Tilt Train brings outback to you
OUTSIDE the distinctive Australian countryside - parched paddocks, silver gums and brown termite mounds baking under a blazing sun - is whizzing by at around 150km/h.
Inside all is smooth and cool and I'm admiring the Queensland scenery while sipping a beer and munching on a chicken sandwich.
Through the window I spy a sign warning motorists to look out for koalas. Fortunately this is a train so there's no need to worry but I try to spot a koala anyway.
There are plenty of gum trees but none of them are accommodating koalas as far as I can tell, however I do spot a couple of camels and doleful-looking, floppy-eared brahma cattle that can survive in arid conditions.
The 2008 kidult film, Inkheart, is showing on screen and looks quite entertaining. But my viewing is patchy because the vista passing outside is even more interesting and totally unlike New Zealand: quaint country towns with those charming Australian houses made of stone with wide verandahs and intricate wrought iron balconies; broad, green, slow-moving rivers, some with signs warning of crocodiles; blackened forests, obviously recently swept by fire, but whether deliberately lit for conservation reasons or the result of the drought there's no way of knowing.
There are also coastal mudflats thick with mangroves, crawling with huge crabs and fluttering with birdlife.
This is the Tilt Train, pride of QR TravelTrain, which runs up the coast of Queensland from Brisbane to Rockhampton daily, and a couple of times a week goes all the way to Cairns.
The technology, which allows it to tilt on the bends, lets the train corner at 20 per cent faster than an ordinary train, reaching speeds of up to 160km/h, covering the vast distances of Queensland in reasonably quick time. I opted for the train because I wanted to get from Brisbane Airport to Hervey Bay, gateway to Fraser Island, and then up to Gladstone where part of our family is living, and the connections offered by Qantas were inconvenient and expensive.
This way all I had to do was get off our plane from Auckland, catch the Air Train from the airport to Brisbane's Roma St Station, departure point for the Tilt Train, sit back, relax and enjoy a pleasant lunch while admiring the scenery.
At Maryborough West a coach took passengers on to Hervey Bay and the Urangan Boat Harbour from where the ferries go to Fraser Island. And for stage two of the trip there was a coach from Hervey Bay back to the station and the train which carried us to Gladstone where the family was waiting.
Hervey Bay is the heart of Australia's whale-watching industry; Bundaberg is the home of the eponymous Australian rum. Gladstone, where I got off the train, is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the base for a vast minerals industry including the largest alumina refinery in the world and the biggest aluminium smelter in Australia; Rockhampton, where the shorter route ends, promotes itself as the beef capital of Australia, is dotted with statues of prize bulls and offers a chance to go indoor bullriding ... plus it has a nice wee zoo with koalas and no entry charge. The longer route adds the coastal cities of Mackay, Airlie Beach, Townsville and Cairns.
The reason I chose the train was because, for what I wanted to do, it was quicker and cheaper than flying. But next time I think I'll go by train because it's more fun.
Getting around: For details of Queensland's TravelTrain operations, including the Tilt Train, see traveltrain.com.au.
Further information: For more about visiting Queensland see queenslandholidays.com.au.
Jim Eagles travelled the Tilt Train with help from Air New Zealand and Tourism Queensland.