The Ghan or Indian Pacific or Great Southern: Which should you choose?
The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and the Great Southern are all iconic train journeys. But which of these Journey Beyond Australian train trips is the best? It all depends on your interests, itinerary and overall travel budget. We have done all of these iconic Australian train journeys. Perhaps surprisingly given all of these trips are operated by the same company, Journey Beyond Rail, each of these train journeys is quite different. Here’s our guide to whether you should choose The Ghan or the Indian Pacific or the Great Southern, based on your interests, budget and the time you have available to do the trip.
The Ghan or Indian Pacific or Great Southern: Which route
The Ghan travels from Adelaide to Darwin, via Alice Springs, in two nights. From May to October, there is also a three night journey which includes a stop at Coober Pedy and time to visit Uluru. You can also travel on The Ghan for one night, from Darwin to Alice Springs or Alice Springs to Adelaide. The Indian Pacific travels between Perth, Adelaide and Sydney on a 4,352km transcontinental crossing across the bottom of Australia. The longest trip from Sydney to Perth takes three nights, there’s a two night journey from Adelaide to Perth and a one night journey from Sydney to Adelaide.
The Great Southern train takes you along the east coast of Australia from Brisbane to Adelaide on a three night trip or from Adelaide to Brisbane, a journey which only takes two nights. As the two Great Southern itineraries are different, some passengers do both back-to-back which creates a week long trip once you factor in one night at a hotel between train trips while the Great Southern is cleaned and restocked for the next lot of passengers.
The Ghan or Great Southern or Indian Pacific: Passenger age
In the past Australia’s iconic train trips had the reputation as a ‘must do’ for older travellers. However, these days they are simply a ‘must do’. You’ll find solo travellers, couples and groups of friends onboard all three trains. The Ghan attracts younger travellers as there are active excursions available at each stop such as camel riding and hiking trips, in addition to the usual coach tours around town. The average passenger age is mid 50s, but travellers in their late 20s and early 30s are not uncommon.
The Indian Pacific tends to attract the most mature clientele. There is quite a bit of time spent on the train which makes this journey ideal for travellers who are less mobile. Some excursions such as the dinner at Rawlinna are located a short walk from the train. The Great Southern has an average passenger age of mid 60s. Most are Australian couples who have travelled on one of Journey Beyond’s other train trips. With a focus on dinners, lunches and wine tasting, even the most active tours involve little more than walking.
Indian Pacific or Great Southern or The Ghan: Onboard atmosphere
One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in the lounge (bar) car. The atmosphere is cosy and convivial rather than boozy, the chairs are comfy and the scenery is superb. If you enjoy spending time on the train and socialising, the Indian Pacific is your best choice as the trip between Adelaide and Perth includes a whole day on the train and plenty of time to chat.
Great Southern or The Ghan or Indian Pacific: What to wear
While people do tend to put on something a little more dressy for dinner, the mood on the train is casual and relaxed. T-shirts, shorts and cargo pants are common during the day. In the evening, gents tend to wear a collared shirt and dress shorts or long pants while ladies opt for a pretty sundress or slacks and a blouse. High heels are best avoided due to the movement of the train.
The Ghan or Great Southern or Indian Pacific: Packing tips
Cabins on The Ghan, the Great Southern and the Indian Pacific are compact and even the most extensive trip isn’t that long. There is a small wardrobe but nowhere to store a suitcase. You will be much more comfortable in your cabin if you check your large bag with the Journey Beyond staff before you get on the train and bring a small day bag or carry on for the train journey.
Indian Pacific or The Ghan or Great Southern: Which cabin should you choose
The carriages on all three trains are exactly the same and your fare includes accommodation, all-inclusive fine food and wine and stunning scenery. Passengers can choose from four different cabin types. Whatever category of cabin you stay in, the food is virtually identical, even if you are dining in the Platinum Class dining car. Most expensive are the Platinum Cabins which have a separate lounge seating area, a table and two ottomans. These are almost twice the size of the standard Gold Twin Cabins. Gold Twin cabins have a compact en suite with toilet, washbasin and shower and twin bunk beds. If you can’t agree on who should get the bottom bunk, flip for it in the bar over a drink.
