Introducing the Great Southern Rail

A first-hand experience by one of our readers, Archie Fraser*

The Great Southern Rail goes from Adelaide to Brisbane

Leaving Adelaide behind, you can relax, unwind and enjoy world-class service as the spectacular landscapes glide by. Lap up the wild and spectacular scenery of the Grampians region, with its ancient sandstone mountains and diverse native wildlife. Delve into the art, history and culinary culture of Canberra, and discover the nation’s capital. Feel the sand between your toes in the picturesque coastal town of Coffs Harbour. Then, enjoy stunning views of northern New South wales as you roll into your final destination of Brisbane.

Does that sound good to you? It certainly sounded good to our intrepid train traveller, Archie Fraser. Archie is a train boffin and this was a brand new trip and he just couldn’t resist. Here is his recollection of the journey…

The dining lounge in platinum class

Having enjoyed travelling on The Indian Pacific, The Ghan and the Overland, it was exciting to learn that the Great Southern Rail travel company was adding “The Great Southern” to their offerings. The Great Southern runs from Adelaide to Brisbane, 3days and 2 nights with a return trip from Brisbane to Adelaide, consisting of 4 days and 3 nights.
I arrived at the Adelaide Parklands terminal at 7am on Friday 17th January. I had sorted my luggage carefully so that only essentials needed to be taken to the cabin, with the rest stowed stowed in the luggage van. After checking in, I made my way to the departure lounge, where I was greeted by friendly hostesses offering canapes and champagne.
At 8.30am, I was on the platform looking for my carriage. I discovered that for this journey, we had 30 carriages and 200 people. It was extremely well organised by the staff, all in Aussie uniforms, including their iconic Akubra hats.
Within minutes, I was chatting to my carriage attendant, who after checking my ticket, showed me to my cabin and explained how everything worked. There was an en-suite shower and toilet, plus a fold-down bed. I was then introduced to the dining car and the lounge car, which included a fully stocked drinks bar. Then, wow, I’m on my way!

Inside the Gold twin cabin by day

After reading all of the reading material supplied, including a map of our route, I tested the free water bottle and assembled the color-coded lanyards, for use on ‘off- train visits’. I then made my way to the dining car for lunch. On the way to lunch, I stopped at the lounge bar for a gin and tonic. They served a great meal consisting of three courses plus a choice of wines. It seemed like in no time at all we pulled into Stawell Station.
Buses were waiting to take us to Hall’s gap at the base of the Grampians. On arrival, I was amazed to see a huge marquee set up for lunch, with music and local wineries offering their best wines.
The setting was incredible with lots of kangaroos and emus in the next paddock, the sun shining and a light breeze, making a very memorable lunch event. After lunch, we were given an option of taking a bus to the top of the Grampians or the alternative of exploring the local area. I opted for the bus trip to the Boroka Lookout at the top of the Grampian Mountain Range. The views were amazing.

The Outback Bar on board is a great meeting place

On return to Hall’s Gap, we just had time for another glass of wine before heading back to our train, which in the meantime had moved to Ararat station. On returning to my cabin, I discovered that my bed had already been prepared, how good was that! Before turning in, I decided a visit to the lounge bar was called for and to my surprise, I was offered a range of single malts. I decided on a Lagavulin and fortunately, the barman could not find his spirit measure. Woo hoo! Although the track was a bit rocky, I had no problem getting rocked to sleep.
The next morning at breakfast, a couple of passengers claimed to have slept poorly. Maybe they weren’t used to sleeping on trains or maybe they should have had a couple of single malts. Worked for me!
We were offered either continental or full English breakfast. I couldn’t help myself, despite being a bit overweight, it was the English breakfast for me with orange juice and two cups of tea. What a great way to start the day.

The scenery is constantly changing throughout the journey

As the staff were clearing away breakfast, we arrived in Yass, ready for our next ´off-train’ experience. Buses took us to Canberra, where we made our way to Parliament House. Here we were split into groups of between 15 to 20 and assigned to formally dressed Parliamentary guides. After passing through security, we spent the next hour with our guide, who was most knowledgeable, and took us around all of the public areas, both inside and outside Parliament House.
After answering all of our questions, the guide ushered us into the Great Hall, where all visiting dignitaries are entertained. Imagine my surprise on entering, to see the Great Hall all set up for 5-star dining. Linen tablecloths and sparkling silver cutlery for all 156 of us. Then came a superb three course lunch with choice of wines, during which the Executive Chef explained each course with anecdotes on some of his challenges with VIP diners.
Following lunch, we were given a number of options for the afternoon tours: The War Memorial, National Gallery or a “Behind the Scenes in Parliament House”. I opted for the Behind the Scenes tour. Our first stop was the kitchen to view the 21st century equipment which allows the chefs to prepare and keep hot, several hundred meals, which all have to be served at the same time. No mean feat. Before leaving, the Executive Chef prepared a mini soufflé for each of us. Very impressive.
We then toured around the Parliamentary Offices, Media Rooms and walked down ‘The Corridor of Tears’ outside the various party rooms, the café and an internal garden for Members to relax and reflect! Then, it was back to our bus for a ride to Goulburn, where amazingly our train was parked. The Dining Car was waiting for us on return to the train.
After Dinner, it was time for a couple of scotches in the Lounge Bar and sharing details of our excursions with our fellow passengers. Then, it was off to bed. A truly fabulous day.

Guests enjoy drinks on the beach at Coffs Harbour

I started the final day of my journey with another 1st class full breakfast. It had been raining overnight and everything in the countryside was pristine and green. We were advised over the pa system that the planned tour to Urunga Markets had been cancelled due to flooding. Before I knew it, we were pulling into Coffs Harbour station.
Once again Buses were on hand to take us on a quick tour of Coffs Harbour before heading to the seafront. Here we were ushered into a large white marquee to be served morning tea. The sun had come out, which called for an ice-cream and a walk along the harbour front. Then, back to the train.
After another superb lunch we were on our final leg to Roma Street station Brisbane – or so I thought. The amazing thing was, through-out our 3-day journey, we had seen no evidence of the raging bush fires, which must have been all around us. We were advised over the PA system that Roma Street Station could not accommodate the 30-carriage train, so we would be using one of Brisbane’s outlying Freight Yards. I tried to contact my brother, who was collecting me at Roma Street, to tell him what was happening but couldn’t get through. (Just as well family members are understanding.)
On arrival at the freight terminal we were loaded onto pre-determined buses and told not to worry about our stored luggage. This was being brought from the train’s luggage van and loaded onto one’s particular bus. This exercise was carried out quickly and efficiently. I know this because when my bus arrived at Roma Street Station, I was able to collect my suitcase without any hassle.
Thank goodness my brother was still waiting for me.
A truly memorable Journey.

For further information re this rail trip and others see: www.journeybeyondrail.com.au/packages/southern-discovery-2020-21/

*About the story teller:

Archie Fraser is a retiree who loves to travel on trains – especially to different and unusual places. This is his second train journey story for us – you can read his first hilarious saga here: Lost in Siberia!