A journey onboard the iconic Indian Pacific Railway (IPR) is more than just a train ride through Southern Australia. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime luxury train trip through a world of shifting landscapes and rugged beauty. The IPR showcases nature’s most beautiful aspects of Southern Australia and wildlife. And opportunities abound to meet new people in this relaxed and pampered traveling environment.
Featuring gourmet dishes from across the country, the IPR’s fine epicurean experience is described by Conde-Nast Traveler as “the world’s best train food.”
Wine served on the IPR is sourced from some of Australia’s great wine regions – New South Wales’s Hunter Valley, South Australia’s Barossa and Adelaide Hills, and Western Australia’s Margaret River.
Operated by the Great Southern Rail of Australia, IPR’s recently refurbished carriages feature the same luxurious accommodations at five-star hotels. The IPR Sydney-Perth train trip is mentioned in the same breath as the Orient Express.
Leaving Sydney every Wednesday afternoon, this luxury train journey covers 4,352 kilometers. With magnificent Australian scenery unfolding along both sides of the tracks, you quickly realize you don’t just take this four-day, three-night journey to get from Sydney to Perth. You take it to see the country in a way that an airplane simply cannot provide, including special stopovers for off-train excursions each day.
These stops include Broken Hill, a classic Australian mining town, Adelaide or the historic Barossa Valley, and Rawlinna, where guests enjoy wine and dinner while gazing at brilliant desert stars under the wide Nullarbor skies.
Inside the cavernous, brick-red Sydney Central Train station, luxury starts on Platform #3, before we board. Railway staff in navy blue pants, red and blue striped shirts and Akubras – the iconic Aussie outback hat – label bags, assign cabin numbers and efficiently whisk our luggage away.
We join a welcome reception where a musician plays his guitar, singing a mix of Australian and American songs. Then, a whistle blows and the conductor calls “all aboard.”
Life on board the IPR is carefully choreographed to make your journey special, effortless, and unforgettable. We’re met by attentive hosts the moment we step aboard and are graciously welcomed in the plush lounges, replete with comfortable couches and a full bar.
The countryside unravels as we enjoy a front row seat too wide open spaces, roaming wildlife, and stunning sunsets while traveling amidst the height of hospitality. From the friendly bartender who knew our brand of scotch to the cabin conductor who prepared our suite for sleeping each night, we felt special.
The Train and Cabins
With the two massive blue engines pulling a long silver stream of 31 carriages, we leave the station. The train accommodates 38 onboard crew and 244 guests. A striking wedge-tailed eagle motif symbolizing soaring flight is emblazoned on each carriage. The largest eagle on earth is a fitting image for one of the world’s longest rail journeys.
This train journey is more than simple transportation. By day, our cabin serves as a roomy space to view the changing South Australian landscape. At night it transforms into a comfortable sleeping space with heavenly beds.
Guests have a choice of three sleeper cabins – Gold, Gold Service Superior and Platinum. All three levels come with private bathrooms and showers. Gold cabins, with shiny mahogany paneled walls, are elegant suites. Its comfortable three-seater lounge converts to an upper and lower sleeping berth at night.
The compact bathrooms combine a shower and toilet in one functional space. A lighted makeup mirror in the cabin comes with a shelf and electrical outlets for hair dryers, cell phones, and cameras. A small closet provides ample room for a garment bag or jackets. The magazine rack in the cabin comes with reading material. More books, magazines, and games are available at the end of each carriage, along with coffee, tea, and water.
An in-cabin sound system provides music and detailed journey commentary. Six channel choices give you the freedom to pick what type of music you want. At night, when we retire to our soft drop-down beds, the gentle rhythm of the train rocks us to sleep.
Gold Service Superior cabins offer extra space and comfort with a ¾ size double bed and additional fold down single bed. Each has a lounge area with a table, armchairs, a well-stocked fridge, a DVD player.
Platinum cabins include a double bed or twin beds, a spacious bathroom, and room service. By day they turn into a private lounge with a moveable table, two ottomans, and a writing desk. Cabins also feature an additional panoramic interior window, allowing views on both sides of the train. Platinum guests receive personalized cabin service and chauffeured transfers to and from your hotel to the station. There are just 20 guests in 10 Platinum service cabins.\
All meals, drinks, and off-train excursions are included in the ticket price for Gold, Gold Superior, and Platinum guests.
With wide open views of the passing scenery, we’re reminded that traveling is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The panoramic window spans the length of our cabin. In the mornings, we find ourselves staring out the window, mesmerized. We witness wildlife sightings of kangaroos and emus.
Wedge-tailed eagles soar above an arid desert filled with a wide range of flora and fauna, at times as far as your eyes can see. We pass through 16 different landscapes before reaching our destination.
Food and Wine
In the evenings, the action shifts to the welcoming Outback Explorer Lounge. Decorated with subtly striped wallpaper and wall sconces, the lounge gives off a relaxing amber glow. Cocktail tables and plush seats overlook panoramic windows. With music playing softly in the background, the lounge provides a friendly atmosphere where everyone swaps travel tales over craft cocktails and wine.
