The Indian Pacific

The 4,352km journey from Perth to Sydney is one of the world's great train trips. It is certainly is an experience. For us, it began a week before the train departed, when we realized that neither of us had the booking details on our laptops. Two emails to Great Southern Railways went unanswered and no-one answered the phone.

Armed only with a credit card statement, we arrived in Perth after a delightful three-day trip to the Margaret River region. My wife, Helen, alighted at Perth railway station with our luggage and I went to drop the hire car off, more than one kilometre away.

My mobile rang. It was Helen, panicking because some local citizens had informed her that the Indian Pacific left, in fact, from East Perth station! I flagged a taxi in the street, collected Helen and our belongings and we made it in time. The taxi driver was very helpful and prided himself on being both a native-English speaker and knowing his way around.

The booking official gave Helen directions to a nearby shop, to purchase food for the journey. She hurried to the shop to find a), that it was not a "delicatessen", as described to her, and b), she had only $10 with her.

We walked onto the platform to find that our carriage was about 200m to our right. Our compartment, our "home" for the next three days, was a bit more compact than we had imagined. Helen placed her take-away coffee on the small table between our seats, and the table promptly collapsed as soon as I touched it. There was only enough space for one of us to get dressed at a time.

As we were cleaning up and unpacking, a young man, who introduced himself as our carriage attendant, gave us a quick rundown on the intricacies of assembling our bunks. During the next two days, he, and his fellow attendants also served food, cleaned up and ushered travellers on and off the train.

Apart from the mandatory group of Irish backpackers, we seemed to be the only passengers less than 70 years old and/or 90kg in weight.

I checked out the dining car and lounge car. Both were 70's décor, and the latter had a musty smell - it was probably because the backpackers, who had paid for a seat (and not a cabin) slept there overnight, for the first two nights.


The scenery was spectacular - trees and scrub gave way to red dirt and spinifex. The vastness of the outback was amazing, stretching away to the horizon in every direction.

Late at night, we stopped in Kalgoorlie, for a couple of hours. We went for a walk to the main street, and a selection of our travelling companions waddled off in search of pizzas. There were plenty of aggressive, substance-affected, local men on the streets and not the slightest evidence of the constabulary. One local smashed a bottle as a group of sightseers walked past.

In the morning, we rose early to see the dawn, and to be first to the showers. Quite a number of our compatriots were up early to be first to the dining car. Many had, clearly, not yet come in contact with water, and most looked like there was little chance of that happening in the next couple of days


The Nullabor sped by, holding our interest, despite its apparent sameness. We did watch some DVD's on our laptops, but had the cameras at the ready. Power outlets were at a premium in the lounge. The train was, clearly, designed before the advent of laptop computers, hand phones and personal music devices. The entertainment in the lounge consisted of two ancient video games and a small,  antiquated television (if you discount the loud country and western music played over the P.A. system, periodically).

I'd never previously thought of Adelaide as "civilisation", but, after two days with my fellow Red Kangaroo travellers, it was beginning to seem very sophisticated. Admittedly, we were not in the top Gold Kangaroo class, but the facilities were far closer to country trains of the '60's' than one of the world's great tourist experiences.

As in Perth, the Indian Pacific pulled into a station outside Adelaide. We caught a taxi into the Rundle St. mall to have coffee and purchase some supplies. For the return journey, I had to sit in the front seat to hold a broken door closed! We arrived an hour early, to find that we had to sit in the waiting room until boarding time.

Outside Adelaide, the landscape quickly became very arid, but the promised kangaroos and emus kept a wide berth. As we entered New South Wales, the journey became far less smooth. The train began a sideways rocking that kept up for the duration of the trip.

We alighted at Broken Hill, which was very cool. It took us 30 minutes to check it out. There was an excellent bookshop.

The last night's sleep was not as relaxing as the previous two because of the increased carriage motion and associate noise. However, we were rested, showered and in the dining car early, ready for our crossing of the Blue Mountains and down into Sydney. However, about two minutes from our destination, we came to a dead stop, because of a fault in the NSW rail system. It took more than two hours for the fault to be rectified, and our journey to end.

The Indian Pacific is definitely one of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Its attraction is primarily because of the amazing landscape through which it travels. The staff are friendly and helpful, but the overall "concept" needs to be re-defined in line with modern, internationally-accepted standards of facilities and service.