Our blog post today is one of my personal favorite ways of having an experience in any country. We have two famous train trips in Australia The Ghan and Indian Pacific Trains and I have written a comprehensive blog post on them both below…
Australia is nearly 4,000 kms (2,500 mi) wide, and about 3,700 kms (2,300 mi) from top to bottom, and most of that area is desert, a vast area we all know as The Outback. Sparsely populated and authentically Australian, but with jaw-dropping beauty. There’s nowhere else on earth quite like it.
Many folks do a quick jaunt into the Outback, usually to Ayers Rock/Uluru. Sometimes they head over to Coober Pedy, a quirky Outback opal-mining town. However, these kinds of trips really only scratch the surface of what the Outback is all about.
If you want to experience the real Australian Outback with enough time to really immerse yourself in it, then one option is to head out on your own and find a campsite… but of course, a much more comfortable and stylish way to go is by train journey.
Australia has two famous train lines. The Ghan travels vertically through the middle of the country from Adelaide in the South to Darwin in the North. The Indian Pacific travels horizontally along the southern part of the country, all the way from Sydney in the east to Perth in the west.
For many of our clients, traveling all or part of these train journeys is the highlight of their vacation to Australia. So in this blog post, we’re going to give you all the important details about what it’s like to ride the rails across Australia.
The Ghan Train Journey:
The Ghan got its name from the legendary cameleers who traveled across the central Australian Outback in the 1800s. They were believed to have come from Afghanistan, hence the name “Ghan.” Over the course of about 150 years, there were many separate train lines that traveled different sections of the route. But it wasn’t until 2004 that a single standardized track ran 3,000 kms (1,850 mi) all the way from Adelaide to Darwin.
The Ghan is the most famous train in Australia, traveling in a vertical line through the central heart of the country. The whole journey takes three days and two nights with departures once a week. However, you can do just a portion of the train trip if you like.
From Adelaide traveling North, the Ghan has stations at Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, and Katherine before reaching its final destination in Darwin. You can embark or disembark at several of these stops, allowing folks to ride just part of the trip.
One of our favorite ways to do the Ghan, when we don’t have time for the full journey, is to travel from Adelaide just to Alice Springs. The way it works is you’d spend a few days around Adelaide to see Kangaroo Island and the Barossa wine valley before boarding the train. Then you’d watch the gorgeous scenery from the Ghan for about 25 hours until you reach the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, Alice Springs. Disembark there for a night or two have a look around. Then you can easily get to Ayers Rock/Uluru and all the highlights of the Red Centre by bus (approx 4-5 hours) or a short flight from Alice Springs. In the end, once you’ve gotten your fill of Uluru, you can fly directly onwards to the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney or Melbourne.
Designed with comfort and tourism in mind, the Ghan offers two price levels. Both include a private cabin, onboard dining, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, audio commentary, and off-train excursions. The less expensive level is called Gold Service, but don’t be fooled! Less expensive doesn’t mean uncomfortable. Each Gold Service cabin has a seating area that converts into two twin beds, a window, and a private compact fold-away sink, toilet, and shower.
The top-level of accommodations on the Ghan is called Platinum Service. Almost twice the size of Gold Service cabins, Platinum Service cabins convert into one double bed or two twins. Plus, they come with a full-sized private bathroom and the option of having a lazy in-cabin breakfast. You also get access to the Platinum Club, for meals and drinks.
That’s right, your experience on the Ghan is all-inclusive. Delicious Australian meals, alcoholic beverages, off-board excursions during stops — you won’t go wanting for anything on board this luxury train! The Ghan sets a high standard for scenic, luxurious touring in Australia.
The Indian Pacific Train Journey:
The Ghan may set a high bar for comfort and style, but for those who really want a transcontinental experience, look no further than the Indian Pacific. Traveling over 4,300 kms (2,700 mi), the Indian Pacific connects Sydney on the great Pacific with Perth on the Indian Ocean. An unforgettable adventure, the Indian Pacific contains the longest stretch of straight railway track in the world.
The whole journey takes three nights/four days with departures about once a week. However, like the Ghan, you can choose to do just a portion of the journey if you like, by embarking or disembarking halfway through in the city of Adelaide.
From Sydney heading West, the Indian Pacific has stations at Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook, Rawlinna, and Kalgoorlie before reaching its final destination in Perth. What makes this route special is its diversity. You are going all the way across the country, after all.
Starting in Sydney, you headfirst through the majestic Blue Mountains, before crossing the Outback and arriving in Adelaide. Around Adelaide, you’ll see vines in the verdant and fertile Barossa Wine Valley before heading into a place of myths and legends, the vast Nullarbor Plain. Named after the Latin for “no trees,” the Nullarbor seems to stretch infinitely into the horizon. At last, as you approach Perth, you’ll find greener pastures once again.
Like the Ghan, the Indian Pacific now offers two top levels of service, Gold and Platinum, with the same inclusions, bells, and whistles in each. Both are very comfortable, especially for train travel. And you won’t need to worry about many additional costs, since three meals daily, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and off-train excursions are all included in the price.
There is a third great train journey in Australia called the Overland, which travels from Adelaide to Melbourne twice a week. Taking just a day to do the journey, it has reclining seats rather than private cabins. There are several stops along the way so this train caters better to locals than the Ghan or the Indian Pacific, which are more popular with international tourists.
Ready to start planning? Remember that for these iconic rail journeys, not all trains stop at all stations. Plus, departures may only happen once a week and of course, you need to check with us on if your travel time is right with the weather! Since scheduling can be tricky, make sure to ask an Australian Expert Travel Planner for assistance on customizing your holiday on The Ghan and Indian Pacific trains.