The world’s fastest In­dian

Why fly when you can click­ety-clack across the long­est straight line of rail­road with new friends, writes Peter Saun­ders

The Northern Advocate - - Travel -

Atrip across Aus­tralia, right to left or left to right, is 3800km by rail (nearly eight trips be­tween Auck­land and Welling­ton). The In­dian Pa­cific Rail­way is quite an ex­pe­ri­ence in a tight rail­way cabin, with lots of peo­ple to meet and a bit of gourmet wine and food in­cluded.

For my jour­ney — four days and three nights to get from Syd­ney to Perth — the train was just un­der 1km long (imag­ine that at the rail­way cross­ing you use). De­pend­ing on de­mand, it can some­times reach 1.3km.

Some lo­co­mo­tives and power gen­er­a­tors are part of the train’s vil­lage and there is a car trans­porter added af­ter the ca­boose for those who want their car at the end. The restau­rant and bar car­riages are three or four in num­ber, spread through­out the length — so we don’t have to walk far for a drink.

My trip cost $4795 as a solo trav­eller, own bath­room (in­clud­ing shower). This fare would be re­duced by a live-in part­ner, in a pull-down bed and lad­der above the main seat­ing/bed. There are sea­sonal price vari­a­tions: low, shoul­der and high sea­son and there can be a re­duc­tion for early book­ing. A rare dou­ble-bed cabin is ex­tra and needs early book­ing.

There is also a Plat­inum class well above that “gold” price, and well booked in ad­vance, the main ben­e­fit a suite and more culi­nary choices.

It’s not the cheap­est way to get from Syd­ney to Perth. For $400 you can fly the jour­ney, but then, of course, there are three nights’ ac­com­mo­da­tion plus break­fasts, meals and drinks to re­place what is in­cluded in the price of the In­dian Pa­cific.

If rail travel takes your fancy, the same op­er­a­tor runs a sim­i­lar train (The Ghan) from Ade­laide to Dar­win through the mid­dle of Aus­tralia or around the coast from Syd­ney (or Bris­bane) to Dar­win, or as far up the coast as you wish to go. Fly home to New Zealand from a cou­ple of lo­ca­tions.

For me, it was be­tween the In­dian Ocean and the Pa­cific, hence the train name. It was re­mark­ably quick, I found, not the bore­dom of “watch­ing the Nullar­bor Plain flash by hour af­ter hour” I had been warned of. Two out of three nights we had off-train din­ners, one in the McLaren Vale, the other un­der the stars at a farm in Western Aus­tralia.

Yes, the com­part­ments are small, but com­fort­able. They’re based on two oc­cu­pants, un­less buy­ing solo. The shower is small, yet my back gets as much hot wa­ter as it feels it de­serves; the ameni­ties are as gen­er­ous as any ho­tel bath­room, and I learn quickly to man­age the space avail­able, even through the mo­tion of a train at speed.

A sec­ond per­son? You would need to know them very well. The beds are con­verted by staff dur­ing break­fast and din­ner to or from seat­ing.

The staff are won­der­ful, car­ing, help­ful and un­der­stood their de­mo­graphic. From the car­riage host­ess to the bar and the restau­rant car, I can­not speak highly enough of their warmth.

In the bar and the din­ing car I met other peo­ple. The Queen Ade­laide diner has booths for four so I met a cou­ple each meal. All in­ter­est­ing and cheer­ful. The Out­back Lounge or bar was equally so­cial, ca­sual seat­ing and, as a solo trav­eller, I was well and warmly greeted and chat­ted to daily by all sorts of peo­ple.

Food was def­i­nitely above ex­pec­ta­tions. With the name Queen Ade­laide, I did not have high hopes for the restau­rant cars (three of them) as I come from a coun­try where this name cov­ers a down­mar­ket wine brand. But we were re­minded that the name is his­toric, from lo­cal roy­alty and noth­ing to do with any cur­rent vi­nous im­age.

Food each day of­fered one fea­ture main course, plus a white (or red) meat al­ter­na­tive with a vege­tar­ian op­tion. En­tree and dessert were all gen­er­ous and tasty. No wor­ries. In fact, the white table­cloths, sil­ver ser­vice and cook­ing were im­pec­ca­ble and I looked for­ward to lunch and din­ner very much.

The Out­back Lounge of­fered a range of craft beers and nine wines. Two were sparkling and the most pop­u­lar in the bar. I en­joyed work­ing through the list of beers and wines over four days and three nights.

Fel­low pas­sen­gers were about three­quar­ters re­tired Aus­tralians, the other quar­ter a mix of peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages from around the world, al­though I did not en­counter an­other Kiwi. Most in­cor­po­rated the In­dian Pa­cific as part of a broader hol­i­day.

The 3800km jour­ney in­cludes a haul across the long­est straight line of rail­road in the world — across the Nullar­bor Plain. I did not see a kan­ga­roo, but many fine Aus­tralians did, as well as a wal­laby or two, a few emus and some lowfly­ing hawks. I did not have my nose pressed against the win­dow look­ing, al­though that was an op­tion.

Do it again? I dis­cuss this with sev­eral trav­ellers at dif­fer­ent times and the an­swer seems to be, it is huge fun, but prob­a­bly do­ing it once is enough for most of us. How­ever, the Ade­laide to Dar­win ex­pe­ri­ence, The Ghan, does beckon. The thought is not un­ap­peal­ing, and I could put up with the re­stric­tions of the small room as a mi­nor in­con­ve­nience among fine din­ing and warm staff and fel­low pas­sen­gers.

Singing The Cir­cle of Life un­der the coun­try stars a few hours from Perth is part of an ex­pe­ri­ence that won’t be for­got­ten. These un­ex­pected mo­ments have to be ap­pre­ci­ated, in “the cir­cle” — a straight-think­ing line from Syd­ney to Perth.

Pho­tos / Great South­ern Rail

The In­dian Pa­cific rail trip; gen­er­ous and tasty food is served in the din­ing car and there is a gen­er­ous list of beers and wines to work you way through.

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