Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crossing The Nullarbor

The rocking motion on the Indian Pacific was a bit like the crashing waves of the sea,  a perpetual motion that calmed me.  I'll admit that at times the tracks were especially rough and we were bounced around a bit, but for most of the time were able to kick back and enjoy our journey.

One of the biggest draws of the Indian Pacific is that it crosses the Nullarbor Plain.  Named for its lack of trees--null=no, arbor=trees--it takes 9 hours to cross the vast, flat, arid, sandstone plain.  This section of the Australian continent may be treeless and remain relatively uninhabited, but  the dry red land is covered with small hardy shrubs that are drought tolerant.  In the early hours of dawn or at dusk you may pass a kangaroo or two.  If you are as lucky as I was you may even see a caravan of camels.
As you cruise down the longest stretch of  straight rail tracks in the world--300 miles without a curve--it is nearly impossible to detect movement due to the lack of changing scenery.   I imagine that many would say that the trip across the Nullarbor Plain is plain, but as I looked out from my vantage point high above the ground I could not help but marvel at what lay in front of me.  I wondered how something so desolate could be so alluring.  Mother Nature sparkled, and her shimmering dance of the distant oasis called to me.  At night the iridescent beauty of the land was replaced by millions of stars twinkling in the sky, a sky that seemed familiar yet foreign with it clearly defined Milky Way and its unfamiliar constellations.

We were actually able to touch ground on the Nullarbor in the "town" of Cook, where the train stops to change drivers and to fill up on water.  Train passengers are allowed an hour to take a quick walkabout to see and photograph the skeletal remains of what was once a thriving railway settlement.  As I strolled by a pool that has long ceased to hold water, a hospital that hasn't had seen a patient in years, and the falling down school house, I couldn't help but feel for the current 4 inhabitants of the barebones outpost.

My interest in the Nullarbor had been piqued before my trip on the Indian Pacific when I read "A Frenchman's Walk Across the Nullarbor: Henri Gilbert's Diary, Perth to Brisbane, 1897-1899. "  And though our experience was different--I sat in a climate controlled luxury tin can, while he braved the elements on foot carrying a 38 kilogram backpack-- Gilbert's story had in no way prepared me for the vastness that I experienced.  I have never in my life felt so insignificant.


  1. I'd love to do a long train ride like that - I think I'd pass on the hike though!

  2. Quickroute, I'd have to agree about the hike. Just think how much water you would have to carry!