Australia / Chronological / Destinations

One-Track Mind

The Indian Pacific snakes through the Nullarbor Plain. Credit:  Great Southern Rail.

The Indian Pacific snakes through the Nullarbor Plain. Credit: Great Southern Rail.

Riding Australia’s Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney is an opportunity to tick off another experience on the travel “bucket list,” as this is the continent’s longest train ride.

It is also a top trip for rail buffs who may have ticked off the world’s longest, the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Vladivostok, which takes seven days over 9,259 kilomters.

The Indian Pacific takes four days/three nights on a trans-continental rail journey of 4,352 kilomters from Western Australia’s Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s East Coast.

Will it be a boring ride? Not for a minute.

We board in Perth (the train can also be boarded for a reverse journey from the East coast of Australia) and arrive in Sydney about 70 hours later.

En route, the main event is the vast hypnotic Nullarbor Plain of burnt orange earth dotted with stunted spinifex bush against an endless horizon of intense blue sky.

The changing view from a picture window on the Indian Pacific train. Credit: Veronica Matheson

The changing view from a picture window on the Indian Pacific train. Credit: Veronica Matheson

Our home-away-from-home is a double berth cabin that is cleverly fitted with all necessities, including a mini bathroom with washbasin, toilet and shower (the curtain has to be fully drawn to avoid wetting the towels and toilet paper) in a space the size of a phone booth.

In this air conditioned cocoon we settle into an easy rhythm: wake, wash, dress, breakfast, window-watch for passing scenery, lunch, read, drink at the bar, window-watch, snooze, dine, chat and finally, bed.

Our cabin’s big picture window reveals changing images of Australia’s diverse landscape, from fertile plains to desert, rolling hills, remote mining towns and thriving cities. As we snake through the flat Nullarbor, the only signs of life are flocks of pink and grey cockatoo, big black crows and what looks like a kangaroo or emu bounding off in the distance, though that is probably an optical illusion. Occasionally a rusted drum or abandoned piece of machinery comes into focus on the flat landscape.

By night I am lulled to sleep in my upper bunk bed to the soft click-clack as the train travels on at an average 85kph. But a warning: one must be careful climbing the narrow ladder to the upper bunk that becomes even more difficult to navigate if one needs to get up during the night.

Art work on a corrugated iron water tank at the remote town of Cook on the Nullarbor Plain. Credit: Veronica Matheson

Art work on a corrugated iron water tank at the remote town of Cook on the Nullarbor. Credit: Veronica Matheson

When we return from breakfast in the plush Queen Adelaide restaurant car – bacon and eggs are on the menu as well as fruit and cereal – the bunk bed is already tucked away to become a comfy daytime sofa.

Breaks in our comfortable routine occur when the train stops for a late night tour of the Western Australian mining town of Kalgoorlie; for a refuelling stop in the remote Nullarbor township of Cook; for a morning tour of South Australia’s capital, Adelaide, and evening cocktails at legendary artist Pro Hart’s gallery in the New South Wales mining town of Broken Hill.

It is late morning when the Indian Pacific stops briefly at the remote township of Cook, population five, to refuel and drop off weekly supplies. The town’s number grows as “grey nomads” and their well-equipped caravans often stop by.

Passengers get to know one another in the train’s welcoming lounge car, swapping travel tales with accents from across the world, but most are Australians who believe that crossing the Nullarbor is a “rite of passage” for every true-blue Aussie.

The Indian Pacific has shown us the true “bigness” of Australia and some of the world’s harshest, loneliest landscapes

More: Visit greatsouthernrail.com.au

The writer travelled on the Indian Pacific as a guest of Great Southern Rail.

This article previously appeared in The West Australian newspaper on October 5, 2013.

 

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