As our last day in Sydney approached we started to both get a bit nervous about our choice of transport to the red centre of Australia, Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock). Twenty four hours on a train journey in a seat; would we sleep, would we we bored senseless, would we get cabin fever?
In the end it turned out to be another great train experience, as enjoyable as the sleeper experience in Thailand only without the private carriage and the bed!
The Train Journey Facilities
The train left Sydney at 3pm and we were travelling on Great Southern Rail’s Indian Pacific train. We boarded and surveyed the carriage to see who we would be spending the next 24 hours with. It consisted of a Thai group close to us who turned out to be giggly and happy throughout, some septuagenarian Australians who slept a lot, a smattering of young backpackers and a British trainspotter who imparted detailed knowledge of the journey to anyone who would listen and many that didn’t want to, including me.
You are welcomed on board by your train crew which consisted of a very efficient ticket check. Once comfortable in your extremely spacious seats, a very customer focused introduction from a crew member (she’d worked for the company for 9 years and you’d think she’d been doing the job six months she was so passionate) informing you where everything was on board and who to ask if you were uncertain about anything – and they mean this.
You have ample toilets and showers at the end of each carriage, with your own fresh towels provided, which can double up as blankets for those in the cheap seats like us, as well as a chilled water tap (no hot water though – either the Health and Safety Police, or commercial coffee sale concerns got in the way of that).
Further down the train, The Matilda Cafe serves snacks and drinks and a lounge that you can pay to use (about $10 per day for a wrist band) provide a change of scenery to your seat. Provided you don’t hog tables at meal times, you can use the power sockets at floor level to charge your gadgets in the cafe. Alternatively, commandeer the toilet for 10 minutes for a quick boost to finish that urgent game of Angry Birds.
The carriage looks a little dated, but we were told later that it and the Matilda Dining car had recently been refurbished, the designer obviously decided not to change the 1950/60’s look throughout the train, although it’s incredibly clean and spacious.
The seats recline to a very reasonable angle to allow you to get some sleep, and believe me everybody did. The dining car prices are not extortionate at all, AUS$2.50 for a cup of rosie lea, AUS$10 for a full English breakfast, which is great seeing as they have you trapped their for the best part of a day, or three days if you are travelling all the way to Perth. We took a cool box with all our chilled snacks and wine etc (it is forbidden to consume your own alcohol on board and you have to make sure you consume any fruit on-board due to quarantine restrictions).
The Train Journey Sights
For some the journey is about the carriage, the train experience, but for us it was what you see out of the window. This is what makes the journey special.
As you leave Sydney you spend about an hour moving through the suburbs until you begin to climb into the Blue Mountains passing through Katoomba. The views are spectacular and given the curves in the track and the incline this part of the journey is taken at a very slow pace affording you plenty of time to appreciate the views as they form in the window (or “Train TV” as we named it)
You then descend into the plains below the mountains as you make your way westward toward Adelaide and the sun sets just to add a little bit extra to an already spectacular scene.
Once you’ve admired the sunset from the train, the evening crew take over and the lights are dimmed. Everyone begins to settle down, recline in their seats, blow up their travel pillows, dig out the extra blankets they’ve packed and hunker down for a bit of sleep. I lasted till about 11 and then joined them.
The train tracks on this part of the journey must not have been renewed since the track was laid as it is one of the bumpiest bits of the journey. This meant that every now and again you wake up; in your sleepy state you think you’re on a roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Despite this we both had an extremely good six hours sleep, if not completely undisturbed, and awoke to witness the sunrise. Pichachu managed about 12 hours.
The Morning After
What was to welcome us in the morning was simply amazing. As we awoke, got ourselves together, showered in the facilities at the end if the carriage. One little problem is you can’t get a coffee until 6am, so take a flask if you’re a coffee addict. We again turned to “Train TV” through the window to see what was going on and watched the sunrise come up and the morning light flicker off the surface of Menindee Lake.
I wandered to the buffet car to get our morning caffeine hit with that beautiful image in my mind. When I returned John informed me he had spotted kangaroos and emus wandering across the bush. I thought he was just winding me up so I took my seat and looked out, a few minutes later I too was rewarded with the sight of emus hurtling along the bush and wild ‘roos bouncing out of the way of the noisy train, that had just invaded their dawn morning. This emu and “kangaroo safari” spotting kept us amused for a few more hours until we reached our one and only stop of the journey at Broken Hill.
Here you are let off the train for an hour to smoke, walk and wander round this little mining town in the middle of nowhere. It was 7am in the morning so it looked more ghost townly than it probably did on a normal day. The town has a rich mining history reflected in the street names which include Sulphide, Silver, Argent, Cobalt and many other minerals or precious metals you can haul from the ground, which I guess is still the towns most important industry.
The town’s Palace Hotel also featured in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert , no doubt due to its rich decor. Great Southern Rail are putting on a special Mardi Gras themed train through Broken Hill to coincide with Sydney 2012 gay events programme in February. Mad Max was also filmed around here and this small town also boasts its own film studios to promote filming in this barren yet fascinating landscape.
Back on the train for the final leg and within a few hours we were pulling into Adelaide Parkway Terminal. This is an airline style terminal only for the Great Southern Trains passing through Adelaide (the Ghan, The Indian Pacific, and the Overland).
Train Journey Trivia
The Indian Pacific is named, as you may guess from the journey it makes from the Pacific leaving Sydney to the Indian Ocean as you reach Perth
- Average Speed of the Train on the Journey – 85Kmph with a max of around 115 Kmph
- The train length is 711 metres at full capacity (about half a mile)
- The complete journey from Sydney to Perth is 4352Km, we did less than half of that to Adelaide.
- The guards announce the cricket scores en route (on this occasion much to the delight of the Aussies as they were winning handsomely)
Arrival in Adelaide
We checked into the Adabco Boutiique, which is a beautiful restored Victorian boys home set smack bang in the CBD, with great decor and a most pleasant welcome from the owner on arrival.
This was a very pleasant change from the rather basic offerings we had while in Sydney at the university residences. We looked at hostels, but again like elsewhere in Australia booking the Adabco through a special deal rate meant that the difference in cost between this and the backpackers hostel private room down the road was about £7. I am not sure this theme will continue as we move to other countries rtw, but for Australia we keep choosing these places over the backpackers. We are flashpackers after all, and that flashpacking budget has to last.
Adelaide was a bit of a shock from our bustling peak season visits to Sydney and Melbourne. In fact as we wandered around on the evening we arrived, it felt altogether deserted. So we came back with a few provisions and decided to sleep on it and explore further tomorrow, but more of that in a later post.