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Travelling on the Great Southern train takes you along the east coast of Australia from Brisbane to Adelaide (3 nights) or Adelaide to Brisbane (2 nights) on a trip that is set to become one of Australia’s great train journeys. Highlights of travelling on the Great Southern include the comfort of a private cabin, stunning scenery, fabulous food and wine (both on and off the train) and the all-inclusive nature of the trip. This Journey Beyond Australia train trip is ideal for foodies and travellers who don’t want to spend too much time onboard and are more interested in getting out and about and seeing the sights. Unlike the Indian Pacific, which involves long periods of train travel, the trip on the Great Southern is mostly spent off the train exploring the regions the train is visiting.

Great Southern train
Journey Beyond’s Great Southern

When to travel on the Great Southern

It is only possible to travel on the Great Southern from December to January each year. The Great Southern uses the same carriages as The Ghan and operates when it is too hot for The Ghan to travel through central Australia.

Great Southern average passenger age

On our trip from Brisbane to Adelaide, the average age was early sixties, with plenty of older and younger travellers as well. Most were Australian couples who had travelled on one of Journey Beyond’s other train trips. If you aren’t particularly mobile, the Great Southern is better than The Ghan which offers more active excursions. The Indian Pacific features plenty of time on the train which is enjoyable for less mobile travellers.

Wine & Waterfront excursion on the Great Southern
Wine & Waterfront Excursion

Great Southern onboard atmosphere

One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in the lounge (bar) car. Passengers tend to be well-travelled and excellent company with plenty of interesting tales to tell. Even if you don’t fancy a drink, the lounge car is a lovely spot to read or chat with like minded fellow travellers. We spent a lot of time enjoying the company of new found friends in the lounge car on the Great Southern.

Great Southern
Chatting in the Lounge Car

What to wear on the Great Southern

While most passengers do tend to put on something a little dressier for dinner when they’re on the train, the overall mood onboard is casual and relaxed. T-shirts, shorts, jeans and cargo pants are common during the day as passengers have often either returned from or are about to go on excursions and don’t always have time to change. When it comes to dinner on the train, it’s smart casual rather than dressy. 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. As some of the off-train lunches and dinners also involve a day of touring, casual dress tends to be the norm for dining off the train. High heels are best avoided completely due to the train’s movement and because you sometimes need to walk over grass and other uneven surfaces at the off-train dinners.

Final night dinner on Great Southern train journey
Keeping it casual at the Wine & Waterfront dinner

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Great Southern train trip Wine & Waterfront dinner
Wine & Waterfront dinner menu

Brisbane and Adelaide on the Great Southern

It is worth adding a couple of days onto your trip to explore the cities the Great Southern arrives and departs from. Brisbane and Adelaide are two of Australia’s unsung capitals with plenty of wonderful activities on offer. Brisbane has fabulous things to do along the beautiful Brisbane River and plenty of Brisbane markets to explore. You can go swimming and dine out at South Bank or check out Brisbane’s best museums and galleries.

Kayaking on the Brisbane River

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy Brisbane as there some terrific free Brisbane activities. If you would like to venture further afield, there are some enjoyable day trips from Brisbane too. Want to know more? We have written an Ultimate Guide to Brisbane to highlight some of the fabulous things to see and do in our home town.

Noosa beach
Spend a day at Noosa

In Adelaide, you can spend an enjoyable day touring the city’s many galleries and parks or take a day trip to McLaren Vale and experience this region’s sensational wines and stunning natural scenery. A night at the historic Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide shouldn’t be missed.

Beautiful McLaren Vale

Great Southern packing tips

Cabins on the Great Southern are compact and the trip isn’t that long. There is a small wardrobe but nowhere to store a suitcase so it’s best to check your large bag and just bring a carry on for the train journey. Checked bags are made available for collection at your final destination.

Great Southern departure from Brisbane

If you are departing from Brisbane, your journey begins at the historic Customs House in the city. You complete check in formalities there and your checked luggage is tagged before you get on the bus to travel to the train. Don’t arrive too early at Customs House as the buses don’t leave until after 9am. We arrived at 7.15am as recommended on our boarding documents and it was far too early.

Great Southern train journey check in
Arriving at Customs House
Great Southern train welcome drinks
Enjoy a welcome drink

The train is too large to fit at Roma Street station so it departs from an industrial rail freight terminal at Acacia Ridge. It takes around 25 minutes for the coaches to travel from Customs House to the Great Southern. If you are staying close to Acacia Ridge or simply don’t want to bother travelling into the city on a Monday morning, it is possible for Great Southern passengers to board the train at the Acacia Ridge freight terminal.

