The carriages glistened like a long, silver bullet under a pale blue Sydney afternoon.
The station was a hive of activity, with thousands of people darting and ducking off in countless directions.
Trains arrived and departed in continuous streams at Central Station, as they have done for over a century in New South Wales’ capital.
Each and every one was destined to venture out from Central in a spider web of rails networks, transporting their passengers to far-flung corners of the state.
But only one was aiming for Perth, 4352km away, on the other side of the nation. Ours, that waited proudly at platform 3 – the Indian Pacific.
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Australia’s most iconic train journey has been crossing the country in one epic adventure since 1970, capturing the imagination of those who are lucky enough to find themselves on board, and others who long to experience a transcontinental mission.
It was a train journey we had read an abundance of information about, and something we were insatiably curious about.
We had heard tales of its decadence and wonder, of luxury on a level unfathomable on the rails.
But it was only when we were sat in the red velvet interior of the Gold Lounge, sipping on a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia’s Margaret River region and staring out at the vast emptiness of the Nullarbor Plain in absolute comfort that the enormity of this experience was finally realised.
Welcome to the Indian Pacific
After the check-in at Central Station, we stepped through to the platform and were met with canapés and fresh mojitos by the smiling staff. In the centre Michael Duchesne’s crooning vocals set a smooth soundtrack that would remain for the next few days.
Surprisingly spacious for a train cabin, our room was set up with a couch and small side table. A concealed cupboard allowed us to stow our bags away, allowing the most room possible.
We were lucky enough to have our own private ensuite, complete with a hot shower. After the hundreds of hours we had spent on trains in Asia, this luxury was not wasted on us.
In the evenings our couch was folded away and two bunk beds appeared in their place. The sleeping arrangement was more than fine, and despite the rhythmic bumps and turns in the tracks we had no problems dozing off every evening.
The train chugged its way through Sydney and eventually up into the Blue Mountains, winding through gorges and forested valleys.
Michael brought his guitar and vocals to our lounge and jammed away for an hour. The privilege of a private concert from one of Australia’s up-and-coming stars was not lost on us.
Evening began to fall as the sun dropped below the horizon. The patrons found themselves in the lounge, clinking glasses and sipping on cocktails, beers and wine. The drinks are all-inclusive with your fare, and they began flowing faster and faster as time went on.
Before the buzz of our fourth wine could grab its hold we were invited to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant for dinner.
The food on the Indian Pacific has been hailed around the world as one of the absolute best culinary experiences on transport imaginable. Needless to say we were more than a little excited.
Scrolling the menu we settled for a variety of tasty and local dishes, and the three courses were served in quick succession.
The waiters were as bubbly as the champagne served, and their humour exceeded expectations along with the impeccable service.
Despite being a luxury train journey, the staff are encouraged to be themselves, letting their individual personalities shine through.
The first night passed in relative comfort and a soft tapping on the door awakened us. Piping hot coffee straight from the machine was served to us in bed, and we were informed we were 30 minutes from Broken Hill.
Not just being one continuous journey across Australia, the Indian Pacific is broken up with a collection of “off-train excursions” that make the trip a true cultural experience.
In Broken Hill we were treated to a guided bus tour around this iconic mining town. Unfortunately delays in the middle of the night meant we could not wander around as was originally planned.
Still the chance to see a town that had created such a huge and positive economic impact on the nation was fascinating.
Departing town we headed to the dining room for a delectable breakfast, then found ourselves back in the lounge chatting to the other guests.
Most of the passengers were part of an older crowd, and had an endless supply of incredible stories to share. Despite the age difference we had no problem getting to know most on board. Before too long we were laughing and conversing with beers in our hands, making lifelong friends.
As we crossed into South Australia we neared the historic Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s best winery regions and the location of our second off-train excursion.
Our group left the train and boarded air-conditioned coaches to transport us into the Barossa.
The first stop was Seppeltsfield Vineyard, home to 100-year-old ports and an inspirational winemaking culture.
Naturally tasting was involved and we became quite spoilt with the divine flavours from one of Australia’s best vineyards.
A short break involved walking around the main town of the Barossa, but soon it was off to Maggie Beer’s Farmhouse.
Maggie Beer is one of Australia’s most famous chefs, and has been creating unique, local recipes for decades.
After a quick tour of the premises and a cooking demonstration from one of her workers it was time for dinner.
Course after course was presented, coupled with red and white wine, followed by dessert.
Stomachs full and thoroughly impressed by the beauty of the Barossa Valley, we returned to the Indian Pacific in Adelaide and spent the rest of the evening out in the lounge.
We fell asleep as we just left Adelaide, but greeted the morning with a starkly different view.
The train was now approaching the Nullarbor, Australia’s sprawling and seemingly vacant southern interior.
As a result the dirt outside the carriages turned red, and spinifex grass replaced trees and shrubs. Witnessing this transformation of the landscape is one of the greatest benefits of overland travel, anywhere in the world.
Shortly before lunch we arrived at Cook, a town that is most known for being “abandoned”.
Cook used to be a thriving town of 170 people that helped maintain and manage the public railway system.
Over time the harsh environment took its toll, and when the railways were privatised in 1997 the majority of the population lost their income.
Today the town is a virtual ghost town, with only 4 residents remaining.
Wandering through the yards of overgrown and dilapidated houses, staring through the windows of the vacant school and hospital and stepping over broken furniture is a surreal experience.
With the Indian Pacific refuelled we all jumped back on board to spend the afternoon sampling more Australian delicacies in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant.
Officially entering the Nullarbor Plain is a memorable moment for many. Having already crossed the never-ending desert once before I couldn’t wait to return for another insight into the harsh conditions.
The train journey across the Nullarbor Plain contains the longest stretch of straight railway in the world – 478km without a single bend or variation.
Many people sat in silence gazing out the window, humbled at the massive and bare world outside our air-conditioned luxury.
Our final off-train excursion was at Rawlinna, a small outback station that hosts a famous “dinner under the stars” for guests of the Indian Pacific.
Seated in a long line of timber tables we ate roasted lamb and vegetables, topped off with more wine, of course, and chocolate mousse.
Michael Duchesne played again beneath the star-speckled evening sky.
It was a wonderful final night before the last stretch towards Perth in the morning.
There was little more to do on the fourth day besides continue our conversations with the affable guests and staff, play games and make the most of the food and wine onboard.
Soon the Indian Pacific began its final approach toward the end of Western Australia, twisting and winding through the comparatively lush Avon Valley.
After packing our bags we returned to the lounge for one final hour of relaxation.
Sitting with a farewell beer in our hands we gazed out the window as the Avon Valley transformed into the outskirts of Perth.
Time passed far too quickly as we reflected on the previous four days crossing Australia.
It’s hard to comprehend just how large Australia is until you have travelled from east to west, admiring the landscape change in dramatic fashion.
Finally we arrived at our last destination, Perth, the capital of Western Australia and 4352km from where we first started the journey.
We grabbed our bags, bid farewell to the passengers and staff, exchanged details with those who we had not already, and sadly exited the station.
There was one last glance at the glistening carriages, still as silver as they were under a Sydney sun, and in an instant, we were gone.
The Indian Pacific would wait overnight to take the next batch of excited passengers on the journey back to Sydney, as it would time after time.
Having traversed the continent, experienced pure luxury, conversed with interesting people and admired the professionalism and care of Great Southern Rail’s staff, we know that the Indian Pacific is one journey that we will never forget.
DISCLAIMER: We were invited as guests of Great Southern Rail to document the experience onboard the Indian Pacific. All thoughts, opinions, hours spent chatting to the other passengers and wines drunk are of course our own.