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A couple sitting on the Great Southern train.
Photograph: Courtesy of Great Southern

Six epic overnight train journeys to take in Australia

All aboard! These lush overnight sleeper trains offer a unique way to soak up Australia’s diverse landscape

Written by
Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Whether it’s the Orient Express, Hogwarts Express or even Thomas the Tank Engine, trains are the backdrop of some of our favourite fictional stories – but they make for an even more impressive travel setting IRL.

If exploring Australia is on your bucket list (let’s face it, flights to Europe are exxy), you can’t miss the unique experience of an overnight sleeper train. Traversing every state and territory, this form of slow travel is suitable for both the young and young at heart. Plus, trains put less pressure on our environment and can allow you to hop off at your leisure (remember it’s the journey, not the destination). 

From winding through the Whitsundays and exploring the rugged red outback to getting from Melbourne to Sydney in style, we’ve rounded up the best train journeys in Australia.

Love PT? Here are the best carless day trips from Melbourne.

Overnight train journeys to take in Australia

Perhaps the most iconic and recognisable overnight train on this list, the Ghan is all about luxury. Getting its name from the first Afghan cameleers that arrived in Australia in the 19th century, the Ghan has been hosting unforgettable (and extremely Instagrammable) experiences for travellers for more than 90 years. 

Choose from four different routes travelling between Adelaide, Darwin and Alice Springs. The Ghan Expedition, a four-day all-inclusive trip running the entire length of the track, is the train’s signature line and counts itself among the world’s greatest rail journeys. All up, it costs around $3,700, but there are shorter trips starting from around $1,500 if you’re restricted on budget.

If you can pull yourself away from the top-quality service, upgrades including scenic helicopter flights and camel rides can be added to your trip, while other experiences including gorge cruises and cycling tours are included in your fare. It’s all run by Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions, the team behind the equally elegant Indian Pacific and newcomer Great Southern.

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If exploring Australia’s coastline is more your speed, the Indian Pacific will deliver you to the doorstep of cities with the best beaches in town. With three routes between Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, this sleeper train is all-inclusive, meaning that once you’ve put your suitcases away, you can sink straight into holiday mode.

If you’re in the mood to really indulge, opt for the platinum service and its stylish and spacious cabins with full-sized en suites, personalised service, access to an exclusive lounge and private transfers, adding a touch of sophistication to your journey (you’ll even get a nightcap at turndown).

The art deco Queen Adelaide restaurant serves seasonal dishes prepared by on-board chefs, while the Outback Explorer lounge is the train’s social hub, with games, books and magazines on offer. The Indian Pacific is in the same network as the Ghan, so you know you’ll be treated like royalty. Prices range from around $800 to $2,300, depending on your route.

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First embarking in 2019, the Great Southern may be newer to the sleeper train scene, but it’s quickly becoming a must-do – and for good reason. Cruising between Brisbane and Adelaide, this train line is filled with breathtaking views of Australia’s southeast (think sun-kissed beaches, rugged coastlines and buzzing cities).

The all-inclusive rail journey will set you back around $2,300 or $3,200, depending on your route, and operates throughout the summer months. It’s the more adventurous counterpart of the legendary Indian Pacific and the Ghan, with opportunities to immerse yourself in off-train experiences that are included in your fare.

You could dine under the stars at a local feast in Coffs Harbour, visit cellar doors in Australia’s oldest wine region in the Hunter Valley, and get to know Melbourne’s infamous laneways in a guided walking tour.

On board, all the comforts and elegance of parent company Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions are present, with expert service, luxe accommodation and premium dining.

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The Spirit of Queensland runs regular services from Brisbane to Cairns each week, making it a very convenient option to visit some of the state’s best destinations, including the Whitsundays, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast.

Four routes are fitted out with state-of-the-art RailBeds – plush seats that transform into single beds (think business class on an aeroplane) – with accessible options for those that need it. 

Food and beverages are served in-seat while you kick back in comfort to watch the latest blockbusters through a personalised entertainment device. Each seat comes with bed linen and an amenities pack stocked with local, ethical goods, and there’s also a galley car and showers on board.

Fares for the RailBeds start from $285, but if you’re on a budget, there are economy carriages with roomy seats (sans the beds) available.

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Think of this train line as the Spirit of Queensland’s richer aunt. Run by the same parent company, the Spirit of the Outback journeys into the heart of Queensland's rugged countryside. Services run between Brisbane and Longreach twice a week, and you can travel the full line ​or stop for a few days in the many classic Aussie towns along the way. 

Dine aboard the all-inclusive Tuckerbox restaurant, decked out with white tablecloths and serving some of Queensland’s best produce, before retiring to your own private cabin – there are single and twin options available – with bed linen, amenities, a washbasin, mirror and wardrobe. 

Fares start from $315, but if you’re wanting to spend less, the economy carriages have roomy chairs and a dedicated area for meals, snacks and beverages (plus, the view is the same).

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It might not be as glamorous, but if you don’t have cash to splash, NSW TrainLink’s sleeper class is a budget-friendly way to get around Australia.

Available on the train line’s long-distance overnight services, the twin sleeper cabins include bed linen, towels and toiletries so you can arrive at your destination feeling fresh. Plus, they’ll even throw in complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi.

Choose from overnight train trips between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle, which will set you back a couple hundred dollars or so – and while it may not be a particularly quick journey, it’s a perfect antidote to the exorbitant prices to fly across the country right now.

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