On track

A one-way trip on the Indian Pacific Train between Sydney on the Pacific Ocean, and Perth on the Indian Ocean, seems like a dream come true for Sonia Nazareth

Indian Pacific Trainphotos by author

If you’re a journey over destination traveller, there’s something to be said for a transcontinental crossing by train. The Indian Pacific belongs to that category and class of train — that’s clearly more about the getting there, than the arriving.

I sign up for the three-night-and-four-day journey from Perth to Sydney, on a one-way trip spanning 4,352 km. I’m told that I’ll be tracing the footsteps of the early explorers who ventured through deserts and gold fields, rocky valleys, lush mountains, on slow, epic journeys of discovery. Today the path is of course well-charted and luxurious, with halts at big cities, yet the intrigue lingers.

The glorious blue mountains
The glorious blue mountains

Get aboard

It’s clear from the outset, that not all trains are created equal. This one comes with all the attendant details that accompany those who travel carrying very little. From the instant one hands over a ticket to be verified, there’s cake, coffee and live music set up on the platform to greet one, an indicator of the largesse to come. The train’s emblem looms large, signifying adventure — a wedge-tail eagle with an enormous two-metre wingspan.

The cabins themselves are small but elegant, with giant glass windows to let the landscape in. A cabin attendant pops his head in as soon as I’m settled. Would I like to be woken with morning tea? At what time would I prefer to be seated for dinner?

The Outback Explorer Lounge Car — that accompanies each section of the train, is where I spend the giant’s share of my time aboard. This is where the train performer arrives to entertain us with quiz and songs — like the Indian Pacific, a piece that was originally inspired by the hypnotic rhythm of the train. It’s here that friendships form, over numerous drinks from the abundantly-flowing bar.

There is no place on board for self-denial. The in-train restaurant — Queen Adelaide — offers a haiku of elaborate multi-course meals, and lives up to its promise of an abundance of the fresh, local and seasonal. Think locally-produced lamb, Margaret River cheese and a host of native Australian fare, that includes kangaroo, camel, saltbush and wild rosella flower, depending on the landscape that you’re whizzing through.

The key element on a journey like this — is choice. You can relax your clock to slow, and stay in the lounge all day with something cool and delicious in hand. You may even return the book you borrowed from the train’s eclectic collection, to watch the earth laugh in every combination of cobalt (sky) and red (earth). Crossing the Nullarbor Plain with vast open spaces that seems to go on endlessly, punctuated only with saltbush and bluebush, with barely even a tree in sight, is a gift on a crowded planet. If you wake early, you increase the odds of seeing emu and kangaroo making journeys of their own.

Stop over

On the other hand, if you’re eager for more active adventure, there are several stops at which to alight. Our first stop is Kalgoorlie, a city founded by gold. It’s 9 pm at night when we arrive. In the dark, our imagination works overtime, as we try and conjure up the feeling of the “Super Pit” as it’s known — which has so far produced 58 million ounces of gold. However, all the stories of this discovery come to life through a play highlighting the golden mile. You’ll learn that the Pit — being 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 metres wide and 600 metres deep, can even be seen from space.

A key benefit is that the accommodation moves with you, so you’re easy with returning
from an excursion late at night, without the worry of having to pack. Wake and you’re
somewhere new, in this case Rawlinna. Here we see the sun rise over the seemingly endless expanse of the Nullarbor Plain. Our next stop — Cook, has a population you can count on one hand, quite literally. Isolated buildings and a vast great expanse of land is what you’ll see, in a place that was originally built as a support for the railway.

Tough choice

The most strenuous activity you’ll have while on board, is deciding which excursion to alight at next. Adelaide for instance — offers the chance for a tour of the City Sights (learn what makes the city a sophisticated metropolis), or head for a progressive breakfast at the Central Market (in a city known for its gastronomy), or a City and River precinct walking tour (in a city that was never a convict settlement and is dominated by spires and Victorian and Gothic structures), or visit the Adelaide Oval, if cricket’s what moves you most.

And yet the biggest of cities can never overshadow the charm of a quick halt at an Outback Town. Broken Hill, next on the agenda, was established as a mining settlement, many moons ago.

It’s now a collage of heritage-listed buildings, art galleries and a theatrical show. If you encounter masked beauties and drag queens dancing around you, it’s not the extra gin you’ve been drinking that’s doing the conjuring. You’re at a show called The Main Drag based on the blockbuster movie — The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that used the surrounds as backdrop.

It’s my last day on board. Sydney’s our final excursion. There are many things to marvel at — the glory of the Blue Mountains — eucalyptus trees waving eager fingers to the sky in the distance, a superlative lunch post-exploration that allows us time to collectively
contemplate a journey that glitters in reverie.

But as much to be delighted in, is the human spirit — that overcomes all odds — as I think about the determination of the early pioneers who crossed the rugged land, conquering challenges to thrive and prosper.

For details about the train, visit greatsouthernrail.com.au

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