So with airfares so darn cheap, why would anyone catch a train anywhere? Well, call me a romantic, but I still fondly recall the weeks and months spent on European trains. The excitement of arriving in the middle of a famous city; Paris, London, Munich, Rome. The magnificent historical stations, people watching or just seeing the passing ever changing awe inspiring landscape whiz by. There was always something exhilarating happening and they are memories I will always cherish.
OK, so New South Wales can't possibly match these magnificent cities (Sydney excepted) nor the standard of trains. But can we match the travel experience? It's not the destination it's the journey they say and many fine ones there are here in the state of New South Wales.
And while Grafton or Armidale might not be Amsterdam or Madrid, most major NSW cities have much to offer. And how else are you going to get to Bourke or Lightning Ridge unless you love driving and anyway, someone has to keep their eye on the road and not get to appreciate the passing landscape.
So I thought, what is the longest journey you can take in NSW? Well, the 1,100 kilometre journey from Sydney to Broken Hill is a good start. The new NSW TrainLink timetable has the Broken Hill Explorer departing 6.18 am every day and arriving 7.10 pm.
The service to Dubbo was everything I expected. After escaping the suburbs, there are the majestic Blue Mountains before you descend down through Lithgow and the Bathurst Plains. The carriages are quite spacious even in second class although no where near as flash as European Intercity Trains. The food available is surprisingly reasonably diverse and reasonably priced.
Many passengers seem to while away the hours watching movies or listening to music on various devices while others stare into space. There's not much chance to do anything but stretch your legs when the trains stops at stations along the way.
When I travelled, if you wanted to travel during the day, you had to take a coach from Dubbo to Broken Hill which lengthened the journey and I lost count of the times our driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid, sheep, goats, kangaroos and cattle straying across the road.
Broken Hill is a fascinating outback city, the first city to attain National Heritage Listing. Known as "The Silver City", it has more than its fair share of heritage buildings and more than 30 art galleries. It was famously built on the world's largest silver, lead and zinc mine run by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited now BHP Billiton, one of the world's largest mining companies. There's also much to see in the surrounding countryside including the near deserted mining town of Silverton and the famous Living Dessert and Sculpture Reserve.
The return journey proved to be quite the adventure. Not long after Broken Hill, our train runs over several stupid goats before slamming into a kangaroo. The impact disabled one of the two engines. We limped along to Orange where the passengers were all moved on to coaches. This is where it all fell apart as the managers were only focused on arriving in Sydney on time and not the comfort of passengers. There were no food or drink stops, only comfort breaks for the next nine hours.
Journeys up New South Wales North Coast have proven to be much more pleasurable. Much of the journey is extremely scenic travelling past coastal vista's, through country towns and national parks. Historic Port Macquarie is an excellent beach holiday destination with plenty to see and do. A bus service meets the train at Wauchope and takes you the short trip into the city's centre and close by the many hotels and motels.
Coffs Harbour station is right on the coast while further north and inland, Grafton is a surprise. Situated on the massive Hasting River, there are many historic buildings and it is the host of the fabulous annual Jacaranda Festival in November. A coach service will take you along the coast to Byron Bay, but we stopped at Yamba. There was another issue here as the bus stop is, for some reason, not located in the centre of town centre but at the bowling club.
If you are considering buying a ticket, another point to remember is the old Kramer adage, 'full price is for suckers'. There are almost always discounts available and for lucky NSW pensioners, there are four FREE sector journeys per year to use. Crazy if you don't. Kids under 15 travel for only $1.00. A 14 day pass starts at $232. You can cover a lot of territory in 14 days.
I also love train journeys Glen....and it is not the destination for me, it is the journey. I have not travelled on trains in Europe, but can imagine the wonder of the journeys and the destinations. All the old movies and novels about train journeys in Europe, make it all the more interesting....but so many train journeys to be enjoyed in Australia too :)