As picturesque as Australia’s coastline and islands indeed are, the vast brown sunburnt land that makes up the interior holds almost as much appeal for holidaymakers as does a cruise along the coast or around the country itself.
The nation’s largest operator of long distance rail journeys, Great Southern Rail (GSR), is extremely popular as a way of seeing the Australian outback. The company operates three well-known rail experiences in the Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth and return), The Ghan (Darwin to Adelaide and return) and The Overland (Adelaide to Melbourne and return). In recent years, GSR has recognised the popularity of cruise holidays and has designed and introduced a number of itineraries which schedule train journeys coupled with cruises.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these joint “rail and sail” holidays. Trains depart year-round on all routes and can match up with cruise itineraries on a wide variety of ships.
- The 19-day ‘Australia & New Zealand Rail & Cruise’ itinerary runs from Perth to Auckland and begins with a flight to the WA capital. Boarding the Indian Pacific from Perth, guests embark on the train journey to Sydney, where they will spend two days in the NSW capital before boarding a ship for a 12-day one-way cruise around the southern tip of New Zealand, arriving in Auckland. The itinerary can be reversed to see the cruise taken first.
- Alternatively, the 22-day ‘Australia’s Great Circumnavigation Discovery’ holiday begins in Sydney and includes a flight from Brisbane or Melbourne. Guests board the Indian Pacific for the journey across to Perth, and after a few days in the WA capital, board a cruise ship for a 12-day Top End cruise which also visits Lombok, Indonesia and a number of other ports as it travels down the Queensland coast. Guests can disembark in Brisbane if their ship allows, however a flight or XPT train home from Sydney is also included if needed.
- There’s even a tour option which affords a chance to include a taste of Asia with a train journey on The Ghan. The 20-day trip begins in Sydney and includes a flight from Adelaide or Melbourne to the NSW capital. After a 12-day cruise from Sydney to Singapore, guests then board a plane for Darwin for one night before boarding The Ghan for a three-day trip to Adelaide before flying home. A very similar itinerary is available cruising from Perth.
Great Southern Rail reports that itineraries are largely sold out for the upcoming 2016/17 season, however opportunities for the 2017/18 season are available and now on sale. More Australians are opting to take cruises first before flying back to take a train journey, which means you may find better availability by opting for your rail component to come first.
Onboard the train, much like cruise ships, guests receive all meals as part of a regional menu showcasing regionally grown produce sourced directly from the small towns in which the train stops. Standard beers, wines and soft drinks are also included throughout the journey. Guests doing the complete cruise and rail itinerary also enjoy an increased luggage allowance and of course, all off-train excursions during the journey are included as well.
Different excursions are offered depending on the direction you are travelling, however each are unique and give passengers a real snapshot into life in some of the more remote, regional and even city locations along the route.
Stops in both directions on The Ghan include Katherine and Alice Springs, while northbound you’ll also stop in the remote town of Marla, while either Marguri or Coober Pedy may be part of any southbound journey. Excursions include a Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise, a visit to a cattle station, scenic walks or for an surcharge, guests can take a scenic flight or ride a camel.
Between Sydney and Perth on the Indian Pacific, the train stops in the Western NSW town of Broken Hill, Adelaide and Rawlinna in WA. Off-train excursions include a visit to the Pro Hart Gallery among other tours which showcase Australian mining history, a trip to the Barossa Valley from Adelaide and an outback roast dinner in the ultra-remote WA town of Rawlinna.
All of the above itineraries can be undertaken in both directions, with one-way cruises taking place at either end of the cruise season in order to fit in with ship repositioning schedules. Due to the highly customised and variable itineraries that need to be put together for each passenger, as well as the limited availability that comes through needing to match up rail and cruise schedules, prices per person can vary.