Whether it’s the classic glamour of the Orient Express or the excitement of Trans Siberian, there is something romantic and elegant about rail travel. Being served champagne and gourmet meals over a white tablecloth while dressed in your finest attire, feels like something right out of a an old Hollywood movie or a classic novel.
So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I boarded the Great Southern, Australia’s newest luxury rail offering, which made its inaugural journey last month.
Australia already boasts two luxury rail journeys; the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, both contenders (and often cited) in top 10 rail journey lists. Their newest sibling, the Great Southern, is part of the same company; Journey Beyond Rail, promising to be equally (if not more) luxurious.
The train travels between Adelaide and Brisbane, passing through four Australian states over three days. Each day features a new destination and excursion opportunity as well as time to relax in your cabin, enjoy a drink at the bar, and marvel at the ever changing Australian landscapes.
The return journey is a day longer with different stops en route, meaning passengers have the option to travel both there and back while enjoying different destinations and experiences.
We set off in the morning, enjoying the view as we departed Adelaide, and the scenery transformed from buildings to bush. This was the time to relax, enjoy a coffee and unwind before our first excursion later that day.
It was also time to fully explore the train. The Great Southern has two service levels; Gold and Platinum. Both offer all inclusive meals and drinks and fantastic hospitality. The main difference being the cabins and the style and location of the restaurant carriages.
We were staying in a Gold Twin. These have a long bench-like seat, which was transformed into bunk-style beds by the crew in the evening as we were indulging ourselves at dinner. There is also a small table, a cupboard and an en suite.
As well as Gold Twin cabins, like ours, there are also Gold Single cabins, meaning solo travellers pay the same fare. In Platinum, the cabins are larger, with side by side twin or double beds, and more spacious bathrooms.
We crossed our first state border into Victoria, and later that afternoon arrived at the Grampians National Park. Each time the train stops, there is a choice of excursions. We chose a guided walk to the Venus Baths, beautiful pools of fresh water surrounded by sandstone mountains and forest.
After working up an appetite, dinner was served outside in a stunning clearing flanked by mountains. Kangaroos and emus grazed nearby as the sun set on our first day aboard the Great Southern.
Back on the train our cabin had been transformed, and after a nightcap in the bar, we tucked ourselves into our beds as the train continued on through Victoria and into New South Wales.
The food and drink offering on the Great Southern is exceptional, with a two course breakfast and lunch and three course dinner served each day. We took a quick peek at the kitchens and were amazed at how they were able to produce such fantastic dishes in such a small space and while moving!
Each meal is accompanied by carefully selected Australian wines, which are also available at the bar, at any time of day, along with spirits, beers, cocktails and soft drinks.
Shortly after breakfast we arrived in Yass, just outside of Canberra. Excursion options at this stop include a trip to Parliament House and tours of the National Museum of Australia or a day exploring the Murrumbateman Wine Region.
We opted for the latter, visiting two excellent wineries for a tasting and a long lunch at Poachers Pantry – who smoke their own meats, make their own wine, and grow herbs and vegetables in their stunning gardens.
Dinner was served on the train that evening, once again a delicious menu featuring smoked kingfish, Junee lamb rump and brassicas tart.
We were very much in the swing of train life by this point, having befriended our fellow passengers and become very well acquainted with the wine menu. So of course, we enjoyed a drink in the bar before retiring to our cabin for our second night on the train.
We arrived at Urunga early the next day, our final day on board the Great Southern. Our chosen excursion was a walk along the 1km long Urunga boardwalk with aboriginal guide Uncle Mark Flanders. Mark, a Gumbaynnggirr elder, and his son Matt, told us about the history of the area and the marine life where the Kalang and Bellinger rivers meet. We then made our way to Coffs Harbour.
We had time for a quick dip in the ocean, to browse the Sunday markets, and enjoy a fresh fruit platter by the beach, before it was time to return to the train for our final leg of the journey. This was perhaps the most scenic, passing through the hilly landscapes of northern NSW and into Queensland, and our final destination – Brisbane.
The Great Southern absolutely lived up to my expectations and if anything the food and service wildly outshone them. Many of the passengers were travelling back to Adelaide the following day, and it was with a little bit of envy that I said goodbye to those travellers as we made our way into Brisbane.
Before joining the train, it is worth allowing a couple of days to explore Adelaide and the surrounding wine regions, which include the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. It’s easy to book onto a tour, or hire a car and experience them at your own pace.
We spent a day visiting wineries and the beautiful beaches of McLaren Vale, a region known for producing excellent shiraz. With more than 80 cellar doors, you’ll find everything from tiny boutique wineries to the impressive five story d’Arenberg Cube.
Make sure you stop at Down the Rabbit Hole Wines, for one of the more unusual and Instagram-worthy tastings rooms: a converted double decker bus! For less common varietals, Olivers Taranga is worth a visit. The family owned winery produces Sagrantino, a wine from the Italian region of Umbria, and not often found in Australia.
Mclaren Vale is located on the Fleurieu Peninsula, which also happens to have some fantastic beaches. Perfect for relaxing afternoon, before you make your way back into Adelaide to board the Great Southern!
The Great Southern
The Great Southern’s inaugural season runs from 6 December 2019 to 30 January 2020. The second season will run from 4 December 2020 to 28 January 2021.
A three day/two night trip aboard The Great Southern starts from £1069 ($2059 AUD) per person, including all-inclusive meals, fine wines, and beverages and off train experiences in the Grampians, Canberra or Murrumbateman Wine Region and Coffs Harbour.
How to get there:
Fly London Gatwick to Adelaide in economy with Qatar Airways via Doha from £716 return.
Hayley Lewis is a travel writer, blogger and producer. For more on the Great Southern head to alovelyplanet.com or follow Hayley on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook.
by – metro.co.uk