Epic rail journey to a tropical paradise

Discover North Queensland on a railway adventure

AH, THE peace and tranquillity that comes with travelling by train.

Kicking back in my high-back leather-look seat, letting time pass me by as the scenery rushes past outside – it was an experience I hadn’t had for several years until I embarked on a long-haul journey from Maryborough to North Queensland in July 2023.

Instead of dealing with the usual stress of airports and traffic, this year my annual trip north took me on a slow yet mesmerizing voyage of discovery from Maryborough to Townsville and Tully on the Spirit of Queensland.

What unfolded over the next 10 days was not just stunning vistas and family fun, but also interesting conversations with fellow passengers, making this an unforgettable adventure.

Let me tell you about my recent rail journey to North Queensland.

 

Rail Journey - Spirit of Queensland at Tully

The Spirit of Queensland pulls into Tully Railway Station.

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A slow yet mesmerizing rail journey

Picture this – a long-haul rail journey from Maryborough to Townsville and Tully, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and wildlife. It was a peaceful escape from the daily grind, allowing me to truly relax and take in the beauty around me.

At Townsville, I had something truly exciting waiting for me. My youngest son and his partner had just welcomed the newest addition to our family, little Bryson. The joy of meeting my grandchild was indescribable.

After enjoying lots of baby cuddles and exploring the stunning sights of Townsville, such as the breathtaking vistas from Castle Hill to Magnetic Island, and strolling along the vibrant Strand, it was time for my next adventure.

My other son whisked me off for a 2.5-hour drive north to the charming town of Tully, known for being one of Queensland’s major sugar hotspots and arguably the rainiest spot in Australia.

Life with his wife and kiddies, Riley and Rhys, in the coastal village that’s a half-hour drive from Mission Beach is nothing short of idyllic. Palm-fringed beaches, tropical rainforests, and the magnificent Great Barrier Reef are just a stone’s throw away. It’s paradise.

But, before I take you further, let us go back to the beginning of this epic journey.

Rail Journey - Overlooking Townsville from the top of Castle Hill

Overlooking Townsville from the top of Castle Hill.

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Don’t miss out next winter – book your railbed early!

I caught the Queensland Rail bus from Stocklands Shopping Centre in Hervey Bay for a smooth half-hour ride to the Maryborough Transit Centre, where fellow travellers joined us for the next leg of the adventure.

Maryborough, with all its heritage buildings, cultural significance, and industrial history, was my home for 27 years before moving to Hervey Bay in 2019. The city holds a special place in my heart.

Fun fact: Maryborough is the birthplace of P.L. Travers, the author of the classic children’s book and movie Mary Poppins. There’s a touch of magic in the air!

Rail journey - train interior

Economy class is comfortable with high-back leather-look seats and plenty of legroom.

As I waited for the train at Maryborough West Railway Station, the chilly winds were relentless, but the friendly Queensland Rail staff made me feel welcome and guided me to my designated, and sheltered, spot. At 7.30 pm, the train departed, and I settled into my economy-class seat.

Now, I had grand plans of booking one of those luxurious Railbeds, but alas, they were all booked out. Winter months in Queensland are prime travel time, so you have to plan well ahead.

Instead, I treated myself to a Trtl Travel Pillow. Compact, lightweight, and endorsed by Lonely Planet Magazine, it made the journey feel like first class.

And so, my adventure began. A 14-hour journey lay ahead of me, with the promise of arriving in Townsville at 9.38 am the next day. Well, if you count the Rail Bus leg from Hervey Bay to Maryborough, it’s more like 15.5 hours. But who’s counting when you’re having the time of your life?

Be comfortable in economy with a Trtl Travel Pillow

You’ve probably heard horror stories of being stuck beside an annoying traveller on long-haul journeys. But lucky for me, I have yet to experience such an ordeal, and this trip was no exception.

I was lucky enough to be seated next to an absolute gem of a guy, John Corbett, whom I’ll affectionately call Mr Cyclist. He’s a retired essential service officer who now spends much of his time exploring the world on his bike.

Mr Cyclist was on his way to Townsville with his trusty road bike in the luggage carriage, and planned to pedal all the way back down south along the National Trail, a grand adventure akin to Bill Bryson’s famous A Walk in the Woods.

The National Trail is Australia’s ultimate quest for independent explorers, spanning 5330 kilometers from Cooktown to Healesville. This incredible trail takes adventurers through stock routes, bush tracks, fire trails, and scenic roads along the Great Dividing Range.

For over three decades, the iconic R.M. Williams has lent his name to this extraordinary expedition. Teaming up with the Australian Trail Horse Riders Association, they have brought to life a trail that immerses hikers, horse riders, cyclists, and packers in the rich history of Australia’s stock routes.

Overnight, however, Mr Cyclist attempted to catch some much-needed shut-eye, but his quest for comfort came up short. Like me, a fellow survivor of missed opportunities, he had missed out on a coveted luxurious Railbed booking and settled for economy class.

Little did he know, a Trtl Travel Pillow could have been his saving grace. Instead, he resorted to stretching out on a dining car seat, only to be chipped by a rail staff member for his audacity. Turns out that sleeping in the dining car is against QR’s rules. Oops!

rail travel - man collecting his bike from a train.

John Corbett, aka Mr Cyclist, collects his bike from the baggage area on the Townsville Railway Station platform.

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Rise and shine!

