Queensland: Spirit will be with us

By Brian Kelly

This state-of-the-art speed train devours long scenic stretches while passengers enjoy views in comfort, writes Brian Kelly.
The new Spirit of Queensland rail service runs between Brisbane and Cairns.
The new Spirit of Queensland rail service runs between Brisbane and Cairns.

The thing about Queensland is there's a lot of it; some 1.8 million sq/km at last count.

For many of us our first thought when it comes to Queensland holidays is sun-baked, fun family adventures based around the water-slides, roller coasters, beaches and crowds of Surfers Paradise and its theme parks or big events.

And though there's nothing wrong with that - I, for one, have a visit to Surfers during the V8 Supercar weekend on my bucket list - it would be a shame not to give at least a little attention to the incredible sights, scenery, wildlife and heritage available in other corners of the state.

The trick can be how to see the best of it all, given the time constraints of most holidays and that aforementioned vastness of the state.

The answer is rail. Long, straight scenic stretches between sights and stopovers - without worrying about stops for gas, and the driver missing out on the view.

The Spirit of Queensland is a new overnight rail service running the full 1681km between Brisbane and Cairns in just over 24 hours.

They've answered what I'm sure will be your first question or complaint about overnight rail: "But where do I sleep?"

By the time you are onboard and tucked into a revolutionary RailBed you will have no such fears. Each RailBed comes with its own entertainment system, with a choice of music, movies, or TV - that's if you can take your eyes off the magnificent views of Queensland whizzing past the window, which I found tough.

Crucially, come nightfall each RailBed converts into a lie-flat bed, with linen. Meals were served to my seat and there were shower facilities onboard. It all made for an incredibly relaxing - and civilised - trip, especially overnight.

Of course if overnighting isn't your thing you can hop off and explore towns along the way, just keep the timetable in mind - depending on which direction you're travelling you may find your stop is in the middle of the night.

Another option is to drive or fly to one of the rail-stop destinations and pick up the train from there. Bundaberg - just a 40-minute Virgin Air flight from Brisbane - is a perfect example of a town on the rail route that's worth more than a 10-minute stop and peek out of the train window.

This historic city has a familiar ring for most of us thanks to the rum and ginger beer that carries its name.

A visit to the eponymous rum distillery and ginger beer plant quickly taught me there's also a lot more to either drink than I first thought. Who knew there were so many flavours of ginger beer, let alone types of rum? Both tours are a must-do in the city, and importantly, end with a tasting or two.

Having just been to Bargara and found it to be a gem, I had a renewed appreciated for the onboard commentary as the train entered Tropical North Queensland.

As you roll through what could just become an endless line-up of small Australian towns, the commentary keeps you fully informed on the history and people of each one.

It adds richness and colour to the trip - these are Queensland's oldest settlements and they each have an interesting story.

The commentary really brings the state alive, meaning the Spirit of Queensland is aptly named. It - and my comfy RailBed - also meant disembarking the train in Cairns was a bit of a wrench.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar and Emirates have up to a dozen flights from Auckland to Brisbane daily.

Further information: See queenslandrailtravel.com.au. The Sunlander rail service, which currently runs between Brisbane and Cairns, ends on December 31, 2014.

- NZ Herald

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