Australia and New Zealand-Ongoing

Dec 27th, 2015, 03:29 PM
Join Date: Mar 2012
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Dukey I knew I would enjoy your report and I wasn't disappointed.

As I look out the window I can see our driveway lined by Agapanthus. They cope well with the frosts of winter and heat of summer and right now they are in full bloom.

Have a wonderful rail journey and look forward to the next instalment.
october_fun is offline  
Dec 29th, 2015, 01:16 PM
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I'm enjoying your report, Dukey! We were in that Star Alliance lounge in LA a few days before you, on our way to Tahiti. I hope you have a fantastic trip - can't wait to hear more!
Florida1 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 08:05 AM
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Now that I have decent consistent connectivity I'll do my best to bring this whole thing back to the present. We spent three nights aboard the Indian Pacific and are now in Sydney. And before I forget, thanks to everyone who made the helpful and supportive comments.

Yes, the limo driver was provided at both ends of the trip by Great Southern Rail and in Perth he showed up about 15 minutes early at the front door of the hotel, as did we.

Short drive to the East Perth rail station. We had been advised to arrive at least one hour prior to the train's scheduled departure (at 10 AM) and we ended up arriving well before 9:00 AM as had many other passengers.

Cold juices offered on the platform where tables and chairs were set up for folks to wait. We had re-arranged luggage since the sleeping car compartments are compact and the train company advises bringing on carry-ons only. Two of our bags went into the baggage car. The train admitted passengers around 9 AM.

Three "levels" of service on board: Red is coach service; Gold and Platinum are the sleeping car services. I figured we would be doing this exactly once in a lifetime so we sprang for one of the Platinum doubles compete with ensuite toilet and full shower. All meals and drinks included; the latter served in a lounge car exclusive to the Platinum customers (which kinda limits one's interactions with others, unfortunately).

The train set off about 15 minutes late and we were soon making our way northest and up through the Avon Valley wheat belt. This area, as well as some others to come, reminded me of the hilly sections in parts of Northern California and think brown, brown, brown in terms of color. I guess I should add dry, dry, dry, too.

Perth was nice in terms of an apparent lack of humidity unlike South Florida where we live.

More coming...
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 08:53 AM
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Nice start to a train journey, Dukey - a luxury limo and drinks on the platform.

looking forward to reading more about this epic train journey. .
annhig is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 09:20 AM
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The wheatfields northeast of Perth quickly give way to very brown hills reminiscent of those in Northern Californa and eventually a more arid landscape. Despite predominance of freight traffic, and what that usually does to a rail roadbed, on this one-track line, the ride is relatively smooth. Train also appears to be given precedence for "meets" at sidings and we arrive in Kalgoorlie-Boulder around 9PM.

Lots of people off the train for the offered bus tours. The driver acts as tour guide pointing out the various sites as we move along. This is, of course, well after dark but the streets of the town are brightly lit. It is the heavy "accent" that can make some words hard to understand and I am certain the feeling would be more than mutual.

Gold was first discovered here in 1893 and within a week the rush was on as more than 1400 fortune hunters arrived. At one point the town had more than 100 hotels and now there are fewer than 20. Interestingly enough, these days that former US standby of almost everything, especially in smaller town America, Woolworth's apparently thrives here in a kind of non-five and dime format and does millions in business every year; K-Mart is right around the corner.

The population is about 31,000 and the big employer is the whole mining operation. The centerpiece is the 3.6 Km wide "Super Pit," an open-cut gold mine which has operated 24 hours a day since 1989. More than 800 billion (Australian) Dollars worth of gold has been recovered over the life of the operation. The pit itself is vast and the equipment used to scoop out all the dirt is massive. Lots of big shovels and "dump trucks."

The next day, Monday, the highlight is crossing the Nullarbor Plain so-called because there really aren't any trees to speak of. Lots of sandy and rocky soil along with plenty of low sage-like vegetation and more than a few kangaroos and/or their wildlife kin. Alongside the rail right of way between Perth and Kalgoorlie was a water pipeline since Kalgoorlie doesn't have any large amounts of recoverable ground water. Between Kalgoorlie and beyond there is a buried communications cable whose presence is marked by periodic solar panel-equippped repeater stations, otherwise a railroad maintenance of way "track" and the absolute vastness.

It is like staring out at an ocean which doesn't move knowing it can easily swallow you up just like the salt water one can.

There are occasional hints of civilization, however, like the massive 2.5 million acre 70,000 plus animals sheep station named after the railroad siding at Rawlinna and the former town of Cook which used to have 200 or so residents, a hospital, golf course, school, and stores. When the railroad was privatized in 1997 the town was closed and it now has only four permanent residents who work to refuel passing trains.

Other "landarks" include a sign marking the location of a now completely vanished prisoner of war camp; every now and then one might see a windmill servicing a well for livestock. There is a metal landing strip in Forrest for use in civil aviation emergencies.

