Living in Australia one is always tempted “to do” the once in a lifetime train trip with the world’s longest train ride from Sydney to Perth or vice versa. 3 nights 4 days (65 hours) on a train crossing the continent and clocking up 4352 km. Well, it might not be everybody’s idea of a holiday but since I like a challenge or two, even in my old age, I decided that I should take the trip, and a trip to remember it was…
While brochures and customer feedback on websites is mostly about the countryside and the different scenery one crosses on the journey, I focused on the hospitality aspects of the trip, which sometimes get a little lost with all the attention given to the wilderness, animals and history such a trip offers.
Travelling with a friend in ‘Gold Class’ (the only option for single people) we had all meals and drinks included during our trip. There is also a Platinum section but unfortunately it only offers Twin/Double accommodation and unless you are willing to pay for 2 people, Gold Class is the only option for singles…
We checked in and were welcomed at the platform of Sydney Central terminal with cocktails and canapes and a musician that sang typical Australian folk songs (first signs of overseas travellers enjoying the bubbly and the music). We got an initial glimpse of our train which at this stage was still in two parts before being combined to form a 740 meter long snake that would bring us across Australia.
Inspiring start we thought, well organized and giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travellers who we would spend the next 4 days with on the train.
We boarded our train and were shown to our cabins and first impressions were good – beyond what we had expected. The interior looked new, exceptionally clean and certainly a place one can hang out for a couple of days.
Our friendly cabin crew introduced us to all the activities we could expect over the next few days, including meal times, sightseeing tours (optional but included in the trip price) and so on. This was followed by an invitation to the lounge where the same musician continued to entertain the crowd whilst encouraging them to get to know each other via a Trivia quiz about Australia.
Our first dinner on board was a meal that surprised in every aspect, from choice, quality and presentation. One could as easily have been in a fine dining restaurant in Sydney, Melbourne or London.
This was an encouraging start to our adventure, and we hoped that the next few days would be an equally pleasant culinary delight.
The first night on the train took a little getting used to, but then the sound of the train and rattling tracks put us all to sleep thinking about Agatha Christie and her trip on the Orient Express….
Waking to completely new scenery, we arrived at 6am in Broken Hill, an outback mining town still operational today where the early risers would go on a sightseeing tour to the Miners Memorial.
By 8 am everyone was back on the train and ready for breakfast, followed by a light luncheon before we arrived in the early afternoon at our next stop, Adelaide. Here we had a couple of hours to explore the city on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer so far with more than 41 degrees – giving a completely new meaning to a warm welcome to South Australia!
Here we had a crew change and it must be said it was good to be back on the train that was comfortably air-conditioned throughout our journey.
This is also where we started the longest stretch of our journey, crossing the Nullarbor Plain that features a stretch of track close to 480 kms in one straight line. Impressive to say the least and amazing considering that this track was first built in the early 1900’s.
It was even more enjoyable as we travelled the entire day, going from a well-balanced breakfast with plenty of choices to a luncheon that was equally pleasant. By then we knew that we had hit the jackpot with our chef and his crew on board.
The food was absolutely a reason to look forward to the next meal. The final dinner was served in a town called Rawlinna where we arrived to have our “Dinner under the Stars”. Rawlinna’s claim to fame is that it is the largest sheep station in the world with some 80.000 sheep…. There were no sheep in sight during our dinner!
Once the train had stopped the crew set up for dinner using tables that were already waiting alongside the tracks. We were served lamb, (that was very tasty), sausages etc. A typical outback meal with live entertainment from our resident musician.
It was a pleasant evening with log fires, spent in the outback alongside this impressive train, pondering all that had happened over the past few days. We retired to our cabins for the final sector, which of course included another breakfast and lunch, finally arriving in Perth at 3 pm – all in all, a journey of 65 hours.
Of course, when spending so much time on a train one looks at the fellow travellers and judges, establishing categories…. We felt that there were 3 main categories. Seasoned, mature travellers that have ‘been there and done that’ in their life – great story tellers and adventurers. The second category were the travellers who were most keen to ‘get their money’s worth’ and it seemed really joined the train ride because the food & drinks were free and plentiful. Then there were those who (like us) wanted to experience this unique journey, the ride from one side of Australia to the other, enjoying the high quality food and service that is so much talked about.
Looking at it from a hospitality perspective I would have no hesitation in saying that the food was the most outstanding part of the entire trip – a thought shared by fellow travellers we met during our meals. The Chefs really need to be congratulated on their achievement considering the small work space they must cope with…
Of course, for many the food was secondary, and the free beverages were clearly the main reason to travel. One couple, who spent every hour of the day in the Lounge Car, were always the happiest people on earth by 2 in the afternoon!
Housekeeping was excellent, and beds were made while we were out for meals – a very efficient system in place that worked throughout our journey.
Even seen through my critical hospitality burdened eyes, it was an experience that can be thoroughly recommended to any overseas visitor. Travelling at a pleasant speed (85 km/h to 100 km/h) through unique landscapes and enjoying great food and relaxed friendly service whilst having time to think, read and contemplate – what more could one ask…
About the author
Karl Faux is a veteran Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm.
For more information about Karl and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net