This special rail journey is a feast for the senses – both on board and through its off train culinary adventures.
WORDS Catherine Best
The world’s great train journeys all have sensory hallmarks. A clink of wine glasses, the feel of luxury linen, tastes of local flavours, and the meditative rhythm of the train. But then, on the first night aboard the Great Southern, you find yourself dining beachside beneath fairy lights quivering in the warm ocean breeze, and the romance of train travel is rewritten.
The Great Southern from Brisbane to Adelaide is a three-night epicurean adventure that unfurls over four states and almost 3,000 kilometres, taking guests on a transcontinental journey from beaches to bucolic countryside, cellar doors to cities.
The journey begins at Brisbane’s Hanworth House, a lovingly restored 155-year-old heritage home. Welcomed with a glass of bubbles, check-in begins on the lush green garden lawn before we’re shuttled to the platform. After a whistle shriek, it’s all aboard and we settle into our cabins. City suburbia gives way to rolling hills and snatches of the sea; corks pop and mouth-watering aromas waft from the galley, heralding the first of many memorable meals.
Before long, the train – pulled by an eastern grey kangaroo (on the livery, at least) – eases into Coffs Harbour, on the New South Wales North Coast. Guests are whisked from platform to Pacific Ocean, where a magical seaside soiree awaits. Stationed amid she-oak trees, fairy light-lit tables brim with a seafood bounty of fresh local produce, matched with wines and enjoyed to a soundtrack of softly breaking waves.
Back on board, there’s time for a post-dinner digestif before the cadence of the train lulls its charges – bellies full – into a contented slumber.
In the morning, the first ribbons of light flick through the cabin and it’s time to rise and refuel for another day of, well, eating. Breakfast is a sumptuous affair served with lashings of countryside vistas, courtesy of the dining car windows, whose panoramas need no filter.
When the train stops at historic Maitland Station, circa 1880, we have a decision to make: coastal-based adventures at Port Stephens (either by land or sea), a walking tour of Australia’s revitalised second-oldest city, Newcastle, or a wine-and-dine showcase of the Hunter Valley. Gourmands naturally choose the latter.
The Hunter Valley Off Train Experience begins with a coach journey through a patchwork of vineyards, deep into Australia’s oldest wine region. The first stop is Brokenwood, a 50-year-old premium label known for its Semillon and Shiraz, and home to the renowned Graveyard Vineyard. There are plenty of varietals to sample here, but Brokenwood is the first cellar door in an afternoon of wine quaffing, so pacing yourself is key.
Next is Tulloch Wines, a 125-year-old Hunter Valley stalwart. Here, oenophiles can sniff, swirl and sip their way through a tasting while learning about the Tulloch family’s viticulture history, dating back to when John Younie Tulloch acquired two hectares of neglected Shiraz vines as a settlement for a debt.
There’s time to pick up a bottle as a journey souvenir before lunch beckons. Like the previous night’s dinner, this is a meal to remember. Lunch is served in the ambience of a Tuscan-inspired barrel room in the charming surrounds of Peppers Creek Village. Diners step between giant Indian elephant doors to take a seat at the table, set beneath a six-metre-high gabled ceiling and century-old sandstone walls. An exquisite meal ensues, highlighting local flavours, and paired with wines produced from vines embroidering the neighbouring hills and valleys.
Guests reboard the train at Broadmeadow Station in Newcastle, where they can regale new friends with highlights of their day in the Outback Explorer Lounge or enjoy a nap in their cabin. There’s no judgement here. Dinner is served in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant as the train sweeps inland and the sun sets on New South Wales for the last time.
The new dawn brings a new state, as the train awakens to early morning light illuminating the contours of Victoria’s high country. A bird of prey soars overhead and a mob of startled kangaroos scatters across the hills. Was that a brumby concealed in the shadows of the eucalypts?
By now, guests have settled into the comfortable routine of train life, and when the waiter arrives with a menu, they already have their breakfast orders ready, napkins pulled across laps in eager anticipation. Will it be the artisan chorizo with skillet potato bake and quandong relish today, or the ricotta and mango hot cakes with mascarpone and native blossom honey syrup? Decisions, decisions.
When the train arrives at Inverleigh, just west of Geelong, there are more decisions to be made. Do we want to spend the day in Melbourne; and if so, would we prefer to tour the hallowed turf of the MCG, explore the city’s colourful laneways on a walking tour, or get a dose of grisly inmate history at the historic Old Melbourne Gaol?
Each excursion culminates in lunch high above the city at Eureka 89, inside the Eureka Tower – home to Melbourne Skydeck, the tallest public observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere.
Or do we want to embark on another culinary adventure – this time to the Moorabool Valley, a luscious incubator of cool-climate wineries, farm gates and provedores. One of the valley’s most renowned wine producers is Clyde Park Vineyard, where visitors are treated to a wine tasting and lunch on the lawns overlooking the hills clinging to the Moorabool River.
Clyde Park planted its first vines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1979. Since then, the 14-hectare property has introduced Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris to the stable, and is today a James Halliday five-star rated winemaker. Guests can try a drop or two for themselves to accompany a charcuterie board and dishes ranging from pan-fried barramundi with prawn salad, to confit duck leg with pea risotto and cherry red wine sauce.
So much food, so few holes on the waist belt. Back at Inverleigh, guests are reunited for one last farewell dinner on the train as the Great Southern rumbles west towards its final destination of Adelaide. But the journey needn’t end here. The South Australian capital overflows with culinary riches, starting with Adelaide Central Market, a foodie’s utopia of fresh produce and artisan finds for more than 150 years. Not far from the city limits is the lauded Barossa Valley, home to more than 100 wineries, as well as breweries, distilleries and gourmet food producers.
Guests have the option to explore the best of the Barossa on the Adelaide Delight, a four-day extension to the Great Southern journey. If that’s not enough wining and dining, there’s a two-day add-on to Kangaroo Island. Or you can, of course, reboard the train to Brisbane and enjoy the trip in reverse. The two-night northbound journey stops in the Grampians (Gariwerd), Canberra and Coffs Harbour, with opportunities to enjoy mountain views and waterholes, wine tasting at Seppelt Great Western, and exploring Parliament House or the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Same route, different journey. Abundant opportunities to eat.
SOUTHERN WINES & WILDLIFE
Your summer adventure starts with The Great Southern. Enjoy 11 nights on the Southern Wines & Wildlife experience cruising down the east coast, being wined and dined along the way. Visit regional wineries including the iconic Penfolds and explore the scenic Kangaroo Island sampling local produce and discovering native wildlife. To book your journey here.
- Cosy cabin, big adventure
- Travel means different things to different people and every journey is different. Perhaps you’re celebrating a special occasion with a romantic journey for two or setting off on a multi-generational adventure. You may be travelling solo or part of a group of friends. Or maybe, you’re indulging in the experience of a lifetime. Whatever your reason, occasion, or situation, there’s a way to travel Australia by train.
- Experience an entirely new, extended journey, with new Off Train Experiences and a signature dinner in the Barossa Valley in 2025.