The long and the short of it; Australia has some remarkable train trips.
Each state has historic railways with short runs. These are in scenic places and showcase Australia’s unique rail history.
My son is to blame for my train obsession. He loved trains as a child and to feed his interest I would take him on steam trains. Now in his mid 20s I can’t remember the last time he traveled by train but my journeys continue.
I shared some of my favorite trips in 8 Incredible Vintage Train Rides In Australia. Here are 11 more trains worth the ticket to ride.
1. The Great Southern
Brisbane To Adelaide
In December and January, the wet season sweeps across the Top End. The famous Ghan can’t run due to the chance of flooding on the tracks. Instead, the Great Southern, another service by Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions, borrows the Ghan’s carriages. This summer-only route covers the 1,242 miles between Adelaide and Brisbane.
Like the Ghan, the Great Southern offers sumptuous dining, fine wines, and Platinum and Gold-class carriages. I’ve traveled in a Gold Twin — a lavish experience. The carriages were refurbished at a cost of $2 million each.
Trainspotters with tripods are out in force. Making passengers feel like rockstars.
Pro Tip: Brisbane or Adelaide departures with these packages.
2. The Overland
Melbourne To Adelaide
The Overland has linked Adelaide and Melbourne since 1887, making it the oldest direct inter-capital rail service in Australia. The name refers to the “overlanders,” or colonists, who pushed forward into Australia’s hinterlands with bullock-drawn drays in search of pastoral land in the 19th century.
The Overland’s symbol is the Emu, a bird which cannot fly but runs with speed and grace across wide-open lands. You could fly from Melbourne to Adelaide in an hour and 20 minutes. A run in the Overland takes all day. But oh, the scenery! Past the silvery lakes of the Wimmera, Victoria’s wheat-growing belt, the craggy Grampians, and the Adelaide Hills famous vineyards.
The Red Standard class offers value-for-money. The Red Premium is an all-inclusive in-seat dining and trolley service offering breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. All passengers can access the licensed buffet bar.
3. Spirit Of Queensland
Brisbane To Cairns
The 1,045-mile journey from Brisbane to Cairns takes 24 hours but you can break the journey at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay (with access to Fraser Island), and Townsville. Cairns, the final destination, is the base for the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree.
The service offers Premium Economy or RailBed Class similar to business class on airlines. Attendants recline the seats into flatbeds. They serve meals with a paddock-to-plate focus rather than airline food!
The Spirit of Queensland runs from Brisbane to Cairns five times a week.
4. Mary Valley Rattler
Get on board! Hear the toot and the clickety-clack as you round the track. The Mary Valley Rattler is a beloved old-fashioned steam train. This tourist railway is in Gympie, a town 2 hours north of Brisbane, or behind the Sunshine Coast, should you be staying there. The scenic journey is through the Mary Valley, an area punctuated by misty hills, valleys, foodie haunts, and opportunities to kayak with platypuses. Enjoy the Historic Gympie Station, a traditional Queensland building restored to its glory days. Historical displays share stories of the Mary Valley Railway line. The Rattler’s 29-mile scenic return trip crosses the Mary River and chugs around curves and across bridges. At Amamoor, see the engine turned on the turntable. Experience the Rattler Tasting Train where you board the vintage railmotor RM76 and enjoy local cheese, sourdough, and other delights. On Sunday, their All Stations Train means wine and cheese tastings for a $5 donation to a community group. Tourists also love the Rusty Rails Café in the restored railway station dining area. The Mary Valley Rattler was a Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Award Winner.
5. The Q Train
If you love heritage trains and fine dining, this is the train to catch. Australia’s premier and award-winning rail restaurant, the Q Train, departs from the historic Drysdale Train Station, near Geelong. The journey offers stunning views of Swan Bay and the Bellarine particularly at sunset. The journey showcases the local food, wine, beer, and cider from the Bellarine Peninsula. Not simply a meal, this is a six-course dégustation journey created by chefs. Expect platings like Sage Farm-salted beef with pear, pepper, wasabi aioli, sesame oil, dehydrated tomato, and Thai basil. The Q Train uses renovated and restored carriages from Queensland’s retired Sunlander and one of its steam engines is from the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Pro Tip: Drysdale Station is a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, or arrive via Port Phillip Ferries departing Melbourne’s Docklands.