The Ghan does have a few Double Gold cabins. However, the bed in these is very small. Unless you and your partner are slim, you will probably be just as comfortable in a twin cabin with bunk beds. Single Gold Class sleeper cabins are compact and have a bed that converts to a seat by day. Shared shower/toilet facilities with a large modern tiled shower, excellent water pressure and brand name toiletries are available at the end of the carriage.
The Ghan or Indian Pacific or Great Southern: Sleeping
The Journey Beyond trains aren’t high tech speed machines like a TGV so you need to expect some stopping and starting, and rocking and rolling. No matter which journey you choose, the first night is going to be the roughest as this is when the trains traverse the roughest sections of track. Don’t worry if you sleep badly on the first night. Most travellers find it easier to sleep on the second night of the journey after they get used to the train’s rocking motion and the tracks become smoother.
The Ghan or Great Southern or Indian Pacific: Excursions
A selection of excursions on The Ghan, Great Southern and Indian Pacific are included in the cost of your fare. These range from bus tours to nature walks, cruises, city tours and food and wine experiences. Additional excursions are also available at an ‘add on’ cost, such as camel riding in Alice Springs and a helicopter trip over the gorge at Katherine.
The Ghan or Indian Pacific or Great Southern: Dining
You will find identical Queen Adelaide Restaurant dining cars on every Journey Beyond train. This restaurant has tables for four and serves breakfast, a two-course lunch and three-course dinner. Menus focus on regional flavours and produce from the surrounding area. Native ingredients such as kangaroo, saltbush and wild rosella also feature, offering a delicious taste of Australia.
On The Ghan and the Indian Pacific, your cabin attendant will tell you what time your lunch and dinner bookings are each day. These can be early or quite late, such as 2.15pm for lunch. If you have a preference make sure you get in early with your request to change your booking. Breakfast is free seating so you can come in whenever you are ready to eat, anytime before 10am. On the Great Southern, most meals are enjoyed off the train so you only need to reserve a time for dinner. It’s best to do this on the day you board so you get your preferred time.
The Ghan versus Indian Pacific versus Great Southern: Which train is the best?
This is the one question I can’t answer for you as it depends what you’re looking for so I’ve created a handy guide with mini Journey Beyond Rail reviews for each train to help you decide.
The Indian Pacific Train Overview
Indian Pacific Pros:
Includes the chance to cross the Nullarbor Plain
Plenty of time for gazing out the window and enjoying the view
Alternate arrival and departure cities and journey lengths available
Indian Pacific Cons:
Passengers come and go regularly during the journey
Long days spent on the train could be ‘boring’ for some travellers
Some stops are in the ‘middle of nowhere’ with nothing much to do
Indian Pacific is Best For:
Lovers of train travel and those who enjoy scenic journeys
The Ghan Train Overview
The Ghan Pros:
Great choice of active and relaxing excursions
Longer Ghan Expedition itinerary includes time to see Uluru
Alternate arrival and departure cities and journey lengths available
The Ghan Cons:
Darwin and Adelaide aren’t considered ‘must see’ cities by many travellers
Off train excursions can be extremely hot in the warmer months
Some must do excursions are not included in the fare
The Ghan is Best For:
Active travellers who enjoy travelling by train and seeing the sights
The Great Southern Train Overview
Great Southern Pros:
Excursions visit some of Australia’s best food and wine regions
Choice of two completely different journeys which can be combined
One of Australia’s newest luxury rail journeys
Great Southern Cons:
Train only runs a few months each year
Long days spent touring can be tiring for older passengers
Focus on food and wine may not suit some travellers
The Great Southern is Best For:
Food and wine lovers who enjoy socialising and unique travel experiences
Each of these train trips celebrate the scenery, cuisine and culture that makes Australia unique. Whether you choose to travel on The Ghan, the Indian Pacific or the Great Southern, it’s a memorable journey.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of the operators.
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