Perth in Western Australia is the departure point for the Indian Pacific luxury sleeper train. It rolls its way from the West Coast to the East Coast of Australia and then back again through some of Australia’s most iconic locations.
On the day of departure, I made my way to Fremantle, a city port at the mouth of the Swan River close to Perth to board. Excited passengers filled the platform, waiting to board the shiny chrome carriages that would carry them from urban Perth, through the untamed raw red Outback, past gold mines, over the Blue Mountains and all the way to cosmopolitan Sydney.
My journey had started a few days before in Perth, where I stayed at The Melbourne Hotel and explored the city with Two Feet & a Heartbeat walking tours, who know all of its hidden gems.
Fremantle Prison gave me a real insight into the lives and crimes of former inmates, and at Little Creatures, a famous Australian microbrewery, I joined a tour and sampled their award-winning beers.
The Indian Pacific luxury sleeper train
Back on the platform, an invitation to board the train and welcoming staff escorting us to our cabins saw us settled in before the train hauled its load away for an eye-opening, steel-wheeled cruise across the vast Australian continent.
On board I met a sprinkling of Europeans, an American or two, and a handful of New Zealanders, but most passengers were Australians fulfilling a life-long dream, a rite of passage, to ride the Indian Pacific across their beloved country.
A few train facts: The Indian Pacific travels at an average speed of 115km per hour and takes three days and four nights to cover 4,352km as it trundles across Australia, from Perth to Sydney. The air-conditioned train measures 914 metres and has 38 carriages, including the two locomotives, and can take 49 crew and 300 guests. Passengers can also ride the train in the opposite direction.
We headed northeast out of Perth and through the Avon Valley passing through the township of Meckering after 150km. In 1968, the town was the victim of the worst earthquake ever recorded in Australia, with almost every building destroyed and train tracks left twisted high into the air.
After dinner, we arrived in golden Kalgoorlie for a speedy one-hour stop to watch a play about Paddy Hannan, founding miner of the town, then clambered on to huge, motionless mining trucks, similar to those at the nearby colossal Super Pit gold mine.
Back on board, we rolled into the night, my cabin seat transformed into a single bed, and stopped early next morning at Rawlinna sheep station for an hour’s breakfast served at trainside tables. The station’s two official residents told us it covers around 2.5 million acres and, in February each year, shears some 60,000 sheep. The fact that Rawlinna sheep station is larger than the UK was astounding.
Many of the tiny settlements we passed through were formed to serve the workers building the railway.
We crossed the legendary Nullarbor Plain (translated, it means “no trees”), keeping an eye out for wedge-tailed eagles, emus, kangaroos and wild camels. Covering some 250,000 square kilometres the plain is 20 to 25 million years old.
Locomotive driver JD Müller, who has been driving the train for six years, said. “I love driving through the Nullarbor, where the landscape is amazing. Watching the sunrise and sunsets, or the stars and the moon at night, is incredible.
“The most amazing thing I saw was a meteor shower that turned the whole cab green. The most beautiful part of track is from Kalgoorlie to Cook – quite hilly, mostly bush and considered a desert, but to me it’s an oasis.”
Hours passed and passengers watched the landscape change through the train’s oversized windows. The distance between stops is vast, and when we did stop, it was so brief passengers barely had time to see anything.
Our bellies were kept busy with splendid food that reflected the areas we passed through, while all-inclusive, endless cocktails and on-tap beverages flowed. Passengers can enjoy a celebration of Australian food and wine in the classically-styled Queen Adelaide restaurant car. I was impressed by the delicious dishes that came out of such a small kitchen, while bumping along steel tracks. Chef Joe Coviac treated us to exotic five-course meals every day, including camel masala-style curry with coconut rice.
We passed through Deakin, a minuscule dot on the map, and then rolled across the state border between Western and South Australia, a concrete marker and signs marking the spot.
At Cook, a tiny, now-abandoned town on the line, 2,829km from Sydney, 1,521km from Perth and 17km north of the Eyre Highway, we stopped for half an hour to explore. Today, it is a refuelling station with only four residents remaining. One can only admire the strength and durability of the workers who constructed the railway line in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.
On we rolled through the Nullarbor past Watson and south of Maralinga, where in the 1950s the British controversially tested nuclear bombs, along 487km of the longest straight stretch of rail track in the world.
At Port Augusta, the train headed south towards Adelaide, through towns with massive grain silos, painted on in beautiful detail by street artists.
Two hours in Adelaide is enough time for a speedy city and river precinct walking tour, a stroll through the colourful stalls of Central Market, or a tour of the iconic Adelaide Oval sports stadium.
Travelling into New South Wales, the next stop was an evening in the mining community of Broken Hill, with a fun and “fabulous” drag queen performance called Broken Heel. Full of glitter and glitz, it’s held at the iconic Palace Hotel, a short walk from the station, which featured in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, making it a popular tourist attraction.
Then the train twisted and turned over green hills and farmland until the thick foliage covering the rolling Blue Mountains took over. Stopping in Katoomba, passengers can take scenic walks to Echo Point, or ride the Scenic Skyway between sheer cliffs. Passengers visiting the Blue Mountains will take a smaller train into Sydney, while passengers remaining on board will ride the Indian Pacific all the way into Central Station to the end of the journey in the heart of the city.
I can’t think of a better way of seeing Australia. You are treated like royalty, by staff always on hand to ensure you have everything you need, the food is outstanding and the huge views of this beautiful, baked continent are breathtaking.
There is nothing quite like watching Australia become a moving postcard from your window.
Photographs: Lisa Young
The Indian Pacific can be booked directly with Great Southern Rail. Prices per person for the four-day, three-night trip from Perth to Sydney between December 2020 to February 2021 (based on a shared twin cabin):
Platinum service: from Aus $6,999
Gold twin service from: Aus $3,669
Gold single service: Aus $1,819
Flights not included.
For more information, visit www.journeybeyondrail.com.au
An extended range of Australian holiday itineraries including Cruise Whitsundays and Rottnest Express ferries can be added for an additional fee.
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