There's nothing like the sense of anticipation before you embark on a train journey. As I stood at Roma Street Station's Platform 10 in Brisbane recently, the atmosphere was abuzz with the rolling of suitcases, chatter of travellers, and bustle of rail staff loading supplies on to our grand locomotive, Spirit of the Outback.
Bound for Longreach, just over 1,300 kilometres away, I stepped aboard the First Class Sleeper carriage on dusk, and was instantly charmed by the subdued lighting and curving, maroon carpeted corridor, which led to my cabin. Inside, a complimentary Bubbles Organic amenities pack had been placed on the seat.
Thoughtfully appointed with a wardrobe, pull-down wash basin, reading lights, mirror in vanity, power point, coat hooks, linen and towels, the cabin's most distinctive feature, perhaps, was its bedding. Unlike many other sleeper trains, which are fitted with bunks running parallel to the carriage, Spirit of the Outback First Class sleeper seats convert to beds, allowing passengers to lie down and face the direction of travel. As someone who prefers to face forward when on the move, I found this very appealing.
My cabin was a First Class Twin Sleeper and although I have been in roomier sleepers, I found there was enough space for comfort.
Room With A View
Calling into several towns along the track between Brisbane and Longreach, Spirit of the Outback serves as both a lifeline for commuters in the Central West, and a 'bucket list' experience for travellers. Having woken at 6.30am to the red dirt bushland of Duaringa, 112 kilometres west of Rockhampton, where the ghostly gums twist and stretch their branches like witches' fingers against the sunrise, I can appreciate why the Spirit rates so highly.
This trip, into the heart of Outback Queensland, takes more than 24 hours to complete, at a fairly steady pace, but with the landscapes constantly changing, the opportunity to relax, and soak up the romance of slow motion travel is savoured. East of Alpha, photo opportunities abound as the country changes from scrub and eucalypts, to the hills and valleys of the magnificent Drummond Range. Climbing up and over the Range, at heights to 535 metres above sea level, the Spirit curves around on itself, going through two S bends within its own length.
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Onboard, the pioneering spirit of Queensland's explorers and graziers has been beautifully captured. The heritage-themed Tuckerbox Dining Car features six alcoves bearing the wrought-iron brands of Outback cattle stations, while the newly refurbished Shearer's Rest Lounge Car is the perfect space for a cuppa and conversation. Both of these cars are for the exclusive use of First Class passengers.
A Taste Of Queensland
Sourcing local produce, within 200 kilometres of the track corridor, Chef Brian Nipperess dishes up a distinct taste of Queensland. Using preserves from the Stanthorpe region, Mammino ice-cream from Childers, and locally sourced fish and meat, his creations include Mango and Macadamia Panna Cotta, barramundi and classic country scones.
It’s All About The Journey
Whether it be over a coffee in the Shearer's Rest, or a wine with dinner in the Tuckerbox, one of the lovely aspects of the Spirit of the Outback is the opportunity to meet and socialise with fellow travellers, like 60-year-old Christa Wennemann. Travelling solo from Germany, Christa spoke of her decision to journey by train.
“I love the scenery, the trees, the different barks bathed in different light. The butterflies flying around. It's very quiet, this kind of travel, as opposed to flying. Just look at it, it's so peaceful.”
* Words by Anna Daniels