Back when Elizabeth was being crowned Queen and Edmund Hillary was climbing Mount Everest, Queensland’s Sunlander train was taking to the tracks for the first time. One of the Top 25 Rail Journeys in the World (as voted by the Society of International Railway Travellers, and they should know), for sixty years the Sunlander has carried people from Brisbane to Cairns and back.
But now as we find ourselves in 2014 she is preparing to say her farewells, knowing that at the end of the year she will be taken off the tracks to make room for a new kind of train and that she will most likely end up in a museum somewhere.
While I understand the world changes and that things have to move on, I for one will be very sad to see her go. I love the romance of rail, and jumped at the chance to travel on the Sunlander to watch some of Australia’s stunning scenery go by, dine on fine food in a beautiful old dining carriage and then spend the night being rocked to sleep in a sleeper car.
It was also a wonderful chance to travel on a piece of Australian history. When The Sunlander took over the North Coast line in June 1953 she was very big news. Up until then people travelled on steam locomotives which had to change every 300 kilometres due to the amount of coal they could carry. The Sunlander’s diesel locomotive put a stop to that and shaved hours off the transit time, taking it from 45 hours down to 41 and a half.
These days she’s faster still and it takes around 31 hours to travel more than 1,600 kilometers. But while that may be a plus for some people I would have been happy for the journey to take twice as long.
I loved watching Australia’s landscape transform, and as we made our way down from Cairns to Brisbane I saw the scenery change from rainforest to flowering cane fields catching the sunlight, to banana farms, and then back to cane fields and the chance to see them burning the cane in the distance. It really is something special to go to bed in the tropics and wake up the next morning to see bushland and lazy cows in paddocks zipping past at the end of your bed.
Queenslander Class on the Sunlander Train
The Sunlander train offers a range of ways to travel, from a seated option, to triple, twin and single berth options. The top of the range is the Sunlander’s Queenslander Class, which is where I was lucky enough to find myself.
The Queenslander’s premium product was introduced for the Sunlander’s 5oth anniversary just over ten years ago, and is a lovely way to travel. I should point out that it’s not on the same level as Gold Class or above on The Ghan or Indian Pacific as none of the Sunlander’s cabins have private showers or toilets, but you do have facilities at the end of each carriage and I didn’t mind sharing.
What you do have in your cabin is a little sink that pulls down out of the wall and then whooshes water away as you put it back up. They also have nice treats for you including a Queenslander Dressing Gown and a pack full of delicious smelling local, natural products.
Food onboard Queensland’s Sunlander
The vanity set wasn’t the only thing that smelt great in Queenslander class. Up in the dining car we were treated to three course meals that showed off some of the state’s fresh, local produce, including some spectacular seafood.
I’d heard rumours that the Sunlander’s seafood platter was something to look forward to and I can safely say that the rumours were correct. Between the massive prawns, oysters, calamari, Moreton Bay bugs and crab it was the sort of platter you would usually share (and yet funnily enough everyone at my table managed to polish off their own with a smile on their face).
All food is included in Queenslander Class, but you do pay for your alcohol. Mind you, I was surprised to find the prices were very reasonable for anywhere in Australia, let alone for a dining room with a captive audience, with wine from $6 a glass and ranging between $28 and $35 a bottle.
For those in the other classes, food is not included and can be purchased from one of the club or buffet cars.
Last chance to travel on The Sunlander
Having only travelled on The Sunlander once I can only imagine how her regular travellers must feel to know that she’s about to go off the rails.
She’s been a big part of people’s lives along Queensland’s coast and while the new Spirit of Queensland trains sound very swish and will have seats that look like they’d be more at home in the first class section of an airplane, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes she could take the Sunlander’s sleeper train again.
The clock is ticking and as she faces retirement in a museum somewhere, I hope people from far and wide make her last year something to remember.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Queensland Rail Travel but as usual all opinions are her own.
And while we’re talking about things I love that will end soon, check out my Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review, written after the airline announced it would stop flying between Sydney and Hong Kong, and the Last Chance to Cruise on Celebrity Century story.
Love trains? You may also want to read about one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world, the Oslo to Bergen railway in Norway, or the Los Angeles to San Diego train, the Pacific Surfliner. Or perhaps you’d like to pay a visit to the Trainworks museum outside Sydney.