Australia by train 

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One of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious rail journeys is in Australia. After flying to Perth, hop aboard the Indian Pacific to explore more of the country together.

By: Ben Mack, Images: Journey Beyond

As the red-lipped sky begins opening, so too do one’s eyes. At first, there are the colours of sunrise to take in: vibrant shades of pink, orange, red and lavender, swirling together and seeming to glow. They grow brighter, transforming into a brilliant blue the colour of sapphires. 

Next comes the landscape: a swirling palette of gold, red, orange, yellow, brown and green, stretching as far as the eyes can see, like a gigantic carpet whose pattern never repeats. Mostly flat, there are little, prickly bushes, looking like anemones on the seafloor. In the distance loom dark shapes that, looking closer, are huge, craggy rocks. 

Finally, attention returns to the vantage point from which one can see such stunning scenery – gazing out a large window aboard a train. 

About the size of the continental United States, Australia is a vast country and it’s not all red, dusty Outback and white sand beaches (though there’s plenty of both). To take in some of the diverse landscapes, and possibly spot only-in-Australia wildlife like iconic, hopping kangaroos, one of the best ways is by rail. 

The Indian Pacific

You can take trains all across Australia. There are many options but perhaps no train journey is as epic as the Indian Pacific. 

Beginning in Perth near the shores of the Indian Ocean and ending at the Pacific Ocean in Sydney, hence the name, the Indian Pacific crosses 4 352 kilometres of wide-open countryside, wilderness, cityscapes, and of course the legendary, enormous Outback. ​​Taking you back to a time when trains were how many people travelled across Australia, the journey usually takes 4-5 days. 

Operated year-round by Journey Beyond, there is thankfully no worry about bringing enough food and drinks because tickets are all-inclusive. This also includes not having to worry about where to sleep. 

Gold and Platinum class cabins are available in full (suitable for two people) or twin (ideal for one person) bed configurations. By day, the cabins are a space to sit and relax, and watch the scenery go by. When the sun goes down, enjoy the soft beds for a restful (and surprisingly quiet) night’s sleep. Or stay up and watch the stars – sometimes there can be so many it looks like someone’s spilt sparkling glitter across the dark sky. 

Gold single passengers, ideal if travelling solo, share bathrooms at the end of a train carriage. Gold twin passengers, the most popular cabin class, have private ensuites. Platinum cabins have private ensuites, too. But Platinum cabins are also almost twice the size of a Gold twin cabin, with complimentary Australian-made toiletries. 

No matter which class you travel, the views are awe-inspiring. From huge windows, you can see sprawling red Outback landscapes, lush green forests, blue ribbons of river, and wildlife. And, yes, you might see kangaroos hopping about. 

You don’t just have to see the scenery and its changing colours go by either; you can experience off-train excursions usually included in a ticket.  

Awe inspiring experiences 

One of the most interesting experiences comes on one of the first days travelling from Perth. The Indian Pacific pulls in just as sunrise unfolds across Kalgoorlie, Australia’s largest outback town. Hopping aboard a coach (there are short walks, too), it’s a chance to delve into the mining town’s rich history, including visiting the Super Pit gold mine. When gold was discovered there in 1893, it kicked off one of Australia’s largest gold rushes. 

Another experience comes while traversing the vast, arid Nullarbor Plain—the kind of huge, almost treeless area many people picture when they think of Australia. The almost ghost town of Cook has a population that can be counted on one hand. After exploring its streets comes a roaring late-night bonfire and stargazing; again, the number of stars you can see on a journey, which is smooth throughout, almost defies description. 

Some experiences are more focused on some of your other senses. The rolling hills of the world-renowned Barossa Valley wine region near Adelaide in South Australia offers a chance to walk among rows of green vines and sip award-winning white and red wines right where they’re produced. 

The experience includes dining in the vintage cellar of Seppeltsfield Winery. Curated by Executive Chef Owen Andrews, it highlights regional produce and ingredients. Platinum guests can even sip 100-year-old Tawny port, made from red grapes and aged for all those years in wooden barrels. 

Delicious delights

Not that the food and drink on board the train is any less spectacular. Breakfast might include grilled eye bacon and country-style beef chipolata. You could opt for scrambled eggs on smoked trout, served on toasted rye sourdough with grilled tomato and spinach. Or you could even go with a curry made from camel with Afghani rice pilaf, minted yoghurt, and pappadum.  

Lunches and dinners are typically multi-course affairs. An entrée can be carrot and coriander soup, or duck and green peppercorn pate. This can be followed by a main course of slow-cooked beef or roasted pork tenderloin with native herbs, or for a vegetarian option roasted heirloom baby carrots with Yorke Peninsula lentils. Lastly, desserts might be fresh strawberries and cream, ginger and pear pudding, or a selection of local cheeses like Section 28 Mont Rouge. 

Not only are there many choices for what to eat, but also where to eat. The Queen Adelaide Restaurant is the main dining carriage for passengers. Its Art Deco décor recalls a glamourous, bygone era of train travel. 

The Outback Explorer Lounge is also glamourous, with large, plush couches. Known as the train’s social hub, here you can sample beers, Australian wines, soft drinks, spirits and coffee and tea, read a book from the onboard library, play a board game, or simply enjoy the views from breakfast to late evening. Platinum passengers can also enjoy the Platinum Club, with quartzite tabletops, wood flooring, brass fittings, and leather seats in light colours. 

With so much to see and do, a journey can be as action-packed or peaceful as desired. But pulling into the station and coming to a final stop in Sydney, it can be surprising how quickly days go by—so quickly there’s a temptation to stay on board and ride in the other direction back to Perth. 

Getting there

SAA flies between Perth and Johannesburg seven days a week. Visit flysaa.com 

Tickets for the Indian Pacific can be booked at journeybeyondrail.com.au. You can check-in for the train at the station 2 hours prior to departure. Check-in closes 1 hour before departure. The train usually departs from Perth at 10am on Sundays. From January 2025, it’s supposed to depart at 4:30pm on Saturdays.

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