Indian Pacific – ocean to ocean
Written by: Jovanka Ristich
Date: 29th March 2019
Perth is one of Australia’s most exciting gateway cities with new hotels, restaurants and experiences regularly being added to its already bulging portfolio of attractions.
World renowned vineyards are on the doorstep as are luxury eco experiences like Sal Salis and islands like Rottnest, home to the adorable and celebrity selfie friendly quokka. Add to this an impressive choice of flight options including Qantas’ ground breaking non-stop flight and you have compelling reasons to choose this side of Australia as your Antipodean point of entry.
But the reasons don’t end there, Perth is also the starting point for the epic rail experience that is the Indian Pacific, providing the perfect opportunity to drop down several gears and to continue travelling around Australia at a more laidback and relaxed pace. What better way to complement a 16 hour flight than with a three-night/four-day rail journey that takes 65 hours to cover 4,352kms between Perth and Sydney. Incidentally, this route links the Indian and Pacific Oceans, neatly providing the train with a self explanatory name.
But, before embarkation, it makes sense to shake off the jetlag and to explore Perth and surrounds. I spent the day exploring Fremantle, the pretty city suburb home to chic cafes, craft markets and sandy beaches. Fremantle is so laid back and charming it’s hard to imagine that this was once the heart of a penal colony whose residents were anything but free, living in a destination not of their choosing.
Two Feet and a Heartbeat offer a range of themed walking tours of both Perth and Fremantle. History and culture, food and wine are all catered for. And, walking a city’s pavements is my favourite way of getting to know a destination.
Meanwhile, the Convict Prison Tour focussing on the World Heritage Listed jail, graphically evokes a period of history when some 10,000 men were transported from Britain in the late 1800s for crimes as petty as stealing food.
Shocked, educated and enlighted I was now more than ready to be pampered, wined and dined so I stepped on board the Indian Pacific looking forward to my luxurious and leisurely traverse of an entire continent.
The first day on the train offers plenty of time to relax and ponder the passing landscape that changes from urban to rural, agricultural to goldrush. And, by the time night fell, it was time for our first off rail excursion of the trip, a nocturnal tour of Australia’s goldmining capital of Kalgoorlie.
Home of the aptly named Super Pit, this is the world’s largest open cut gold mine. At 3.6 km long, 1.6 km wide, and 512m deep, this is a 24 hour hive of activity and a major source of Western Australia’s wealth. It’s a fascinating town with plenty of history peppered with stories of hardship, back breaking work, entrepreneurs and fantastic opportunities.
However, not all the towns on this journey have a success story to share. Having travelled across the vast, formidable Nullarbor Plain we arrive into Cook, an Australian ghost town where rust and dust prevail. Stepping off the train it’s just possible to hear the whisper of lost hope whistling in the wind, bringing into sharp sunshine focus just how hard Australia was to live and survive in in the early pioneering days, when not every endeavour was earmarked for success.
But, with each low comes a high and it wasn’t long before we were getting ready to explore Adelaide, a city renowned as much for its culinary culture as for its cricketing history. Home of the legendary Oval, Adelaide is enticingly close to the vineyards of Penfolds, Magill, Wolf Blass, Jacob’s Creek and d’Arenberg, to name but a few.
The walking tour provided an appetite whetting introduction to the city that prides itself on being Australia’s first free settled community allowing ideas, innovation and equality to flourish. Adelaide is also at the heart of a rail crossroads. From here it is possible to board that other legendary cross continental train, The Ghan, in order to explore the country south to north, before disembarking in Darwin.
And, from December 2019, it will be possible to travel on the newest train experience, The Great Southern, linking Adelaide with Brisbane, taking in, among other highlights, The Twelve Apostles.
One thing I was beginning to realise on this journey was that the Indian Pacific was like a 3-D history book. Each stop opened a chapter explaining how Australia has grown and evolved over the generations through human endeavour, some of which was brutal. From convicts to gold miners, wine growers to free thinkers, pioneers one and all.
But this is only the hallway point of my journey. My next stop would illustrate something else the Aussies are famous for – their sense of humour. Broken Hill is where Priscilla Queen of the Desert has taken up residence, performing exclusively for Indian Pacific guests via a show aptly named The Main Drag. Blushes and innuendos abound and a singalong is compulsory. Two ends of the human spectrum have met on this journey, I started with prison convicts and tonight I’m dancing with Priscilla!
My last night on the train may have been tinged with blue humour, but my last day was going to be crowned with an altogether different shade of natural wonder – The Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains are the Indian Pacific’s newest off rail excursion and it is truly wonderful, finishing the journey on a high, quite literally, with cable cars making the most of the jaw dropping scenery and spine-tingling vistas.
And so, the end is in sight with the Opera House and associated Sydney landmarks beckoning after disembarking and collecting my luggage. The Indian Pacific provided me with an eye-opening journey undertaken in the all-inclusive lap of luxury with food, wine, accommodation and excursions all taken care of.
Never has traversing a continent been so effortless. I’m fully rested, batteries charged and ready to continue my exploration of Australia.
Further information on Western Australia.
Further information on South Australia.