Before I turned 30, I made a list of the things I’d like to do and achieve before hitting the big 3-0. One of those was to travel on a luxury sleeper train. It just looks so romantic and glamorous and I already love travelling by train, so it seems like the perfect trip! I didn’t quite manage it before 30, so it rolled over onto the 35 list, and this year I got the chance to tick it off in style – with a trip on the inaugural Great Southern.
The Great Southern is the newest addition to Journey Beyond Rail, joining two other iconic railway journeys, the Ghan and the Indian Pacific. The Ghan is Australia’s oldest luxury train, travelling from Darwin to Adelaide and the Indian Pacific travels coast to coast from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific (hence the name).
Their newest sibling journeys between Adelaide and Brisbane, with different stops depending on which direction you are travelling, so you can choose to take the train one way or make a return journey with different experiences.
The Great Southern
The inaugural Great Southern departed from Adelaide, and we decided to arrive a day early to have a day of wine tasting in McLaren Vale (which I highly recommend!). There are a number of great wine regions surrounding the city, including the Barossa and the Adelaide Hills, so if you have time, allow a few days to explore this area, and a day to enjoy the city.
The Great Southern – Day 1
Departing from its own terminal, the air was filled with excitement and the trainspotters were out in full force for the first-ever journey. After a glass of champagne and musical entertainment as we checked in our luggage, we climbed aboard the Great Southern for the first time.
The train has two service levels; Gold and Platinum. Both offer luxury service with all-inclusive food, drink and excursions, but Platinum cabins are more spacious and modern and they have a separate restaurant and bar.
We were in the Gold which I loved because the cabins and restaurant had traditional decor and bunk beds that reminded me of pretty much every train movie I’ve seen. During the day the beds are folded away and there is a long sofa style seat to sit on and gaze out of the window. The cabins also have an en-suite bathroom and a small cupboard.
We travelled out of the city and towards Victoria, for our first off train excursion later that evening. Beforehand we had plenty of time to relax, explore the train and enjoy our first meal on the Great Southern.
There is something so glamorous about being served a sit-down meal aboard a train. I loved it! Not to mention that the food is fantastic, accompanied by excellent Australian wines. For breakfast and lunch there are two courses, and three for dinner. We had a chance to peek into the kitchens during our trip and I was amazed at how the chefs could create such incredible and well-presented dishes in such a tiny space and while on the move!
The Grampians National Park
The train stops at Stawell station, and there is a short coach transfer into the national park. Here, you have the choice of two excursions; a walk to the Venus Baths or a trip up to the Boroka Lookout. Alternatively, you can relax with a wine in a beautiful outside dining area in a clearing between the mountains. This is also the location for the evening’s dinner, accompanied by local wines. The Grampians wine region is known for making great sparkling shiraz – something I have a great passion for – so I was excited to sample a few!
We opted for the Venus Baths hike, through beautiful forest and sandstone rock formations with deep pools of fresh water, working up an appetite for dinner. On the way, we passed a mob of emu’s crossing the street and a Kangaroo and joey grazing on the grass.
As the sunset behind the mountains, we enjoyed our dinner and a few delicious wines before we were back on the bus, this time to Ararat, to board the Great Southern and continue our journey. We had a quick nightcap in the bar – I can confirm that the bartenders make an excellent Old Fashioned cocktail – and then headed back to our room which had been transformed into our beds for the night.
The Great Southern – Day 2
After a night in our bunks, we awoke early for breakfast and our second off train experience. Overnight the train passes over the NSW border and we arrived at Yass Junction, close to Canberra.
Day 2 is a full day off the train, and the excursion options include a visit to Parliament House, followed by either the National War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia or an extended Parliament House tour. Alternatively, you can spend the day exploring the Murrumbateman wine region, which is the excursion we chose (I’m a wine enthusiast after all!).
The morning was spent at Shaw Wines, trying a selection of their wines and wandering the grounds, which are home to a couple of alpacas.
Lunch is served at Poachers Pantry, an artisan smokehouse, cellar door, farm shop and restaurant. After a wine tasting in the beautiful garden, where we also sampled some smoked meats and smoked peaches – which tasted incredible – we headed into the restaurant for a delicious lunch of snapper fillet and Black Angus sirloin.
Another wine tasting followed lunch, this time with a fudge pairing. Something I’ve never tried before, but the combinations went remarkably well together.
We had dinner on the train for our final evening aboard the Great Southern, followed by cocktails in the bar and our last night in the bunk beds.
The Great Southern – Day 3
There are four excursion options on the final day, including the spectacular Sealy Lookout, a morning of golf and a tour with an Aboriginal guide along Urunga Boardwalk. I love learning about Aboriginal culture and the incredible knowledge the Aboriginal people have of the land and wildlife, so we chose the Urunga experience.
Our guides were Gumbaynnggirr elder, Uncle Mark Flanders and his son Matt, who led us along the 1km long Urunga boardwalk, pointing out marine life and explaining the unique ecology of the area, where the Kalang and Bellinger rivers meet.
It also happened to be market day in Urunga, so I treated myself to a colourful mat before we took a short coach to Coffs Harbour, where it was also market day. Enrico was thrilled!
Coffs Harbour has a lovely beach, great for swimming and learning to surf. We took a quick dip and then relaxed in the lovely area set up for train guests, along with a delicious fruit platter.
Lunch is served back on the train, before crossing the border into Queensland for the final stretch of the journey. We arrived in Brisbane later that evening, the end of our experience aboard the Great Southern.
We had dinner and stayed overnight in Brisbane, before flying back to Sydney the next evening There is plenty to do in the city and we enjoyed a free ride along the Brisbane River on the City Hopper, as well as shopping in the heritage-listed Brisbane Arcade before making our way to the airport.
Brisbane is also the gateway to many other destinations in Queensland, including Moreton Island, Surfers Paradise and Noosa, as well a quick flight to the Whitsundays, so it’s easy to continue your Australian adventure from here.
Our trip aboard the Great Southern totally lived up to my expectations of glamorous train travel. I loved eating dinner in the restaurant carriage, enjoying drinks at the bar and relaxing in our cabin. All my James Bond/Agatha Christie/Harry Potter fantasies were fulfilled and I definitely want to take other train trips in the future.
A Twin Gold Cabin costs from £1069 ($2059 AUD) pp. This includes all meals. fine wines, and beverages and off train experiences in the Grampians, Canberra or Murrumbateman Wine Region and Coffs Harbour. Though it’s definitely a premium product, I think when you consider everything that’s included it’s actually great value and a totally unforgettable experience.
Thanks to Journey Beyond Rail for hosting A Lovely Planet on the Great Southern.