All of this in addition to the longest straightest stretch of railroad track on earth with a length of a couple hundred miles. To say that the vistas can become monotonous would be an understatement. But to some of us it really is spectacular.

Both the sunrise and the sunsets seem to be long in happening and the stars at night are absolutely brilliant thanks to the total absence of any ambient light.

Otherwise aboard the train. Fellow passengers very friendly and casual. People playing card and board games or reading in the lounge. Connectivity of cell phones comes and goes and mostly goes. There is none of the usual "glued to the phone" activity.

That apparent stand-by of Australian cuisine, Vegemite is available in small packets on all the dining tables so I finally tried it. The stuff reminds me of high-sodium non-wiggly beef bouillon. Otherwise, the food served aboard is really quite wonderful; some of the best eggs Benedict ever and not a hint of vinegar taste, either. Lots of wine and conversation. Fellow travelers are very casually dressed and friendly.

Adelaide upcoming.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 10:53 AM
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Sounds like a relaxing train journey so far. Are your tours included with your train ticket?
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 12:04 PM
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Thanks for the update. Platinum class sounds plush. How are the cabins?
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 06:20 PM
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The cost of the bus tours at the various stops is included for passengers in Gold and Platinum.

The Platinum cabins are apparently a bit larger than the ones in Gold. You have to remember that all of this rolling stock is Budd company rail equipment originally manufctured decades ago. The same stuff is being used by ViaRail in Canada for the "Canadiaan" for the most part.

Our particular cabin, a Platinum "double" was equipped with a single double bed which folded out from the bulkhead. Wooden cabinetry on each side of the bed included shelves, drawers, and a narrow clothes closet. Windows were double-glazed and fitted with an adjustable venetian blind similar to those seen in some European rail cars. There is an outer window as well as an inner window which looks out into the car passageway. That inner window is, for whatever reason, mis-aligned somewhat with the passageway's own outer windows.

In the literature, Great Sothern Rail likes to say that these compartments, "Have windows on both sides" and they do, but...

Lavatory equipped with a chemical vacuum-style toilet, a mmedicine cabinet, a sink with mirror and a full shower stall with a hand-held wand-type shower head. Water was hot; pressure adequate and that's all. Certainly adequate IMO.

The compartments are centrally air conditioned and there is no way to individually ccontrol the temperature. In my experience this is often the case even though in more vintage sleeping cars you could often cntrol the vent openings. Not here so your comfort is controlled by the train crew when they set the car's temperature.

Food, as I said, was good and nicely presented. Choice of hot and cold items for breakfast; lunch usually a choice of two entrees and three at the dinner meal. Selectd drinks including coffee and tea available in the Platinum lounge 24 hours a day.

The Platinum cost was not cheap and I think I may have gotten some sort of discount by booking about one year in advance.

The exchange rate right now has been running at US$1.00=AUD$1.36 or so (that's the interbank rate).

I am not yet sure exactly how Australians feel about the price of something being, say ten dollars. On the train I saw a sign at a gasoline station we passed that said, Fish and Chips Ten Dollars. Not sure if that would be a "bargain" or not.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 06:47 PM
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I can't speak for the Australians, but having lived in Australia for seven years as an expat, $10 for a meal would have been a serious bargain, although I'd certainly not have sought one out at a petrol station.
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 06:50 PM
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Glad to see you're enjoying your railway trip so far, Dukey. Looking forward to Adelaide ...

$10 fish & chips is ok. Depends on the location, fish etc., of course. In remote areas, where freight & storage costs more & one would think the prices would reflect that - often it's the reverse, with a large meal costing significantly less for a smaller version in the cities.

Yulara is an exception to this. Most things are expensive and not what we would regard as premium quality. That's isolation, distance & a monopoly for you. Uluru & Kata Tjuta are well worth putting up with the irritation to be there. IMO.

Vegemite: the merest suggestion - the very thinnest spread is what you need.
Slathered on, as many tourists do, it's an abominable sludge that would kill a brown dog!
Bokhara2 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 06:55 PM
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I've ridden the Canadian, but in a single cabin - at least it HAS singles, unlike Amtrak. Your cabin sounds a good bit plusher. But the food on the Canadian was very good, too.

I was in Australia in 2004, and the exchange rate was more like one to one - enjoy!
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 07:54 PM
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Dukey, funny you mention the "accent". Somehow I understood the women but most of the the men.... I had to ask them to repeat and repeat. They probably thought I was slow and confused. Oh, well.
Treesa is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 09:26 PM
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A thin layer of vegemite with avo spread on the toast is yum!
northie is offline  
Dec 30th, 2015, 11:15 PM
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Enjoying your trip Dukey1. Sounds like the train certainly has improved since I took it in the late 1970's. In those days it was cheaper than flying...

