Australia’s impressive size and long distances between its destination make traveling by plane the most popular way to see Australia. But while domestic flights certainly dominate travelers preference list, it won’t surprise many to hear that it’s not the most eco-conscious way.
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Luckily, it is possible to get around Australia without flying, especially on the East Coast by taking the Spirit of Queensland train!
On our recent trip to Australia, we discovered the beauty of traveling around the East Coast of Australia by train and it’s now an experience that we highly recommend to others.
For us, trains offer the best alternative to flying. Trains are more sustainable and more comfortable and not only that but going at a slower pace allows you to see more of the Australian countryside without the crazy cost of multiple flights.
One of the most popular train routes in Australia is the Brisbane to Cairns train aboard the Spirit of Queensland and it was this particular route that we experienced on our recent trip to Queensland.
The Spirit of Queensland is a long distance passenger rail service running along the North Coast between Brisbane and Cairns. The Spirit of Queensland Brisbane to Cairns train isn’t the only one departing from Queensland– there are a number of other routes taking you to the far-flung corners of the state!
Here’s a quick look at the other trains and their destinations.
Spirit of the Outback: Brisbane to Longreach
This traditional diesel train journeys through the diverse and ever-changing scenery between Brisbane and Longreach with coach connections to Winston, offering the perfect outback experience.
The Tilt Train: Brisbane to Rockhampton
The Tilt Train takes you from bustling Brisbane to some of Australia and Queensland’s most popular destinations, including the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Capricorn Coast, Bundaberg, and Fraser Coast.
The Inlander: Townsville and Mt Isa
This route is slightly less traveled but is by no means less impressive as it crosses the rugged terrain of North Queensland, past Charters Towers, through the Great Dividing Range and into the heart of Queensland.
The Westlander: Brisbane and Charleville
Another route through the Outback, this time going from Brisbane to Charleville, taking in the picturesque scenery of the Great Dividing Range and the Darling Downs farmland along the way. You can also get connecting coach services to Quilpie and Cunnamulla.
Kuranda Scenic Railway: Cairns to Kuranda
Kuranda Scenic Railway winds through a tropical rainforest, past rugged mountains, waterfalls tumbling and deep ravines of the Barron Gorge. The journey to Kuranda passes by some of the most breathtaking scenery, plus 15 handmade tunnels and 37 towering bridges and offers a truly unique rail adventure.
Brisbane to Cairns on the Spirit of Queensland Train
The Spirit of Queensland train journey is a 1681 kilometre route taking about 24-25 hours from Brisbane to Cairns. Even though the train gets up to speeds of 160km per hour, its innovative tilt design allows for a really smooth ride even around those sharp turns, you’d barely know you were moving at all!
The Spirit of Queensland train is quite possibly the most comfortable and convenient way to hit up some of the most popular tourist spots along the Queensland coast. It has everything you need, from beds, showers, galley car, all-inclusive dining option, in-seat entertainment and much more!
But the best thing is, that you can really take your time and make a few pit stops along the way, the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays, and Townsville before arriving at your final destination of Cairns.
The Spirit of Queensland Train
You can catch the Brisbane to Cairns train five times a week and have the option of booking RailBed or Premium Economy seats.
Spirit of Queensland: Premium Economy Seats
A Premium Economy ticket comes with one 20kg luggage item plus one carry on hand luggage item free of charge. The seats in Premium Economy are pretty spacious and recline just enough for you to feel relaxed.
You’ll have your own reading light, a power point for charging your phone or other electrical devices, overhead lockers, and in-seat entertainment. You’ll also get a free knee blanket!
Railbeds on the Spirit of Queensland
We traveled from Brisbane to Cairns in RailBed seats and were impressed with the comfort and service level in RailBed Class. Not only are the RailBed sets much more comfortable and spacious than seats in Premium Economy, but we found them to be more comfortable than First Class air travel.
At night, the staff recline the seats turning them into flat beds so you can enjoy a good night sleep and arrive at your destination well rested and refreshed. You also get an amenities pack which included all organic products.
The RailBed ticket for the Spirit of Queensland train includes all-inclusive meals which are served directly to your seat.
