The end of the line

Sydney to Perth – Australia

February 2008

Catching a train from Sydney to Perth is fairly straight forward on the face of things but one must be prepared for the journey to last several days. The same journey by plane takes almost four hours and the first time I flew the route it was on a 747 jumbo jet. Australia is big. As we excitedly boarded the Indian Pacific train (Perth on the Indian ocean, Sydney on the Pacific ocean) we were about to begin one of the world’s greatest railway journeys covering 4,352km over three days and nights, hauling twenty-five carriages and 348 people onboard. It oozed romance, casually rumbling through Australia’s vast interior once again but this time in relative comfort and from east to west. There is one major issue with romance and that is it usually costs money! I imagine this journey is absolutely wonderful if you can sit by a window sipping away on drinks from the bar all day long, enjoying the food served to your table and maybe even taking a cheeky nap during the afternoon before settling down in a cosy bed for the night in one of the sleeper carriages. We were at the end of our trip and Phil and I made the point that we would eat well throughout which is exactly what we did. No noodles and pasta for us down the hostel kitchen, we ate out every single night. By night three on the train, as I sat in my upright ‘recliner’ trying to catch some sleep I was beginning to regret choosing steak over noodles on quite so many occasions. Getting a sleeper cabin is expensive and so we had to make do with coach class where the leg room is good and the seats are comfy but for some cruel reason the reclining seats recline no more than an airliner seat in economy. Not lying down for three nights is not ideal in my world.

As always we managed to accumulate a good group of friends and spent the hours watching the world go by, playing cards, sharing yarns and playing more cards. The trip highlight came pretty fast on our second morning when the train broke down in the middle of nowhere for three hours which allowed us to get off, stretch the legs and enjoy some sun. The downside was that when we pulled into Adelaide that evening our stopover was reduced from three hours to forty-five minutes although some quick thinking did result in pizza getting delivered to the station in time for departure. The following night we were scheduled to stop in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia but again this had to be cut short to save on time. Usually there is an option to go and visit the gold mine there which is one of the biggest man made holes on the planet but that was cancelled due to thunderstorms. No matter as we managed to salvage the stopover with a couple of cold beers down one of the local pubs before departing. Pulling into Perth at 9.30am was one hell of a happy moment for me largely because I couldn’t wait to get off the train but mostly because I was back in Perth, a city that I am completely in love with. Before leaving the train journey behind I can confirm it was a great adventure and I will do it again but with a sleeper cabin, several good books and an open tab behind the bar.

Perth is a city I want to spend time in. It looks like a city, a super, super shiny clean city with skyscrapers that glow in the hot sun against a blazing blue sky. There is no doubting this is helped by the large sums of money flowing in from all the surrounding minefields in the region but I feel Perth is exactly what a city should be like if it has money. The cherry on top is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a city. Relatively speaking it feels peaceful, it smells fresh, you can walk around in flip-flops and shorts effortlessly and sit at outdoor restaurants peacefully in the warm evening air. Who want’s a city that never sleeps? It sounds like hell on earth. Perth does sleep, she relaxes, she takes a breath, she enjoys life. As a result of all this we gladly jumped straight into things and walked to the citie’s Mint to take a look at some gold. No idea why we did this but it was worth a visit all the same before deciding it was enough sightseeing for the day and headed to the pub. The wonderful thing about this is that we were still with some of the new friends we had made on the train and once in the pub we met up with Dom (the guy who walked into a door all the way back on the Great Ocean Road) and a few of the other guys from that trip. As the night progressed we met up with some other guys we had met heading up to Alice Springs and thus a rather incredible reunion ensued taking us on to 2am on a Tuesday night. We were staying at a friends house and I immediately passed out on the floor next to the mattress that had been put out for me. Dom had woken at 6am to go to work and kindly made the effort to roll me onto the mattress as I slept right through the whole commotion. This wasn’t alcohol at work although it may have a helped a little, this was the result of getting no sleep for three nights sat upright on a train!

