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All aboard the Christmas train across the outback

Guest blogger Tash McGill got to ride along courtesy of Great Southern Rail. All Aboard!


The famous Christmas Train Trip is a 4-day journey from Sydney to Perth, stopping at outback communities and jumping off to provide some good ol’ Aussie entertainment.

Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific snakes through the desert

I can’t count the number of times I’ve leapt off a long-haul flight to take a short train trip into the city I’ve just arrived in – but I’ve never taken a short flight to board a long-haul train trip.

The Indian Pacific is an iconic train journey that will stretch 4 days and some 4300kms across Australia’s iconic Nullabor Plain from Sydney to Perth. It’s counted as one of the world’s great train journeys and since I was raised on novels that made trains seem the most romantic, adventurous and timeless ways to travel, I was all abuzz as I arrived at Central Station in Sydney. It was early December and the station was decked out in full Christmas splendor, replete with carols, musicians and Australian songbird Jessica Mauboy, who will be joining us, performing on the platform for a flock of school kids waiting for Santa to emerge from the train.

It’s really a brilliant concept – the Indian Pacific stretches across some of the most deserted and wild landscape in Australia, so for the last ten years or so each Christmas an Australian musician or two has boarded the train to perform Christmas shows (with Santa in tow) across the route, stopping in some of the smallest, yet crucial stops along the journey. All along the way, local kids come out to see the show, to sing supporting carols and to see Santa (of course). I was feeling extremely lucky to be along for my first real epic train adventure!

Indian Pacific lounge

The Outback Explorer Lounge

The Indian Pacific was launched in 1970, and stepping aboard feels like time-warping to a simpler, but somehow more opulent era. Out with minimalism, the Queen Adelaide restaurant car where we shared all our meals held comfy booths alongside big picture windows, ornate furnishings and filigree embellishments. The Outback Explorer lounge is a little more casual but full of sofas and club chairs positioned for enjoying the landscape. The bar has a good selection of Australian beers and wines, plus coffee and snacks. We spent most of our first day here, getting to know the other guests and sharing a few laughs. In many ways it reminded me of a glamorous school camp for grownups, without the awkward icebreakers!

Pulling out of the station at Sydney, headed for Perth via Adelaide we enjoyed an fantastic meal (there are two chefs on board for each restaurant car) featuring unique Australian cuisine, great cheeses and quality Aussie wines (suck it up NZ, they do a great drop over here). The gentle rocking of the carriages was pleasant and not a drop of wine or coffee splashed on the white tablecloths as we bustled along the tracks.

Indian Pacific

The comfy cabin

It’s amazing where conversations with strangers will lead you – but in this instance, bathrooms and toilet facilities were a matter of fascination with those onboard, especially as for many of us, it was our first long-haul train journey.

I was also curious and pleasantly surprised by just how comfortable the Gold Sleeper cabins were. A long sofa by day, with a small table and ample nooks to hideaway reading material and the small bits and pieces, was converted by staff into a made-up bed while we dined. Complete with chocolate on the pillow, the bed was absolutely comfortable and cosy. The wardrobe is just big enough for a few days clothes to be hung or stowed (you can check larger luggage too) and behind the door with full length mirror – there it was! I was lucky enough to be in one of the recently renovated carriages and my bathroom (really a toilet/shower cubicle) was sparkling white, well-lit and appointed with stainless steel fittings, plenty of white towels and delicious smelling toiletries. (No airline toilet this one!) The shower curtain simply pulled around and over the vanity while bathing and the water was always hot and had great pressure. As it turns out, bathrooms really are a big deal and mine became quite the tourist destination for some of the other journalists on board over the week.

Top 3 Tips for travelling on the Indian Pacific:

– Flying into Sydney International Airport, take the airport train to Central Station directly from the Terminal. About 15min & $15 one way.
– Pack light, with a warm layer for cooler night stops along the way. The train is air-conditioned so very comfortable during the day.
– You can travel by seat, Red Sleeper (single berth cabin), Gold or Platinum class depending on the level of service you require. The train is a functional passenger/commuter train with a wide range of services available onboard.

Read Tash’s final rugged leg here on the Christmas Train >>>

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!