I suppose the first thing I should say if you haven’t already gathered is that I love trains and especially the romance of travelling long distance in what I would call old fashioned luxury. In the days of high speed travel today you have arrived almost without the journey. For me the journey is just as important. I have always wanted to go on the Orient Express but never felt I could justify the expense, although we did do a short dinner trip on one a few years ago. Anyway when planning and booking the Australian leg of my trip I came across the Indian Pacific which goes from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide and takes three days. There is another train too called the Ghan which goes from Darwin to Adelaide. So I thought for about five minutes and decided as my accommodation in Bali was so inexpensive that I could afford to splash out on the train. There are basically two levels of service on the train, Gold and Platinum but only the Gold service offers single occupancy so I didn’t have to worry about making the decision to spend money on the Platinum fare... thank goodness. Platinum gives you a much bigger cabin and cabin service if you desire it. Anyway more about the train in a minute or two.
I had been to the hairdressers and was quite smartly dressed having managed to get into a lovely pair of cream striped trousers which now fit me and a blue top. I arrived at the Australian Centre for wine just after five pm and was checked in by the team there. They took my baggage and all I had to worry about was my handbag, assuring me that my rucksack would be in my cabin and my main case would go into general luggage. I had had a moment a couple of days previous to this when I was reading through the information that I couldn’t take all my luggage into my cabin, and the way my packing was configured I didn’t know how I was going to manage that. How could I put my dresses, because I was sure we would be dressing for dinner, into my rucksack along with everything else I needed for two nights on board. I had actually dashed off to the local shopping centre in Marion to see if I could buy a suit carrier. When I got there it was a Westfield Shopping Centre, it was just like being at home. I failed in my mission, but in wondering around I manage to work out in my head how I could configure my packing. I did however buy some makeup and a lock for my suitcase, a necessity for travel to Bali I had been told, and got my eyebrows done!
Anyway back to the Australian Centre for wine. We were escorted into a very large dining area and there was wine to taste and canopies. I sat down at a table quite near the door and was sitting next to an English couple one side, from up north, and a couple from Adelaide on the other. We also had a mother and daughter who were in Platinum, both grown ups I might add and a mother, father and daughter, also all grown ups, the parents live in NZ and daughter lives in Perth. The wine flowed and flowed and the dinner was delicious and there was a cute young man singing and playing the guitar for us. Eventually they told us it was time to get ready to go, we were put on the coach and driven to the station, which wasn’t the main Adelaide station. The people who had joined the train at Sydney had been out on various tours and then for dinner. The young man was singing to us again whilst we waited in the waiting room and were given the opportunity to buy souvenirs. Then we were told it was time to board and all the newbies were directed to their coaches and cabins. It was I must say much cosier than I expected. It had a single seat and a table and a footstool on the other side, a small wardrobe and a little sink in the corner. A young lady called Wednesday explained everything to us individually. Our corridor was in the middle and was a funny bendy shape, a bit like a child might draw a snake or a worm, or maybe not. With compartments on both sides, offset so you didn’t see right into the one which was sort of opposite when you opened your door. We shared two toilets at one end of our carriage and two shower rooms with toilets and sinks at the other. The shower rooms were bigger than the bedrooms, and certainly we won out in comparison to the people with double cabins which were en suite and tiny. I was a little worried about not being able to access facilities and bumping into people in the night, but actually it was completely fine. So having got us all plastered at dinner, they put our beds down and it was an early night for us. I was really tired and thought I would drop off straight away. But no, it took me a good two maybe three hours to finally get to sleep and then I woke up a couple of times, once the train was just stopped and silent which was a bit strange. The bed was I must say very comfortable but when you got out of bed you didn’t have much room to manoeuvre, I suppose the only way to decide it is standing room only.
They started waking people up at 6am, not quite sure what the logic behind that was, anyway breakfast was in the Queen Adelaide Dining Car and I had to walk past three carriages of double cabins and then through the bar to get to it. We had our own restaurant manager, and she had to fit us all in somehow or other as the dining car isn’t big enough for everyone. Meal times were usually over a one and a half to two hour slot. There were three or four options for breakfast and I went with the full breakfast, it had baked beans but I didn’t particularly like them and spinach which I usually love but again I wasn’t impressed. I am not moaning by the way, just stating facts. I was sitting with a man and his wife and another single lady who didn’t say a word. It took a bit to get the conversation going but eventually we got started. Breakfast over I went back to my room which had been converted back into a day cabin. I did a bit of writing, I decided I had better make use of the mornings that way, before the drinks started flowing at lunch time, after all it was a free bar and from what I had seen so far people were taking advantage of that, well why not, it cost enough.
So significant progress made on the writing it was time to head back to the lounge for pre lunch drinks. The scenery so far had been pretty red and mainly sand dunes. We were told we were going on the longest piece of straight track in Australia, and that the ground would change as we did. And it certainly did, it was another of those moments where every thing changes in an instant, it became flat and more like scrubland. And you could now see for miles and miles. We got to a place called Cook where we stopped for a look around whilst they fed and watered the train and changed the crew Only four people live in Cook now, once the railways were privatised they stopped mainline trains running on that line and the town just closed down. Now there is only this train there and back, that’s twice a week and a large number of freight trains. The village is all still standing there. Empty school, empty houses. Train drivers often stay over night too some houses are used for that. I think we had at least three changes of train crew for the whole journey from Sydney to Perth. We were trying to imagine what it would be like living there, four of you, in the middle of nowhere in all that heat. Admittedly it was summer whilst we were there, so it was really hot, and I couldn’t stay out there for too long, I took a quick hike out and back. It was windy too, lost my hat a couple of times and had to go chasing after it. There were quite a few trees around and the story goes that they decided to plant a large number off trees to prove they would grow in this climate. They erected a stone to celebrate their achievement and many of the trees are indeed still there.
