WHEN it comes to vintage, most people think of a fine wine... When it's a rail journey, you can expect a fine time with a side order of history - oh, and wine.
Guided rail packages are booming in Australia, largely due to seniors, who are their biggest fans.
And there are spoilt for choice, with various operators offering dozens of railway-themed tours all over the country and even abroad.
Vintage Rail Journeys, for one, runs tours throughout NSW in its restored ex-Southern Aurora sleeping train.
From the rainforests of the Northern Rivers to the food bowl of the Riverina, to the Golden West on lines little used by passenger trains, there is something for all.
Vintage Rail co-owner Simon Mitchell says many seniors prefer train tours both for the destinations and the fact they take the hard work out of travel.
For one thing, Simon said that because the Southern Aurora is a sleeping train, guests "never have to go through the hassle of packing and repacking their bag and having it out by the front of the door every morning".
"And being able to enjoy a meal in the dining car is something very special."
Also train seats typically are more comfortable and have more legroom than planes and coaches. This allows guests to get around more easily and socialise if they wish.
Plus every carriage has a guest attendant. "It's like you've got a butler," Simon said, adding that many staff members are former Qantas cabin crew.
A bonus is that there is no need to navigate crowded airports and long security lines.
But it's not just a more relaxed way to start a holiday.
Simon says it's the ideal way to ease back into travel for people who have not developed a "new normal" for travel post-Covid.
And for many, they're a better option than taking the grey nomad path, he says.
"I was talking someone on the last tour who said that at 75 or 80 driving becomes bloody hard work. We cover 1500 kilometres in five days. To do that as an 80-year-old is not always easy."
Solo guests, too, are very welcome. The Southern Aurora usually has two carriages with single compartments, each with its own fold-down bed, wash basin and shared toilet and shower. And they don't pay a supplement.
Simon said within the travel industry, the different rail-tour companies get along well. "We're not competitors, we're colleagues." For example, they did the Elvis special on January 11 with Scott McGregor's Railway Adventures. Southern Aurora did the on-train experiences while Scott promoted it and organised the off-train experiences.
As well as its five-day signature tours, Vintage Rail Journeys is always looking for new ideas and itineraries. This includes refining the off-train experiences. At the moment, new agritourism offerings are high on the agenda.
One piece of advice from Simon: If you are considering an escorted tour, let the provider know you are interested - even if it's not a full commitment.
"Operators need minimum numbers for tours to depart, and will make a decision about two months prior to departure - we've had a number of guests booking in the month prior to departure because they don't want to risk their money.
"Operators understand that, but please do let them know you are interested in the tour well before that."