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July 24, 2008

Outback Odyssey

Australia preps for its poshest ever train experience.

When the Ghan first departed Adelaide in 1929 it was named after a camel; now it’s modeled on a cruise. On September 10, the historic train ride through Australia — once called the Afghan Express, from the “Afghan camel” caravans that pioneered the route — inaugurates a “Platinum Service” from Adelaide to Darwin.

The luxury train experience marks a new milestone for Great Southern Rail (GSR), which until 2004 traversed only to Alice Springs, the fabled oasis in the center of the country. Now the two-night “cruise,” as GSR like to call it, will journey twice-weekly from coast-to-coast and with just 25 deluxe cabins in five cars. Almost twice the size of the Ghan’s present Gold Service, the cabins boast double beds, en-suite bathrooms with full-size showers and separate toilets, oversized panoramic windows, and 24-hour room service.

But consider the Ghan’s new offering a warm-up for GSR’s Southern Spirit, which come November will open up vast tracts of Australia to longhaul luxury train travel for the first time. Whereas the Ghan runs north-to-south and the three-day Indian Pacific runs east-to-west, the Southern Spirit will do both, covering eight itineraries in the process. A true outback rail odyssey, some journeys will encompass Melbourne and Brisbane (a first for luxury train travel), indulging passengers in a 12-night grand tour. And best of all, they’ll be able to ride the same Platinum Service cars as the Ghan.

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