We’ve made it to Sydney! And, we had a fabulous time getting here, on the train ride of a lifetime.
The East Perth train station was just a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb condo, and as we headed for the station with all our luggage at around 8:00 a.m. last Sunday morning the walk was thankfully nice and cool. Great Southern Rail’s legendary service and hospitality began the minute we arrived at the station – our big suitcases were collected and we were given our cabin assignment: Car C, near the front of the train, Cabin 4. I asked if it was a forward or rear facing cabin, but no one seemed to know so we continued to keep our fingers crossed until we could board and find out.
We boarded the train about a half-hour before its scheduled departure time of 10:00 a.m., settled in to our front-facing cabin (yeah!) and before we knew it the train was rolling out of the station. We had been given an itinerary for the trip at check-in, but shortly after we departed we were visited by our car manager in order to choose our off-train outings, and a short while later by the restaurant manager in order to receive our restaurant schedule. Car C was just two cars away from the lounge car, and three away from the restaurant.
Our time onboard the train was very relaxed. We spent most of our time in our cabin, looking out the window at the scenery or napping, but we sometimes headed down to the lounge car to meet other passengers, to enjoy a drink and/or a tasty snack, or have a cocktail before dinner. All meals and drinks on our trip were included in the price of the ticket – all we had to do was order and enjoy.
We turned out to be the only Americans onboard! Most of the passengers were from Great Britain (several of whom were continuing on with a two week cruise around New Zealand), but there were some Australians, and we also met a couple from Ireland, a very nice man from Japan, and a there were few passengers from India and South Africa. My favorite experience of the trip happened the first evening as we were getting back on the bus to go back to the train after a late-night off-train outing. We were looking for our seats on the bus, and a woman from Britain piped up, “Oh, you’re behind us. I recognize your accents.” What!?!?!?!? We don’t have accents!” was my first thought. It took me a second to realize that this time around we were the odd ones out, and the ones with an accent to everyone else.
One other thing about the passengers (us included) is that I don’t think there were more than 10 people on that train less than 60 years old! Even though we’re both in the second half of that decade, Brett and I still felt like spring chickens compared to many of the other passengers – most, we guessed, were in their 70s – but everyone was friendly and we had a good time with everyone we interacted with. The dining room did a good job of seating us with different people and we enjoyed chatting with and hearing about others’ lives and experiences, where they were from, and so forth.
Our beds were always made up while we were at dinner, and put away during breakfast the next morning. Brett slept in the upper bunk, but both of us rock and rolled all night with the train as we slept, especially the second and third nights – they were pretty wild! Probably the best thing was that we had a private bathroom with a shower. It was so nice not having to walk down the passageway to get to the bathroom, especially in the middle of the night. The only negative we experienced during the entire journey was that a jar of (expensive) moisturizer, a Christmas gift from Brett, went missing the last night – we don’t know if someone from the cabin crew took it when they came in to prepare the cabin for nighttime, or it fell and broke and they threw it away. Whatever, it was missing this morning and nowhere to be found, and will have to be replaced while we’re here in Sydney (if I can).
The meals we were served were nothing short of extraordinary. The menu was different every day and showcased local Australian food products. We were afraid we were going to see kangaroo appear on menu, but thankfully it never did – Brett said he would have tried it (camel masala was one of the lunch choices one day, but we chose something else).
Every day there was at least one, if not two, off train excursions. We chose the ones below:
– Day 1: The Kalgoorlie gold mine tour. We got into Kalgoorlie after 8:00 p.m. so this tour took place at night and it was difficult to take pictures. We visited the Super Pit, where miners dig around the clock. This place was massive and DEEP, and from there we went to a visitors center where we watched a cute skit about how gold was discovered in Australia. The Super Pit was expected to close back in the 1980s, but they are still finding fresh veins of gold, and now they expect it to stay open another 30 years! I did not think I would enjoy this tour very much, but I learned a lot and in the end was glad I went. For example, I learned that only 7% of the gold mined in the world goes to make jewelry. That figure surprised me, but most gold mined these days goes into phones, computers and other tech devices – they wouldn’t operate without gold.
– Day 2: We skipped the morning stop at a sheep ranch and slept in, but in the afternoon got off to stretch our legs at Cook, a ghost town out in the middle of the Nullabor Desert, located on the longest straight stretch of railway track in the world. Cook was founded in 1917 as a primary place of support for the railroad in the Nullabor, and over 400 people used to live there – it had its own school and hospital, and the town got all its water from an underground Artesian aquifer. In 1997 the railroad was privatized and said it no longer needed full-time support from Cook, and the town dried up literally overnight. Today only four people live there to help refuel the Indian-Pacific when it comes through twice a week.
– Day 3: We arrived in the South Australian city of Adelaide early in the morning, and had a choice of four different outings. Brett and I took walking tour around the center of Adelaide, where the city was founded. It was a short but interesting tour and we had a charming guide. Following all the tours train passengers were served breakfast in a downtown convention center while the train was repositioned and new staff came on board for the trip to Sydney. In the early evening, the train stopped in Broken Hill for refueling and to drop off mail. Broken Hill is an old mining town and was the setting for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a comedy drama about two drag queens who travel around Australia in a bus called Priscilla. Along with most of the passengers, we chose to see the “Main Drag” and had a fun time along with everyone else. Our evening included complementary wine and spring rolls, but finished early because one of the performers was not there that evening. The extra time allowed us to take a leisurely stroll through town on our way back to the train.
– Day 4: The last day on the train and it stopped in the gorgeous Blue Mountains National Park. We signed up for a 1-hour hike with guides who took us to some out-of-the-way spots along with the more famous sites like the Three Sisters and the Orphan Rock. The “blue” in the name comes from the haze caused by eucalyptus trees, similar to the haze in the Great Smoky Mountains. The temperature up in the mountains was lovely and cool, and after two days of desert we were happy to see all the green trees and water.
We (and apparently everyone else) were glad to get off the train when we arrived in Sydney – four days and three nights were enough. But, it was the journey of a lifetime for us, especially for Brett, and I am so happy that we were able to include it in our itinerary. Great Southern Rail offers three different trips through Australia, all with comparable service to the Indian-Pacific, and both Brett and I said if we ever make it back to Australia we’d love to ride the others, especially the Ghan, which runs from Adelaide to Darwin in the north.