Train journey: Indian Pacific

Trip Start Aug 01, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Monday, January 17, 2011

The Indian Pacific railway is one of the greatest train journeys in the world. The full journey goes from Perth on the East coast of Australia to Sydney on West coast. The highlight of the journey is the crossing of the Nullarbor Plain with the longest straight line of rail track in the world: 478km. Nullarbor Plain is the area almost treeless, arid or semi-arid desert of southern Australia where barely anyone can live.

The full 4,352 km journey on the Indian Pacific takes 65 hours. But as we are also interested in seeing the rest of Australia, we are only going from Kalgoorlie (800km West of Perth) to Adelaide (South coast) which is the part where the train crosses the Nullarbor Plain. We are still spending 28 hours to go through 2,116km. This is the equivalent distance from Riga to Brest (Western France). May we mention that since October 2010, the furthest Eastern point we have ever been was Shanghai which is exactly the same longitude as Kalgoorlie (121.5 East – for those interested). This journey is now the furthest East we have ever been and takes us closer to where we want to be.

The construction of the Trans-Australian railway started in 1917 when Western Australia was lured to join the rest of the nation. It took five years to complete the Nullarbor Plain section (1,996 km between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta) using the most basic tools (pick and shovel), carthorses and camels. Due to different gauge track sizes around the country, travelling from Sydney to Perth required to change trains five times. It was not until 1969 that an uninterrupted rail link now called the Indian Pacific existed after a major standardisation of the gauge along the whole line. The Indian Pacific is now a major tourist attraction and one of the world's greatest train journeys.

Our train departs from Kalgoorlie at 1.40am (yes, night time indeed!) but arrives in the station about three hours before. So, we board the train at 11pm which gives us a lot of time to get comfy before the train starts moving. The train is extremely long, it comprises of 26 carriages (that include three for motorail) and one diesel locomotive. There are all sorts of classes in that train from gold with double berth and bathroom compartment to night seat carriage with no berth and shared bathroom. We obviously booked the seats in the night seat carriage that allows us a saving of 900. The price of a compartment for two people is simply crazy and we get to pay 200 for two seats instead of 1,100 for one double compartment for the same distance!

The seats are not that bad if you compare to other trains. You have plenty of space for your legs and when you lower the seat you are almost like lying down. Don’t get us wrong, you don’t have the best sleep ever in these seats but for us backpackers it’s comfy enough to enjoy the journey. The train is not modern like we would have expected. Although there are modern facilities like showers and our carriage is generally an old fitting out. The decoration is probably dated from the original Indian Pacific trains in 1970. And although it is very hot outside, the air-conditioning is maintained to a reasonable temperature not like in Asia where you freeze anywhere inside.

And so the journey starts at night. Our first sight of the desert is around 4am when the sky starts lighting up and later with wonderful sunrise colours. We are tired after only four hours sleep but Rudi does not want to miss a thing. By 6am, everyone in the seat carriage is pretty much awake and the announcements start. All the way through the journey, the staff gives us some interesting fact of what we can see, why we are stopping or what’s coming next. The first stop is at Nurina at 6.20am where we stop for two minutes only to deliver mail – no need to mention that there is obviously nothing much around apart a couple of houses!?! Later, we pass by a town called Forrest that consists of one house, one runway and one rail track. Apparently only two people live here and it was used in the past by the planes crossing the Nullarbor Plain to refuel on the way. You can guess that the runway is rarely used nowadays.

At several occasions, the train stops in the middle of nowhere and we are explained that we are waiting for freight trains or the Indian Pacific train going the other way to pass by. There is indeed only one track and trains have to cross in designated locations.

At 10am we arrive in the town of Deakin. This is the border between the state of Western Australia and the state of South Australia. The landscape does not change much before and after that town but our clocks move forwards of two and a half hours. This is the biggest time change we have experienced since we left London. There is normally one and a half hour difference between Western Australia and South Australia but during summer South Australia turn into daylight saving time and add extra hour difference with Western Australia. Therefore, it is now 12.30pm!! Lunch time it is then!! Yeeaaahh!!

At 2pm we arrive in Cook. It is our first and only stop on the journey between Kalgoorlie and Adelaide where we can get off the train. 45 minutes stopover is plenty of time to see this ghost town. The town of Cook, was formerly a settlement of about 40 people, with a school and a golf course. However, the scaling back of railway operations at the town resulted in its virtual desertion, and it now has a permanent population of just four people. Not sure what they do in this arid and hot atmosphere. There is a souvenir shop that opens for 30 minutes four times a week and you understand that this is when the Indian Pacific trains pull over.

Back in the train, we realise that the Switzerland couple we met in our hostel in Albany is in the same carriage as us. It reminds us the Trans-Siberian journey where all the tourists are on the same route and keep meeting each other. But unlike the Trans-Siberian journey and for obvious reasons, there is no stop over with food sellers on the platforms along the journey.

At 4.30pm we are told that we have completed the crossing of the Nullarbor Plain. It is indeed less arid and flat with traces of empty lakes. But we are still in a very dry desert and the journey is far from finishing.

We have now plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon nap as we are still quite tired. And we know that we are not missing out much as it is exactly the same picture by the window before and after the nap.

Around 7pm we stop in another town where we collect some mail from the locals. Tarcoola is where the Indian Pacific rail track meets with the Ghan rail track. The Ghan is another exceptional train journey that goes from Adelaide to Darwin in Northern Australia via Alice Springs.

The sun is now setting down in that blue sky that has been following us all the way through. The colours are amazing and remind us of the most beautiful sunrise that we saw in Mongolia. There is definitely something amazing between sunrises / sunsets and the deserts… And one interesting fact here: whilst the sun is obviously setting down in the west, it is not going towards the right of your sight, like we are used to in Northern hemisphere but towards the left of your sight. Very logical, you should think but very different to experience when you have never seen a sunset in Southern hemisphere.

We can now enjoy a (good) night sleep as it is all dark outside. It is also time to figure out how many animals we have seen on the journey. Well to Agi’s huge disappointment, almost none. We saw rabbits, horses and cows!?! Sounds like Europe more than Australia doesn’t it? Don’t ask about kangaroos (Agi will get upset), there was none!?!

Our train arrives in Adelaide at 7.30am (that’s 5am in Western Australia time). It is much colder on arrival (15C) and we are both freezing after having spent two weeks in 30s! But the sun is still here and we know that the temperature will rise as the day moves forward.

The train will carry on its journey to Sydney but for us the Indian Pacific stops here in Adelaide and we can now realise how huge Australia is...

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martial on

bravo pour la synergie espace-temps au travers des photos des paysages

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