Tue, 21 Aug, 2018
Farewell Indian Pacific – now I’m addicted to train travel
Justine Tyerman completes a four-part series about her journey on the famous trans-continental Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney. On day 4 of her epic 4352km, three-night, four-day trip from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, Justine goes hiking in the spectacular Blue Mountains, and soon after she disembarks in Sydney, she already has the next train trip lined up…
My last day on the Indian Pacific trip from Perth to Sydney was spent off the train amid the stunning landscape of the Blue Mountains National Park, 80kms inland from Sydney. In fact, it was here at Katoomba Station that we said our fond farewells to the Indian Pacific train and many of the passengers who continued direct to Sydney. The rest of us caught a commuter train to the city later in the day where we were reunited with our luggage.
Desperate for some exercise after days of sitting and consuming alarming quantities of delicious food, I chose to do a hike rather than the Scenic World attractions at Katoomba, a series of thrilling experiences I can highly recommend from an earlier trip with my family.
The Prince Henry cliff track between Katoomba and Echo Point was a two-hour guided hike with Blue Mountains Guides, Mark and Dylan, a couple of awesome, funny and extremely knowledgeable guys who love showing visitors around their ‘backyard’ – the Blue Mountains UNESCO World Heritage area, part of the Blue Mountains National Park. The park covers an area of 267,954-hectares, an uplifted sedimentary plateau, 1215 metres above sea level at its highest point.
Like most patriotic Kiwis, I am reluctant to rave about Australian scenery but the Blue Mountains are an exception - the Katoomba Cascades and Wentworth Falls, sheer cliffs and sandstone escarpments hundreds of metres high and the beautiful forested Jamison Valley are jaw-dropping.
The iconic Three Sisters rock formation glowing in the winter sun.
At Echo Point, the famous Three Sisters rock formation was bathed in sunshine. A few years ago, we scaled the perpendicular stone and steel steps of the Giant Stairway to a platform cut into the ‘tummy’ of the first sister. Standing 922m, 918m and 906m tall, the Three Sisters are a truly astonishing sight especially on a clear winter day when the blueness of the Blue Mountains is at its most vivid.
Geology tells us the sisters were formed by erosion of the sandstone over many millennia by the wind, rain and rivers which are gradually breaking down the cliffs surrounding the Jamison Valley.
However, I prefer the Aboriginal legend which tells of three beautiful sisters - Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo - who lived in the valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. They fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe (the Nepean tribe), but marriage was forbidden by tribal law.
The brothers were unhappy about this and decided to use force to capture the sisters. A major tribal battle ensued, and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder in order to protect them, but he was killed in the fighting and no one else could turn them back.
Meanwhile, at Scenic World, our fellow train passengers plummeted 310 metres down the world's steepest scenic railway through a natural rock tunnel to an old coal mining site, hiked through a Jurassic forest on the valley floor exploring relics of the 1880s mining era, glided back up the sheer cliff face to the top of the plateau in a huge 84-person cable car and then took a ride in the glass-bottomed ‘Skyway’, 270 dizzying metres above the Jamison Valley and the Katoomba Falls. Adrenalin-pumping stuff!
The Katoomba escarpment overlooking the spectacular Blue Mountains and Jamison Valley.
After a delicious lunch at Katoomba and a few toasts to our outstanding Indian Pacific experience, I boarded an ordinary train back to Sydney, feeling quite bereft. No more cosy cabin, convivial Outback Explorer Lounge or five-star Queen Adelaide restaurant just down the hall.
To prolong the magic, I read all the literature I had been storing up for when I got bored on the Indian Pacific... which never happened.
The history of train travel across Australia is a fascinating read. In 1917, after decades of debate between Australian states, a coast-to-coast rail line was completed. However the track was made up of three rail gauges which necessitated a different train for each section of line. As a consequence, passengers from Sydney to Perth had to change trains five times to complete their journey.
It was not until 1969 that a standard gauge railway line from Sydney to Perth was completed. A competition was then held to find an appropriate name for the transcontinental train. Henry Roach’s ‘Indian Pacific’ was chosen as the winner because it perfectly expressed how the rail track joins the Indian Ocean in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east.
