Across the OutBack to Adelaide & Melbourne

Monday, November 11, 2013: The Indian Pacific

     When we planned our Great Australian Adventure, we had many choices to make. How to travel, what to see. We decided that a camper was the most economical way, and it would give us relative freedom to go when and where we wanted. We knew we wanted to hike a bit somewhere and chose the southern cape area to do so once we dropped off the camper. 
We also knew we wanted to experience one of the famous train journeys on this continent. The Ghan and the Overlander or Indian Pacific are legendary names. But when we first checked the website, we were blown way by the prices. Well over a thousand dollar would get us a ticket, for one person, from Perth to Adelaide. We read many travel sites and discovered that tickets ordered by phone were much cheaper. In the process we also discovered the cheaper way to go: the Red Section of the train. This came after Platinum and Gold. Way after. It was, in the end, the only affordable way for us to take the train as part of our three months journey.
Now we are here, in the Red Seats, happily wagging along on the tail end of the 600 meter long train. the train carries 250 passengers, about 30 of them are Red Seaters. It is almost comical how the old British class system is still evident on the train. We don’t get free coffee or tea like the Gold Seaters. We have to pay to go on a little excursion off the train, unlike the Gold and Platinum passengers. We hear announcements about “channel six on your control panel” but we have no control panels. Ha.
Our seats are much like airplane seats, about an inch wider and they recline further back. Sleep is difficult when the train gnaws and grinds long the track, clanging its chains and banging the tracks. But its rhymth lulls us to sleep eventually.

The Nullabor

The view from the train is off an immense flat, empty plain: the Nullabor Desert. Null arbor: no trees. Foot high scrub, red sand and rocks. Suddenly we stop at one house in the desert. A town of two people who look after an airstrip and “run a B&B in case a pilot needs to spend the night.” We passed by one of the largest sheep stations in the world, over 300,000 acres. “It takes eight hours by plane to check the fences,” we were told.

500 km further down the track, is Cook. A town of four. The entire population comes out to see the train, and to collect their weekly mail, water and other supplies. Water here costs more per liter than fuel. A faded sign says ‘Please get sick, our hospital needs you.” Nowadays the hospital is no longer there. The local doctor is 12 hours away by car. With a deserted school this is a modern day ghost town that started as a telegraph station and now only exists because of the train.

Town in the desert, pop. 2

We brought most of our food for the two day/two night journey. Kees said he’d buy a new bottle of softdrink in the next town. No such luck… The one and only town the train stops in on the journey from Perth to Adelaide is Kalgoorlie. Many people, in the Red Seats, bought tickets for a mine excursion here. We arrived in Kalgoorlie last night at midnight… The mine was pitch dark. All they got to see was Kalgoorlie’s red light district… Glad we opted not to spend A$64.- on this outing!

The Matilda Cafe
The Red Seats

We appreciated that, on Remembrance Day – November 11, they played taps and asked for a minute of silence. So many young men from Australia died during both World Wars – a huge percentage of such a small population.

It is 2,700 km from Perth to Adelaide. And, mindblowing enough, the landscape does not change much. We slept a second night in our seats and each time I opened my eyes, it looked the same. Closer to Adelaide the flat scrub made way for flat wheat fields. A few more buildings here and there. And then – a lovely city. Staying in a fun colonial pub in the heart of town.

Australian Pub with a good heart

When we needed a place to spend one night in Adelaide, I searched on Google maps starting with the central bus station from where our bus departs at 7 AM. I tried many links but most Australian hotels are way up there in price. While we like to stay in good, clean places we also travel on a budget.
The Metropolitan looked more like a pub than a hotel. But the photos showed nice, large rooms and a modern restaurant. I emailed and was assured a room. No worries.

We arrived in Adelaide on the train at 7:30 in the morning. What hotel would let you check in at that time? We just hoped we could check our luggage and would then hang around til later. But we were welcomed with coffee and shown to our room right away. A large room with very clean linens, table, chairs and a fridge. We were even able to do our laundry.

The Metropolitan is one of Adelaide’s original pubs, dating back to 1883. With its 14′ ceilings and lovely decor it has the feel of an old country pub. But it is right in the heart of Adelaide, directly across from the Central Market. We walked to Victoria Park, to the State Museum and Library and all the shops.
Sure, the floors creak and there’s a curved staircase to climb. But that’s part of the charm of staying in an authentic place like this. AND.. it has free wireless internet!

We had a great dinner of pumpkin soup, schnitzel, good wine and warm rhubarb crumble. The restaurant even has a court yard. If you live near Adelaide, be sure to have a drink and dinner here. If you need a place to stay in Adelaide, this is the place!

Penguins, Cakes and a Great Ocean Road

Three Days in Melbourne

As the bus pulls into the Melbourne Southern Cross Station, I spot our host. We’ve never met Rupert before but I know him instantly. He’s the brother of one of my best friends and, very matter-of-factly, had invited us to stay with him and his wife once we got to Melbourne. Typical Aussie hospitality is amazing. We drove to their beautiful home, have a great room and toured downtown Melbourne all day.

Aussies love cakes!

What a nice city – with old buildings huddled among modern architecture, the city buildings reflect a similar, integrated mix to its inhabitants. Parks, rivers, a bustling downtown. Tea and cake in a Jewish neighborhood. Mellow traffic. Art galleries. We liked what we saw of Melbourne.

Then, once the sun almost set, we drove all over town to the pier at the harbour. We walked way down the pier. It was almost dark. At the end of the pier, there were piles of rocks.


Suddenly we hear squeaking and grunting and tjirping. And there, from in between the cracks, peeked little tiny penguins! They came swimming up from the sea, at dark, and flip-flopped over the beach to hide and nest in between the rocks. They were so cute… so little. One wobbled out on the wooden dock.

Tiny penguin at Melbourne pier

Two looked like they were hugging and kissing. Too cute. What a treat to see penguins in their natural environment, without any commercial interference. It was hard to take photos since you couldn’t flash and it was dark! I wrapped red paper of my camera..


Great Ocean Road

Our wonderful Melbourne host drove us all over today. Took us out to the Great Ocean Road – a gorgeous winding road along the Bass Strait in the Southern Ocean.

Would have loved to see an echidna.

Vistas of green hills dipping white sandy toes into blue waters. Had a coffee here, an ice cream there. The highlight was a campfire in a mountain park, to roast steaks. Tomato, avocado, bbq steaks and chocolate. What a lunch. We were surrounded by tall gum trees and, suddenly, heard loud grunting and snorting. Wild koalas! They sounded like wild boars. We spotted several in the trees around us. Then a gorgeous red and green parrot landed near us and stayed around. Very pictoresque.

Tomorrow – the last part of our Australian Adventure! Do you want to know what we still have in store?
Two weeks in Tasmania! So stayed tuned.

2 thoughts on “Across the OutBack to Adelaide & Melbourne

  1. Hi there!
    This is such an insightful post, thank you 🙂
    My partner and I are currently backpacking across Australia, at the moment we find ourselves in Adelaide which is a gorgeous city and has so much to offer a humble tourist. We have debated numerous times whether we should take the Ghan up to the NT once we’re done here, but the prices are so high, and as out of work travellers, an expense we probably cannot justify.
    I enjoyed reading about your experience on the Ghan and having spent 12 hours on the night train from Sydney to Melbourne (and back again!) I think we’ll safely say that unless we win the lottery we’ll be giving the Ghan a miss.
    Oh and you’re right, The Metropolitan is a great bar 🙂

    Enjoy your travels!


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