Published: December 17th 2006December 12th 2006
Panic in Perth
We left you with a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of the last blog. We wanted you to experience a small fraction of the adrenalin (read: stress) we felt at the moment we started to think that we might not be able to get to Sydney in time to catch our ship to New Zealand.
You'll remember that we got to Perth around 9am on the morning of the 6th. The Indian Pacific was due to leave at 11:55am. The booking office at Perth Central station advised us that the seats were sold out. They also told us that there was no longer any coach service running from Perth to Adelaide or Sydney because flights had put them out of business.
We checked our e mail to see if our request for a reservation on the Indian Pacific had resulted in one. Nope. The decidedly unhelpful GSR staff who responded to the mail said we'd be able to buy tickets once we got to Perth. NOT.
Then it was off to Europcar to see if we could hire a car. Because we were only going one way and it was high
season, they were charging a 'drop fee' of AU$1800. A 'drop fee' basically means shipping the car back from Sydney to Perth, taking the total to AU$2700 for a five day rental. Ouch. And that was without factoring in accommodation, food and petrol. The lady we spoke to did try to get the 'drop fee' dropped for us, but the fat controller wasn't having any of it.
At this point, it felt like things were turning distinctly pear shaped. We'd seriously started talking about hitching rides on road trains, or even hanging around in Australia until the next ship to New Zealand, which would have meant missing Christmas in NZ, and spending a whole lot more money that we didn't have. After Asia, Australia was feeling very expensive.
As a last ditch effort, we decided to head out to East Perth train station where the Indian Pacific leaves from to see if there had been any cancellations. No cancellations. But, and the woman threw this in as an after thought, there were still Red Kangaroo sleepers available. They were going to be about AU$1200 each with our YHA discount, not including food. But at this stage we didn't
feel like we had time to find out if there were any other options, so we put them on the credit card, sighed deeply, and started preparing ourselves for a three day train ride across Australia.
As a little footnote, it turns out that right around the time we would have had to drive across it, the Nullabor Plain had to be closed due to fires. So we wouldn't have been able to drive anyway!
The Indian Pacific
So you're probably wondering about what impossibly glamourous accommodation you get for $800 a night. What you get is a cabin with 2m x 1m of floor space, a window, a fold out sink, two seats that transformed into bunk beds, bedding, towels and a little kit bag with tooth-brush, shower cap, soap etc. There wasn't room for our main packs (we'd never had to be parted from them for any other train journey) which had to be checked in and which we couldn't access during the trip. In fact, the cabin was so small, that we found it difficult to store our day packs and it was practically impossible for us both to stand at the same time.
So much for the accommodation. What about the views? This is advertised as being one of 'the World's Great Train Journeys' so there must be plenty of marvellous sights along the way. Perhaps we should have been a bit more suspicious after reading that the Indian Pacific's main claim to fame is that it has the longest stretch of straight track in the world. It's 478 kms long without a single turn. It goes across the Nullabor Plain. And Nullabor is Aborigine for treeless. Treeless plain. Hmmmm. Not sounding so appealling is it.
And indeed, it did feel like we spent most of our time passing across vast open spaces with only spinifix grass and clouds to look at against the red red earth and the huge blue sky. We did have moments of high excitement when we spotted kangaroos, emus, galahs and eagles milling around in the boringness. Even seeing sheep was enough to get us over-excited.
So much for the views then. Perhaps the food would be the big selling point, even though it wasn't included in the price. Afraid not. About the same as standard British or European train fare and more expensive than
similar quality standard food sold in shops.
Well then. Perhaps the train would be filled with amazing people and thrilling characters who'd tell us tall tales and entertain us with their wit. Or glamourous types who'd introduce us to famous artistes and A list celebs. Or maybe just loads of people drinking and partying it up in the lounge car. But no. The crew were lovely and looked after us very well, and we did meet a funky young conservationist, an extremely lovely British bird watcher who told us all about the birds we saw along the way and a crazy socialist revolutionary. But not the impossibly glamourous international set who might be our gateway to fame and fortune.
All of which probably leaves you asking what it is that would induce people to take this journey, other than a clearly idiotic desire to cross the world without flying. One answer might be found by looking at the other passengers on the train, most of whom appeared to be well over retirement age. We heartily hope that this wasn't the trip of a lifetime for too many of them though.
Maybe we're being a bit too harsh
though. We had just come off seven days on a ship without too much to do or see, so three days on a train without much room to move was always going to cause us a big dose of cabin fever. And for the first time ever we had a train with a shower!
We also got the benefit of four stop overs with optional tours. Although we had to pay for the tours they did break up the journey. Our first was at the famous' mining town of Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie - Gold Capital
We arrived about 10:30pm by which time it was already very dark so it was always going to be a slightly surreal tour. This place had the feel of an american wild west outpost. We cruised the main street checking out the historic buildings. Then we went to have a look at the 'Superpit', a four kilometre long, 300metre deep, open cast gold mine. Only those areas being worked on are lit, so all you really see are tiny tiny trucks scurrying around like ants. It was made slightly weird by the huge electrical storm lighting up the sky every minute or so.
But then things got really weird. Our tour guide took us past a bar where we got mooned and boob flashed by the locals. Apparently this is normal. And then we stopped outside one of the three local bordellos. Our tour guide seemed to think this was something we might be really interested in, as he proceeded to tell us all about the internal decor, charges by the hour or the night, and all the activities available at each brothel. Given that most of the other people on the tour were about twice our age, we did wonder if he'd slightly misjudged which sites to focus on. Cook - A name more descriptive than we thought
In the middle of the Nullabor Plain, this was literally just an opportunity to get off the train and stretch our legs. Four people live there. It has a handful of houses and a souvenir shop. It was about 100 degrees. Enough said. Adelaide - Nice
We did the tour of Adelaide. It seems like a very pretty place. We saw the Adelaide Oval. Not an especially encouraging place to visit if your British just now. Broken Hill - Silver Capital
Broken Hill was another mining town. Lots of twee shop fronts and wild west verandahs. We ditched the tour and sat in an Italian restaurant eating pizza and pasta and drinking wine. Civilization. Just heavenly!
Sydney - it's nice to see some friends and family
Abbies aunt Cathy picked us up at Sydney Central station. And from then it was a whirlwind three days catching up with Cathy, Uncle Don and cousin Georgie. We had a wonderful meal with Jana and Swantje, lunch with Annabel, a little retail therapy, a whistlestop tour of the city and the north beaches, and disappointingly discovering that our boat was leaving twelve hours early.
Oh well, at least Australia will be easy to visit from New Zealand. Good job too, as we barely scratched the surface of this huge country.
Where to Next?
This is pretty obvious. On to our container ship for the last, final, step of our journey to our new home.
There are more photos below