Riding the Rails

July 12, 2013

I didn’t have the best night’s sleep last night as the train’s motions and noises were new. Tonight will be better.

It was raining and apparently had rained hard over night. This now makes two places I have visited where rain is rare and I was there for it – Uluru with Bob and Sally and now the Nullarbor Plain in South and Western Australia.

Nullarbor Plain is the massive land feature across this section of Australia and Nullarbor is the Latin word for “no trees.” When I opened my window shade in my cabin this morning (early, because I wasn’t sleeping!) there were still low trees and small shrubs covering the red earth. And there were lots of puddles! The rocky soil is unaccustomed to rain and it doesn’t drain real well.

By late morning we were approaching the Nullarbor when all of a sudden the trees just stopped. It wasn’t a gradual thing, it was abrupt and rather amazing. One minute there were trees and the next minute Nullarbor! The train stopped in the town (and I use that term loosely) of Cook (named for a prime minister, not the explorer). This is a refueling station for cross-country trains. In Cook’s hay-day it was a wild outpost sporting a school, hospital, gaol (jail), swimming pool and a golf course. The town now boasts a population of 5 and is more like a ghost town!

All afternoon we traversed the Nullarbor. The sun came out and it was beautiful. In the early afternoon I went to the lounge car so I could see out of both sides of the train and maybe chat with some folks. I was successful on both counts! There was a core group of us and others came and went as the dinner hour approached. An advantage of being in a group looking out the windows was that we had many eyes looking for wildlife. We saw kangaroos (the big guys), packs of the feral camels and the huge wedge-tailed eagles. Over the course of the afternoon and many kilometers we watched the sky clear and cloud over several times. At one point we saw an intense rainbow which turned into a double rainbow! It was sooooo big, we could never see the far end of it! So now I’ve see waterfalls on Uluru and rainbows on the Nullarbor, all because of rain in places it rarely rains!

The meals on board the Indian-Pacific train have been delicious. Tonight I had a pork cutlet with a macadamia nut coating. Breakfast and lunch were equally nice. Each meal I’ve shared a table with other passengers and they all have been delightful folks. Once again, my American accent has opened the door for lots of conversation! At one point in the lounge this afternoon I was given an Aussie language lesson, which was fun and for which I received high marks!

The train made an evening stop in Kalgoorlie for a few hours and my fare included an off-train excursion to one of the world’s largest open pit gold mines. This mine is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so we were loaded onto tour buses for a short tour of Kalgoorlie and then a stop at the mine museum followed by an overlook of the Super Pit. At the museum we got to get up close and personal with the enormous dump trucks and front end loaders that load and haul the rock out of the mining pit. The tires on theses things are more than twice as tall as I am and cost $40,000 each! We were able to climb steps to the driver’s cab on the dump truck which sits 5 meters above the ground! These vehicles were massive but appeared quite small when we got to the Super Pit and saw them in the distance slowly making their way up a ramp on the far side of the pit. This pit is currently about 3.5k long, 1.5k wide and 500-700m deep and because it runs all day and night it was well lit in the area where work was being done. It would be interesting to see this gold mine in action during the daylight hours to get a real feel for the size of the pit. The most recent estimates show that the mine has an annual production of gold valued at $800 million!

Hoping for a better night’s sleep tonight after a great day aboard the Indian Pacific train!

Cheers!

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