Ding, ding, ding! Welcome aboard! Calling all passengers who want to ride the rails back in time and explore Australia’s iconic scenery. Google always returns the luxury Ghan and the Indian Pacific when you search for Australian Railways. However, these high-priced excursions should not overshadow Australia’s other historic rail journeys. International tourists miss out on because they have never heard of them. So there you have it!
Aurora Australis By Vintage Rail Journeys, Sydney, NSW
Train travel in Australia to the other side of the continent is not for everyone. An alternative is Vintage Rail Journeys that leaves and returns to Sydney’s Central Station via roughly circular routes.
The Aurora Australis only moves during the day. After dark, the train slows down so that passengers can sleep without being jolted awake.
The train is called Aurora Australis, but the carriages are from the Southern Aurora, which ran from 1962 to 1986 as a first-class overnight sleeper service between Sydney and Melbourne. The 1960s vintage cabins were built in the 1950s American style and featured original 1930s Art Deco light fixtures.
Walhalla Goldfields Railway, Walhalla, Victoria – Vintage Australian Railways
Walhalla is located two hours east of Melbourne. Thousands of miners lived in this town during the 1860s, making it one of Australia’s richest. The number of tourists now outnumbers the number of locals. Tourists visit the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine or stroll through the Victorian-era town, which has a band rotunda, Mechanics Institute, and a hillside cemetery so steep that some of the 1,100 corpses are said to have been buried standing up. This is the best train travel in Australia.
This heritage experience includes the Walhalla Goldfields Railways. Six trestle bridges connect the route to Swingler Creek, which cascades below. The track is extremely steep, but the small diesel locomotive handles it with ease. The return journey takes about an hour.
Gulflander, Normanton, Queensland
The Gulflander is a shake, rattle, and roll experience that train enthusiasts adore. Passengers travel through frontier country from Normanton, near the Gulf of Carpentaria, to the inland town of Croydon via a 10-hour bus ride or a short flight from Cairns.
The five-hour journey passes through coolabah trees, kangaroos, massive cattle stations, wooded savannah, grassland, and creek crossings with dangerous floodwater markers. The Guflander stops to drop off mail and waits patiently for cattle herds to cross the track.
Puffing Billy, Melbourne, Victoria – Vintage Australian Railways
Puffing Billy is a century-old steam train that chuggs through the Dandenong Ranges’ fern gullies and forests. Originally serving the local farming community, this railway is now a popular tourist attraction thanks to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. This is one of the most stunning train travel in Australia.
Seating is provided in open-sided carriages. The scenery is breathtaking, and the excitement is palpable as Puffing Billy crosses trestle bridges, brushes past towering ferns, billows smoke, and whistles. Everyone who sees him gives him a wave.
Walking trails in the area’s temperate rainforest are among the stops. Picnic or visit one of the area’s famous English or German-style tea shops.
The Savannahlander, Cairns, Queensland
The Savannahlander is a classic railmotor from the 1960s. The famous Kuranda Scenic Railway track winds through the rainforest past waterfalls before entering the Gulf Savannah region — “The Outback” — for the first part of the journey from Cairns. Excursions to the Chillagoe Caves, Cobbold Gorge, and the Undara Lava Tubes are included in the four-day itinerary. The destination is the historic gold mining town of Forsayth.
The Savannallander has a silver bullet-inspired art deco muzzle and plain round lines. The carriage interior exudes first-class period opulence, with dark polished wood, green leather seats, casement windows, and antique-style baggage racks. The large windows provide excellent views. There is no air conditioning, as is customary for the era.
This authentic outback experience is not to be confused with a formal tour. There is no assigned seating, and the motorail picks up locals who may be traveling to a few stations. There are two carriages with no separation between the driver and the passengers. He’s up front at the controls, but close enough to talk. Passengers can ride shotgun next to him in turns.
West Coast Wilderness Railway, Queenstown, Tasmania
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a recreation of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company, which was established in the late 1800s to transport ore from Queenstown to the coast at Strahan.
This one-of-a-kind railway journey through ancient rainforest includes gold panning, rainforest walks, and one of the steepest tracks in the southern hemisphere. Guides tell stories about the difficulties encountered during the railway’s construction.
Multiple awards have been bestowed upon the train travel in Australia, including Tasmania’s Best Tourist Attraction and an Engineering Heritage International Marker for its global engineering significance. While not cheap, the Wilderness Package includes train balcony access, sparkling wine, and a delicious and never-ending array of snacks and lunch. The scenery is the same in the less expensive carriages. Tourists frequently mention this train ride as one of the highlights of their trip to Tasmania.
Pichi Richi, Quorn, South Australia – Vintage Australian Railways
The Flinders Ranges, which formed 800 million years ago in South Australia, provide an outback spectacle of jagged peaks and rocky gorges.
Discover this timeless beauty on the Pichi Richi Railway, a historic railway line that has been operating as a working museum since 1973.