Riding The Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth - Platinum Class
Our Hughes limosine, precise to the minute, quickly transports us to Platform #1 at the Sydney Central Railway station, where, at 2.55pm, Wednesday 17th July 2013 our journey west aboard the Indian Pacific - The Nullarbor Eagle - commences. We had been anticipating this epic journey, ocean to ocean of 4352kms, from the Pacific on the east to the Indian on the west, for some months and are really excited now it's about to commence. We are welcomed onto Platform #1 by Great Southern Rail staff and escorted down the concourse to our platinum class carriage. Our large cases are stowed into an attached baggage car, whilst for our cabin we carry enough personal items and clothing for our 3 nights on board. Our platinum cabin, by train standards is true luxury. Plenty of space to spread out, cupboards to stow smaller items and a well appointed ensuite, complete with a spacious separate shower. The cabin itself is tastefully finished with wood panelling and quality upholstery - everything feels solid and the cabin door closes with a satisfying clunk, like a high quality European car. Gloria, our very personable carriage host, welcomes us to cabin 5/6, our home for the next 3 nights. Tall flutes of chilled champagne await. Mmmm delicious.
There are panoramic windows in both sides of our cabin, enabling views to both sides of the carriage, albeit with the left hand window looking across through the carriage corridor window to the outside. Both windows are double glazed with internal venetians operated by a wall mounted crank. A small kitchen at the front end of the carriage serves the 5 platinum cabins, offering a small fridge, coffee and tea making faciliites, Italian biscotti and a continuous platter of seasonal fresh fruit. Convenient, useful and kept spotless. The first stage of the journey through the Blue Mountains, Broken Hill and onto Adelaide requires 2 powerful diesel electric NR locomotives, each weighing in at 132 tonnes with a top speed of 115km/h with the second stage through to Perth needing only one. Our train, including the locos and car carriers is 24 carriages long weighing over 1000 tonnes. The average speed of the train over the journey is 85 km/h.
At about a quarter to three the onboard announcement system asks that all non train personel exit and doors be secured for travel. We're off! Right on five to three a jerk, followed by a sustained pull signals our Sydney departure. As we sip our champagne the Indian slowly makes it's way through Sydney's western suburbs letting us view the back of numerous red brick buildings. Leaving the suburbs behind we climb up into the Blue Mountains where the line takes many twists and turns bringing us some superb bush vistas. It's a slow run with the locomotives working hard. On some of the bends we can look out the window, either up or down the train length to see it snaking away into the distance. Gloria comes by to introduce us to some of the onboard housekeeping details, restaurant times and so on. We choose a 6.30pm dinner sitting tonight - there are several options - in the Queen Adelaide restaurant, the luxurious 'Orient Express' style carriage just behind the Outback Explorer lounge. "Did we want early morning tea, or coffee, served in our cabin the next morning?" We are scheduled to arrive at Broken Hill by 6:40am, join a short tour of the town with on board breakfast served afterwards from about 8:30am. Umm yes, probably early morning tea would be a good idea, but it was no problem we could make up our minds later. Gloria was emphatic though, about the need to put our 'please make up the cabin' sign on the door when we went off for dinner so she could prepare our place for the night. We get our gear neatly stowed, then sit enjoying the Blue Mountain views, until coming up to 6 o'clock we make our way down to the Outback Explorer Lounge for a predinner drink. At the platinum level absolutely everything is included - there are no 'extras' to worry about.
The Outback Explorer lounge is a very relaxing space with seating cleverly designed for groups, couples or individuals. Greeting fellow travellers on the way to the bar area which caters for any beverage desire and offers a range of light snacks, we order Tasmanian Cascade beer to enjoy as we watch the Blue Mountains Eucalypt bush slip by having just left Lithgow behind. It is getting towards 6:30 when Lauren, our restaurant host for the evening asks if we would like to go through to dinner. We follow Lauren to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant car, going through 2 sets of double doors, as these are at the ends of each carriage, and are seated very comfortably halfway down the car. The only disappointment of the entire journey comes now. I'll explain a little first.
My wife has an intolerance to salicylates which if not managed can make her life quite miserable. Many months ago we had contacted Great Southern Rail after they enquired whether we had any special food issues. The salicylate intolerance was raised and we explained what this entailed and suggested having a look at our website which deals with the problem, as further help. The answer is to mainly eat a specificed list of plain foods without seasonings or herbs.
However we are presented with the standard menu and none of the staff seems to know anything about my wife's problem. The reality is that she cannot eat 95% of the dinner options on offer. Eventually we decide on the duck which seems to have the minimum of seasonings. For me it is delicious. Fortunately we had brought the email exchanges with Great Southern Rail with us and when these are shown to the train staff they are horrified. Great credit must be given to Great Southern Rail, the train managers, chefs and restaurant hosts as from this point on every effort is made to accomodate my wife's health issues. Nothing is too much trouble - special, one off meals are cooked and various possible food options discussed. What could have been a major spoiler of our journey is totally removed - not only remedied but turned positive.
