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The Indian Pacific — a touch of train magic

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Justine Tyerman indulges in fantasy on her epic train voyage across Australia.

Somewhere in the Aussie Outback between Perth and Sydney, I began to fantasize about the romance of a wedding on a train … and the photo opportunities.

White dress, terracotta landscape, sunset on the Nullarbor Plain, the sleek silver Indian Pacific in the background with the wedge-tail eagle emblazoned on the carriages. The wedge-tail is Australia’s largest bird of prey, and its 2.3m-wide wing span symbolises the four-day, three-night 4352km train journey that spans the continent from Perth on the Indian Ocean to Sydney on the Pacific Ocean.

The Indian Pacific in the Aussie Outback.

The Indian Pacific in the Aussie Outback. The wedge-tail eagle is emblazoned on the locomotives and carriages. Picture by Great Southern Rail

The Indian Pacific snaking through Outback Australia. Picture by Great Southern Rail

The Indian Pacific snaking through Outback Australia. Picture by Great Southern Rail

GSR Indian Pacific Sydney to Perth

The Indian Pacific travelling through Australia’s red desert interior. Picture by Great Southern Rail

The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific heading east towards Broken Hill with the Pinnacles Mountains in background. Picture by Great Southern Rail

With our daughter’s wedding and a few milestone birthdays and anniversaries on the horizon, I decided it would be a splendid way to celebrate a significant event.

Gather together a group of friends and family, take over an entire train carriage or two and have a party on rails, with gourmet food and drinks, luxurious accommodation, superb service, and fine entertainment, all provided. Not to mention thrilling off-train excursions, and the dramatic, ever-changing Australian landscape from the windows of your cabin or lounge.

The Indian Pacific Australia

Icons of the Aussie Outback! Picture by Great Southern Rail

Fantasies aside, the Indian Pacific is the ultimate in old-fashioned romantic travel. The whole experience is leisurely, luxurious and indulgent from the check-in process at Perth train station where we were welcomed with a lavish morning tea and live entertainment, to the relaxed, congenial atmosphere in the lounge and bar, the magnificent meals in the elegant restaurant, and the comfort of one’s own private cabin.

Lounge Great Suothern Rail

The Outback Explorer Lounge in a rare quiet moment. Picture by Great Southern Rail

Adelaide Restaurant Great Southern Rail

The elegant Queen Adelaide Restaurant served magnificent cuisine in style with starched white tablecloths, silver cutlery, fine china and superb service. Picture by Great Southern Rail

I had this Gold Service twin cabin all to myself. Picture by Great Southern Rail

I had this Gold Service twin cabin all to myself. Picture by Great Southern Rail

The absence of pressure, decisions and deadlines took a while to adjust to but after a few hours, I slipped into daydream mode without a care in the world, beyond what to order from the mouth-watering menu and which of barman Brendan’s inspired cocktails to try next.

The Indian Pacific

Barman Brendan pouring bubbly at the bar

There was no WiFi on the train so I eventually switched off. The techno-detox was highly therapeutic, deeply relaxing and restorative. It also resulted in carriages full of people engaged in quaint, old-fashioned behaviour – conversing, reading novels, playing cards and board games. The convivial atmosphere was conducive to making new friends and stimulating discussions on all manner of topics.

In the evenings, guitarist Mattie strummed well-known tunes that transcended all age and national boundaries. We sang and danced in the aisles. There was a touch of magic in the air, especially just on sunset when the red landscape glowed, casting a warm radiance on faces young and old.

The Indian Pacific

Mattie entertaining us at breakfast at Rawlinna

Sunset in the desert of Australia

Sunset in the desert is a magical sight

Even the pace was leisurely, a sedate 85km/h, reminiscent of an era when getting to one’s destination was part of the excitement, an experience to be savoured and enjoyed, rather than endured.

The 65-hour trip was broken by excellent excursions – a tour of the Super Pit gold mine in Kalgoorlie-Boulder on the western fringe of the Nullarbor; a sunrise breakfast at the Outback settlement of Rawlinna; a refuelling stop at the ghost town of Cook on the Nullarbor; breakfast at the Oval in Adelaide, Australia’s capital of festivals and the arts; art galleries and a live drag queen show at Broken Hill, Australia’s oldest mining city and film set of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and hiking in the magnificent Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage area.

Justine at Cook on the Nullarbor Plain

Justine at Cook on the Nullarbor Plain

Justine with Shelita and Christina after the Main Drag show at the Palace Hotel in Broken Hill

Justine with Shelita and Christina after the Main Drag show at the Palace Hotel in Broken Hill

Nullarbor Plain

I was mesmerised by the flat horizon and landscape of the Nullarbor Plain

The Indian Pacific

I was entranced by the colours and textures of Australia. Picture by Great Southern Rail

Kalgoorlie

I looked like a dwarf beside the tyre of a giant 793C haul truck at Kalgoorlie

Farm house Rawlinna Station

A farm house belonging to Rawlinna Station, Australia’s largest sheep station

A considerable amount of time was also spent eating … in grand style, with starched white tablecloths and fine silverware and china. The cuisine was sublime with three or four choices at each of the three or four courses.

Hostess Nikki of The Indian Pacific

Hostess Nikki with a tray of vegemite pinwheels for breakfast at Rawlinna

The Outback Explorer Lounge - a great place to socialise and make new friends

The Outback Explorer Lounge – a great place to socialise and make new friends. Picture by Great Southern Rail

Wining and dining in style in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. Picture by Great Southern Rail

Wining and dining in style in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. Picture by Great Southern Rail

Dinner on Day 3, one of many outstanding meals. The dot on the map shows our location as we dine

Dinner on Day 3, one of many outstanding meals. The dot on the map shows our location as we dine

Between times, I spent hours gazing out my cabin window, entranced by the colours and textures of Australia as we traversed the continent from west to east, crossing three states and time zones.

The Indian Pacific

I loved watching the shadow of the train against the red earth

I never tired of the landscape – the green Avon Valley near Perth, the golden Western Australian wheat lands, the immense, flat, treeless Nullarbor, the strange rock formations of the South Australian desert, and the sandstone escarpments, cliffs and waterfalls of the Blue Mountains. And the sunrises and sunsets in the desert were mesmerising.

Blue Mountains Australia

The spectacular Blue Mountains where we hiked with Blue Mountains Guides. Picture supplied by Blue Mountains Guides

Australia

The Aussie sun flickering behind a gum tree

FACTBOX:

Justine Tyerman was a guest of Rail Europe and Great Southern Rail.

The Indian Pacific is a four-day, three-night 4,352km, 65-hour journey from Sydney on the Pacific Ocean to Perth on the Indian Ocean and vice versa operated twice a week by Great Southern Rail; it’s one of many great train journeys offered by Rail Europe.

Rail Europe is the leading international distributor of European rail products and the world’s great train journeys. Visit Great Train Journeys by Rail Europe for more information on the Indian Pacific and other epic train adventures around the world – Europe, the UK, Asia, North America, Australia and New Zealand, or call 09 377 5415.

The Indian Pacific at Mannahill in South Australia

The Indian Pacific at Mannahill in South Australia. Picture by Great Southern Rail

The Indian Pacific on the longest stretch of straight train track in the world

The Indian Pacific on the longest stretch of straight train track in the world

The Indian Pacific

Hostess Nikki welcoming me onboard

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About Author

Justine Tyerman is an award-winning New Zealand journalist, travel writer and sub-editor with 18 years' experience in newspaper and freelance work. She has worked as a news reporter, feature writer, designer of an award-winning Newspapers in Education programme and sub-editor on local, national, business, education and international desks.

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