A rejuvenated rail trip between Adelaide and Melbourne trumps flying, says Gregg Tripp.
Travelling by land is the best way to get a feel for Australia, and The Overland train that runs between Adelaide and Melbourne lets you soak up the experience.
Trains add a romance that planes just can't match and I was reminded of that fact while writing this story. On flying into Adelaide, the sky bridge into the airport jammed. My flight was cancelled on the way home.
But at least The Overland made the air chaos easier to deal with.
This is a journey that was made for the first time in 1887, taking its name from overland horseback travellers, and it has recently undergone a huge refurbishment.
Great Southern Rail (GSR) has spent millions on track and carriage upgrades. Interior improvements include new wide, pastel-upholstered seats (which can be turned to face each other) and more generous row spacing.
Improved infrastructure between the two centres has also shortened the trip to 10.5 hours - about 90 minutes less then before.
There are two classes on the train; both have the same airline business class-size seating, while the premium service has more legroom. There is a licensed cafe and you can hire a personal DVD player and movies onboard.
There are no indicators on the train showing you where you are during the journey (which would make it more interesting), but maps are available in your seat pocket and there is commentary that gives extra information about the towns you pass through.
Currently, you can't take your car. Upgrades at the Melbourne end mean GSR's vehicle carriages no longer fit. A plus, though, is that you can break your journey with stops along the 828km ride.
The Overland leaves Adelaide at 7.40am. While Keswick Station is in desperate need of an atmosphere implant, the train soon winds its way over the Adelaide Hills, breaking through the dawn.
The first few hours into the journey are the most scenic - kangaroos silhouetted on the morning horizon let you know you're in the Aussie bush.
The first stop is Murray Bridge, a picturesque city on the Murray River known for its paddle-steamers and recently built zoo. There are also several orchards and vineyards along the river.
The train crosses 19km into Victoria late-morning to stop at the pretty station in Bordertown - a thriving service centre backgrounded by the Grampian Mountains that is the birthplace of former prime minister Bob Hawke.
Then comes a new stop at Nhill, which is about halfway into the trip. Nhill is a small town in the heart of wheat country and the gateway to Little Desert National Park - the state's second-largest.
Dimboola comes into view soon after, followed by the commercial hub of Horsham. These are also wheat and pastoral towns, while Ararat, an hour past Horsham, was known for gold-mining and is now a wine- and fruit-growing area.
Geelong is Victoria's second-largest city and plays host to a range of galleries and museums. The stop is a jumping-off point for the Great Ocean Rd.
We arrive at Melbourne's Southern Cross Station in the early evening, just in time to check out the bustling metropolis' array of eateries, bars and night spots.
The Overland runs three times a week on alternate days. If you're heading from the Victorian side, you can be carried further west to Perth on the Indian Pacific from Adelaide, or north to Alice Springs and Darwin on the Ghan.
The Overland is well worth the ride and quite relaxing. A plane will fly you between Adelaide and Melbourne faster, but The Overland showcases the countryside in between.
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