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The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific

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.

Activities

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:

  • Kalgoorlie
  • Cook
  • Adelaide
  • 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.

Kalgoorlie

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.

The Indian Pacific Kalgoorlie Mine Truck

One of the MASSIVE trucks used in the Super Pit

Cook

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.

The Indian Pacific Cook School

The old Cook School

Adelaide

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 Indian Pacific Haighs Chocolates

Haighs Chocolate Factory

Broken Hill

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.

The Indian Pro Hart

Pro Harts “Dragon Fly”

Dining

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.

The Indian Pacific Food

Delicious Angus Beef Medallion

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).

The Indian Pacific Dining

The Queen Adelaide Restaurant Dining Cars

The Rooms

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.

The Indian Pacific Gold Service Twin Room

My Gold Service Twin Room

The View

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.

The Indian Pacific Perth To Kalgoorlie

Somewhere between Perth and Kalgoorlie

The Indian Pacific Perth To Kalgoorlie Sunset

Sunset on the way to Kalgoorlie

 

The Indian Pacific Nullarbor Plain

The nothingness of the Nullarbor Plain

The Indian Pacific South Australia Red Sand Dunes

The Red Sand Dunes of South Australia

 

The Indian Pacific Regional New South Wales

Preparing to enter the Blue Mountains

 

The Experience

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?

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18 Responses to The Indian Pacific

  1. IRENE May 14, 2013 at 10:14 PM #

    Sounds like a really interesting way to see the country and meet the locals~
    I got hung up on the bag of candy, BTW. I have to put that chocolate factory on my bucket list.
    Best, Irene

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 15, 2013 at 1:58 PM #

      Thanks Irene and yes you need to visit the chocolate factory. Really good aussie chocolates to be had there.

  2. JEFF @ GO TRAVELZING May 15, 2013 at 1:43 AM #

    That sounds like a great trip. I have not been to Australia yet but I will have to add this train ride to the list when I make it there.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 15, 2013 at 1:58 PM #

      Jeff it’s well worth the experience if you have the time. A great way to see Australia.

  3. BIANCA May 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM #

    I’ve always wanted to do this train trip or The Ghan but they are so expensive and I don’t think I’d enjoy it unless I was in a private cabin.
    The glass top / open top carriage is a great idea. I’m sure I’d spend a lot of time taking photos and reflections would drive me crazy.

  4. CHARLI L WANDERLUSTERS June 13, 2013 at 1:31 PM #

    We actually did this trip……in a vintage Winnebago! We took 3 months and drove the entire length of the south coast Sydney to Perth and then back through Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. I have to admit while it was superb to be able to stop on a whim and explore, the food looks a lot more appetizing than the stir fry and pasta ensembles we lived on for the duration of our journey!

    While camping on the Nullarbor Plain I would often wonder what crossing the vast expanse would be like via train. Your photographs are stunning so I have to admit it might be nice to travel the route in style!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD June 16, 2013 at 5:55 PM #

      Charli I think while the train is a great way to get a snapshot of the country doing it via vehicle like you did sounds mighty appealing as well. I’ve always thought I’d go driving around Australia when I finally returned home and now having taken the train I’m even more eager to do it. There is just so much to see and do. I just hope my cooking skills are up to the task 🙂

  5. TRACEY September 11, 2013 at 4:59 AM #

    Thank you for your awesome account of your journey on the Indian Pacific. I am taking my 80 year old Mother from Perth to Sydney in October on this train and looking forward to it. I was happy to read your information on the tours which has been a great help deciding prior to going of which ones to do. We too will be in the twin gold service room….fighting about who gets to sleep on the bottom bunk haha and who gets to sit by the window. Regards, Tracey

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD September 11, 2013 at 6:34 PM #

      Hi Tracey, glad to see my post was helpful. Really hope you enjoy the trip as much as I did.

    • REBECCA December 31, 2013 at 10:22 AM #

      Hello Tracey,

      Just came across your post about your trip in October aboard the Indian Pacific. I am hoping to do the trip in a couple of months. Can you tell me a little about it….I ask because of your Mom being a senior person…I am 68 and wanted to travel alone. I’m hoping to get a single Gold class cabin. From what you’ve seen were there women travelling alone? Do you think I would feel isolated? What excursions are available? Thank you so much for reading this and any information would be appreciated. Regards Rebecca.

