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In desperate need for adventure after spending too long in Melbourne my sister and I decided that we need to escape and planned a trip to the red centre. Being on a desperately small backpackers budget, we decided that the train was the best option as it offered the cheapest deal.
Who is GSR?
GSR is the national Australian rail network comprising of three train services The Overland, The “legendary” Ghan and the Indian Pacific. The Ghan is apparently “legendary" as it takes its name from the Afghans with their long camel trains and the journey along with the Indian Pacific are supposed to be in the worlds greatest train journeys.
The Indian Pacific runs from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide.
The Ghan runs from Sydney to Alice Springs via Adelaide although from January 2004 will also run a service to Darwin.
The Overland runs from Melbourne to Adelaide connecting with The Ghan to Alice Springs.
GSR fares a varied they basically offer Red Kangaroo Service with the option of a sleeper or a daynighter seat this is the standard fare and the Gold Kangaroo Service which is for the real enthusiasts and includes meals and cabins. The good news is for backpackers and students there are also special rates for the day/nighter seats. We purchased a Backpacker pass which is valid for 6 months and can be used as many times as you want. This cost $450 dollars, which if doing a lot of travel in and around Australia it is worth it and is considerably cheaper than the bus networks version. Although we were warned that if you book a seat on a service and then decide you don’t want to use it then you should cancel, if you don’t you will be charged a $50 no show fee.
An example of seat prices one way for Sydney to Perth:
My sister and I booked our tickets at the GSR desk in the main train station in Melbourne, the queues were initially long but the
staff moved through them quite quickly. We were unsure of what exactly we wanted but the customer service rep was great. She explained the deals and the backpacker pass, which had cost $450 (although I thought I saw it advertised on the Internet for $350 and mentioned this to her and she actually sold it to us for $350 saying that she had to honour the advertised price).
Bookings can also be done on a with a credit card on their secure reservations system over the internet, www.gsr.com.au. The site itself is clear and easy to navigate, it gives a little bit of general information about destinations, the trains, fairs and timetables and details of merchandise you can buy.
Alternatively you can call them on +61 8 8213 4592 if calling internationally or 1300 13 21 47 if calling within Australia.
You can also book tickets with them at most of the major cities train stations within Australia.
The Sales Rep also warned us to try and book at least 3-4 days in advance as many of the red kangaroo seats get taken up quickly.
They also offer a motorail service, whereby you can take your car the rate varies depending on the distance travelled and size of the vehicle, this is normally ready 40 minutes after arrival.
You are advised to check in One hour before departure and upon arrival at the station checking in your luggage, has been pretty painless, you are given a receipt and told to make your way to the platform. Staff are helpful although, each time we travelled there is always an overlap between the people who arrive and those who are departing causing unnecessary congestion and frazzled nerves.
The interior in the red kangaroo section is rather shabby, but clean, the walls were painted that sterile hospital waiting room green.
The seats themselves although worn are actually pretty comfortable, they were wider than seats on the trains back home and they reclined back further than aeroplane seats. There was plenty of leg room enabling you to get some sleep. Each double seat comes with a table that is stored underneath it, this can be folded out and clipped to the wall beside you, it is rather high though and if the seat in front is reclined then you cannot put it up.
For when you are want to sit up and watch the scenery there is a adjustable footrest. There are also racks above each seat for luggage storage. Each carriage has a male and female toilet and a shower room, both of which there are always queues for and are not the nicest hygiene facilities in the world but they do give you clean towels to use if required.
It does get cold at night and also recommend taking a sleeping bag or blanket and a pillow, this just gives you a little more comfort.
On board there are several host/hostess who give you information about the journey and the train, show you where the toilets, showers, dining car and smoking room are.
We travelled on Easter Friday and were given complimentary Easter eggs, which was a nice touch. Staff were friendly, polite and informative.
If departing in the day you are invited to “meet the crew” on the platform 30 minutes before departure and are given a talk on the history of the train you are travelling on and some facts about the place you are going. At intervals throughout the journey one of the cabin crew talks about some of the history of the places you travel through and points out things that may be of interest which is always a welcome break in the trip.
Entertainment & Food
Ok so we all know Australia is a big country and therefore travelling overland is going to take time, our journey back from Alice Springs took 2 days and travelling from Sydney to Perth takes a whopping 3 days! During this time you gotta eat! Red Kangaroo Service buffet car is open 30 minutes after departure and offers a variety of hot pies, burgers, snacks and drinks (alcoholic and soft varieties) which is available for the entire journey. It also offers a breakfast menu which includes cereals, toast, and eggs (available 6.30 – 8.30 am) and a dinner menu which is a variety of stews and stir fries accompanied with rice or noodles (available 7.00 –9.00pm).
The prices vary and an evening meal is pretty reasonable at about $8 (3 pounds) and this is the most expensive thing on the menu.
Movies are often put on during the journey and these are an experience altogether – the first movie we saw was Leonard VI, this could possibly have been the worst film I have ever seen (the star was a rather aged Bill Cosby) but that is another story. If this wasn’t bad enough we also had The Baby Sitters Club, The Mouse that Roared and as if I hadn’t enjoyed Leonard VI the first time they showed it again on the return journey leading me to believe that GSR has a very bad collection of movies.
At intervals they will play some soft easy listening music which is quite relaxing and quiet enough to ignore if not to your taste.
There is a smoking room for those desperate for a fag and a lounge car where you can stretch out talk to other guests and have a drink.
I would recommend purchasing some soft drinks and snacks before and also take some magazines, a book and a pack of cards!
Crap movies, and dodgy toilets aside the journey itself is outstanding amazing scenery from the industrial views of Victoria, sunset over the Grampian Mountains, the swaying fields of SA and the sunrise over the jaw dropping red dessert. This in itself can keep you occupied for hours, especially if like me you have never travelled through this landscape before. The wildlife is awesome too, I have seen Kangaroos, Pelicans and Huge Eagles to name a few.
Unfortunately I have experienced several delays with GSR but each time they have managed to catch up considerably, and we have actually only ever arrived approximately 30 minutes late on each occasion.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
Travelling on GSR isn’t perfect by any means, the toilets are horrible (you have to pull them out of the wall), the movies are bad, and it takes so long but if you are in no rush, are a train enthusiast, want a cheap travel pass, or just want to see some beautiful landscapes then I recommend this to you. Travelling on a train here isn’t something I would do all the time but I enjoyed the experience and is something I probably won’t get to do again.
If you want more information on GSR check out there website www.gsr.com.au or pop a note in my guest book and I will endeavour to answer any questions.