“Sal saved her whole life for this one trip,” says my new found train companion, Jill, a 65-year-old woman from Victoria, Australia. “She got on at Sydney, got off at Perth and took the next flight back to Sydney, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. She was happy,” says Jill. We are on-board the Indian Pacific train to make the four thousand kilometre journey across the vastness of Australia.
I feel a little sad for Sal though. Here I am, a 30-year-old aboard the Indian Pacific train, on a trip that she spent her entire life planning for. Over the next few days, I learn that Sal isn’t alone in her ambition, 99% of the passengers on-board have very similar stories. I am easily the youngest person on the Indian Pacific train by about 25 years. I listen intently, as each tells their life stories and talk about their plans to see the world – one train trip at a time. It seems for these passengers, train holidays are the only way to go.
Boarding the Indian Pacific train at Sydney Central Station, my first impression was that it looked like any other commuter train. My heart sank a little as I dragged my suitcases across the platform to Car B, which was to be home for the next three days. Car B, was in the Gold carriage of the train – just one step down from the Platinum section, which costs approximately AUS$350 more per person, per night.
However, if there was ever a time when looks were deceiving this certainly was that moment. As I clambered on-board and weaved through the narrow walkways of the carriages towards my cabin, I was somewhat amazed when I open the door. It was small, but so well designed that it didn’t feel cramped. The cabin wasn’t ultra luxurious, but I was impressed. My doubts about whether this really was going to be that ‘trip of a lifetime’ quickly vanished.
I made my way to the bar carriage for the a welcome drink and devoured a glass of pink champagne. It went down well and I asked the kind bar tender for another, she obliged with a perfect smile. Settling down into one of the comfy sofas next to the huge windows, I got more than a few looks from my fellow passengers. Probably wondering why someone of my age was spending a holiday on board a cross-country train with people who were much older.
Jill befriended me and nattered away as the train pulled out of the station we made our way through Sydney’s stunning Blue Mountains. My fellow holidaymakers were all enjoying more glasses of champagne and now chatting like long lost friends.
It took me some time to relax as kept watching the clock, expecting to pull in at the next station and begin my holiday. I had to remind myself that I was already on the holiday. After a few more drinks, I headed back to my cabin, promising Jill we’d catch up later. She wanted to show me pictures of her trip on The Ghan, the train journey between Adelaide and Darwin, which I had originally planned to take and so I was intrigued.
Life on-board the Indian Pacific train
Cabin staff do the rounds on-board greeting everyone and to informing us of operations whilst holidaying on the Indian Pacific train. I’d booked in for dinner at 7pm in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, while breakfast was ‘rolling’ so you could go in whenever you wanted.
I wondered why the times needed to be so rigid, but the explanation was obvious as I walked into Queen Adelaide that evening, the restaurant is in a carriage. We were on a train after all. The Indian Pacific train’s restaurant was furnished with lovely tables and chairs, and like everything on board, it was compact, so scheduling and time keeping was vital.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner was a three-course affair. The dishes were delicious but on the small side, but by day two I could feel the implications of so many courses.
The views through the train windows were spectacular and I got my first sense of why this really was a ‘trip of a lifetime’. We passed through the lush green forests and hilly landscapes of the Blue Mountains to be greeted by the deserted outback and I loved the complete emptiness. Beside the million or so feral camels – I actually spot eight trotting along – there was little out there. Interestingly, I was told that the camels have learnt to lick the railway tracks in the morning, taking advantage of the overnight moisture that clinged to the steel before being evaporated by the harsh sunshine of the day.
Relaxing into the journey, I sat back to view hundreds of kilometres of yellow, brown and bright orange desert. And it’s flat. There are no trees or green shrubs to steel my attention away from the expanse of nothingness. The conditions in the outback are harsh and there’s so little life there. Yet it’s so intriguing I spent days staring, at nothing but desert plains, and I loved it.
A point to note, there are many time zones between Sydney and Perth, so be prepared for a daily clock change on the Indian Pacific train.
The Indian Pacific train travels at 85km per hour, and the journey was always comfortable. However, the carriages moved around more than I thought they would, but it didn’t seem to trouble anyone else.
I was sad when I woke on our last morning on the Indian Pacific train. As I munched through my three-course breakfast, I realised how quickly I had become accustomed to my daily ritual of dining, viewing the magnificent landscape, and visiting weirdly wonderful places. I certainly would never have had these experiences but for this journey and the people, who had so many stories to share. I loved it.
Do I still feel bad for Sal that her lifelong ambition had been to ride the Indian Pacific train? Not at all. Now I understand.