6. Byron Bay Train
New South Wales
This is one hip trip. Byron Bay runs the world’s only full-sized, fully solar-powered train. The immaculately restored 1949-era, two-carriage heritage train was converted to solar power. The 1.86-mile coastal track links the Byron Town Center with the North Beach precinct and Byron Arts Estate. The 10 minutes one-way, or 25-minute return journey, passes through rainforest, endangered coastal wetlands, and over Belongil Creek, part of Cape Byron Marine Park. The train holds a capacity of 92 seated passengers, and their surfboards!
7. Scenic Railway
New South Wales
This may be the shortest but most thrilling ride of your life. Boasting the Guinness World Record for the world’s steepest railway, the funicular in the Blue Mountains behind Sydney was built for mining in the 19th century before being converted to a tourist ride in 1945. Following an award-winning redevelopment in 2013, the fifth-generation train travels an unforgettable route through a cliff tunnel before emerging on the floor of the Jamison Valley. Passengers choose their level of adventure, by adjusting their seated position. Choose the 64-degree incline if you want the Cliffhanger!
8. Victorian Goldfields Railway
The Goldfields Railway is a historical train service running between Castlemaine (around 2 hours’ drive from Melbourne) and the historic village of Maldon. I rode this wonderful railway recently on one of Victoria’s 100 degree Fahrenheit days. I appreciated the air conditioned carriages in first class and the bar. There’s something about watching the world slip by while sipping bubbles. Despite the heat, I couldn’t resist heading out to the external observation deck — like something out of an old western movie. Although, the scenes were Austalian and included locations from The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslett and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
The love and restoration that has gone into this heritage railway is extraordinary. Popular events include their Murder on the Orient Express nights where the journey includes a screening of the famous movie. The art deco and Edwardian parlor carriages are perfect for the occasion. Ales on Rails showcases the local brews and driver experience packages. You might finally get to drive a train.
Pro Tip: Like in many of Australia’s tinderbox areas, diesel rather than steam engines are used in summer.
9. Hotham Valley Tourist Railway
Dwellingup, in the Darling Range near Perth, was named 2021 Top Small Tourism Town in western Australia. The town’s historic Hotham Valley Railway is part of the attraction. Once serving the timber industry and agricultural areas, the steam trains now run weekly (May to October). On the return journey, there’s the thrill of a Steam Locomotive hard at work climbing western Australia’s steepest and most spectacular section of railway. The suspense of wondering whether it will make it is all part of the thrill. A vintage diner train runs on Saturdays, the forest softly lit for the occasion. Advanced bookings are recommended.
10. Alexandra Timber Tramway
A tourist railway is in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in Alexandra 81 miles northeast of Melbourne. Experience the era of bush sawmills and tramways in the Rubicon Forest as they were during the early 1900s. View an extensive rolling stock including the first Victorian-built diesel locomotives. Experience a quaint tramway ride and learn more about narrow gauge and timber tramways at the museum. Pioneers lived with their families deep in the bush, their only connection to the outside world through these tramways. A number of them tragically lost their lives in the 1939 bushfires leading to a ban of rebuilding the mills in the forest — the end of an era and a unique slice of Australian history.
Pro Tip: Trains run on select weekends each month and for special events.
11. Yarra Valley Tourist Railway
One of our favorite rides when my son was little was the Yarra Valley Tourist Railway; a chance to experience a 1950s Walker RM22 Railmotor and an exciting ride through an 1889 brick-built tunnel (stretching 500 feet through the tunnel hill). During the 30-minute ride, spot kangaroos in the paddocks, and chug past vineyards. Like many of Australia’s restored railways, the rides exist because of the tireless work of dedicated volunteers. Over 500 have helped keep this railway running.
Pro Tip: The Yarra Valley is a famous wine region outside of Melbourne. Take the opportunity to visit Healesville Sanctuary to meet Australian wildlife. TarraWarra Museum of Art is a striking modern art gallery.
For more scenic views of the Australian Outback, visit these articles: