Riding the Rails: 7 train journeys to take in Queensland before you die
Queensland has long known the benefits of covering vast distances on the rails, with train journeys providing a fantastic way of seeing the countryside as you travel in comfort.13
From the coast to the outback, the landscapes slip by as you roll towards your destination – and in some cases, there are equally interesting short train journeys to help you explore when you get there.
Here are 7 iconic rail journeys to take before you die.
Spirit of Queensland
Travelling between Brisbane and Cairns five times a week, the Spirit of Queensland is a modern rail experience with a comfortable and convenient way to arrive at a range of holiday destinations along the route, including the Whitsundays and Townsville.
The 1681 km journey takes 24 hours and is the only Queensland long-distance train with lie-flat rail-beds. As the coastal scenery rolls by, the Spirit of Queensland offers a licenced Club Car and dining options.
Spirit of the Outback
Alternatively, you can join the train at Rockhampton on Wednesday or Sunday. The trip takes about 25 hours from Brisbane or 14 hours from Rockhampton. Highlights of a visit to Longreach are the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum.
The Westlander travels from Brisbane across the Great Dividing Range through the lush green countryside of the Darling Downs, and on to the Outback town of Charleville, famed for its stargazing (make sure you visit the Cosmos Centre and Observatory).
The 777km trip takes about 17 hours, leaving Brisbane on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:15pm, and returning the following day with a 6:15pm departure. The only drawback here is that there are no sleepers on this night-time train; airline-style reclining seats do the trick.
The 977km journey takes 21 hours, travelling through the old gold rush town of Charters Towers and across the Great Dividing Range. Fall asleep in your reclining seat, and wake up to the red earth landscapes of the outback, before alighting to explore life underground and the world of fossils and dinosaurs at Outback at Isa.
If you are staying a few days hit Mout Isa like a local with this guide.
Affectionately known as the “Tin Hare”, the Gulflander is a half-day journey covering the 152km between Normanton (celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2018) and Croydon, through some of Queensland’s most remote, inaccessible, and diverse countryside — from wetlands and grasslands to arid Savannah country.
Opened in 1891 to connect Normanton to the rich Croydon goldfields, the heritage-listed line has never been linked to the main Queensland Rail network. It leaves Normanton on Wednesdays at 8:30am and arrives in Croydon 4 or 5 hours later. It turns around for the return journey on Thursday at the same time.
A Savannah Guide accompanies each journey, with lots of interesting stops along the way, side excursions, and time to explore the Normanton railway station.
This classic 1960s rail motor takes four days to travel through the remote heart of the Gulf country between Cairns and Forsayth. You can also do shorter day trips, joining the train at various points along the way. The “Silver Bullet” travels up the Kuranda range, then turns west for the tiny settlements of Almaden, Einsleigh, Mount Surprise, and Forsayth.
The pace is leisurely and the driver will even stop the train to point out things along the way. Attractions include the old mining village of Chillagoe, Tullaroo Hot Springs, the Undara lava tubes, and stunning Cobbold Gorge. The train runs between early March and mid-December, depending on weather and track conditions.
If you are jumping off to spend 48 hours exploring Cobbold Gorge use this handy guide.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Built by hand in the 1880s, the 34km Kuranda Scenic Railway rates as one of the world’s top scenic rail journeys. Snaking through the magnificent Barron Gorge National Park and through 15 tunnels, the train takes 90 minutes to travel from Cairns to Kuranda, with stops along the way and a full commentary.
Kuranda station, which is adorned with baskets of ferns, is a short walk from the village. The return trip in the afternoon allows plenty of time to explore its many attractions. Treat yourself to a bit of luxury, upgrade to Gold Class, which includes snacks, drinks and waiter service.
For a true trip back in time, Queensland has several day-tour steam trains.
The Southern Downs Steam Railway operates once a month, offering a range of tours from Warwick to Clifton, Hendon, Wheatvale, Wallangarra and Stanthorpe, including a mystery winery tour. The Jumpers & Jazz express is a special event in July.
The Mary Valley Rattler, currently under restoration, will be chugging back to life soon to once again travel through the picturesque Mary Valley on the northen end of the Sunshine Coast. Meanwhile, free tours of historic Gympie station run every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am where you will learn the stories of the Mary Valley line, its people and its history.