Cross the Land You’ll Never Get Over…

By Amy, Work in Australia

….this is the slogan for the Great Southern Rail and I couldn’t agree more. What a journey it was! After spending a total of over 50 hours traveling by train over more than 4,600 kilometers (2,858 miles) from Melbourne to Adelaide and Adelaide to Perth, I’ve finally made it to the west coast.

I opted for the shorter train version taking the Overland from Melbourne to Adelaide, having a day to spend in Adelaide, and then taking the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth. This cuts your time on the train from 3 nights to 2 nights in the reclined/upright position. I would highly recommend the trip to anyone interested, but would completely understand if some of you opted for the upgraded accommodations of a sleeper car!

My journey on the Overland was certainly a fantastic experience. The crew was very friendly and seemed to thoroughly enjoy entertaining their passengers with funny ancedotes of both the train itself, warning that if you don’t remember to push the red button to lock the bathroom “you’ll literally get caught with your pants down”…and even calling everyone’s attention to the poor man who did in fact forget!…They also shared interesting and humorous stories about the towns we passed through. They told us of the naughty boys (now well into their 80s) who years ago slicked the tracks in Horsham with shoe polish stopping the train for hours. The boys apparently got in trouble for the amount of shoe polish wasted as opposed to the train delays caused by their prank. I won’t spoil the trip for you with the other stories…you can take the trip for yourself to hear the rest!:)

As for the scenery along the way from Victoria into South Australia we passed a number of vineyards, and plenty of sheep and cows. It was beautiful and my seatmate was the sweetest lady, Fal, from Adelaide who was returning home after spending 3 weeks in Melbourne babysitting her grandson. She told me stories about all of the dogs in her life, but in particular her baby–Honey–who only died last year breaking Fal’s heart. I could have talked to her for ages, and with the 11 hours on the train we did just that.

I arrived in Adelaide, “the city of churches,” on a Saturday night with the expectation of sightseeing a bit on Sunday before catching the train Sunday evening. I checked into my hostel and wandered around searching for free wifi…finding the ever reliable McDonalds for such..touched base with home to let them know I was okay and headed back to the hostel. Shortly after getting in, close to 9:30pm, I got the call from the Great Southern Rail informing me that the Indian Pacific would not be picking me up on Sunday due to flooding in New South Wales and Victoria. I was told that they weren’t sure when it would make it to Adelaide but they were hoping it would be some time on Monday. I didn’t dare complain, being the state of the weather all around Australia the past few months and how badly the people have been affected, so I’d have one extra day in Adelaide (assuming the train made it by Monday) and then one less day in Perth, but there were worse things than that! The hostel informed me that they were booked solid and gave me a list of other hostels in the area, which I contacted only to find they were also all booked. It appears my weekend in Adelaide perfectly coincided with the massive music festival “Big Day Out.” I went ahead and swallowed my frugal backpacker pride and booked a hotel. It was the smallest hotel room I had ever seen mind you but it was a hotel so after a day exploring the city–markets, wine tasting, botanical gardens; I spent the evening being spoiled with my very own bed, television, and bathroom! What more could a girl ask for?! 🙂

Monday was superbowl Sunday in the States so it was making the news over here being compared to all of the major sporting events finals in Australia combined into one. I was unable to find a bar showing the game at 9:30am so I spent my day enjoying the city and caught my train that night.

The Indian Pacific crew were just as friendly and helpful as the Overland group, but not quite so much into comic relief…I think this could have been affected by the additional 24 hours spent on the train with a number of disappointed and tired passengers. Nevertheless, this journey was incredible! I’ve been asked what I saw and it’s difficult to explain because it’s really just desert–thousands of miles of nothing, but I guess this is what makes it so unique and so breathtaking. The majority of the trip takes you over the Nullarbor Plains which is translated “no water”, however due to the extraordinary amounts of rainfall, large sections of these plains were flooded as we passed through. There was no phone signal and no sign of life for as far as you could see. We had one stop in Cook where they proudly advertised that there is no food or fuel for the next 862km. They also had a plaque hanging on the outside of the gift shop claiming them to officially be “the middle of nowhere.”

I found it interesting to see all the different people who traveled by train, especially those brave enough to endure the upright “sleeper seats” in the Red section of the train. There were people of all ages and backgrounds traveling for different reasons and all remaining fairly positive despite any setbacks, such as delays due to passing freight trains, etc. I think the most fascinating, and probably my favorite passenger in my car was the man in front of me, Mr. Ken. He was probably in his late 60s, early 70s and was deaf & mute. He kept a kitchen clock in the pocket in front of his seat and would become agitated at night when the lights on the inside of the train were on, further preventing him from seeing anything passing by in the night outside of his window. I kept him updated with announcements made regarding time zone changes and scheduled stops by passing him notes. He would follow these closely and let me know adamantly if we were off schedule. He was a fan of giving “thumbs ups” to everyone passing by and was treated very kindly by all of the staff on board as well. I didn’t get to know much about him personally as his little notebook was practically full with little room to write so I know his name and that he was returning to Perth but nothing other than that. I think he is brave to travel on his own and his positive attitude was most inspiring. He was almost childlike with excitement when we started to see signs of life, and even moreso when we could see city lights.

This train trip was truly unforgettable and one I would recommend to anyone considering it. There is no way to explain the beauty of vast nothing for miles on end, but take my word for it, you won’t regret it.

Take care! 🙂

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