Recently, I was watching some hilarious as it is brain numbing television (Gogglebox Australia) where a train travel documentary came on. All the commentators made joking, dismissive remarks such as “why would you ever go on a train trip?” or “how boring” or “this only for old people.” It got me thinking, that they actually have no idea what they were talking about. Specifically because the train documentary was on the Indian-Pacific – the exact journey I, (at the time) a 26 year old, solo traveller, undertook a few years prior.
The year was 2017. I had just come back from a four month long “quarter-life crisis” travelling my way through 30 countries in Europe. I was home, and about to embark on another adventure, Australia. Before starting the trip I had planned right up until Perth and now was deciding whether to fly to Adelaide and visit another city or fly straight back home to Sydney. And just as is normal these days with social media – reading your thoughts and advertising products and services you were merely thinking about a few moments ago (and never actually mentioned it aloud to anyone), there was my solution. An advertisement on Facebook for “Great Southern Railways”.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Australia – it is a huge country. The sixth largest in the world. And while every capital city is connected to each other via airplane there are three trains, offered by Great Southern Rail, that take you across this huge land:
- The Ghan: which travels north to south, through the red centre of the Australia’s famous outback. It travels from Adelaide – Alice Springs – Darwin or vice versa.
- The Indian Pacific: aptly named for linking the east and west coasts of Australia and therefore the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Perth – Adelaide – Sydney or vice versa.
- The Great Southern: this one is new taking you from Adelaide to Brisbane or vice versa.
I decided to do Perth – Adelaide. That way I can get out and see Adelaide by myself. It is a journey takes two full days, two nights with an early morning arrival into Adelaide on the third day. If you’re continuing onto Sydney it is another night on the train.
The Indian Pacific is 774m long and travels across 4,352 km of the Australian continent in an east – west direction. It has 30 carriages which includes guest carriages, a dining carriage, bar carriage, kitchen carriage and crew quarters as well as carriages that can hold your car (only on the Perth – Adelaide section). There are two different service levels; Gold and Platinum. With Platinum Service you get more luggage allowance, beds that convert into a double bed (in Gold you get bunkbeds) and larger windows amongst other things.
My journey was in a Gold Service single cabin because I was travelling alone and it was very comfortable. It is small but there is a space to place your bag and coat hangers to hang your clothes. The day chair is converted into a bed every night by your carriage attendant… just like in business class on an airplane. There is also a small sink and mirror and they provide you with a toiletry kit (with hand sanitiser! – Yes hand sanitiser really should have been a staple for all travellers before this pandemic). Single cabins do not have a private bathroom. Bathrooms are communal for the carriage and are located at the end of the hallway. In saying that I never had to line up to use the bathroom or shower and they are regularly cleaned with fresh towels provided.
At the end of each carriage is a small kitchen where you have unlimited supplies of water, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. All other meals and beverages, which are all included, are served in the dining cart. For me, this meant a walk through 3 separate train carriages. Cue the feeling of an action star as you walk through the small tunnel separating one carriage from another.
The train departs from East Perth railway station in the mid morning. Check in is smooth, seamless and very much stress-free. You check any big luggage items to your final destination (Adelaide or Sydney) so you should definitely pack a small backpack with your toiletries, change of clothes and everything you will need for three days.
The conductor shouts out “All Aboard” and you board, meeting your Customer Service Officer, who checks your name off, books in your preferred dining time and looks after your cabin.
The train departs. You leave the city of Perth behind, enter the outer suburbs of Perth but that doesn’t last long. Industrial buildings fade away and before you know it. A whole horizon of nothing.
And then your journey starts to enter the outback of Australia. The famous red sand comes into your view beautifully contrasted with some green trees and plants that survive in the harshest conditions.
To pass the time?
Do whatever you want to do.
Read in the library.
Play board games in the library.
Listen to your music.
Drinks in the bar.
Relax. Why do you have to be doing anything?
And just sit back and watch as you enter the famous Nullarbor Plain. Enjoying the famous journey across it, in the comfort of a luxurious train.
I, of course, took full advantage of the wine and spirits that were included in my fare.
Now all your meals are included. Lunch and dinner on days 1 and 2 and breakfast on days 2 and 3. And they are some high class, fancy, delicious dishes.
