For most overseas visitors, Sydney is their first port-of-call in Australia. For many, the Sydney region is the only part of New South Wales or Australia they see. Either they take a connecting flight to another Australian or overseas destination or they remain in the greater Sydney metropolitan area within walking distance or a short train or bus ride of their Sydney accommodation. This is unfortunate, because seeing New South Wales by train is cheap and easy. Here’s how to do it.
Sydney’s iconic Central Railway Station will be the starting point for any excursion outside the city limits. From there, you can book a CountryLink ticket or take a series of shorter train links in any direction. If you have a distant location, such as Tweed Heads or Lismore in mind, it’s a good idea to check the train timetable well in advance and maybe even book your seat ahead of time.
If you are just going on a day trip to the Central Coast or the Blue Mountains (both take less than 2 hours), it’s not absolutely necessary to check the timetable first, since trains travel to these destinations regularly, but if you do, you will be able to choose between a slower train that makes frequent stops and an express train. The express train is usually newer and therefore more comfortable than the commuter train as well as less crowded, especially during the peak hours when commuters are going to and returning from work.
If you have some time on your hands, choose a destination and then tailor your itinerary to allow you to see some other places along the way. For example, Byron Bay, on the far north coast of New South Wales, is one of Australia’s most popular vacation destinations. In between Sydney and Byron Bay, though, are dozens of other places you won’t want to miss. There are two XPT (express) trains from Sydney to Byron Bay, but both of them involve a journey of about 16 hours. You can take a sleeper car and avoid paying for a night’s accommodation, but then you will miss out on all the fabulous scenery along the way. On the other hand, if you take the early morning train, you will not arrive in Byron Bay until late at night and will probably just head straight for your Byron Bay accommodation.
A better way to do it may be to take a creative approach. You can make it to Yamba, a beautiful beach suburb on the north coast that is almost a “local secret” to NSW families and surfers, by around 6 pm – plenty of time to settle in and have dinner. Explore Yamba for a day or two and then a train can take you to Byron Bay in a matter of hours when you’re ready to move on.
Byron Bay map: http://goo.gl/maps/HWlL9
While you can stick with the main tourist centers, don’t rule out an overnight stay in a town you’ve never heard of. There’s nothing like Australian local hospitality and you can always find a hotel, campground or B&B to stay in. When you travel by train, you get the opportunity to meet the locals aboard the train, stretch your legs and see the countryside in comfort and style. See Australia by train: you’ll love it.
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