Australia is the sixth largest country by land mass, the world’s largest island, and an entire continent! You’ll need to do some clever planning to make the most of your adventure Down Under. To maximize your time and money in Australia, travel by rail.
The national railroad website lists 18 separate journeys to choose from, all intersecting at different points and combining to span the continent. Two train journeys in particular offer magnificent views and essential sightseeing opportunities. Together, the Ghan and the Indian Pacific routes form the perfect introductory Australian experience. The primary stops on each journey provide must-see highlights in each major city.
Running north to south, a one-way Ghan route lasts two nights. The train ride begins in Adelaide or Darwin—your choice—and stops in Alice Springs, roughly halfway through the transcontinental journey. You can choose to disembark in Alice Springs for off-train excursions, or you can ride the rail straight through. One-way adult tickets start at AUD $889. It may seem like a steep price, but it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to see such a broad range of the country. And there are often discounts and partial tickets to bring down the cost.
The Central Market in Adelaide is a highlight you won’t want to miss. A handful of gardeners founded the market in 1869, and it still stands today, although it’s undergone numerous transformations. From bakeries to nut bars to delis to bookstores, you are sure to find something you’ll enjoy. Several traders offer tastings for anyone who wants to sample before buying. The market is closed on Sundays and certain public holidays, so double-check before stopping by.
If you want to see the outback, visit the MacDonnell Ranges in Alice Springs. In particular, West MacDonnell National Park boasts spectacular gorges, chasms, and waterholes that provide opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming. While it’s a candid glimpse into the Australian wilderness, the park is carefully maintained so you’ll never feel lost or vulnerable to the elements.
Darwin Waterfront Precinct
You will feel like you’ve found a tropical paradise when you arrive at Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct. The awe-inspiring Sky Bridge and the Smith Street East Walkway connect this precinct to the rest of Darwin. Swim in the ocean, the Wave Lagoon, or the Recreation Lagoon and build a sandcastle under the bright sun. Then for dinner, bring a picnic meal or chow down at a local restaurant.
Running perpendicular to the Ghan, the Indian Pacific journey runs east to west and lasts three nights. You have the choice of starting in Sydney or Perth, then stopping to explore Adelaide in between. One-way adult tickets start at AUD $899, but the railway provides several options for discounts.
The Rocks is an urban town considered to be the historic city center of Sydney. Located on the southern shore of Sydney Harbor, the Rocks thrives as a tourist precinct. Consider taking a walking tour to see the pubs, cobblestone lanes, and other historic sites, or absorb the culture by visiting art museums and food markets. Either way, you’ll find unique and vibrant opportunities in the Rocks.
In addition to Adelaide’s Central Market, Historic Hahndorf is a place worth visiting. Located just 20 minutes outside of Adelaide, Historic Hahndorf is the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia. The quaint village may not fit into your preconceptions of the untamed Australian outback, but that’s a good thing because Australia is so much more.
Kings Park and Botanic Garden is one of the largest city parks in the world. Aboriginal and European history combine in a lush center for public education, family recreation, and wildlife conservation. Two-thirds of the park is composed of bushland, while the remainder contains gardens, playgrounds, shops, and cafés. The park is open to visitors seven days a week year-round, except for Christmas Day, and admission is free, making the park an accessible and affordable outing.
Your Ticket to the Land Down Under
Australian railways offer a broad view of the country’s landscape and of cities’ highlights. Travel on the Ghan or Indian Pacific railway for an incredible opportunity to see the diverse natural and cultural wonders of Australia.
Top image by Adam Williams. cc