Railway conversion

Stathi Paxinos finds comfort and lobster on a train ride from Brisbane to Melbourne.

It is less than an hour since the Southern Spirit clunked out of Brisbane's Roma Street Station bound for Melbourne and I'm already settled in my comfortable wood-panelled compartment, watching the changing scenery. Moment by moment, I relax to the rhythms of the carriages rolling over rail lines that more often carry the burden of fully-laden freight trains.

The Southern Spirit made its inaugural journey earlier this year between Uluru and Brisbane on a 14-day tour, but I am on board for a five-day journey down the east coast to Melbourne's Southern Cross station.

Its itinerary has been refined for next year and will run between Brisbane and Adelaide, via Byron Bay, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie and Dubbo, with passengers able to board or leave the trip in Melbourne.

Preparing to board, it's apparent that most passengers are aged 60 and older. Quite a few also are self-confessed train enthusiasts, having experienced similar rail journeys on the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, which are also run by Great Southern Rail, and South Africa's Blue Train.

Dress for meal times is semi-formal - jeans and shorts simply won't do in the ornate surrounds of the Queen Adelaide dining car.

Such requirements could create an air of stuffiness but dining is a pleasant, social occasion and the food is a highlight of the trip. Meals are varied and include seafood, kangaroo, beef, chicken and pork. One day I'm presented with lobster and oysters; on another I'm tucking into a tenderloin of beef topped with Dijon mustard and cracked black pepper, roasted and served with seasonal baby vegetables, potato cake and black porter jus.

Each carriage has a dedicated attendant. If you want an extra pillow, a night cap or just some information about the trip, you only need ask. I mention to the attendant that there is no way to know where we are on the journey until we stop at stations. The next day passengers are supplied with tourist maps and announcements are made along the way.

Some of the staff have decades of experience on trains while others are hospitality students or graduates who take pride in their work, which is made harder for waiters by the swaying floor.


There are several excursions. We stop at Cootamundra and visit a small cottage, now converted into a museum, and the building where Sir Donald Bradman was born.

We also take a bus trip to the radio telescope at Parkes, made famous in popular culture by the movie The Dish.

I'm in a platinum-class cabin. These recently upgraded carriages are also used for the Ghan but are redeployed during the Northern Territory wet season.

The Tasmanian myrtle wood-panelled cabin has two lounge chairs that are built into the wall and convert to a bed, but they don't recline and so are a little uncomfortable after sitting for long periods.

The bathroom has a stand-alone toilet, modern vanity and glassed-in shower, comparable to many hotels. Gold-class cabins have bathrooms with fold-away toilets and open showers and something of a caravan feel.

In either class, the chairs are converted into double or single beds by staff while passengers are at dinner, or for a mid-afternoon nap if you desire. But you can spend as much or as little time as you like within your cabin. There are many opportunities to mingle, especially at morning and afternoon tea in the Outback Explorer lounge carriage.

By the time we roll into Melbourne, I'm a convert to rail cruising, where the style and pace of the journey is more important than the destination.

Stathi Paxinos travelled courtesy of Southern Rail.

The Southern Spirit departs on January 29 and February 12 (Adelaide to Brisbane) and February 4 and 18 (Brisbane to Adelaide). Platinum service between Adelaide and Brisbane costs $6600 and gold class $4200. Platinum service between Melbourne and Brisbane costs $6300 and gold class $3900.

Phone 13 21 47, see greatsouthernrail.com.au.