It is now completely dark outside with just a few faint dwelling lights moving by in the distance. Dinner over, we spend 20 minutes in the Explorer Lounge with coffee before retiring for the evening. Back in our cabin we are very impressed with Gloria's efforts. The full size double bed is down and made up and our bags are neatly stowed on the side. Gloria knocks on the door asking if we would like a nightcap - a choice of liqueurs or cognac. We are quite taken with this idea and select 2 cointreaus. A few minutes later these arrive along with some handmade chocolates. We feel really spoilt. As we ready for bed it is exhilerating to think that as we roll westward through the night hours towards Broken Hill, we pass through historic towns such as Orange, Parkes and Menindee.
There is constant train movement whilst underway, not violent or intrusive in any way - more soothing really. With the bed in night mode, space is more limited yet perfectly adequate. Although it is a bit of a challenge getting ready for bed as the carriage rolls to one side on a bend or hits a sudden bump in the rails, but we quickly get used to it and are soon under the covers. The cabin is kept at a pleasant, air conditioned low 20s temperature. After half an hour or so with our books and liqueurs we feel ready for sleep, so it's lights out. Sleep, however, is quite elusive as the train moves, squeaks, groans and thumps, and it is seemingly only moments since we crawled into bed, that my alarm tells us it is 6am and we need to be up and ready for our 6.40 arrival at Broken Hill and our first excursion. We must have slept quite well!
It's 6am and dark outside. I don't feel too bad surprisingly, because my memory of the night suggests I slept terribly. Knock, knock on the door and Gloria, with a lovely big smile, asks did we want a morning hot drink and danish pastries? I suddenly remember from the previous evening that we hadn't decided - but, of course now at 6am the idea is too good to pass up - "Sorry Gloria hope we haven't put you to extra trouble. Not a bit", she says, disappearing for 15 seconds and returning with a lovely wood tray, topped with china cups, hot coffee in a pot and a selection of pastries. I'm sold - this is the life. After this an unexpectedly acceptable shower with passable water volume and steady warmth, does wonders at this time of the morning!
Dawn just coming up and we watch the growing orange glow from the east as The Indian slows fast as it approaches Broken Hill; right on time, 6:37 and another few minutes we are alongside the platform. Gloria warns us that as the train is so long we have to walk down a couple of cars to alight at the start of the platform. No problem and our small coach is waiting to take us on a quick town tour then up to the miners' memorial which occupies a dramatic site atop a mullock heap, overlooking the town. In the grey light of early morning it is particularly poignant to walk through the 'Line of Lode' iron edifice which houses the memorials to more than 800 miners who lost their lives on the job. A solemn place reminding us of past trade union battles for better working conditions. We know the Indian departs sharp at 8:20am so we can't be too long, but the drama of the site draws you to linger. The behemoth, BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company has its roots here and as we complete our short town tour we notice various streets with definite mining connected names - Galena st (lead), Oxide st, Chloride st, Bromide and so on.
The Indian's horn is sounding as we pull up alongside at about 8:15. What an interesting hour and half we have had with our bright quick witted driver giving us some insights into Australian humour - one printable example being; "the Australian translation of R.S.P.C.A. = reduce speed, police car ahead" !
The Indian pulls out on the dot of 8:20am gradually gathering pace towards our next 3:05pm scheduled stop at Adelaide. We spend an hour or 2 now in the Outback lounge enjoying espresso coffee and cake. Our train manager for this stage of the journey, comes by to discuss various meal options that will not be dietary challenges.
Passing Silverton we are very nearly at the NSW/South Australia border and time to set our watches back 1/2 hour to SA standard time. These time differences across Australia's vast continent can be a little confusing especially the next phase passing into WA - but I'll come back to this bit of ontrain 'sleight of hand' later. Lunch today is a delight with Allan, our chef on this Adelaide stage having completely adapted the scallop and prawn noodles to suit my wife's dietary issues. No mean feat and very well done. I have the dish as it is listed on the menu - delicious and satisfying. The menus are imaginatively constructed and skilfully delivered making use of local ingredients where possible. For instance, today for lunch we could choose an entree of fresh Coffin Bay (South Australia) oysters with mains being the scallop and prawn noodles, Coorong Angus beef, Barossa Valley chorizo or, for vegetarians a vegetable and polenta ragu. Dessert choices are equally tempting. Then, of course the 'piece de resistance' is a fresh perfectly made long black espresso to enjoy at our table or back in the Outback lounge.
From time to time, using the public address system, short historic and informational snippets about an upcoming destination or the area we are currently passing through, are offered. These play quietly in the background in the lounge area. Relaxing in our Platinum cabin we can choose to listen to these or one of several music channels, providing a soft background of well known classical or maybe some 60s to 80s Beatles, Elton John or Cat Stevens.
We pass through Peterborough and come to the CrystalBrook T intersection, the part of the line shared with The Ghan which runs between Adelaide and Darwin. Now, we turn south to Adelaide, but later in the night will pass this point again as we run north west towards Tarcoola, where the Ghan line branches north to the Alice. Coming up to 2:30pm and we are trundling slowly through Two Wells and Bolivar before rolling into Adelaide at 3:05pm on the dot. Our Adelaide stop is 3 1/2 hours and we have 2 off train tour options. The various tours offered at the stops along the route are interesting but only brief interludes from the unique experience of living daily life aboard The Indian Pacific. This essence of train life is the main event.