Crossing Australia by Train (Part 2)
To begin my Australian itinerary, I took Hawaiian Airlines’ non-stop flight from Honolulu to Sydney. Next I traveled east to west—from Sydney via Adelaide to Perth—on the Indian Pacific train. From there, I flew up to Darwin where I took The Ghan almost due south to Alice Springs and then on to Adelaide. From there, I flew back to Sydney for my return flight to Honolulu.
The Indian Pacific’s route took us across the lower third of the Australian continent from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean . . . hence the name of the train.
Mid-morning on our second day came a stop at Broken Hill. It’s a mining town, starting with silver ore, but rich in many other materials. It was here that I learned the “Australian wave”, a sardonic reference to the universal gesture one makes when swatting at the large flies that are attracted minutes after you step out-of-doors. There is only one way to deal with the relentless Australian flies: a floppy broad brimmed hat with a fine nylon mesh to cover your face. (Or you can do as I did: hastily retreat to the lounge car.)
The next stop was the town of Cook. While the locomotive was being fueled and serviced by the engineers, most of the passengers crowded into the town’s tiny souvenir shop, run by two no-nonsense ladies. When asked what was the population of Cook, one of the ladies replied, “Two!” Then she added, “But our husbands have gone fishing. When they get back, our population will double.” And both ladies howled with laughter.
Toward the end of the next day, the Indian Pacific stopped at Kalgoorlie, a big city (for these parts) with a population of about 30,000 people. Nearby is an open pit gold mine that is just over a mile deep. Huge mechanized shovels load crushed rock into monster trucks which bring their loads to the surface where, on average, the yield is one ounce of pure gold per load. In this photo, taken at dusk, headlights of those giant dump trucks can be seen just over one mile below.
While the train was being restocked and serviced, most of the passengers took a bus tour of the town. Outside of a few municipal buildings, it was the two bordellos—quite legal here—that generated the most interest on our bus. The two girls who were relaxing on the front porch waved as our bus rolled slowly past.
We arrived in Perth the next day and suddenly there was a cool breeze and green grass and the magnificent King’s Park with stately trees and the Swan River merging with the blue, blue of the Indian Ocean . . . the perfect conclusion to a great train ride.
NEXT: Off to Darwin