The romantic notion of train travel has captivated the imagination of wanderers for decades. Gazing out a wide window watching the world go by, with the steady clunk of the tracks below maintaining a soothing soundtrack – for many it is the making of a dream. And few rail journeys are as prestigious, iconic and spectacular as Great Southern Rail’s Indian Pacific.
Crossing an entire continent, from east to west and back again, the Indian Pacific is Australia’s ultimate overland excursion. This ride is more than a simple means of transport – it is an experience, an adventure, and above all an absolute joy.
Since the 1850s Australian railway development has been growing at a curious rate. With the vast and hostile environment of the outback separating the two coasts, each state’s train infrastructure evolved with different gauges and dimensions. When the nation grew into a prosperous and booming economy, the gauges were standardised, finally connecting one continuous journey by rail across Australia.
People have been traversing the country by rail since 1917, with the necessity to change trains five times along the journey. Today’s Indian Pacific first ran uninterrupted in February 1970, and immediately captured the attention of train enthusiasts and holiday dreamers. Today it is known as one of the world’s ultimate rail journeys, and travellers come from across the globe to experience life onboard the glamorous carriages.
Departing from either Sydney or Perth, or a host of stations in between, and moving at an average speed of 85km/h, it takes four days and three nights to cross Australia. This is done in absolute comfort, with spacious private cabins, elegant dining carriages and decorated lounge areas for mingling with the other travellers. Passengers aren’t confined to the train for the entire journey – phenomenal off-train excursions are included as part of the package.
We were invited to experience the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth in April 2016 as part of their new #JourneyBeyond campaign. Known as one of Australia’s most epic overland journeys, we had high expectations of a supreme service. We were not disappointed…
Join us on this photo tour from our wondrous journey on the majestic Indian Pacific.
The official check-in at Sydney’s historic Central Station, with the affable and smiling Penny taking care of welcoming the passengers.
We were extremely lucky to have the talented Michael Duchesne travel with us on the Indian Pacific. We were greeted with his crooning vocals on the platform, and he continued to play throughout the entire journey. Live music is a wonderful new addition to the Indian Pacific rail journey.
We have seen the Indian Pacific roar past the rails numerous times over the years, but it was a special feeling walking up to the stationary beauty on the platform, knowing that it would finally be our time to jump on board the icon.
When we reached the platform at Central Station we were greeted with fresh mojitos and canapés from the bubbly and attentive staff. This is simple gesture ensures everyone is in a positive mind frame before they step into the carriages. This is Sonya, who turned out to be our restaurant manager and one of the funnest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Ask any of the repeat customers from the Indian Pacific – she is a true legend.
There is nothing quite like relaxing in the lounge with a crispy boutique beer and a sparkling white, watching New South Wales’ Blue Mountains roll on by.
Our cosy, private berth. We travelled in Gold Service, which gave us our own private bathroom with a hot shower and this comfortable couch to relax on during the day. In the evening the stewards wander through and set up two bunk beds, ready to collapse into when you are ready to call it a night.
At any time of day or night you can find happy travellers relaxing, laughing and conversing in the lounges. With free-flowing drinks included on the Indian Pacific, it is not uncommon to see someone sipping on a wine before lunchtime or clinking glasses with any number of passengers who walk on by. While far from being a non-stop party, the atmosphere is definitely social.
Our first off-train excursion came when we arrived at Broken Hill on the first morning. The outback town of Broken Hill became wealthy and prosperous in the late 19th century when large bodies of iron ore were discovered in the surrounding hills. Australia’s largest mining company, BHP (Broken Hill Petroleum) was founded in this town and helped pave the way for this once quiet place to become one of the boldest remote destinations in New South Wales. Unfortunately our schedule was running late, so we could only see Broken Hill on a quick. thirty minute bus tour, which was included with our ticket on the Indian Pacific.
Every meal is a different culinary adventure, thanks to the master chefs that travel on board with Great Southern Rail. From traditional outback tucker to elegant fine dining, every taste bud is sure to be excited come meal time. Of course all dietary requirements can be catered for.
That being said, sometimes the simplest meals are the tastiest…
Blue skies, barren earth and the silver bullet – The majestic Indian Pacific sits proudly on the edge of the Barossa Valley.
Our second off-train excursion gave us the option of spending the afternoon in South Australia’s capital, Adelaide, or in the world famous winery region, the Barossa Valley. With our love for fine wines it was an easy choice for us. Our time was split between the iconic Seppeltsfield Winery, walking the pleasant streets of town, and the lead-up to evening at Maggie Beer’s Farm House. Sitting by this picturesque lake, a glass of wine in hand, we couldn’t think of a more idyllic setting to enjoy dusk before jumping back on the Indian Pacific.