The day that followed was splendid. Phil and Laura had hired a camper van and were heading back down to Esperance for a few days while I planed to head north of Perth to Monkey Mia but until then I spent a great few days in the city with the group of friends from the train. First up was Cottesloe beach, Perth’s Bondi beach only much much better.  With over 1km of pure white sand, crystal clear water and plenty of yummy places to eat Cottesloe is a place I should hate and it may be because I am bias but I felt it didn’t carry the pretentiousness of similar places on the east coast. Yes it is the place to go if in Perth but because so few people travel to the west coast, Cottesloe is usually full of locals and not Lonely Planet guide books. This means it is a lot more genuine which is usually the point I’m trying to make when I get on such rants. Anyhow upon returning to the city we trekked up to Kings Park which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful city parks on the planet. Uniquely positioned high up, it offers spectacular views of the city skyline. I have been to Perth many times now and a visit to Kings Park is a must every time. The ultimate place for a picnic, to work out or just relax in the shade, the last time I visited it was to lie on the grass at an outdoor cinema on a warm summers evening.

The following day it was decided to make our way to Fremantle, described as a port city in it’s own right but realistically nothing more than a suburb of Perth. One thing that can be agreed is that Fremantle is simply delightful, full of old colonial architecture, beautiful streets, expensive harbours and amazing places to eat and drink. The best way to get there from Perth? Boat. A boat trip will take you from Perth city centre and down along the Swan river which is perhaps one of the most beautiful rivers to run through a city. Moving along towards the coast you get a real sense of the money flowing into the city with luxury houses built all along the river banks. Upon arriving in Fremantle we felt energised and although it was already mid afternoon we managed to fit a visit into the Shipwreck Maritime Museum and the excellent Fremantle Prison. Opened in 1855 and closed in 1991, the prison is now a World Heritage Site and looks like something straight out of a movie. From the entrance to the main cell block, the long, cold corridors and small windows this place is everything you expect of a prison. Tiny prison cells kitted out with everything from simple mats on the floor to hammocks now tell stories from the past. Many of the cells are covered not in graffiti but quite lovely works of art. Some of it aboriginal, some of it straight out of the English countryside. The tours they put on here are fantastic with fun and informative guides and because I’m sad, several years later when I returned to Perth I happily went along to the prison again but this time at night with a night time tour. I don’t usually do recommendations but a night time tour of Fremantle prison is a must with a greater emphasis on gruesome stories and spooky going’s on. Armed with only a little touch each, the majority of the prison remains dark and lit up only by the glow of the floodlights outside. But back to our daytime visit and we left the prison in high spirits and in search of a beer and a feed and yet again we stumbled over another gem. The Little Creatures Brewery is every persons dream after exploring the delights of a city on a hot sunny day. A microbrewery sat on the harbours edge one can choose to sit at the wooden tables inside and be marvelled by the huge shiny brewing vats behind the bar along with all the pipework above your head or choose to sit outside to watch the sun go down over the water. It’s win win really. Again it no nonsense Australia, the place is smart but simple, a huge open space it feels almost as though you are sitting in the corner of the brewery that was empty for a long time and so they decided to fill it with tables, chairs and customers. Numerous fantastic beers are on offer and to satisfy the hunger equally fantastic pizzas are available. Hot weather, beer, pizza, a little bit of history, this could quite possibly have been one of the best days ever!

The following day I began my final mini-trip, a two night, three day, 2000km round trip north to Monkey Mia which is famous for its dolphins coming to the shore. Hot and remote with incredible sites such as Kalbarri National Park, The Pinnacles, hanging out with wild dolphins, sharks and sting rays, Shell Beach, The Stromatolites (literally the very beginnings of life), Hut River Province, sand boarding and a farm-stay we packed in more than enough for another story. However, finishing up at The Little Creatures Brewery sat outside with a glass of cold beer, watching the sunset on a warm summer’s evening is the perfect way to finish a story about Australia. Phil and I had endured five months together where we worked hard and played harder with Laura arriving to keep us organised throughout our mammoth journey on the road. The people we travelled with, the Australians we met, the country we explored was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Epic in every way and an experience that will be forever missed.

on the Indian coast, Sydney on the Pacific coast) we were about to begin a three night, 4352km long journey c

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