On February 23, 1970, the newly-christened Indian Pacific departed from Sydney’s Central Station on its first unbroken journey across the continent. Four days later, a cheering crowd of 10,000 welcomed the train at East Perth Railway Station.
In 1983, the Crystal Brook to Adelaide line was converted to standard gauge allowing the Indian Pacific to operate via Adelaide.
In 1996, the ‘Tea and Sugar Train’ between Port Augusta and Forrest ceased operation after 80 years. In its heyday, the train visited 47 communities on a weekly basis to deliver food, mail and other supplies. Every fortnight, a doctor, dentist and social worker would also travel on the train.
In 2000, the Indian Pacific carried the Olympic flame from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta as part of the Sydney Olympics Torch Relay.
In 2020, the Indian Pacific will celebrate 50 years of service. What a grand occasion that will be.
I also read up on statistics about the Indian Pacific. Some were mindboggling… the train carries 3000 litres of water for each carriage and churns through 58 litres of diesel per trip, not to mention 22,000 bottles of wine, 30,000 litres of milk and 37,000 servings of lamb rack, the most popular dish, per year. In total, 715,000 dishes are served in the Queen Adelaide and Platinum Club restaurants each year.
Thirty crew look after up to 300 passengers in Platinum and Gold Service, both all-inclusive of onboard meals, beverages and off-train excursions.
Platinum Service guests dine in the Platinum Club with flexible dining options for both intimate dinners and large groups.
Platinum Service cabins feature day lounges that convert to either double or twin beds by night and en suites equipped with a full-size shower and Appelles toiletries. Platinum passengers have complimentary private transfers to and from the terminal, in-cabin morning tea and optional in-cabin breakfast.
Gold Service guests dine in the Queen Adelaide Restaurants and have access to the Outback Explorer Lounges, the social hub of the train, serving Australian wines, beers and spirits.
Gold Service twin cabins are equipped with three-seater day lounges that convert to upper and lower sleeping berths at night and compact en suite facilities with Appelles toiletries.
Both classes enjoy cabin steward service, in-cabin music and journey commentaries.
Saying goodbye to the Indian Pacific train at Katoomba Station.
The average Indian Pacific train length is 731 metres weighing 1390 tonnes, pulled by one diesel electric GE 7FDL-16 locomotive from Perth to Adelaide and two from Adelaide to Sydney to handle the mountainous terrain. Annually the Indian Pacific covers 452,608kms, the equivalent of travelling around the world eleven times.
The logo on the carriages is the wedge-tailed eagle, Australia’s largest eagle. Its massive 2.3m wingspan is a metaphor for the journey that spans a continent.
It was a strange sensation to disembark at Sydney’s bustling Central Station and farewell my NAMs who were by this time OAMs (Old Aussie Mates). It took some time for the ground to stop swaying beneath my feet and for me to re-engage my brain and take charge of my life again.
The traffic, people, high-rise buildings, asphalt, noise and neon lights jangled at my senses and I wanted to take refuge back on the Indian Pacific.
The four-day trip was blissfully easy and shamelessly self-indulgent – no meals to cook, housework to do, laundry to wash, gardens to weed, lawns to mow, deadlines to meet or decisions about which direction to take. It’s the most leisurely, stress-free, luxurious way to travel for people of all ages – family groups, friends, couples, the young, the not-so-young and the in-betweens. I could just imagine the fun a group of friends or family would have on such a trip. I can also see how a long-haul train journey like this leads to another . . . and another . . . It’s addictive.
I certainly haven’t got the Aussie Outback out of my system yet. In fact just the other day, I contacted Rail Plus and booked The Ghan, another epic trans-Australian train journey, this time from Darwin to Adelaide. Then there’s the Trans-Siberian, the Orient Express, the Silk Road and the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland… the possibilities are endless, and oh so tantalising.
Justine Tyerman was a guest of Rail Plus 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; and is one of many great train journeys offered by Rail Plus.
* Visit Rail Plus for more info on this and other epic train adventures around the world: or call 09 377 5415