Local craft beer, high-end spirits and prize-winning wines from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, the Margaret River, and Hunter Valley are free-flowing. The dining car—known as the Queen Adelaide Restaurant—is beautifully decorated in a formal retro-Edwardian style.
At each meal, we were seated at a white linen covered table that seats four, next to a large window where the wild beauty of South Australia acts as the perfect backdrop for our culinary adventure.
The frequently changing menu is a mix of Australian and international cuisine. It features mouth-watering dishes such as vegetable moussaka, roast pork, saltwater barramundi, Margaret River cheeses, Kangaroo fillet, saltbush, and wild rosella flower.
Our first night, we dine on slow cooked lamb shoulder in Kangaroo Island honey and black vinegar with pumpkin puree, apple, and celery slaw. Our main course is the Port Lincoln Hiramasa Kingfish-grilled fillet with Kinnawooka mussel, corn, and white bean puree and smoked tomato sauce. Dessert is a blood orange meringue tart. This is going to be a delicious trip!
Every morning, a selection of hot breakfast items is available. French toast with fig jam, eggs Napoli with grilled halloumi, spinach frittata, and chocolate waffles are a few of our choices. Spinach and feta Goulette in filo dough, curried camel over rice, and Fremantle grilled jewfish fillet appear on the sumptuous lunch menus.
This lux-level dining experience is repeated in the evening where the chefs create entrée selections from the freshest ingredients, complete with decadent desserts.
Passengers are mixed for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner services to encourage conversation, though no one on this train seems to need the encouragement. It’s in this mixing and pairing of perfect strangers we get to know more of our fellow adventurers. Wine makes friends and conversation dissolve distances and differences. It doesn’t take long to realize the best part of this train trip is the people you meet!
Off Train Excursions
We stop in little-visited rural communities and mining towns along the IPR route. Places like ore-rich Broken Hill, ghostly Cook, and pure “jackaroo” Rawlinna as well as larger cities like Adelaide – Australia’s wine and food capital.
Comfortable, air-conditioned coaches pull up at each station for well-organized tours. The excursions introduce us to the Outback culture and its rugged and colorful history.
In Adelaide, we visit the McLaren Vale wine region best known for its Shiraz. At Coriole Vineyards, we’re treated to a private cellar door session with the winery’s owner, Mark Lloyd. We taste the Fiano, an ancient varietal from Naples, the Nero Avila, traditionally from Sicily, and a single vineyard Sparta Shiraz. We also sample cheeses from Woodside Cheese Wrights, served with the most delightful French bread.
We then head to the “Star of Greece” restaurant, located on the esplanade above Port Willunga Beach, for a delightful Mediterranean meal. We start with Kangaroo Island salt and pepper squid; baked Hervey Bay scallops served on half shells; and an avocado, quinoa, pomegranate, baby herb salad. The main course includes grilled Kangaroo Island King George Whiting, Wagyu beef fillet, or delightful pan-fried parmesan gnocchi. Each dish presented is a work of art. All while enjoying the azure blue views of the Gulf of St. Vincent.
On our fourth day, we glide into sunny, beach-loving Perth and disembark. As we wait for our luggage, we realize a journey on the Indian Pacific is more than just a train ride. Each day kept us enthralled and making new friends with our travel companions added a wonderful element to the trip. Winding through Southern Australia, the Indian Pacific is a world-class train journey – a memorable trip of a lifetime.
If You Go:
- Book tickets ahead of time at the Great Southern Rail website: www.greatsouthernrail.com.au. Meals, alcohol and off-train excursions are all-inclusive.
- Cost per person for a Gold Service twin cabin, one-way, from Sydney to Perth or vice versa is $2499 AUD ($1770 US) during low season. $2839 AUD ($2010 US) during shoulder season. $2999 AUD ($2124 US) during high season.
- The Indian Pacific (IP) departs from Sydney on Wednesdays and Perth on Sundays. Passengers can arrange to get off the IP in Adelaide and resume their journey when it comes through again the next week. The train travels through three-time zones. The Sydney to Perth route is easier on the body’s time clock, as you gain time traveling west.
- The IP departs from Sydney’s Central Train Station next to the Central Business District (CBD). We stayed at West Hotel Sydney, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection (Curiocollection3.Hilton.com), next to Darling Harbour and the buzzing Barangaroo District.
- In Perth, one of the city’s newest luxury hotels, the Westin (Marriott.com), is ideally situated near the rejuvenated east end, close to shopping and other major tourist sights. Adjacent to Westin Perth is the delicious Roman Osteria, Garum, owned by Guy Grossi, Australia’s famed chef. Try their decadent breakfast buffet.
- Pack an overnight suitcase with medications, toiletries, and sufficient clothing for four days. Larger suitcases are stored separately. A hat, sunscreen, practical shoes for off-train excursions and smart casual clothing is recommended. Pack a light jacket or sweater for the train and evenings. Plan for temperature extremes during summer and winter for off-train excursions.