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Through the Big Flat Nothing

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I have been through the Nullarbor. Yes I have.

Okay, my experience must be described as „Nullarbor light“. The journey took place on air-conditioned Gold Kangaroo Class train cars with chilled beer, enormous amounts of excellent food, around-the-clock service and entertainment, and nothing to worry about except which brand of beer to try next.

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We did the journey on the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth, two nights and a full day on the train. So we crossed two thirds of the continent's width. A full day of travel through flat nothingness, and it was not boring even for a single minute. I loved it.

Even many Aussies think the name „Nullarbor“ derives from a local Aboriginal language. It does not. The plain was in fact named by the early European explorers. The name is Latin, „nullus arbor“, which means „no tree“. (Remember this when travelling on the Indian Pacific because this question is part of the quiz they do for the passengers.)

The Indian Pacific

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The Indian Pacific is Australia's longest train route which runs from Sydney to Perth and back twice a week. The full journey, all in all 4352 kilometres, takes three nights and two days.

Don't expect the trains to be very modern, this is more a nostalgic journey. Maximum speed is about 100-110 kph.

We chose travelling Gold Kangaroo Class, the most expensive way but it was worth it. We had a two-bed compartment with ensuite shower and toilet to ourselves. First thing in the morning the conductor brought coffee or tea according to our wishes („A weak tea with a drop of milk“) to our compartment.

Meals were served in the neo-Victorian restaurant car. Food was abundant and excellent.

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Lounge car

The meals are taken in two shifts. You have the choice, the conductor will ask after departure and you'll be in either first or second shift during the whole journey. They have some fancier names for the two shifts but I forgot. The shifts will be called for meals over the loudspeaker. (*Whispers:* Take the second shift if there are still openings. The first shift has to get up for breakfast very early and will have to leave the dining car immediately after finishing their meals while the second shift can take their time.)

If we wanted company there was the lounge car with bar at our disposition, if we wanted quiet we had our compartment. The friendly staff also did some entertainment for the passengers in the lounge, including a quiz about the route and the places along which I did together with three Australians who were sitting at the same table. It was fun but we did not win anything...

I have to admit, though, that we (40 and 53) were by far the youngest passengers in Gold Kangaroo Class...

All details about classes, fares, timetables, route, service etc. etc. etc. can be found on the website of Great Southern Railways: http://www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/trains/the-indian-pacific so there is no need to repeat everything here.

All the landscape photos in here are snapshots that I took from the train during the ride.

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We departed from Adelaide after dark. At sunrise we awoke somewhere northwest of Port Augusta. Here we still have bush with fully grown gum trees.

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During the morning trees became less and less. After breakfast we still saw shrubs and some green.
Then we reached the Big Flat Nothing.

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The soil is never completely bare, some plants still grow, so the Nullarbor can be called a half-desert.

If you’re crook, come to Cook

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Cook's mottos

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Cook is almost halfway along this route. The train stops for an hour to refill fuel and water and to change drivers. This gives passengers the chance to set out for sightseeing.

In the old times of steam engines, Cook's population was around 100. When we visited on April 1, 2005, the town was inhabited by two people but they expected the population to increase by 100% in the near future because another couple was about to move there.

98% of Cook is a ghost town. The houses have long been vacated. Deserted gardens, rusting cars, abandoned playgrounds. Four times a week swarms of tourists invade the town for one hour and disturb the ghosts' peace: when the Indian Pacific stops. There are two passenger trains per week in each direction. Most of the traffic on these rails consists of freight trains.

It was 42 degrees but very dry so the heat was bearable. We strolled around and enjoyed watching the empty houses in various stages of decay.

Everything is within easy walking distance from the train station. That one hour the Indian Pacific’s timetable allows is more than enough to stretch your legs and see everything the place has to offer. It is hard to imagine a thriving community of human beings here in his godforsaken place in the middle of the great flat nothing, but some years ago it must have been.

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The town had two prison cells for a population of 100, one per 50 people - does this indicate the rate of criminality in former times? Being locked up in these tin huts must be like being imprisoned in a cooking pot.
In front of the cells they have installed the „Gaol House Rock“...

Back on the train

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The train route includes the longest straight stretch of train tracks in the world: 478 kilometres without even the slightest curve. A figure to remember for the quiz they do for the passengers.

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Hard to imagine that there are indeed cattle farms in this landscape.

If you keep your eyes open you can, with a bit of luck, spot wildlife from the train. The plain does not look inviting, nevertheless it is inhabited by a variety of animals.

Wedge-tailed Eagles are frequent in the sky above the wide plain, although I saw only one. This bird has been chosen as the symbol of the Indian Pacific.

In one place where a side railway turns to a distant farm, some empty cattle wagons were standing on the track. They created the only shady spot for hundreds of kilometres. The kangaroos know. A bunch of Grey Kangaroos were resting underneath the wagons.

I also saw some unwelcome intruders from the old world: a feral cat and two foxes.

Sorry no photos, it all went too quickly.

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Hooray, there is some larger green in sight.

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Traces of a bushfire

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Late in the afternoon we were back in the bush. There was still a whole night to go.

In the evening the train stopped in Kalgoorlie for about two hours. For us Gold Kangaroo passengers, a guided tour by bus was offered. It was already pitch dark. We were driven though the city and to the Superpit lookout. The view of the illuminated mine was quite something. It was hard to estimate its true dimensions, though.

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This is not an abstract painting, but a bad night photo of Superpit...

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Arrival in Perth in the second morning

Packing Tips for the Indian Pacific

NB: These tips apply to Gold Kangaroo Class, i.e. first class sleeper, only. People who travel in Red Kangaroo or even daynight seater will have to pack differently.

Luggage and bags: Luggage up to 20 kgs can be checked at the station before departure, but this is not compulsory. It is technically possible to store two big suitcases in a sleeper compartment underneath the lower berth, sacrificing some leg room (we did it but lesson learned). As these compartments are narrow, my recommendation for two people travelling together is this: pack everything both of you will need for the journey into one bag/suitcase and check the second suitcase, you'll be more comfortable.

Clothing: Have a sweater or cardigan and (ladies) a cotton or silk scarf at hand. The air condition especially in the lounge and restaurant car is notoriously set at too low a temperature and there is an unpleasant chilly draught from the ceiling.
Have a sun hat at hand for the stop in Cook.

Dress code: There is not really a dress code, you don't have to bring your Sunday Best, but I'd recommend not to wear your Weekday Worst either.

Toiletries: Passengers in Gold Kangaroo Class receive a complementary tolietries bag which contains a toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, moisturizer, re-hydration spray, a washcloth, a sewing kit, a shower cap, and shoe polish. So these items do not have to be brought. Towels, bedding and sheets are provided.

Photo Equipment: Yes you will want to have a camera.

Food and drink: No need to carry any food, you will be fed until you almost burst. A bottle of water or two to have in your compartment will be useful, maybe a few sweets or fruit if you must.
Remember that interstate quarantine restrictions on fruit, honey etc. apply. There will be a control on the train before arrival in a new state, so finish all your apples or whatever in time.

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:16 Archived in Australia Tagged trains nullarbor indian_pacific

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Comments

Wow, I would love to do this journey! I am drawn to big skies and desert scenery, and I enjoy train rides, especially with a touch of luxury such as you had :)

by ToonSarah

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