Thinking about travelling from Perth to Sydney or Sydney to Perth for a holiday then I’d imagine you’d go straight to looking up the cheapest flights available. Some might consider taking the car for an extended road trip but I’d hazard a guess very few ever consider taking the train, well the Indian Pacific to be correct.
Let’s get started with a few details to warm you up.
- The first journey aboard the Indian Pacific took place on the 23rd February 1970
- It takes 3 days to cross from Sydney to Perth and vice versa
- The journey connects 3 major cities in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth
- The track stretches a phenomenal 4,348km (2,701mi)
- The trip includes the world’s longest stretch of train track at 478km (297mi) across the Nullarbor Plain
Not your average commute in any way, shape or form.
While home in Australia the last few months I was lucky to be a guest of Great Southern Rail who run the Indian Pacific to launch their new all-inclusive travel pricing for Gold and Platinum service travellers. When the trip first came up I was excited but a little apprehensive, how was I going to fill in the time while sitting on the train for 3 days?
As it turns out the time passed quick and where I imagined I’d be tired from boredom I was actually tired from all the goings on over the 3 days.
So lets start with the off train activities that are scattered out across the 3 days journey. As I was travelling from Perth to Sydney I stopped at the following places in this order:
- Broken Hill
All off train tours are now included for free within any Gold or Platinum booking while the cheaper Red Service travellers have the option to buy these as add ons once aboard the train.
This was to be a night stop on the first day aboard the train. This consists of a bus tour with guide explaining the history of Kalgoorlie along with a visit to the Super Pit (Australian’s largest open pit gold mine) and a local Mining Museum where you can climb abroad one of the massive trucks used in the mine.
While the history lesson aboard the bus was interesting arriving in the dark to peer deep into a massive hole in the ground (Big enough to fit Ayers Rock inside it) isn’t the most exciting of tour hot spots. I’m not sure if travelling from Sydney to Perth lets you arrive here during the day time but I hope so.
A short pit stop across the Nullarbor Plain is this very remote ghost town of Australia. I arrived around noon and had 30-40 minutes to explore the town while the train drops off supplies for the town and stocks up on fuel for the journey into Adelaide. It’s a little eerie to wander the small town and see so many buildings sit empty but worth the effort.
It was an early start in Adelaide for day two with the choice of 2 tours, City Sights or Adelaide Central Market. Depending on your direction of travel the tours all differ slightly due to arrival times. I’d opted for the City Sights tour but feedback from other suggested the markets was more interesting.
The City Tour includes a guided bus tour passing some of Adelaide’s popular tourist attractions and finishes with a stop at Haighs Chocolate Factory to enjoy the taste and smells of some of Australia’s finest chocolate. If you are travelling from Sydney to Perth this tour also includes a brief stop for coffee and cakes at Glenelg Beach.
The Central Market tour takes you to the center of the city to enjoy a market with some 80 specialist stalls at the oldest fruit and vegetable market in Australia at 140 years old. Here you get to wander, shop and enjoy a light market breakfast. If you come from Sydney then the breakfast is replaced with a wine and cheese tasting session.
The last tour of the journey is this isolated mining city in the far west of New South Wales. Again there are 2 tours on offer being the Pro Hart Gallery and the Palace Hotel made famous from the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. If travelling from Sydney you also have the option to tour Miner’s Memorial which sits high above the city.
The Pro Hart tour takes you to the local gallery there which houses 3 floors of his signature paintings along with many others. After a short morning/afternoon tea you take a brief tour around the streets of Broken Hill. Unfortunately by the time we finished the gallery it was dark so missed seeing much of the town.
The Palace Hotel tour drops you at the hotel where you can admire the artwork inside before relaxing at the bar and enjoying a cold beer. Given the freedom this option adds given the hotel is in the main street I’d opt for this tour unless you’re a big Pro Hart fan.