As we opened our eyes the next morning, the sun greeted us with a breathtaking show over mountains near Mackay. We couldn’t help but soak in the beauty while savouring a breakfast of raisin toast and tea in the dining car.

Here’s the plot twist: our train had a bit of a hiccup with the signals during the night, causing it to run behind schedule. But hey, that only added to the adventure! Finally, we arrived in Townsville around 11 am, ready to continue our epic journeys.

All aboard! Family fun on the Innisfail Mini Rail

In Tully, I had a blast with my family. Our adventure started with a quick jaunt to Innisfail, 53 kilometres to the north, where we all took rides on the Innisfail Mini Rail.

This delightful miniature train chugs along every second Sunday of the month at the beautiful 50-ha Warrina Lakes Park. We soaked up the scenery as we zipped past the serene lily-covered lake and ventured through lush pockets of rainforest.

The Innisfail Mini Rail Club, a squad of awesome volunteers, is the brains behind this fantastic train ride that has been entertaining folks since 2017.

Oh, and there was a terrific kids’ playground nearby too!

rail journey - Innisfail Mini Rail

Families enjoy a ride on the Innisfail Mini Rail.

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Roll on down to Murdering Point Winery

Despite the ominous name, Murdering Point Winery was anything but scary.

As we adults sipped on top-notch wines, the little ones, Riley and Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-fanatic Rhys, were in awe as a cane train hauling sugar cane rolled right by the entrance.

Founded in 2001 by the Berryman family, Murdering Point Winery has gained a reputation for its exceptional wines and innovative use of exotic tropical fruits.

The winery offers an array of uniquely Australian red and white fruit wines, ports, liqueurs, and creams that transports your taste buds to a tropical paradise.

rail journey - Jodie pours a sample of delicious tropical fruit wine at Murdering Point Winery.

Jody pours a sample of delicious tropical fruit wine at Murdering Point Winery.

Fish & Chips on the Beach with Tully Coast Guard

What’s better than white sand and kids’ playgrounds at Mission Beach? How about enjoying Fish & Chips on the Beach at the Tully Coast Guard’s annual fundraising event with the stunning sunset as the backdrop? It was the perfect finale for my time in Tully for 2023.

rail journey - sunset at Tully

The brilliant finale to my North Queensland visit was the Tully Coast Guard’s Fish & Chips on the Beach with this stunning sunset at the backdrop.

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Discover a lush oasis at Tully Railway Station

rail journey - Tully railway station platform

Potted ferns dot the Tully Railway Station.

Too soon, it was time to bid farewell to the family escapade and make my way back to Hervey Bay. At about 11.30 am, I hopped aboard the Spirit of Queensland once more at the charming Tully Railway Station, nestled near the heart of town.

This station had quite the eventful past – it endured some serious water damage thanks to the notorious Cyclone Yasi back in February 2011, but it’s since undergone a refurbishment. You can still spot the remnants of the old station building on the south side, with visible battle scars.

With potted palms and lush hanging ferns dotting the platform, it exudes an enchanting tropical atmosphere. It’s the perfect spot to kick back and wait for the next leg of my adventure. Time flies when you’re surrounded by this blissful oasis.

 

Find a travel buddy on the Spirit of Queensland

On my return journey from Tully to Maryborough, first I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mr Garden Guru, a fascinating chap with long hair, a beard, and a love for faded jeans.

Not only was he a successful garden business owner in Cairns, but he was also a marketing guru who spilled the beans on using artificial intelligence for blogging.

But wait, there’s more! He was also a vegan on the hunt for some fruit in the train’s galley, only to be disappointed. Luckily, he had a stash of lychees in his backpack, which he happily devoured.

When Mr Garden Guru hopped off in Townsville to pick up his new ute and return to Cairns, I was accompanied by my new travel buddy – Mr Entrepreneur.

This former tobacco farmer turned restaurant owner turned garden maintenance enthusiast knew how to make some serious money by mowing grass and trimming shrubs in North Queensland.

He was headed to Brisbane to reunite with his wife, who had arrived a few days earlier.

Together, they were going on a shopping adventure looking for a motorhome, eager to join the ranks of the “grey nomads.”

As for me, my time on the Spirit of Queensland came to an end at Maryborough West at about 7.30 am and I boarded the Queensland Rail Bus bound for Hervey Bay.

After a total of about 37 hours of rail time (including delays), I left with cherished memories and a renewed appreciation for the magic of rail travel.

 

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North or south? The choice is yours!

Looking for a relaxing way to tour Queensland’s breathtaking coast? Meet the Spirit of Queensland, your ticket to adventure!

rail journey - train at a platform

With regular weekly services, this fabulous train will take you to see friends and family, or let you explore some of Queensland’s most stunning destinations.

Think Whitsundays, Townsville, Cairns, Bundaberg, Fraser Coast, Sunshine Coast, and Brisbane – the list goes on. And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even connect to the glamorous Gold Coast.

Whether you crave the natural wonders of the north or the dazzling lights of Brisbane, the Spirit of Queensland has got you covered.

It’s a convenient way to travel between Brisbane and Cairns. So why wait? Hop aboard and let the journey begin!

 

Jocelyn travelled on the Spirit of Queensland at her own cost.
Published 20 July 2023

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If you enjoyed this train-inspired post, you might also enjoy these:

A Croquet-lover’s Guide to Exploring the Wide Bay
All Aboard the Mary Valley Rattler
Murder on a Runaway Train

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