By this time I had started chatting with the couple from New Zealand, Liz and Dave and their daughter Pippa and another single John. We had an enjoyable lunch together and I was quite relieved that lunch was quite light. I was a little worried that it was going to be three courses every meal time. The rumour was that we were getting off the train in the evening for dinner, it was billed as dinner in Rawlinna on our timetable. It’s a railway station by the biggest sheep station in Australia. I had decided I was getting dressed for dinner regardless, Pippa agreed too and the lady who was in the cabin opposite me was also up for dressing for dinner.
One of the funniest things about the trip is because Perth is three hours behind Sydney, they get everyone to change time on their watches in stages. They call it train time. As if it’s not confusing enough. They announce the changes on the intercom but if you are in the dining car you don’t hear the announcements. So we had to change time before we went to bed on the first night and then again the following day. Pippa was all dressed for dinner and she said something about the time and I said but it’s only 5, no she said it’s 6, no I said we had to turn our clocks back again. Oh dear no wonder you weren’t rushing off to get dressed and I have started drinking too early was her response. Anyway the three of us went to get dressed and finish our evening preparations and when we came back into the carriage some of the men were passing comment, wolf whistle type stuff, all taken in good humour, but we were the three best dressed women in the carriage. We had by now arrived at Rawlinna and the staff were busy outside laying the tables for dinner. There were a lot of tables. I should really explain at this point that the train was laid out in such a way that there were a number of carriages for one gold service so we were carriages H,I,J and K plus lounge and dining car. Next to us were three carriages of Platinum beyond that another set of gold, beyond that more platinum and so on in both directions. I think we worked out that there were five sets of Gold and at least two Platinum. I didn’t actually count the carriages, but the train did seem to go on forever. So all these people were being fed outside on a train platform, on bench tables seating eight. As they starting laying the tables, it started to spot with rain. Wednesday went out at one point and lost her hat in the wind and then lost her shoe chasing for her hat. I can report that both were successfully retrieved. She told us afterwards that the hats are very expensive and that was her priority, when the shoe fell off she was going for the hat no matter what.
We were wondering if dinner outside was actually going to happen especially when serviettes started flying in the air as well. We heard later that it was touch and go, but the forecast said the rain would hold off so they decided to go ahead with it. Our young musician was set up outside ready to play as well. Finally we were invited out to take a seat. Around 6:30. Despite the fact it was threatening to rain it was still baking hot. We found a table nearby and were also joined by another couple and John from Enfield who was by now part of our party as well. We were wondering how they were going to serve dinner, which was roast lamb, very appropriate for a sheep station. They eventually brought platters to each table for us to help ourselves. It was very good and extremely well orchestrated. Pudding was a bit strange, I took one bite and decided not to bother, I think it was an Australian standard. Too sweet for me, not sweet enough for John. By now we had a beautiful sunset which was being hidden behind the train we had fairy lights lighting up the whole area and then lightening started. No thunder though, thank goodness, but the sky was being lit up with amazing bolts of lightening. It was a fantastic sight and an amazing atmosphere I have to say. Seeing everyone on the platform like this gave you a much better idea of how many people were on the train. The way they had it sectioned off was really good because you were able to get to know a few people. If there had been say four dining cars in a row you would have not seen the same people and would be starting from scratch every time. It made it a far more intimate affair. I became know as the woman who was travelling the world on her own, what on your own? Back to the lounge after dinner and I am sorry to have to report that Pippa, John, Dave and I were the last men standing in the bar. Needless to say we were having lots of fun, and when the staff finally disappeared and said to call them if we wanted anything else we thought it probably time to call it a day.
Off to bed finally about 11:30 and I am happy to report I was able to sleep, I think I woke up once only. Talking the day before to people it seems that the first night on board for most people was a difficult one, in fact just about everyone I spoke to said they barely slept the first night.
The following day followed pretty much the same pattern, up early, breakfast. I went back to my cabin and got a good couple of hours writing in and then back to the lounge for pre lunch drinks. Followed by lunch. I was chatting to John over lunch, and it transpired that he had been in the hotel around the corner from me in Melbourne and had been to watch the whole of the test match. Then he had been in a bit of a mission following up some ancestral hunting done by his sister previously, tracking down a relative of his, a great uncle I think, who had come to Australia and done very well for himself. He had managed to find his grave, and seen statues of him if the town where he had become Mayor. What a fantastic journey that had been and then he caught the train from Adelaide. We all have our own agendas on these jaunts. We both agreed that we would come back in the future and do the Ghan. Not together though. It was during the afternoon that we were all talking about the Art Gallery in Adelaide and we had a big discussion about the horses. Dave thought there was a foal in there too, but I didn’t see that. We all agreed it was very strange. We were also talking about the miniature models and how gruesome they were. That was when I discovered that the gallery rooms were set out in themes.
The scenery had slowly been changing as we started to approach civilisation again after the miles and miles of barren land. All trying to spot wild animals. I didn’t see any kangaroos but I saw some emus and plenty of sheep, a few cows but no sheep at the sheep station. We had our last few drinks together with promises to keep in touch and then arrived at Perth station and went our separate ways. Was it worth the expense, absolutely, I am a real pushover when it comes to trains. I really must consider the possibility of the Orient Express, maybe I can work for six months to save up for it if I am still employable! That might be a bit doubtful.
Perth adventure coming up, can five weeks in Australia be over so soon. Surely not! See you there.