Direction of travel on the Great Southern

This won’t be an issue for everyone but if you are prone to motion sickness, or simply don’t like ‘going backwards’ on trains, request a forward facing cabin when you book. When I travelled on The Ghan I didn’t know this and ended up in a backwards facing cabin. Like many others in the same situation, I tried to switch cabins but not everyone was successful (myself included). For my trip on the Great Southern, I contacted reservations to make sure I had a forward facing cabin. This made a huge difference to my overall enjoyment of the journey on the Great Southern

Scenery on the Great Southern
Scenery on the Great Southern

Great Southern cabins overview

Accommodation on the Great Southern includes accommodation, all-inclusive fine food and wine, lively conversation with in the bar and dining cars, off-train excursions and stunning scenery. Passengers can choose from four different cabins types. It’s worth noting that whatever cabin you stay in, the food is virtually identical, even if you are dining in the Platinum Class dining car.

Platinum Cabins on the Great Southern

Most expensive are the Platinum Cabins which have a separate lounge seating area, a table and two ottomans. Platinum Cabins are almost twice the size of the standard Gold Twin Cabins. It is worth noting that if you book a Platinum Cabin you will only be dining and socialising with other travellers in Platinum Class. Platinum Class passengers have their own lounge and dining car and also separate seating at some off-train functions. This can be good and bad as Platinum Class carries a much smaller number of passengers than the train’s Gold section. If you don’t care for some of the other Platinum guests, your options are limited when it comes to socialising.

Double Cabins on the Great Southern

The Great Southern does have a few double Gold cabins. However, the double bed in these are very small. Unless you and your partner are slim, you will probably be just as comfortable in one of the twin cabins with bunk beds.

Gold Twin Cabins on the Great Southern

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.

Gold Service Twin Cabin

Gold Single Cabins on the Great Southern

Should you consider doing an iconic train journey such as the Great Southern as a single traveller?  The answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Having the freedom to please yourself during such an iconic travel experience is one of the great joys of doing this trip solo. There are also plenty of options for socialising so you won’t feel lonely. The Great Southern helps single travellers say goodbye (and good riddance) to the dreaded ‘single supplement’ with a single Gold Class sleeper cabin.

These compact cabins feature a bed that converts to a seat by day and shared shower/toilet facilities located at the end of the carriage. With a large modern tiled shower, excellent water pressure and brand name toiletries, these shower facilities would look equally at home at an upmarket hotel. It’s unlikely you’ll have to wait to use the shower or toilet, even at peak times like before dinner.

Sleeping on the Great Southern

The Great Southern isn’t a high tech speed machine like a TGV. There is a sense of history and grandeur that you don’t find on modern trains, with the slower journey making the most of the stunning scenery. If you are worried about sleeping, a pair of earplugs can be useful to pack in your bag. Most travellers find it easier to sleep on the second night of the journey after they get used to the rocking motion of the train.

Great Southern off-train excursions

Excursions on the Great Southern are included in the cost of your fare. These range from wine tours to seaside dinners, a dolphin cruise, street art tour of Melbourne or a trip along the Great Ocean Road. Many of the excursions are designed to appeal to food and wine lovers.

Great Southern dinner at Coffs Harbour
Great Southern dinner at Coffs Harbour
Cheese platter
Coffs Harbour wine dinner
Hunter Valley lunch dessert
Dessert at the Hunter Valley winery lunch
Great Southern train trip wine tasting near Geelong
Wine tasting near Geelong

Great Southern lounge car

One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in the Lounge Car (a.k.a. the train’s bar). The atmosphere is cosy and convivial rather than boozy, the chairs are comfy and the scenery is superb. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the fare, so there is no need to worry about your holiday budget if you fancy a coffee or wine. Spending time in the lounge car and meeting other travellers was one of my favourite parts of the Great Southern journey.

Queen Adelaide Restaurant

The Queen Adelaide Restaurant on the Great Southern is open for breakfast, a two-course lunch and three-course dinner. Menus focus on regional flavours such as barramundi, beef and lamb, Adelaide River wines, and Barossa Valley smallgoods. Unlike some of the other Journey Beyond train trips, all meals in the Queen Adelaide restaurant are free seating although dinner bookings are encouraged. If you have a preference make sure you get in early with your request so you get your preferred time.

Breakfast crepes on the Great Southern
Breakfast crepes on the Great Southern

The verdict on the Great Southern

If you want an ‘Aussie experience’ which celebrates the scenery, cuisine and culture that makes Australia unique, this trip is for you. Travelling on the Great Southern is a journey that stays with you long after you return home.

Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of the operators.

If you’re not sure which of Australia’s iconic train journeys is best for you, we have written a post comparing The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and the Great Southern as all of these train journeys are surprisingly different.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.