Australia’s great rail journey: The Indian Pacific
I awoke early on my first morning aboard the Indian Pacific and opened my blinds to a rich apricot dawn along the horizon below a perfect, newly-minted moon and one star so bright and big it looked as if someone had been punching holes in the sky.
It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed and I didn’t have to stir from my bed to see it. The light slowly increased until I could see shining rails alongside, then red dirt and pale gold tussock grass with the low trees of Australia’s Outback against a huge ball of golden sun.
At around twenty minutes to six I spotted a big red kangaroo hopping along through the desert. Then another, and another, standing watching the train as the sun climbed higher in the sky.
Over a breakfast I looked at the map. The Indian Pacific had been travelling steadily at over 100 kilometres per hour all night but we seemed to have made barely any progress across the vastness that is Australia.
But thinking of the painfully slow progress of the teams of men and animals who built the Trans-Continental line from Sydney to Perth, travelling at 100-odd kilometres per hour is a real treat. You can plan your stay in Perth with Expedia for the end of your rail journey.
It gives you an opportunity to get your head around the mammoth distances and harsh environments of Australia as the big yellow and blue locomotive ploughs through wide pastoral lands, red sand hills and empty deserts.
The main event, of course, is the Nullabor Plain. The railway line bisects this spectacularly empty piece of the world, no less than 180,000 square kilometres of country devoid of trees.
Right about here is the longest straight stretch of railway in the world – 478 kilometres of tracks laid painstakingly in a dead straight line.
But the Nullabor is far from devoid of life, as we saw at dusk and dawn and dusk and dawn again. The dominant plantlife – saltbush and bluebush that hugs the soil – is able to absorb and utilise night time dew, providing sustenance for hardy Australian wildlife.
The horizon is so far away, with clouds suspended like a scattering of mauve-coloured petals. There are isolated airstrips and clusters of solar panels.
The second night I made sure to leave my window blind open to enjoy the incredible display of stars. Next morning after another wonderful sunrise I finally saw a stunted, lonely-looking tree. The Indian Pacific had crossed the Nullabor and passed into Western Australia’s wheat belt.
As the final hours of my journey sped away the train crossed salt lake plains, and at last reached the lush green farmland of the Avon Valley. Over my wild peach and vanilla parfait I watched the young green of wheat just starting to turn gold below a yellow-washed sky.
The Indian Pacific is perhaps Australia’s greatest rail journey and certainly the most comfortable way to let the country’s Outback get under your skin.