Friday 18 November 2016

Go East! Perth to Adelaide Aboard the Indian Pacific

I was hosted aboard the Indian Pacific by Great Southern Rail.

On Sunday 13 November I boarded the Indian Pacific train in Perth.

It wasn't the first time I'd ridden this intercontinental train which connects Perth with Sydney; in fact I'd arrived in Western Australia aboard it just two weeks before.

However, this was the first time I'd ever taken this epic rail journey in the eastward direction. On all three previous occasions I'd started in Sydney.

I was interested to see what it would be like this time, starting in the sunny west and travelling eastward as far as Adelaide, where I'd disembark for a few days' stay.

The journey started at East Perth Terminal. This was way less atmospheric an embarkation point than Sydney Central, a busy and beautiful old terminus serving all types of trains and travellers.

The platforms at Perth Station in the CBD are too short, unfortunately, for the mammoth Indian Pacific (28 carriages on this occasion). So East Perth Terminal it was, and the train looked impressive as I crossed the footbridge over the rails:

As passengers registered there was a buzz in the air, a sense of embarking on a long and distinctive journey. The Indian Pacific is no afternoon jaunt; it covers almost 4400 kilometres in the three days it takes to travel between Perth and Sydney.

My compartment was a model of neat efficiency and thoughtful design, with sufficient storage space and an en suite bathroom with shower:

As we had a 10am departure, lunch was served fairly soon after we had pulled out and were passing through the Avon Valley to the east of the city. I had a quick cocktail in the bar, then stepped through to the restaurant car:

I spent the afternoon mostly in my compartment, wrestling with a complex book about the JFK assassination and taking relief by looking at the wheatbelt views passing outside the window.

We arrived in the Outback gold mining town of Kalgoorlie after dinner at 9pm, then joined a bus tour which took us through the quiet Sunday night streets to an observation post above the huge Super Pit gold mine, which operates 24 hours a day:

This was followed by port in enamel mugs as we sat and watched a short theatre piece about Paddy Hannan, the Irishman who found gold here in 1893 and started a gold rush:

At 6am on Monday we arrived at Rawlinna, now a ghost town adjacent to the vast Rawlinna Station, Australia's largest sheep farm covering a million hectares. We disembarked to have breakfast at trestle tables between the empty old post office building and the train.

It was a very atmospheric experience to eat outdoors in the middle of nowhere; the train staff did a great job in catering for the masses from the onboard galleys.

Later that day we entered the Nullarbor Plain, the world's largest stretch of exposed limestone bedrock and a flat empty space void of trees.

I intended to go back to my compartment and read, but the desert was so mesmerising I stayed in the bar, chatting to fellow passengers and looking out the window.

After lunch we paused at Cook, another ghost town other than two inhabitants who help maintain the services used by trains and railway workers there.

While the Indian Pacific was having its water supplies refilled, passengers could wander round on a self-guided tour with the help of explanatory signage. Most evocative of all was the deserted school:

The rest of the day was more of the same, lots of desert until we finally re-entered the world of trees. Then it was time for bed, for the Indian Pacific was due into Adelaide just after 7am the next morning.

Then I was out onto the streets of Adelaide, returned to a world in which I had to make decisions and feed myself. Have to admit, I missed the self-contained linear paradise of the train.

The Indian Pacific runs weekly in each direction between Perth and Sydney. For timetables, fares and bookings, see Great Southern Rail's website.

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