March 8, 2012
If you’re an adventurous couple in the market for an extraordinary honeymoon, there are few places on earth as epic and unforgettable as Australia.
Hop on a flight to Sydney and enjoy a relaxing few days of laid-back sightseeing, exploring the harbour city’s best beaches and working your way around the fine dining scene. It’s a city that quickly gets under your skin and becomes very hard to leave, so be warned. But Australia’s boundless beauty lies before you, and as travel writer Lara Dunston explains below, getting a sense of the country’s vastness from the comfort of your own private compartment on a luxury train is a truly special experience…
Trains must be one of the most romantic forms of transport. There’s no bumper-to-bumper traffic, bad roads or seasickness to contend with – you simply board, stow your luggage, sit back, relax, and take in the scenery as it rolls by. The only interruptions are meals, drinks and naps, making them the perfect mode of travel for a honeymoon. Sigh”¦
Australia’s great train trips aboard The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Southern Spirit are among the world’s most incredible rail journeys and I’ve been lucky enough to try them all – with my hubby in tow!
Two are transcontinental journeys, from east to west and south to north (and vice versa), covering vast distances, from 2,979km (1,850 miles) on The Ghan to 4,353km (2,704 miles) on The Indian Pacific, making the shortest trip a minimum of two nights/three days on The Ghan and the longest a total of five nights/six days on The Southern Spirit. These leave plenty of time to take in the diverse landscapes, from lush green rolling hills in northern New South Wales to the copper-coloured desert sands of central Australia.
The Ghan, Indian Pacific and The Southern Spirit are all luxurious trains, but they are also modern trains and this is Australia, so don’t expect the flamboyant Maharaja-inspired opulence of The Palace on Wheels or the lavish Art Deco carriages of the old Orient Express trains. Rather, the trains are smart, comfortable and have an understated elegance about them.
The Queen Adelaide Restaurant (on all three trains) has upholstered booths, white linen table cloths and an old-fashioned feel to it, while the clubby Outback Explorer lounges, available to Platinum and Gold passengers, are a modern take on Art Deco with their curved bar and rounded leather seats.
The Ghan and Indian Pacific have three classes of travel. The Red Service offers reclining day-nighter seats in a public carriage or snug cabins with seats that convert to twin-berth bunks at night. These are the cheapest options and won’t be your first choice if you’re on a honeymoon.
Gold Service has significantly more comfortable twin-berth cabins with seats that convert to bunks and a compact private bathroom, while Platinum Service, my favourite and the most luxurious level of all, offers super-spacious rooms with a choice of double bed or two single beds, a very roomy bathroom with a proper shower, toilet and basin, and enormous windows that allow you to open the blinds on the hallway side so you can see out both sides of the train.
In the Red Service you’ll probably be eating salad rolls and meat pies, which you can buy in the casual Matilda Café, while in the Gold and Platinum Service, multi-course bistro-style meals, included in the fare, are served in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. The only thing you’ll have to pay for is your bottle of vino – or if it’s your honeymoon, bubbly! Honeymooners should opt for Gold or Platinum. If money is no object then don’t think twice about it and book a room with a double bed.
The Ghan travels between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north via Alice Springs in central Australia. Adelaide is a pretty city with plenty of handsome colonial buildings and a flourishing gourmet food and wine scene due to it having half a dozen superb wine regions on its doorstep.
Alice Springs has a vibrant indigenous culture with an abundance of Aboriginal art galleries and is surrounded by dramatic landscapes. It’s also the departure point for tours to Uluru and Kings Canyon, for which you’ll need to allow 2-3 days. Darwin is a multicultural little city with an Asian flavour, and is the launching pad for exploring the tropical north, including Kakadu National Park.
The Indian Pacific goes from the east to west coast, from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide. Set on a glorious harbour with stunning beaches, Sydney is Australia’s most beautiful city with enough to keep you busy for weeks. Perth is probably the country’s next most attractive city with plenty of beaches and sprawling parks, and a Mediterranean climate.
Both journeys take three days and can be done in the reverse, and you could break in the middle for a few days at Alice Springs or Adelaide. The landscapes are unsurpassed on both routes, from golden wheat plains to sub-tropical savannah on the south-north route, and everything from the rugged beauty of the Blue Mountains to the arid plains of the Nullarbor on the east-west trip.
The Southern Spirit, focused largely on the eastern seaboard, is a special journey, taking six nights, that trundles for some of its route from Adelaide via Melbourne to Brisbane along rarely used freight train tracks as it meanders across geographical regions as diverse as the Adelaide Hills green farmland to the vineyard-covered Hunter Valley.
I loved the landscapes of all three journeys. Which one you choose really depends upon your preferences when it comes to geography and how long you fancy being on a train. All trips provide a relatively quick and easy means of taking in a lot of what is a colossal country that can be very time-consuming and expensive to see otherwise.
Nice little touches – especially for Platinum Service guests, who are welcomed on board with glasses of bubbly in their room and a nightcap beside the bed when they retire. Every time we returned from whistle-stop tours we’d find cold face towels and icy drinks in our room. Gold Service passengers are served their drinks in the lounge.
The staff are friendly, so much so that you might find yourself hugging goodbyes at the end of the trip. While Australians are used to such relaxed service and are happy having a yarn with staff over dinner, Europeans and North Americans sometimes find the service too familiar. If you find that the case, just drop a hint (Aussies don’t usually take offence) or have a quiet word to the guest relations manager. The staff are very accommodating – if you want breakfast in bed or dinner in your room, it’s not a problem.
Whistle-stop tours are offered on all trips, so not only are these journeys romantic, they can also be adventurous depending on the tours you do. Choose carefully, as some, such as town tours, can be dull, while others, such as an exhilarating helicopter flight above spectacular Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) that we did from The Ghan was a jaw-dropping, edge-of-the-seat joyride that I’d do again in a heartbeat. Tours cost extra on The Ghan and The Indian Pacific; prices are listed on the website. They’re included on The Southern Spirit, which explains the higher price, however, while we enjoyed some, such as a winery visit to the Rutherglen region, others, like a boat cruise in rainy Port Macquarie were disappointing. Tours change, so check the website when booking.
Great Southern Rail operates all three trains. Fares range from AUD$754 (approx £510) in a Red Service day-nighter seat from Adelaide to Darwin on The Ghan all the way up to AUD$3,486 (approx £2,350) in Platinum from Sydney to Perth on The Indian Pacific. The Indian Pacific and The Ghan run all year, while The Southern Spirit operates on specific dates.
The Southern Spirit trip, which is twice as long and includes all meals and tours, costs AUD$3,500/$6,800 (approx £2,357/4,579) in Gold/Platinum. While these are expensive journeys, they are those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that people save all year for, so book ahead so you don’t miss out. And if you’re on your honeymoon, don’t forget to book a room with a double bed!
Read more about Australia and many other exciting destinations on Lara’s popular travel blog Grantourismo.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to Sydney via Hong Kong. Visit Virgin Holidays for a wide range of Australia holidays, including these great Australia rail journeys as add-ons to your itinerary.