In only its second year of operation as Australia's newest luxury rail cruise, the Great Southern train, which journeys between Adelaide and Brisbane, is still undoubtedly "great" but this time around is set to be a little less "southern".
The train last summer operated journeys via Victoria between Adelaide and Brisbane (and vice-versa), as well as NSW, however, in the upcoming 2020-21 season (December 4 to January 28), a re-routing has been deemed necessary.
The vagaries of the pandemic has forced the Adelaide-based operator of the train - which also runs the iconic Ghan and Indian Pacific service - to skip Victoria, where it visited the spectacular Grampians National Park in its inaugural 2019-20 season.
The new north and southbound itineraries will now focus on the coasts and interiors of South Australia, NSW, the ACT and Queensland, with Journey Beyond awaiting an announcement on the latter state's much anticipated border reopening.
The Great Southern is designed to occupy the gap for travellers left by its sister train, the Ghan, running between Adelaide and Darwin, when its season finishes in November and resumes early in 2021 due to that route's intense summer heat and the Top End wet season.
"We are committed to delivering the unforgettable experiences for which we are renowned, whilst ensuring the health and wellbeing of our guests and crew," says Chris Tallent, chief executive of Journey Beyond.
Although Victoria misses out in 2020-21, with the decision to re-route the Great Southern having to be taken before the state's dramatic reduction in COVID-19 cases, the big winners are the neighbouring NSW towns of Broken Hill and Silverton.
They will be included in the revised Brisbane to Adelaide itinerary with the Great Southern travelling from Adelaide to Brisbane over two nights and three days, with the southbound journey taking three nights and four days. At the time of writing it remains to be seen when and if Victorians will be permitted to travel interstate.
Tallent says that off-train excursions in Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens, the Hunter Valley [in NSW] and Canberra will remain the same with new excursions in the "quintessential Australian outback locations" of Broken Hill and Silverton, close to the recently reopened NSW and South Australian borders.
"The new journeys include the vast majority of the inaugural Great Southern route with some amazing new territory that promises spectacular scenery, fine food and wine and hospitality that's hard to beat anywhere in the world."
Journey Beyond has implemented "JourneySafe", a new operational plan to ensure the wellbeing of passengers and crew, including adapted dining experiences, staff training, physical distancing, health screening, temperature checking and a cap on guest numbers in certain "on-train" spaces.
Elsewhere in the Journey Beyond fleet, the Ghan - whose passage between Darwin and Adelaide totals 2979 kilometres - has recently emerged from the longest hiatus in its 90 year history.
It got back on track in August with South Australians, Territorians, and Queenslanders aboard, followed more recently by travellers from NSW and the ACT.
Sadly, the Indian Pacific, which links Australia's east and west coasts in an epic 4352 kilometres journey, remains in limbo until the Western Australian government opens its border to the rest of the nation. However, many prospective passengers have transferred their travel on the train to 2021.
Tallent says that Journey Beyond has been seeking greater certainty on border restrictions for some time with recent announcements providing its passengers and employees "a renewed sense of optimism" but with "many obstacles" still to be overcome.
"We have guests ready to travel, our teams wanting to work and many independent smaller businesses throughout our network across regional Australia relying on our continued operation," he says.
"It is our view that it is no longer sustainable or reasonable for our industry to be prevented from safely operating." With Western Australia borders remaining closed we are unable to open our interstate journeys such as the Indian Pacific which travels between Perth and Sydney."