Spirit of the Outback for a trip to Longreach, which was another fascinating journey. Again, the vastness of our country really hits home on such a trip, and once more the other travellers made the holiday even more special and interesting.
One day we took a short nostalgic trip on the "red rattler" through Sydney’s City Circle stations, reminiscing about our commuting days during our working lives, and learned that the Heritage Train group had an excursion planned over the ANZAC weekend, travelling on the old Southern Aurora train through the Liverpool Plains of New South Wales, following many grain and goods lines and some of the older tracks which are no longer used even for moving stock or goods.
We took this trip and had a ball, travelling with like-minded train buffs, enjoying meals and socialising on the train but sleeping at night in motels or hotels at different country towns. Our final stop was at Gilgandra on ANZAC Day, which was really interesting as this is the town where the famous "Cooee" march started from in WWI. We attended the Anzac Day march and some of our passengers joined the march as well.
John particularly enjoyed this one as he had found it difficult to sleep on the Longreach trip, and on the Indian Pacific, and when I started to talk about travelling on the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide, he was very reluctant to risk three sleepless nights.
Travelling by train offers both a scenic journey as well as a chance to socialise
I persevered, however, and talked to him into it, and when he saw the photos of the cabins in the Platinum class on the Ghan, he agreed to give it a try.
And wow! Talk about luxury! These cabins boast a full-sized double bed, with an ensuite attached, and plenty of storage for luggage. The Platinum Class has its own lounge and dining carriage, with separate chefs and staff. Hard to say if it's better food than the Gold Class food as we couldn't fault that on the Indian Pacific, but the wine was certainly top class – Bollinger in our cabins when we first arrived, and basically any tipple you wanted in the lounge, all part of the service. And tea and coffee in our cabin in the morning, plus your choice of nightcap in your room at night.
I really enjoyed finding a glass of Baileys beside the bed, with Haigh's chocolates next to it. Similar to flying business class, transport is supplied to and from home, airport or hotel to meet the train, which really took away a lot of stress.
Where next? We'd like to try the Sunlander from Brisbane to Cairns, sadly we don't think we're fit enough for overseas trips such as the Orient Express, but there's still plenty of options Down Under. There is a really interesting one in New Zealand, which uses converted golf carts on a disused track, and we'll probably do that next year.
Do you love train travel? What’s your favourite rail journey?
Image credits: Great Southern Rail, Elaine Moore.