THE ROMANCE OF RAIL – Australia08/02/2012
THE ROMANCE OF RAIL – Australia
By Dennis and Rosamund Knill
Our itinerary makes it sound blissfully easy, perhaps a little too easy. Maybe something a bit more challenging than six leisurely days on a train is called for.
Arriving at the Roma Road Station in Brisbane, the long sleek silver train is awaiting us. There’s an infectious buzz as passengers struggle with their luggage and excitement to board the Southern Spirit. The smartly attired ground crew takes care of our luggage and Maria, hospitality manager, escorts us along the corridor to our cabin, our mobile accommodation until we reach Adelaide.
We’re travelling platinum class, made-up of two carriages each with five self-contained luxury cabins. The rest of the train is gold class, seven carriages each with eight cabins. Considering the space limitations our cabin is comfortable and well equipped. We’re impressed with its compact design, space is king and no surface is wasted.
Our first glance over our cabin comes with a positive approval. A cosy sofa by day that unfolds to a double-bed by night, wardrobes, ottoman, foot stools, writing desk and picture windows to take in a wide sweep of the countryside. A full ensuite with a separate shower, toiletries and fluffy white towels, but no hair dryer or bath robes!
On cue, 10 a.m. and we begin to crank our way out of the CBD towards Byron Bay. Even a well known city like Brisbane can become a stranger from a window of a train. Rattling through the dreary back streets we’re fascinated by the endless graffiti-splattered backyards rarely seen by road.
It’s almost lunchtime but first a briefing in the lounge car by Gary, the train manager, followed by a welcoming glass of champagne. After lunch some passengers return to the privacy of their cabins while others take the opportunity to meet and greet one another, an essential ingredient for making new friends and dining companions for the many meals ahead.
Long distance trains commonly travel non-stop, but Southern Spirit is a no rush journey. The distances travelled each day aren’t huge and so that passengers can enjoy the bright landscapes and have a good night’s sleep the train is parked at a siding each evening. Early morning starts riding the rails at an unhurried pace for a few hours before our daily whistle-stop tour.
Dinner comes at a good moment with a choice of two sittings. We opt for the second, you can linger over coffee and there’s no rush to vacate the dining car. We’re curious to learn how the chefs cope with preparing 3-course meals on a moving train and within a galley the size of an average pantry. The menu includes saltwater Barramundi, Tasmanian salmon, beef, lamb and chicken and vegetarian dishes complimented with a good selection of high-end wines. To the chefs credit not a single dish was repeated over the journey.
We breathe in the scenery as we power our way towards Casino, the first of many stopovers, with a tour to the Byron Bay lighthouse to photograph the awe-inspiring seascapes and golden sand beaches that we don’t have time to visit. Instead we have an early dinner at an Italian restaurant before returning to the train.
Mornings are announced by a tap at the door and a cup of tea. The chatter begins before 7am and by the time breakfast starts the train is well and truly alive. Time to stretch the legs with a brief stop at Coffs Harbour and then on to Wauchope Station, disembarking for another coach tour to Port Macquarie to explore the shipwreck trail and historic sites before relaxing on a 2-hour private cruise up the Hastings River.
The next day brings an early wake up call so that we can enjoy most of the day at Hunter Valley one of Australia’s premier wine regions and home to the famous “Gardens”. Spread over 16 hectares, almost 2 million trees and shrubs have been planted around 8km of walking paths.
On our arrival into Dubbo the train disappears to another siding and new drivers take over. We leave the train for a chance to roam around Taronga Western Zoo, one of the world’s finest open plain sanctuaries and a vital link to breeding of rare and endangered species.
Our adventure continues the next day as we head full steam for Albury-Wodonga and another whirlwind coach tour. This time to explore the historic town centres, the mighty Hume Dam, the War Memorial and a visit to the wineries of Rutherglen.
The final day and we pull into Stawell for our last coach tour to the Grampians, acclaimed for its rugged mountains spectacular waterfalls and aborigine rock art before joining a didgeridoo workshop and cultural talk at the Brambuk Aborigine Centre.
Arriving into Adelaide we photograph ourselves, say our goodbyes and scribble our email addresses on scraps of paper. A few steps and we’re off the train. Looking back we see Maria and Gary waving to us, we smile and wave back. For them it’s been just another week in the office, for us perhaps best aptly summed-up by a fellow passenger from Melbourne “bloody brilliant mate!”
Getting there: Air New Zealand fly from Auckland to Brisbane twice daily and to Adelaide five times a week. Air New Zealand Holidays 0800 747 222
Further information: Contact Rail Plus, Freephone 0800 801 060 or www.greatsouthernrail.com.au
Dennis and Rosamund Knill were assisted by Air New Zealand and Great Southern Rail