From the activities we move onto the food aboard the Indian Pacific. With Gold/Platinum passengers taking up 95% of the travellers aboard the train its difficult to feed everyone at once so all meals (except breakfast) are scheduled in over a 3 hour time period. This seemed to work really well but if you ended up with an early lunch and a late dinner the time between can mean a long wait without food.
Perhaps the up side of a long wait is the exceptional offerings when you do sit to eat. Lunches consisted of 2 courses while dinner was a full on 3 course experience. With a great choice for each meal there was never one moment when I had to pick the same dish twice.
From Beef, Salmon, Pork, Lamb, Kangaroo and Vegetarian offerings there was something for everyone to enjoy. Add in the fact the staff were all cooking aboard the train as it rocked back and forth I’d say this was good first class work.
As the Queen Adelaide Restaurant dining carts all seat 4 to a table its a great way to meet and socialise with others aboard the train. For those who like to keep to themselves this may seem a little awkward but is actually really fun. Over the course of the 3 days I met a raft of holiday makers from home (and abroad) all with great stories of their own to tell. Each meal I sat down to easily lasted an hour or more as I ate and talked ensuring time passed quickly.
There is also the Outback Explorer Lounge for travellers to relax in during the day or spend time in before/after their meals. Here drinks are served all day (for free and yes alcohol too) and is another great place to socialise while watching the view pass you by.
Travellers in Red Service don’t have meals or access to the Explorer Lounge but a food carriage is included where meals can be bought. The food on offer here is much more limited during the day (Pies, Sausage Rolls, Salad Wraps, etc) with set options for dinner like Baked Potatoes, Braised Chicken and Vegetarian Lasagna (note I only checked their menu the first day but believe it changed each day).
And that brings me to the last place you’ll spend time onboard the train, your room. I was bunking down in a twin gold service room which includes your own shower/toilet along with 2 fold down beds. When packed away they leave a long seat to spend you day on with a fold out table and easy access to power outlets. There are also gold single rooms but these require you to share toilets/showers with all others in your carriage. The twin rooms certainly offer more space but once the beds are out and the ladder setup you aren’t left with much.
The Platinum rooms are the cream of the crop as they included fold down double beds, extra space, night caps and overall a more luxurious room. While Red Class passengers are limited to just seats for the duration of the trip with shared toilet/showers as well.
I always expected the countryside to change but the amount of changes you see crossing from one side of Australia to the other aboard the Indian Pacific is something. Words will never do the views justice so I’ve included a sample of what I saw below.
Between the off train tours, the dining experiences and relaxing in my room watching the world pass by I never found myself bored. To be honest by the time all of that had finished and we were pulling into Sydney I couldn’t believe 3 days had passed by so quickly.
I’d met great people aboard the train, the staff were friendly and helpful (big props to Crew A who were with us from Adelaide to Sydney) and I saw Australia like I’d never seen before.
At the completion of the trip however I couldn’t help but wish it had offered that little a bit more. What I’d love to see changed to make the 3 day trip even better would be the following:
- Extend the duration of the off train tours. Most felt a little rushed as we were herded onto bus’s and rushed around the activities.
- I can only speak for the train from Perth to Sydney but seeing the Super Pit in the dark was a let down for myself and many others I spoke to. I’d have preferred to see the train leave Perth earlier in the morning to allow more time in Kalgoorlie to see everything so you don’t have to see it all in the dark. The same goes for Broken Hill which we arrived at on dusk.
- Add an open top or glass roof carriage so you can really see the countryside pass by. Most windows are double-glazed with a plastic interior window that causes horrible reflections. Being able to see, smell and feel what its like outside the train like the Rocky Mountaineer would be a photographers wet dream.
The above is probably being picky due to many on the trip really enjoying it. I guess I look at things with younger eyes as the average guest aboard the Indian Pacific was certainly of a lot higher age bracket than myself. A couple of those travellers I spoke with on the train called it cruise travel by land and I think that’s a really interesting way to sum it up.What do you think, have you experienced travel like this and if not would you?