This is the fifth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers Perth and our journey on the Indian Pacific train.
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Our evening flight from Broome to Perth on a Fokker 100 jet of Virgin Australia was uneventful and punctual. The airport at Perth was very modern and clean – puts all of ours to shame. It was a longer than we expected taxi ride to the Alex Hotel in Northbridge. This is definitely the late night trendy area of Perth but we had a room at the back and were not disturbed by 3am revellers. There were plenty of restaurants nearby and we easily found a kebab and falafel shop for a quick meal at 10.15pm.
The Alex is quirky, to say the least. Our room was very nice and modern with excellent wifi. Breakfast was in a huge 1st floor room with sofas, trendy chairs, magazines and a kitchen. It consisted of granola, big brown boiled eggs, huge muffins, nice bread and home made jam. The coffee was excellent.
That day we explored some of the centre of Perth on foot. It was an easy walk through the main train station to the centre where we found modern shopping malls and plenty of skyscrapers. Down by the harbour at Elizabeth Quay there is a very tall modern bell tower, built for the millennium and containing 18 bells which were cast in London. It’s surrounded by a nice open space with seats, but we were now so much further south and the weather was cold and a bit drizzly.
Another welcome feature of Perth is four free (yes, really free) bus routes around the town centre and the blue route stopped very close to the Alex.
We decided to try Chinese for dinner and it was real Chinese as we were almost the only non-Chinese eating there. It was an excellent (and huge) meal. The owner told us that his son is a chartered accountant in London. The bill was written in Chinese.
Next day we met up with Martin’s third cousin Janet who lives in the northern suburbs of Perth. We took the Joondalup (nice name) train on Perth Underground to her nearest station – a very modern and clean (and very cheap) train. Janet drove us round her area of Perth including the cemetery where there were plenty of kangaroos. The weather was much brighter but still rather cold. We ate lunch by the sea at Hillary’s Boat Harbour which is a huge complex of restaurants and shops including The British Lolly Shop, full of British sweets but at rather higher than British prices.
We finished the day at Kings Park which is on a hill facing the city centre where we admired the view from the war memorial and watched a duck living dangerously in a pond with a flame in the middle.
A plaque identified a huge tree planted by the Queen in 1954. Another free bus took us back to the hotel, or at least near to the hotel. A girl who seemed drugged was on the bus. When she got off we saw that she had set fire to the seat where she was sitting not far in front of us. Another passenger soon put the fire out, but the bus had to stop for a long time and so we got off and walked.
We had another day out with Janet who drove us round the wineries in the Swan Valley area. We had a lovely lunch at Broads on the terrace overlooking some vineyards.
Then Janet took us to her daughter Robyn’s house further north near Bindoon. Robyn and her husband David have 28 acres and a lovely adobe house which they built themselves. They embedded odd things like pieces of coloured glass in the adobe and the house had some nice stained glass windows. They had a big vegetable garden with plenty of produce even though it was very early spring. Kangaroos often come to their property but they did not oblige when we were there.
It was Vietnamese for dinner that night, also just one block from the Alex.
We were very impressed with Perth. It’s a modern clean city and seems to be doing very well for itself in spite of being so far away from any other big city.
The Indian Pacific
The next day (a Sunday) was the start of our great train journey. I had long wanted to take one of the luxury tourist trains and also to see how much nothing there really is on the Nullarbor Plain. This was my opportunity.
The Indian Pacific makes a 3-day journey from Perth to Sydney once per week. We decided to do just 48 hours and to leave the train at Adelaide. We were in a nice wood-panelled cabin for two. It had a small but well fitted bathroom and plenty of storage space for hand luggage – larger bags were checked. Each night while we were having dinner a steward converted the seat into two bunk beds made up with crisp sheets. Tea and coffee were available non-stop at the end of our carriage.
Some facts about the train. It was about 620m long and the 30 carriages included those for motorail, lounge, dining, kitchen and for the crew. This is actually much shorter than the Ghan which goes from Darwin to Adelaide. On that train they have to take you to your carriage in a bus. At our end there was one lounge car and one dining car for 4 sleeping carriages. One host told us that there were 222 passengers of whom 38 were getting off at Adelaide.
The dining car had tables for 4. We had to reserve a time for meals and a host seated us, each time with different people. These varied from a retired BA pilot to a Queensland sheep farmer. The food was varied and imaginative, and quite rich. Most people spent the day in the lounge car which had a bar and unlimited drinks. Several of the Australians asked us about the Brexit vote.
Included in the trip was a visit to the gold mine at Kalgoorlie. Going east, the train gets there in the dark at 10pm, but we were not to be deterred and followed the advice to wrap up warm. Buses took us to Hannans North Tourist Mine which had opened specially for us late at night. We were treated to a short (fortunately, as it was cold outside) enactment of the discovery of gold, then those who wanted to (somebody did!) could climb up into the driver’s seat of a huge dumper truck. It was so big that I barely came to the middle of a wheel.
Then at 11pm we did finaly see the Superpit at Kalgoorlie which until very recently was the largest open pit gold mine in Australia. It operates round the clock and the huge trucks looked like little toys in the bottom. We were told it is 600m deep, 3.5km long and 1.5km wide. Apparently they get 1 golfball of gold from 1 truck load of dirt.
The tour finished with a drive round the town where the guide was anxious to point out where all the brothels had been.
Cook and the Nullarbor Plain
Next day we were really in flat and empty scenery. The train stopped at the tiny settlement of Forrest in order to deliver supplies. A lady with a car was waving to us. Apparently Forrest is an emergency landing place for planes. In the afternoon there was a scheduled 30 minute stop at Cook (population 4 although there appeared to be several houses there).
Then we really were on the Nullabor where the only vegetation is sparse low scrub and where there is 478km of dead straight line.
The train rolled into Adelaide next morning just a little late, but in any case it was too early to check into our apartment and so we stayed around partaking of the free coffee and cakes (and wifi) in the terminal.