Across the continent - 01-04/02/15

Indian Pacific at Cook for refuelling and watering.

As many of you know, planning this trip has been Martin's baby.  He has worked out the itinerary and made the bookings, just referring to Liz for approval and various refinements.  But there was one thing Liz really wanted to do and that was to cross Australia on the Indian Pacific train and that is how we returned to Sydney.

The Indian Pacific is undoubtedly a tourist train.  People who need to cross the continent for business, or as part of a short visit to Australia, will always fly.  So all of the passengers tended to be people like us, travelling for fun and interest.  We were at the younger end of the age range!  The train had a diesel engine (two after Adelaide, in order to cross the Blue Mountains), 24 coaches and three car transporters.  We were told that this was a short train as it was the quiet season.  In the high season they have 32 coaches.  There are three classes - Platinum (double beds and a bit of space in the "cabin" and ensuite facilities, Gold - a cabin where the bunk beds come down in the evening and go up in the morning (the bed fairies come while you are eating in the dining car), also with ensuite facilities, and Red, where you sit up for three days and eat from a buffet or bring your own food.  We travelled Gold, where there is a lounge car as well as the dining car and were pretty comfortable, though the track certainly doesn't provide the smoothest ride.  Martin slept well, but it seems he can sleep anywhere as long as he's not too hot.  Liz didn't sleep well and we both agreed that while we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, three days was enough!  The bathroom arrangements were most ingenious.  In a space a little bigger than an aeroplane toilet there was a loo, a basin and a shower.  The shower curtain was on a curved rail which completely protected the loo, basin and door, and was perfectly adequate!  The food was excellent and the service cheerful and efficient.

But it certainly isn't a luxurious trip and no-one goes on it for luxury.  You go for the experience of travelling across the vastness of Australia from one side to the other - and seeing very little in between!  Perhaps that's a little unfair, as we had four stops with little excursions.  the first was at Kalgoorlie, the gold-mining town ten hours east of Perth.  We got into a coach and were given a brief tour of the most interesting town buildings, then taken up to a lookout for a view of the great open-cut mine far below.  The only thing is, it was the middle of the night!  The town buildings were just about visible, but deserted and all we could see of the mine were a few lights moving slowly about at the bottom.  When we got back to the train, it was 01:30 and then we had to put our watches forward an hour.  So not only was it a bouncy night, but also a very short one.  At around 11:30 next morning, we stopped at Cook, which used to be a busy little town of 200 souls, mainly employed in servicing the railway.  Now there is just one family of five people, enough to look after the water and fuel needs of any trains that stop there.  We walked around the Marie Celeste-like buildings for half an hour, and gazed up an down the track into the Nullarbor Plain.  It's the longest straight (but not level) track in the world -and certainly not the smoothest!

On our final day there were two stops, Adelaide and Broken Hill, both of which we plan to return to later in the trip, so it was good to have a "taster" bus tour.  Adelaide seems beautiful and we'll look forward to exploring it in March, but it was cold!  We arrived at 07:30 and were informed that the temperature was 11 degrees C.  I took the precaution of a cardigan, but Martin braved it in shirtsleeves and when we got to the top of Mt Lofty, the temperature was decidedly less than 11 - not to mention the wind chill!  Broken Hill also looks interesting, though, like Mt Isa, I suspect a couple of days will be plenty.  But it's the emptiness which will stay in our minds.  Not just the Nullarbor - hundreds of miles of dead flat scrub in all directions - but throughout South Australia and most of New South Wales, despite areas of relative green-ness, it just goes on and on and on, being utterly - well, Australian!  Then, as the train reached the Blue Mountains, everything changed.  There were trees, forests, gorges and cliffs, and the train, which never went fast, slowed to a crawl as it wound through - plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular panoramic vistas over breakfast.  And then we were in Sydney, which sprawls right out to the mountains.  The train had to split into two parts to get into the station, as it is so long, we picked up the little bags we had survived with for three days, said goodbye to all our new chums, collected our suitcase from the baggage area and that was that.  We were back in Australia's biggest city.

Who goes on a tour of an open cut mine in the middle of the night? We do at Kalgoorlie!

The Nullabor is fascinating and beautiful in a unique way which goes on and on .........

.... and on for most of the second day!

Soooo compact ........

Just enough room to shower!

Halfway across the Nullabor and the longest straight (but not level) stretch of railway track in the world.

Cook - almost a ghost town. Just five inhabitants.

The abandoned school at Cook.

This was the school swimming pool.

Police cells at Cook.

WA joined to the rest of Australia.

At Cook outside our sleeper.

Broken Hill from the tailings dump - there will be more of BH (and Adelaide) in a later episode.

Miners' Memorial - Broken Hill