$10 bucks for fish and chips is reasonable for most of us. I'm glad to hear your fellow passengers were friendly and casual, that's the Aussie way.
Please try vegemite thinly scraped onto hot buttered toast. Delicious.

Happy New Year, the Sydney fireworks will be spectacular.
sartoric is online now  
Dec 31st, 2015, 12:27 AM
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Northie, with the very greatest of respect forget it, OK? LOL Talk about sodium overload!!!!

So one of the "problems" with a trip like this one is that when you do stop somewhere there's no chance of getting any depth out of a visit.

On the aformentioned Canadian you stop and except in places like Jasper and Winnipeg there is little opportunity to explore and this brings me to our stop in Adelaide.

We were only there for a couple of hours while the train was being watered and serviced. We opted for the "city tour" vs the one of the "market." This turned out to be the usual quick glance at the several areas of the city and an extensive rundown of the origins of the settlement. IMO beautiful downtown with parks (more parkland than in New York City) and we were told about "the famous" Oval (we nodded politely).

For the most part (there are a few taller buildings) everything seemed to be pretty much "low rise" and that is nice IMO. Very clean and kind of an oasis amongst the semi-arid vastness. But as I said earlier, there really is a beauty to the topography of this country.

I suppose the highlight was the ascent of the several thousand feet high Mount Lofty which afforded an absolutely spectacular view of the city below and the countryside beyond. I noticed when we were up there a large number of bicyclists who had obviously pedaled up to the top. You have to hand it to these people who must have legs, and lungs, of steel.

Next stop was over the NSW border and Broken Hill. They call it the "Silver City" since it sits atop, or near, anyway, the world's richest lead-zinc ore deposit. The Royal Flying Doctor service is also based here.

Near "the mine" is a memorial to those who have lost their lives mining and the reasons for each person's death. These include things such as "scalded," "hit by a falling timber," "crushed by a boulder," along with "unknown." Mining is not exactly an absolutely hazard-free occupation.

Somehow the town didn't seem nearly as interesting as Kalgoorlie and the architecture is somewhat less intriguing and we were seeing the place in daylight, too. Apparently there isnt a lot of available water there, either, since the guide told us about the many "water trains" which used to come into the town. These days there is a pipeline.

Overnight on our last night aboard and ascending the west side of the Blue Mountains. A big big change in topography now with things looking considerably more lush. Lots of livestock besides the sheep and goats we saw earlier in South Australia. More and bigger trees. Around Lithgow and Mount Victoria the rail line is "under wire" signaling the edge of more or less (perhaps "far") "suburban" rail services from Sydney and the descent on the eastern slope comes with lots of wooded undergrowth as well as a busy highway and signs of outright so-called "civilization." At one point the clear outline of the Sydney skyscrapers could be seen on the hozizon signaling the imminent end of this portion of the trip.

We arrived in Sydney pretty much on time and our driver was on the platform to meet us and help with the luggage collection.

Radisson Blu hotel on O'Connell Street will be home for six nights prior to the cruise departure on 5 January. As I type this it is a little less than four hours to midnight and 2016. The city was closing down, retail-wise, when we ventured out for a bite to eat around 5 PM today. We were told that in order to get even close to the fireworks viewing area around Circular Quay one must be there at 7PM at the lastest. People have been camping out for a day or more to get some sort of prime viewing spot already according to the local newspapers.

As to, thus far, an impression of Sydney in general: it reminds me a bit of Seattle, and Vancouver, and Portland. Lots of folks from the Pacific Rim countries in evidence and there certainly is no "dress code" except maybe shorts. Looking forward to seeing more and Happy New Year (already) to you all.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2015, 03:09 AM
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Happy New Year to you too. I really appreciate your account of the train ride. Enjoy Sydney and the fireworks display.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2015, 04:50 AM
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Happy New Year to you & your husbear too, Dukey. I hope the first days of 2016 in Australia signal a year of health, happiness,peace & adventure for you & yours
Bokhara2 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2015, 05:53 AM
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Glad you got to see the views from Mt Lofty on a clear day - the two times we were there it was socked in by fog.

I really like Adelaide, not for the city itself, but for the surrounding areas, particularly the Adelaide Hills (land of the long lunch). Did you happen to see any koalas on the trip up to Mt Lofty? Prime koala viewing up that way.
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2015, 05:57 AM
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Just this minute learned about the bushfire burning on the Fleurieu Peninsula and how smoke continues to billow over the Adelaide Hills.
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2015, 06:37 AM
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Happy New Year - guess it's already started for you!

Sounds like you got a fairly good look at Adelaide in the time available. On long distance train trips I like to get off along the way and then get back on another train - I spent a couple of nights in Jasper, and got off the Trans-Mongolian four times. Would it have upped the price of the train tickets to stop off in Adelaide?
thursdaysd is offline  

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