      • THE AUSSIE NOMAD January 1, 2014 at 12:50 AM #

        Hi Rebecca, from my experience abroad the train I don’t beleive there where a LOT of people travelling alone but in saying that you’ll feel far from isolated. The communal areas are a hive of conversation and when dining you will be paired with others to eat as the tables seat four. This ensured every meal I had was full of conversation as its impossible to not talk to the people facing you on the other side of the table.

        The excursions depend on the direction you travel but there is a stop in Kalgoorlie to tour the open pit mine there. You also stop in Cook an outback town, Adelaide with tours of the city and a stop in Broken Hill to see Pro Hart’s museum or the hotel where priscilla queen of the desert was filmed.

        I hope that helps you make up your mind on the trip.

        Chris

      • REBECCA January 14, 2014 at 6:19 AM #

        Hi Rebecca,

        The trip was fantastic and we enjoyed every minute of it.

        My mother hasn’t stopped raving about her holiday and now I have been bullied into another trip with her. She now wants to do the Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide in October this year.

        You will not feel isolated at all.

        The staff were fantastic and the whole trip was very well organised.

        All the passengers were friendly and very interesting getting to know every one.

        At every meal you will be seated with different people which is a really great idea as you get the opportunity to get to know the majority of the people travelling in your section.

        Also there is no need to spend all day in your own cabin as the lounge area is very comfortable and will almost always have people in there.

        The meals are excellent quality and very substantial.

        My mother had no problem moving around the train or getting on and off.

        We got on the train from Perth and our first tour was in Kalgoorlie, we didn’t get to see that much as it was late at night.

        The other tours we did was a stop over at a place called Cook which is a little place, would hardly call it a town, was a nice stop over.

        Two tours where offered in Adelaide. We did the Central Market tour. We were provided a quick breakfast and coffee break and then wondered around the markets. It was pretty good. Others went on a bus tour of the city and others did their own walk around tour.

        In Broken Hill, my Mum and I did the Pro Hart museum which we really enjoyed, the others did the Palace Hotel tour. Our tour also included a bus trip around the town which was very interesting.

        Not all passengers did the organised tours, many got off and wondered around the different places on their own.

        We stayed in a double cabin which was quite nice and had it’s own ensuite.

        I think you will really enjoy the trip and anyone wishing to travel alone will not feel lonely at all.

        If there is anything else that I can help you with or see the photos that we took maybe you may like to share email addresses?

        Regards,

        Tracey

        • THE AUSSIE NOMAD January 18, 2014 at 1:19 AM #

          Hi Tracey, great to hear you enjoyed the trip so much and a big thanks for posting the feedback here I’m sure it will be very beneficial to anybody else looking to take the Indian Pacific across Australia.

  6. STEPHEN A March 28, 2014 at 4:27 PM #

    I am taking this trip leaving Perth 6 April 2014. Your notes and thoughts were really useful – thank you.

  7. KONG T May 13, 2014 at 3:53 AM #

    I am planning to do the Sydney to Perth trip middle of this year. There’s simply not enough comprehensive and up to date literature on this topic. Most topics were unfortunately pre April 2013 when there were the Red Diner, Red Lounge and Red Sleepers. I have found your article very useful and informative.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 13, 2014 at 4:14 AM #

      Hi Kong, thanks for the comment. The Indian Pacific changed their services just before I took the trip so a lot did change.

  8. DOUG January 5, 2015 at 7:17 PM #

    I’ve done the train a few times (and the Ghan) and also driven over a back many times. I suggest to people, if they can, to do the train one way with their car, and then drive the opposite way, preferably around the coast (though dipping inland if time permits).
    Australia looks very different when you train through the desert compared to driving the verdant coast. Both views allow you to truly appreciate what Australia is like AND how big it really is.
    I found train staff to be very kind, helpful and genuinely concerned for their passengers. I sat the last sitting for dinner and shared tables with train staff. I learned so much this way.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD January 5, 2015 at 8:02 PM #

      Doug that’s great advice to take the car, Australia is such a large country that taking a road trip is a must in my opinion. Sitting with the train staff for a meal is also a great tip, wish I’d thought of that now to be honest.

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