Rail Travel in Australia with Great Southern Rail 1: The Indian Pacific (from Sydney via) Adelaide to Perth

Indian Pacific train AustraliaThis was the journey that got us thinking about the train in the first place. Originally we had envisaged driving from Adelaide to Perth, but it soon became evident that this wasn’t a good idea in the limited time we had. The 2659 kilometre journey across a treeless plain, 478 of those kms driven in a straight line, sounded less than appealing. The Indian Pacific makes the trip in 3 days, so you get to enjoy the scenery without having to endure the ennui.

The truly treeless Nullarbor plain
The truly treeless Nullarbor plain
The Matilda Cafe aboard the Indian Pacific
The Matilda Cafe aboard the Indian Pacific
Will you look at that leg room!
Will you look at that leg room!

At first we were somewhat apprehensive at the thought of spending more than 48 hours cooped up in a train, sleeping in our seats, only breaking the journey in a ghost town and a mining town along the way.

By the time we had reached Perth, we were fully-fledged train enthusiasts and eagerly awaiting the rest of our rail journeys across Australia. The seats aboard the famous Great Southern Rail trains – the Indian Pacific and the Ghan – are spacious and comfortable, afford ample leg room and recline back far enough to enable a good night’s sleep… and that’s just the economy class, aka Red Service. The staff are helpful and friendly and we invariably got to know half the people in our carriage, making it even easier to pass the time.

While some time can be wasted just sitting back and watching the world go by, when that world remains effectively unchanged for several thousand kilometres, the fascination of the Nullarbor can get a bit tired. By the second day, any distraction is welcome, so hundreds of train travellers eagerly spill onto the nonexistent platform of ghost town Cook, “one of the most isolated outposts on the Nullarbor Plain”. Cook has a population of four humans and just enough flies to make re-boarding the train seem like a rather pleasing prospect.

The rest of the Nullarbor offers the opportunity to spot herds of wild camels, horses and the occasional cow or sheep (beggars can’t be choosers, so even cattle sightings are greeted as highlights of the trip).

A statue of Paddy Hannan, the man who found the gold in Kalgoorlie, offers a drink from his
Get your mind out of the gutter! A statue of Paddy Hannan, the man who found the gold in Kalgoorlie, offers a drink from his water bag

By the time the train reached Kalgoorlie, Australia’s largest gold mining town, we were giddy at the prospect of a town with pubs, supermarkets, pubs, pubs and more pubs… even if, three hours into our stopover, I got so paranoid about missing the train, that we actually headed back to the station early. The Indian Pacific was only running once a week at that time of year and Kalgoorlie is not a town to get stuck in for a week.

All this may not sound terribly appealing, and the journey certainly offers little in the way of natural beauty, in the conventional sense. However, it does give you time to fully appreciate what a vast, barren country Australia is and how hard it must have been for any humans, beginning with the earliest indigenous inhabitants, through the early pioneers, right up to today’s farmers, miners and flying doctors, to make it a place to live in. It also adds weight to the realisation that Perth really is the most remote city in the entire world… and makes arriving there so much sweeter.


I did the other half of the Indian Pacific journey, from Sydney to Adelaide, on my own after Arek had gone back. Part of me thinks it would be amazing to do the whole thing in one go, but realistically, it’s probably a pretty good idea to break the journey in Adelaide, one way or another. Between Sydney and Adelaide, the train only stops once, in Broken Hill, which is also a mining town, linking the whole trip thematically in a nice way. There are three main things to see in Broken Hill: the Miners’ Memorial, the Palace Hotel and the Pro Hart Gallery. As we were arriving at the crack of dawn, the hotel would be closed, and the memorial sounded like a bit of a downer (800 miners have died in Broken Hill over the years), so I chose the gallery.

Other stories I have written about travelling with Great Southern Rail in Australia:
All Aboard: Australia’s great rail journeys now fully inclusive