After pre-dinner drinks, a delicious three course dinner, and post dinner drinks in the late evening you arrive at Kalgoorlie. There is an included sightseeing tour of the city, which, unfortunately, because of the late night arrival, is all closed. Regardless, Kalgoorlie is famous for mines and mining. We got to visit the main attraction in Kalgoorlie, the Super Pit. This is Australia’s second largest open cut gold mine – 600m deep, 1.5km wide and 3.5km long.
Also as part of the Kalgoorlie tour is a visit to Hannans North Tourist Mine. Exactly as its name suggests it is a former gold mine, founded by Paddy Hannan, that has now been converted into a tourist attraction. Here we were treated to a short play depicting the life of Paddy Hannan and his early discoveries and after, a sampling of some delicious port to keep warm, because even in the middle of desert it can be cold at night. After trying to pan for gold, spoiler alert: no luck, we got to climb on the giant mining machinery.
At around midnight it’s all aboard again. You enter your cabin to find it is made up, ready for you to jump straight into bed.
Despite a late evening the night before, it is a 6am start today for a special breakfast in Rawlinna. Rawlinna is whack bang in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain – a huge flat, almost treeless (hence the Latin name), semi-arid area. It is also situated on the fringe borders of one of Australia’s biggest sheep stations.
It is a nice little stop to enjoy breakfast in the cool, fresh, morning air and get to stretch your legs wondering around this small town in the middle of nowhere. Literally, you look north, south, east and west and see nothing.
After breakfast it is back on board. As you’re now wide awake and there is the light of day you get to completely appreciate the stunningness, vastness and emptiness that is the Nullabor Plain.
Driving Crossing the Nullabor Plain has been suggested by numerous travellers, magazines, bloggers etc. as a bucket list item to do in Australia. I guess, I cheated a little a bit by doing it in the comfort of a luxury train sipping wine after spirits after wine, but I think it still counts.
After lunch we made a visit to the number 1 tourist attraction in the whole Nullarbor Plain, the town of Cook. A now ghost town that was built and thriving in 1917 when the railroad was first laid here.
It was a functioning town with houses, a school and a hospital. In order to prove it’s viability it tried to encourage sick people to come to its hospital by promoting itself with the catchphrase “if you’re crook, come to Cook.”
It didn’t work.
When the railroads were privatised, the town was all but abandoned. A population of 4 still live here, maintaining the town which is used as a changeover base for train drivers driving the Perth to Port Augusta route.
Nowadays, the Indian-Pacific stops here to refuel and to bring supplies to the permanent population living here. The drawcard to visit this town is to wonder around and explore its dilapidated buildings and abandoned houses in this ghost town in the middle of nowhere. There is no-one for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres in either direction. Spookily aesthetically perfect. I wish I was a better photographer back in 2017.
After exploring perhaps the most perfect place to ride out a pandemic #socialdistancemaximum, we were back on board to do the daily activities. Drink and eat!
Eventually, your scenery changes. You see life.
An early morning sunrise breaks over the outback before gradually getting back into civilisation as we approach Adelaide.
One last scrumptious breakfast before disembarking.
Honestly, I remember regretting not purchasing my ticket straight through to Sydney. I did not want to leave
Your luggage is waiting for you to pick up and there are a line of taxi’s waiting at the Adelaide Parklands Terminal. A 10 minute drive one way to the airport or a 10 minute drive the other way into the heart of Adelaide city.
Sleeping on the train – what’s it like? There is a gentle rocking which some may find soothing, some may find awful. It didn’t bother me and I slept amazingly both nights.
Was it boring? Nope. I loved it. Relaxing. Amazing. For me it was a true eye opener at the sheer size of my home country. Its vastness, its emptiness, its harsh environment. Things and experiences and feelings you can’t see from a plane. Furthermore, if you can’t sit back and take things in every once in a while, then… why travel?
Age range? Ok, yes it is for a slightly older crowd. I was definitely the youngest. Did I notice? Yes. Did I care? No. Honestly I find hanging out with “older people” fascinating and, I find, they are much easier to get along with.
Price? Yes. It is definitely way more expensive than flying from Perth to Adelaide. The single cabin trip from Perth to Adelaide set me back AU$2000.
Worth it? AB-SO-LUTELY. I am writing this as Australia rides out the 2020 Pandemic. International travel will not be possible this year and domestic travel has been continuously delayed by inflated egos and domestic border politics that has kind of sucked the life out of wanting to do any domestic travel this year. In saying that, eventually, I think I will be very keen to book another “journey like no other.”
What are your thoughts on train travel? Yay or nay?
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