Food on Board
There are slightly different food options depending on your ticket type, but there is a good general selection of seasonal dishes, with gluten free, dairy free and veggie options.
We got to sample the delicious all-inclusive railbed menu and were really impressed by its quality. It was so much better than what we had ever gotten on a plane.
For breakfast, there was a choice of hot or cold option served at around 7 am. Hot breakfast consisted of a three cheese omelette served with pork chipolata, bacon and tomato wedge (there was also a vegetarian option available). While the cold option included a choice of cereal with greek yogurt, berry compote and a freshly baked pastry.
Lunch was a 2-course meal served at around midday. We got to sample both the spinach and feta quiche served with a fresh garden salad and the lemon chicken with rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables. The spinach & feta quick was definitely our favourite!
For dinner, we once again had a choice of a 3-course meal. We opted for a Caprese salad, roasted pork loin and tiramisu cake. Oksana had the vegetarian noddle salad option.
We found out that while the menu was different in the Gallery Car, where Economy customers ate on their journey, everything served on the Spirit of Queensland Train was fresh with a paddock to plate focus. We were also thrilled to see that the Galley Car meals were served with Biopak biodegradable cutlery!
Entertainment on Board
We never got bored looking at the stunning scenery outside of our windows, but when it got dark, and we had to amuse ourselves before getting some shut-eye, the entertainment options on board the Spirit of Queensland were plentiful.
There was a good selection of movies, tv shows, kids’ programmes or music channels available in the in-seat entertainment. The entertainment schedule changes regularly, but you can check it ahead of your trip via the Spirit of Queensland entertainment guide.
Destinations Along the Route
One of the biggest benefits of traveling by train was that it was easy to hop off and hop back on the train to split up the journey. After all, there are lots of great stops and things to do between Brisbane and Cairns. Here are just a few of them:
Sunshine Coast – Noosa
Noosa is one of the most popular holiday destinations in all of Queensland and is home to the most visited National Park in the country. Disembark here to enjoy the crystal clear blue waters on the shores of the Noosa National Park.
There are also plenty of fun activities around the park such as walking trails and the chance to spot some of Australia’s national animals, like koalas and kangaroos.
Hervey Bay – Fraser Island
Hop off the Spirit of Queensland train and hop on a ferry from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. This nature lovers paradise is definitely worth a stop along your Spirit of Queensland journey.
Fraser Island is known for being a unique nature destination with miles of beach, 100 freshwater lakes and over 30 walking tracks. Not to mention it’s also home to over 350 species of birds, possums, wallabies, sea turtles, dolphins, and the famous dingo!
You can take the Spirit of Queensland train to Proserpine and then take a RailBus Connection to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. You can spend a few days just exploring Airlie Beach with its palm-fringed beaches, bars and restaurants before going island hopping or sailing around the 74 islands of the Whitsundays.
This was one of the stops we made during our journey from Brisbane to Cairns by train. We stopped for 5 days, enjoying some time in Airlie Beach, in the Whitsundays and on the Great Barrier Reef.
Not only is Cairns a hub of vibrant city life full of great cafés, markets, art galleries, and nearby beaches, but it’s also a jumping off point to many other popular tourist destinations. Take your pick from the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree National Park, or one of the many wildlife and nature experiences just outside of the city.
Is the Spirit of Queensland Train Worth it?
A 24-hour journey from Brisbane to Cairns on the Spirit of Queensland train will set you back by $370 per seat for a Premium Economy Seat and over $860 for a RailBed seat. With a high ticket price, many would wonder, is the journey on the train really worth it?
In our opinion, it is, especially if you take it as an opportunity to stop along the way and break up your journey. Individual flights to destinations such as Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach and Cairns would easily add up costing just as much if not more than a rail ticket.
One of the best things about travelling on the Spirit of Queensland train is the fact that it opens up so many more travel and sightseeing possibilities than flying ever could.
Take advantage of the coach connections at certain stops to explore parts of the Australian countryside that many tourists miss out on. You can easily plan your trip with the full Spirit of Queensland timetable.
Have you ever traveled by train in Queensland? What’s your favourite part of train travel?
Disclaimer: Our trip on the Spirit of Queensland train was provided courtesy of Queensland Rail Travel, but as always all opinions expressed in this article are our own.