However much we crave an easy ride, travelling wouldn’t be much fun if we just arrived effortlessly at our destinations. So when I had to get from Sydney to Perth, the choice seemed obvious.
Forget about jumping on a plane for a few hours. The only way to go is on the Indian Pacific – all 4,352km of it.
Crossing the entire width of Australia, from the Pacific Ocean all the way through the Outbackto the Indian Ocean, it’s truly one of the world’s great train journeys.
That said, I’m not hugely excited about meeting the chair I will call home for the next three nights – or 66 hours in total.
All I can think about is a passage from Bill Bryson’s Down Under, when he took the Indian Pacific and thought he was going to get eaten alive by sullen passengers with sunken eyes.
So I’m amazed to find spacious seats, a lounge car, even hot showers! Wow, I’ve stayed in worse hostels.
Heaving onto the luggage rack the six litres of water I’ve just panic bought round the corner, I even notice a fresh water tap just down the aisle. Bugger.
And there was me thinking the weird looks were just people jealous at how well prepared I was. Oh well, it’s all good training (sorry).
Anyway, back on track (sorry again) we’re soon drifting away, out of Sydney and into the dusk.
After hazy memories of occasionally pulling into small towns throughout the night, I wake with a jolt to a window full of stunning Outback, the sandy earth stretching away as far as the eye can see.
Just after 7am we’re at Broken Hill, where we get the first chance to jump off for a bit.
The remote little silver mining town is famous for its proximity to Silverton, which boasts Australia’s most photographed pub.
Sadly, a picture of the pub in a million Aussie beer adverts (and Mad Max 2) isn’t added to my collection. Yep, the train is running late, so our visit is cut short.
But we’re soon chugging along again and time flies by. I’ve always loved roadtrips, but there’s something about the rickety sway of a train to make you feel like you’re really crossing a country the old-fashioned way. It’s great.
Next we’re at Adelaide. Having made up time, we’ve got a couple of hours to stroll around Rundle Street, before stopping off for a quick drink on Gouger Street.
It’s the home of Coopers after all, it would be rude not to sample the local delicacy, wouldn’t it?
Pleasantly light-headed, although not fully off the rails (sorry, last one, I promise), it’s then time to jump back onboard and wait for one of the journey’s highlights – crossing the Nullarbor Plain.
Named from the Latin for no trees, the Nullarbor is about as relentlessly flat and empty a piece of land as you are likely
It’s also huge. Well, about four times the size of Belgium anyway… or was that four times as interesting as Belgium,
I can’t remember.
Either way, I spend hours gaping at it, mesmerised by its big skies and curving horizons – it’s truly awe-inspiring.
And to see it properly you’ve got to get the train, as the Indian Pacific goes right through the middle of it, unlike the road which skirts its southern edge.
Indeed, one of the Indy’s great claims to fame is that its route across the Nullarbor is the longest stretch of straight track in the world – measuring 478km without a single curve.
Halfway along that track we pull into Cook, basically a ghost town which boasts an empty pool and a particularly impressive country club.
Stepping off into the searing heat to wonder around a surreal collection of buildings literally in the middle of nowhere is what I love about this journey.
These are places I wouldn’t even have seen by road, let alone plane. Whether it’s the awesome landscapes, boozy sunsets or oddball characters you meet, there’s a timeless brilliance in getting the train.
Half an hour later the siren goes so we all jump on. This is not a train you’d want to miss.
At one point we pull to a stop. We look a million miles from anywhere, but one couple hops off.
Just as I think we’re leaving these people to a certain death, I spot a truck waiting for them, presumably to take them back to their cave or something, because there’s no sign of life for as far as the eye can see.
Later that night, after enjoying another Outback sunset from the comfort of the bar, we pull into Kalgoorlie.
There’s just time for a 10 minute sprint around town, after a broken rail earlier in the day left us stranded in the Nullarbor for several hours. Sadly it means Australia’s only brothel tour will have to wait.
Instead we rejoin the train for the final leg, taking us all the way through to Perth the following morning, where I arrive, very glad I didn’t get the plane.
The damage & the details: The Indian Pacific journey with Great Southern Rail (Ph: 13 21 47, ) costs $315, with a backpacker card.