Aged oak barrels line one of the entrances into the Seppeltsfield Winery in the Barossa Valley. Oak barrels have been used for centuries to store and transport wine, and each 225L vessel can cost up to $1300, imported from France.
After a brief chat about the history of the vineyard, we were taken down into the cellar door for some tasting. Seppeltsfield is famous for holding 100-year-old port, and still has barrels of liquor from every year they have been operational. This may be one of the only places in Australia where you can sample a port made in your birth year.
As much as we love our wine, we don’t know the first thing about different grapes or strains. So it was great to leave our tasting order to the professionals, who concisely detailed what made each variety different, and what kind of food it would go with. More than a few people walked away with large wine orders, that would be delivered to their home rather than be carried on the train.
Freshly baked bread and delectable wine at Maggie Beer’s Farm during our tasty stopover in the Barossa Valley.
Maggie Beer is an iconic Australian chef who has authored many recipe books, and even co-hosted her own TV show. During our visit in the Barossa Valley we stopped by her farm house for dinner and wine, and to sample some of her homemade jams and preserves. One of her staff members even gave a cooking demonstration, teaching us some of Maggie Beer’s secrets. Our butter sautéed mushrooms will always be the talk of the dinner party now, thanks to this quick showing.
Blood, sweat and tears went into the building of the railways across Australia, but the efforts of thousands has not gone to waste. Every year billions of dollars of freight are transported across this great country on the rails, helping to keep the economy of Australia booming.
Deep in thought – Board games are provided in every lounge for the enjoyment of the passengers. A game of backgammon or scrabble is a great way to break the ice with new friends.
If you prefer to have a little more space to move than what is in the Gold Twin or Gold Single classes, there is also the option of upgrading to Gold Superior, seen here, or moving into the absolute prestige service of the Australian rails, Platinum Class.
Cook is famous for having a total population of 4 residents, and this sign may be the second most famous part of the town. “If you’re crook come to Cook” is painted on a concrete cube outside the hospital. While the building officially closed in 1997, they still have current first-aid supplies in case of an emergency while the passengers of the Indian Pacific are visiting.
A rusted wheelbarrow sits outside a vacant house in Cook. Walking around this virtual ghost town leaves an eery feeling, yet is one of the most interesting stops on the Indian Pacific between Adelaide and Perth. Cook was once a thriving community of 170 people, but when the rails were privatised there was no source of income for the majority of the locals. Everyone abandoned their post, and today only 4 people remain. They are employees of the rails, and work on maintenance and refuelling.
While they may look like old outhouses, these timber and corrugated iron shacks are actually what remains of Cook’s jailhouse. When the town was at its prime (pre-1997), residents who misbehaved were locked away in these rooms as punishment.
When you’re in the heart of the outback, any direction holds intrigue and hope.
Each carriage has more people on board than live in all of Cook, the small outback town in South Australia.
Another abandoned scene in Cook.
With hours of downtime to enjoy along the journey, we made friends with some of the other passengers and attempted to complete a puzzle. It wasn’t so much the goal of completion that kept us at it – it was more about enjoying each other’s company.
Tables set up for the famous “dinner under the stars” in Rawlinna. This stop on the Sydney to Perth Indian Pacific journey is one of the most remarkable off-train excursions available. In 2016 things got even more enjoyable with the inclusion of a live musician to accompany the meal.
The Indian Pacific passengers enjoying their lamb roast under the stars in Rawlinna.
A beautiful sunrise over the Nullarbor, as seen through our window. It is worth waking up early to see this spectacle.
Perhaps as iconic as the Indian Pacific itself, Jos from the Netherlands has been looking after and entertaining passengers for years. As amazing as the journey across Australia is, it would be nothing without the dedication of the amazing staff that join you for the ride.
Inside the dining room for Gold Class. The food often becomes one of the best memories for passengers on the Indian Pacific journey.
It’s not often we wake up and get excited about breakfast – but on the Indian Pacific that is exactly what happens. New specialties are available every morning, as well as delicious healthy options, and larger, “traditional” breakfast meals.
Desert is served!
A beautiful day in the outback of Australia, on board the Indian Pacific.
Our overland journey across Australia was taken with the support of Great Southern Rail. All words, opinions, memories and friendships made are of course our own.